We all scan headlines, whether it's the printed newspaper, Techmeme, Huffington Post, Hacker News, Seeking Alpha, Google Reader, Google search results, or Twitter. That's the way we consume information. For any given set of headlines, we might click on one link and read a full story. That's the way I've been reading the newspaper since I was a teenager.
So it should not be surprising to anyone that the same is true online. Arnon Mishkin, a partner at Mitchell Madison Group, has a post on Paid Content where he asserts that:
What that says to me is one out of every two visitors found nothing they wanted to dig deeper on when visiting one of these link pages. And that may well be true.
But it does not mean that the other 50%, who did click on a link and go visit a story, are not valuable.
I get 52% of my monthly visits from "referring traffic". And another 16% from search. Only 32% of my monthly visits come direct.
So if I somehow took my posts out of the "link economy", my traffic would in theory decrease by 68%.
It's the sad truth of the content business, certainly many parts of the content business, on the Internet. If you are a content owner, the front door to your content has moved to a place you don't control. You can get it back by walking away from the link economy. But I don't see many content owners doing that. It's likely suicide.
As Arnon points out, the better move is to try to become an aggregator.
NBC and News Corp did that with Hulu and the results so far appear to be quite good. If the front page of NYTimes.com linked to everything interesting on the web instead of just their own stories, they could play the same game. I understand the organization reluctance to do that, but I wonder if they have any other choice.