Hyperlinks are standard fare on news websites.  By connecting people to more information, hyperlinks can help news site visitors find more information and learn more about important issues facing their communities.  And from a business perspective, hyperlinks can improve site stickiness.

Download a summary of the research here (.pdf)

Download the full report here (.pdf)

But can hyperlinks be presented on a page in a way that prompts additional news use, as opposed to entertainment stories?  And can hyperlinks be presented on a page in ways that encourage visitors to view editorial content from different political perspectives?

political-beat-hyperlinksWebsites currently use many strategies to introduce hyperlinks to news audiences.  Some sites list the most frequently visited pages in a “Most Popular” section.  Other sites include “Recommended Content” on the basis of the story topic or a visitor’s past browsing behavior.

Yet other news sites use strategies such as: “Disagree with our opinions here?  Check out our left-leaning opinions.”

We wanted to know whether prompts could affect behavior.  We looked at the following:

  • “Thanks for keeping up with the news.  Be proud of protecting your democracy.”
  • “Promote a better democracy, read different viewpoints.”
  • “Form accurate opinions by reading different viewpoints.”
  • “Follow the issues that worry you.”
  • Results, however, were mixed.  Some of these phrases led site visitors to evaluate a site more positively, but also decreased the number of clicks on a site (e.g. “Promote a better democracy, read different viewpoints.”).   Others encouraged some visitors to spend less time with counter-attitudinal editorial content (e.g. “Follow the issues that worry you.”).  None of these prompts produced uniformly positive democratic and business outcomes.

Our conclusion?  Sites should be extremely cautious in deploying these sorts of phrases.  They may have unintended effects!

Academic Presentations

Stroud, N. J., Muddiman, A., & Scacco, J. (2013, June). Linking to alternative views.  Paper presented at the International Communication Association, Political Communication Division, London.

 

 

Featured Image By tom burke from Morgan Hill, CA, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons