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Published on September 18th, 2013

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.

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?

Websites 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.

Researchers

  • Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

    Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud
    Director
    tstroud@austin.utexas.edu

    Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is the founding and current Director of the Center for Media Engagement and Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Niche News: The Politics of News Choice, received the Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association, and inspired the early development of the Center. Her research examines the use and effects of political news content.

  • Ashley Muddiman

    Ashley Muddiman
    Faculty Research Associate
    ashley.muddiman@gmail.com

    Dr. Ashley Muddiman (University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D.) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, as well as a Faculty Research Associate with the Center for Media Engagement. Her research explores political media effects, specifically those related to digital news and political incivility. She has studied how people select news stories to read in digital news and social media spaces, has examined incivility in The New York Times comment section, and has explored ways to encourage people to overcome partisan biases when engaging with digital news. She also enjoys developing innovative research designs, including a new method researchers can use when analyzing large amounts of texts.

  • Joshua Scacco

    Joshua Scacco
    Faculty Research Associate
    jscacco@purdue.edu

    Joshua M. Scacco (PhD, University of Texas at Austin, 2014) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida. He also serves as a Faculty Research Associate with the Center for Media Engagement. He specializes in political communication, media content and effects, and quantitative research methods. Josh’s research is focused on how emerging communication technologies influence established agents in American political life, including news organizations and the presidency. Before joining USF, Josh served on the faculty at Purdue University, worked in public relations at the state and federal level, and worked for a member of legislative leadership in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as well as a U.S. senator.