There doesn’t seem to be much of a question anymore about whether online content should contain links. Links are the easiest way to add depth and context to any online content, including news story or blog post. Plus, links are key to optimizing search results for your site.
We may understand that links are necessary, but many of us still feel a bit uncertain about how to know what to link to, where in the text to link it and when links are appropriate.
I gathered a list of linking best practices from some people I consider valuable sources on the subject. The information below is a compilation of linking tips from Sean McGinnis, Steve Buttry and from Rachele Kanigel’s book, The Student Newspaper Survival Guide.
Linking Best Practices for Journalists and Bloggers
Provide specific information
Add links that provide specific information about events—things like maps, registrations or schedules—or provide information about related events or subsequent happenings.
Give readers more
Add links to multimedia elements you may not have access to, things like video clips or song samples. You also should provide links to your own multimedia storytelling elements such as audio or video clips.
Add links that allow users to purchase products or subscribe to services you’re writing about.
Add links that introduce readers to businesses, organizations or people of which/whom they may not have previous knowledge.
Don’t link to well-known stores. For example, if you’re writing about a product that can be purchased at Target, you don’t need to link to Target’s website. Anyone can find it. However, I linked to Rachele’s book on Amazon earlier in this post. The link allows you to go directly to the site and purchase the text if you’d like.
You should link to more information about people unless you’re certain they’re really well-known. For example, the people I introduced at the beginning of this post are kind of a big deal in my world, but they may not be known to my readers. I sent you to their blogs where you can learn much more about them.
Show your work
Add links that allow the reader to view and/or understand your information gathering process. Consider linking, for example, to full interviews, public records or other official documents.
Add links that direct readers to related content within and outside of your site. It’s acceptable to mix up internal and external links to add value and be a resource for readers.
Internal links could include those for related stories or other suggested reading.
External links could include those for sites you mentioned in the story or stories about the same subject, produced by other news organizations.
Keep them short
Links should be at least two words, but be only enough words to help the reader understand what they’ll find on other end of the link and to compel them to click.
Links should add value for the reader. Don’t link for the sake of linking. It’s acceptable to send the reader away from your site. In fact, Google has made a major business out of doing just that. However, don’t send readers away unnecessarily.
Always check the site
Never link to a site you haven’t viewed or a site with outdated information. You owe it to your reader to check your sources.
Apparently there is such a thing as linking too much. I read that you should link every 150 words or so. I don’t think you should put a word count on when you link. Instead, you should brainstorm every link you could include with a story and then cut out those that are unnecessary. Also, consider your ethical obligation to your readers. You could be considered as promoting a site or supporting its contents by linking to it. Make sure you consider how the link might reflect on your organization before creating it.
I hope this post helps you understand some basics about linking best practices. I didn’t delve into search engine optimization or page rank because it’s more important, in my opinion, for multimedia journalists to first know how to use links to best serve their readers. You can learn more advanced linking practices once you understand the basics. I think Sean McGinnis put it best in his “first rule of link building“— “Build links as if it won’t help your search results.”