Tynt And Visibli: The Rise Of User Hostile Blog Plugins

There’s been a bit of an spammy trend lately in the blogosphere, the rise of user hostile plugins. What I mean by user hostile: plugins that offer little benefit for visitors and break anticipated user experience to (try and) selfishly benefit a site.

Bottom line? They are obnoxious, and instead of actually benefiting that blogger, media entity or company as intended I would say they cause more harm than good. Anything you can do that will piss off a user is not worth any “SEO benefits.”  I use that in quotes because as an SEO who considers the web holistic, I’d advise you to always consider the broader implications for your brand.

Trying to force people to do something by breaking their browsing experience or interrupting their workflow to try to get one extra link or click right now is not worth the broader harm to building a community of intelligent, connected people.

Here are two examples of these plugins in action. I’m sure you’ve seen them around the web already.

Tynt (the product that breaks copy-paste)

Tynt is that simple, yet intrusive application that breaks copy-paste, or as John Gruber of Daring Fireball calls them: the copy-paste jerks. Tynt thinks we are all content thieves or that we don’t know to link to sources. Those who install it on their blogs have to think their readers are too. Or that everyone on the web is out to rip off ideas. Either way it’s annoying enough that I consciously try not to link to bloggers who use Tynt unless I really want to share the story.

For example, I like HubSpot and want to link to them more. I really do. But it’s really obnoxious to quote their content as they’re using the user-hostile plugin. Here’s what happens when I try to copy-paste a bit from one of HubSpot’s blog posts:

It’s not like the important sites don’t know to link as credit. Yeah, the important sites, the ones that will actually send link equity to you. If spam bloggers rip you off they’re not likely to link to you anyway: Tynt solves a problem that is purely in the minds of publishers and breaks a basic function of your computer. Any site that will actually send you meaningful link equity will know to link.

Visibli (the product that breaks outbound linking)

Visibli is equally (IMO) user hostile. If you haven’t seen it yet, consider yourself lucky. I StumbledUpon it after I saw an interesting link in Twitter and was taken to the blog of integrating marketing firm V3. The post was interesting, but when I clicked an outbound link I was given quite the surprise. Here’s the link:

When clicking the link, note two things the Visibli tool does (shown via red boxes below):

  1. Masks the *real* link with a link on a visibli subdomain (I am told you can have this be changed to a sub-domain on your own domain too).
  2. Embed a toolbar promoting the previous site you were on.

It is self-important of any website to think a user wants you creating a frame following them around to outbound links. We know to right-click and open in a new window if we want to go back somewhere else on the original site. If someone left clicks a link, guess what – they are done browsing your site. Following users around with a toolbar is intrusive and may make people not want to return to your site.

I understand why a publisher might think they would be useful in theory, but in action they are just a nuisance for web-literate users. And from chats with a few other users I’m not the only one who feels this way.

The CEO of Visibli caught a tweet of mine about the service and followed up with me via email. Here is his response to the question of what the user benefit is:

The benefits to users are similar to what they’d expect from browser-based toolbars, which we know millions of people use. For the user, it again provides easier access and exposure to other articles by the same publisher, and other social tools that make it easier to share, etc. Not so different from what we see from StumbleUpon and LinkedIn (who also use web-based toolbars above external links), but ours is simply a white-labeled solution for bloggers/companies.

I’ll buy this – except for the fact that sites like StumbleUpon are services not publishers and they add a lot of value to users who are interested in finding more content in a category. I’m still not convinced there is enough value for a user if it is just hyping the previous site I was just on.

I’ll also add that, although at first sight it might look hostile, readers are actually engaging with it at pretty high rates. I mentioned earlier that 12% more come back to bloggers after clicking out; additionally, when we work with other organizations (e.g. artists), the interaction rate is also high – over 5% have interacted with the bar in some way through the call-to-action buttons. In some ways, this is an indication that perhaps the bar isn’t as hostile to users at it might seem.

The numbers seem good but I still can’t help wonder if you are also annoying another % of connected users who might be even higher value?

Curious what you think of these products?