The world has changed. You know it and I know it, though we can’t really truly quantify that change because it has been incremental and persistent. But let’s try anyway. Twenty-two years ago, at the turn of the century websites were a repository of information and ideas much as they are today. Articles in that time were slightly enhanced copies of their paper-based counterparts.
They would take us through a piece of news or an idea and then, after the piece was over, would link to other pages within the site or other sites in order to provide a wider context and extra value. Just two years prior to that, in 1998, websites were self-contained. You would find that they rarely linked out to other sites or even within their own site from an article unless their owners were clued up on SEO “page rank sculpting” strategies whereby an internal page on a site was artificially boosted in search by being linked to from more authoritative pages of the website in an effort to pass ‘link juice’ and artificially boost what most search engine optimizers considered to be its ‘Page Rank’.
By the same principle linking to external sites was frowned upon as a practice because it was perceived to weaken a page’s standing within Google’s Index by ‘bleeding out’ page rank.
These days newspapers, magazines and bloggers, yours truly included, routinely liberally sprinkle links within a page in order to explain some technical term, concept or theory, provide wider and deeper context, add background information or directly link to a service or product that is mentioned within the writing.
This evolution of writing owes little to technological change and a lot to our evolving behavior in the digital information space we inhabit. SEO nonsense aside (page sculpting was of limited effect and the way Page Rank worked was not quite as porous as most SEOs believed) the technology to create enhanced, interlinked and media-rich pages like the ones we see today existed twenty-two years ago. With some constraints it existed twenty-four years ago.
What’s really changed in that time is the growth of a generation that is considered to be native to the digital space and adept at navigating the complexity of interlinked information nuggets in order to extract the greatest amount of value from each page of information they consume. Teodora Petkova charts the resulting intertextuality that emerges and writes about this on her website, book and the interviews she conducts.
So what is different between then and now is our behavior in the digital space. Human behavior changes slowly and the change is created by two central driving principles: A. The perceived immediate benefit to ourselves and B. The socially accepted behavior we perceive from others. The first is the central tenet of game theory while the second is what neuroscience and sociology tell us is the social drive behind the bulk of human behavior.
Value And Values In an Information Space
Information for sure wants to be free. But it also needs to be valuable. In order for that to happen it needs to acquire value within the complex matrix of our own personal values.
Let’s unpack this a little. The information we put out there always has a purpose, or rather we have an intent when we create it or curate it in the digital space. Its purpose and our intent is only materialized within the context of our action. That means that unless it is somehow bounded or if it appears to others within certain, specific parameters, its value is lost and the information becomes just another piece of datum floating about in cyberspace.
The boundaries within which information appears are determined by what is important and therefore of value, to us. What is of value to us, in turn, is defined by what we choose to direct our attention towards. What we choose to direct our attention to allows us to prioritize our cognitive and emotional resources and this prioritization, in turn, determines the types of action we engage in.
What is key here is that this complex chain of events stems from our values. Values influence our behavior because they help us decide between alternatives when we are presented with choices and have to make a decision. Each decision we make has consequences. The accrued consequences of our decisions become the direction of our life.
Applying Values To Your Linking Strategy In Content
On the surface of it, it appears a bit of a reach to get from a few links placed on a page to the core values of the individual that govern behavior and determine future outcomes. Remember that the technology to do all this existed back in 1998, certainly in the year 2000. But our behavior was less nuanced. Our understanding that placing a link within a page was a bonus to the reader and served to enrich their experience and understanding was not very widespread. Nor was it prevalent to think that the link going to another page was a vote of trust on the credibility, longevity and trustworthiness of that page and the site that hosted it.
All of this is in play now. Readers follow links to sources they trust and if a link takes them to a seemingly untrustworthy site the perception of untrustworthiness infects, by association, the page that hosted the link that took them there.
This means that content creation that doesn’t use any links is, by nature, much more restricted in perceived value and way more bounded in utility than one that does. A perception that’s shared by “the reasonable surfer” is frequently reflected in the programming that determines how a particular web page ranks in search.
Pages that don’t contain links that help expand, deepen and enrich their content are of limited use to the end user and the times when they are sufficient in themselves are the exception rather than the rule. Just like a personal referral ultimately reflects upon the person who makes it, links can add credibility and trustworthiness to a page.
What you link to, how you link to it, the context you do it in and the media you choose to include (a little like my piece on Bruce Lee’s views on emotional content) can significantly affect the perception of the content you create and the site it is hosted in.
How Search Marketing And Branding Benefits From A Clear Link Strategy
Having a clear, focused and value-based link strategy in place can make a significant difference in:
- Search – Where content pages can punch well above their weight by appearing as a resource-laden landing page.
- Branding – Where the tone, approach and association of credible sources and sites can change the perception of credibility, usefulness and trustworthiness of a brand.
- Loyalty – Where the serendipity of discovering useful content unexpectedly can lead to a direct, positive, affective response that leads to positive associations with the brand.
- Marketing – Where frequently visited pages can lead to increased brand reach, greater brand awareness and more successful marketing efforts.
Our world is connected for a reason. Ignoring the benefits of connectivity is not just a case of bucking the trend in the hope that this makes you different, it is ignoring the shift in consumer behavior that’s taken place where intertextuality is expected and a multi-touch approach to accessing information before making a decision is now the norm.