Professor Rich Gordon presents findings on how linking affects website traffic

The changing news landscape means journalists needs to rethink how information gets to audiences.

“If you are a journalist or if you are a publisher, and you want your information to get found, you can no longer assume it’s going to land on their doorstep or be watched by households watching the daily newscast,” said Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation. “It’s now going to require that you use these networks to get your story out.”

Gordon has been examining how information is shared online andpresented the results of his research as part of the December Medill Faculty Colloquium.
Research on the significance of sharing news online is crucial and Gordon is in the forefront, said Professor David Abrahamson.

“This is a very, very hot topic and Rich is one of the real important thinkers,” Abrahamson said.

The topic for the colloquium was Linking Audiences to News II: 2012 Network Analysis of Chicago Websites. Gordon discussed the findings of a study he and Zachary Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Syndio Social, authored based on an analysis of 301 Chicago websites.

The study’s focus was on the way websites in the Chicago area were connected to other websites. It was a follow-up to their 2010 study of Chicago-based websites.

“The goal is to try to learn something about overall patterns of usage in this ecosystem by examining web analytics for a number of sites that we get links for,” Gordon said.

One of the key findings was that national websites with a local focus are beginning to play a key role in the Chicago ecosystem because of their use of links to other sites.

Another significant finding was that small websites rely more on traffic from within the network of sites; they also benefit from Facebook and Twitter, which are the source of 51.7 percent of their referred visits. There is a correlation of 0.492 that more links will bring more traffic.

“We’re documenting that, in fact, links matter,” Gordon said. “If you get more links, you get more traffic.”

Gordon pointed out that he does not know yet how to add a monetized value to linking and to determine the value a user derives from a site.

Gordon also discussed ways faculty can use these results to teach their students in new ways.

“From an instructional standpoint, and I don’t have research to support this, I would require students, when they write stories, to link out to things,” Gordon said. “We’re in this sort of interesting moment where most of our students are active in social media, more so than [faculty] are, but they have not been given the analytical framework to use it effectively.”

Gordon’s suggestions were beneficial for Professor Jack Doppelt, who heard ways to change how he runs his classes. He also appreciated the use of linking for improving civic engagement.

“It made me aware of the opportunity of connection with those sites on behalf of my students and Medill,” Doppelt said. “[Gordon’s research] gives us an insight into where would be the best places for students to put their work.”

Watch Gordon's full presentation here.