Linkjacking is Good, Bad, and Ugly
Linkjacking means different things to different people. Many see it as using the content on one site as the bait to get viewers to pass through your site, or even stay there and explore without going on to the primary content. Most of the time, there will be tidbits or summary information about the primary story accompanied by an interesting image or bit of photoshop magic that takes up most of the page.
To many, including Urban Dictionary, a true “linkjacking” requires that a person from the website doing the linkjacking also submits the story to an aggregator such as Reddit or Digg to drive traffic. I believe that websites and blogs that have a strong enough following to be able to “assume” someone will submit the story are also linkjacking, even if they are not the one’s doing the submitting.
The idea is to generate traffic from social media sites and even the search engines without having to write a ton of original content or do the research. Here is an example of a website that I like a lot, Engadget, which is notorious for linkjacking:
Keep in mind — linkjacking isn’t always a bad thing, in my opinion. Many smaller sites get a ton of publicity by being linkjacked by more established sites. In tech, Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCruch, and Mashable are some of the ones that practice it. They send a good amount of traffic to the smaller sites that they linkjack, but they also keep a ton more themselves.
In the example above, the original story came from CheckOutBlog.com. You can tell that it doesn’t get a huge amount of traffic on its own; out of the stories posted in February, only 1 other had over 2 comments. Once the Engadget story hit the front page of Digg, this small blog got a ton of traffic that produced 77 comments and 3 trackbacks to the story. Chances are strong that if the original were posted to Digg, it would have had a much smaller chance of hitting the front page.
In social media, there is an undercurrent of negativity towards the linkjacking practice, but only a small percentage of people actually take notice. This is apparent because both Gizmodo and Engadget consistently control 1%-2% of the front page of Digg.
The other spectrum of linkjacking is when a blog regularly copies stories, steals images or videos, and generally builds itself up without ANY original content. With the example websites above, the original content is normally checked through, linked to, and rewritten in a tighter style and with more editorial license applied, plus there are completely original stories added all the time. The snippet style of reporting is becoming more valid as a means of information delivery because the world in general is getting faster. We want news niblets served to us on a cute little platter.
There are often complaints on social media sites that linkjacking is unfair to the website source. In many cases, this is not true. Why? When a smaller blog gets a story picked up by Engadget or the others, it has a strong chance of getting tremendous traffic to the site. If the story is able to hit the front page of Digg or Reddit, or get stumbled heavily, that site can expect a nice burst.
Sites like Gizmodo act as filters for social media people. They have the staff to scan the web and find these wonderful stories, plus their readers send stories to them all the time. They then break them down and give us the bits that we need. They link to the original story, so those of us who want more in-depth coverage have a place to go. It is a symbiotic relationship that truly presents the web to social media users in ways that they prefer and with the content filter that they desire whether they know it or not.
Before you condemn all linkjackers, please remember that some serve a good purpose. Many do not, but it’s like insects. Most don’t like them crawling on us, but if a lot of them disappeared, our whole eco-system would collapse.
Sites that steal content and “middleman it” without offering any possible traffic increase to the site with the original content — bad. Sites that enhance content by helping to get the word out and send traffic to the source — good.
One minor footnote: Gizmodo made an effort to stop Digg Spam a few months ago by not offering the Digg link on stories that were not original content. In general, it hasn’t stopped the majority of their stories from being submitted.
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