Friday, 19 October 2012

Linking to external sites - a warning

Links - so beloved of web designers and especially SEO experts - are a double edged sword. Here we explain why.

The first rule of web marketing: 


"Once you have attracted  potential customer to your website do everything in your power to hold them there to [place an order/book a room/make an appointment]"

So far so good, but the second rule in some marketer's books seems to be:


"embed as many links to as many other sites as possible"

And the third?
"Link to external review sites"

We have no issues at all with Rule 1. Almost all of our clients' marketing spend is designed to attract potential custom to their websites. With the other two we would like to strike some words of caution:

External links

It is important to remember that for every visitor to your site that follows an external link, some will not return. How many less will depend on (a) how powerful the message contained on your site is (do you show independent and verified reviews, for instance) and (b) where that external site is likely to lead your visitor (potential customer).

Examples:

Hotels commonly link to local sites that they feel may be of interest to their potential guest - sites of interest and local tourist boards are common. Here's a screenshot of Visit Devon:

Click to enlarge
Note the helpful links in the drop-down. Could you be sure you wouldn't lose a booking?

How about linking to TripAdvisor?

How absolutely sure are you that they'll come back? After all, TripAdvisor is a very helpful site: showing other hotels in the area and hotels that rank above the one being viewed (we met with a potential client in central London last week who ranked in the 300s on TripAdvisor and was linking to them on their home page, we cannot be sure but we reckon they were losing almost everyone who followed that link).

There are estate agents who send potential clients to see this kind of thing:

Which may be equally unhelpful.

So, link by all means, but always ask the key question "will they return?" before you do.

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