Why I Include External Links In My Blog Posts
In high school or college, you were probably taught how to cite sources in your research papers using specific guidelines. But standards for citing sources on blog posts are far less clear.
When I write a blog post on behalf of a client, I almost always include:
anchor text with links to credible sources that support any facts or claims
anchor text with links to related internal pages or previous blog posts
Sometimes the client - or their webmaster - will remove these links before posting the article. They may not see the value in taking the time to include the links. However, I argue that it’s in the client’s best interest to leave the links in the post.
What Is Anchor Text?
Anchor text is a term used to describe the word(s) a user clicks on to reach a link. Here’s an example:
What Is A Reputable Source?
When I was an English composition instructor for college freshman, part of my job was teaching students how to locate credible sources. On a blog or website, though, the definition of “reputable” will vary by industry.
Depending on your field, reputable sources might include:
Scholarly or medical journal articles
Scientific, current study abstracts (especially meta-analyses or double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies)
Websites or articles authored by well-respected, recognizable companies or thought leaders in your industry
Books by industry experts
Websites ran by reputable non-profit organizations
Journalistic websites with a history of unbiased reporting
Why You Should Link To Credible Sources
Effective content marketing should work to establish trust with prospects, search engines, and other industry leaders. Including citations with links - where appropriate to do so - helps to build that trust.
Using Credible Sources To Build Prospect Trust
Visitors to your site need a reason to trust you. A study that examined more than two billion website visits determined that 55% of users leave a website in less than 15 seconds. You have only a few moments to make a good impression.
By citing any claims you make, you’re helping to build trust between your company and your prospects. When you cite credible, well-respected sources within your industry, you build your reputation and ensure visitors that you’re a knowledgeable leader in your field.
Using Credible Sources To Build Search Engine Trust
But linking to credible sources does more than just build trust between your company and your prospects: it also helps search engines trust you too. The days of keyword-stuffed filler content are no more. Search engines like Google now know how to evaluate the quality and authority of your website.
Search engines will prioritize your website in search results when they know you’re posting high-quality, authoritative content. Knowing how to conduct research - and use scholarly, authoritative, or trustworthy sources - helps demonstrate your authority to Google.
Patrick Stox, an SEO Specialist for IBM, agrees that companies can establish credibility through research. “Show your site’s credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials,” he writes for Search Engine Land.
Using Credible Sources To Build Industry Trust
Depending on your industry, linking to reputable research can also help you establish yourself (or your company) as a reliable source of information. When other companies in your field can trust your content, they will be more willing to link to it on their own sites. As you’re probably aware, earning quality back links boosts your site’s search engine optimization (SEO).
If you’re writing for a B2B (business-to-business) audience, being recognized as a thought leader in your industry is of even greater importance.
Helping Users And Search Engines Navigate Your Site
So we’ve established why you should include links to sources in your blog posts, but what’s the point of linking to your own internal content?
First of all, linking to related, useful content on your site can increase the amount of time visitors spend on your site. Older blog posts will also continue to get traffic when you link to them in your new content.
Linking to older, related posts will also help search engines navigate your site. For more information on how linking to your own content can aid search engines, see Moz’s guide to internal links.
How Links Keep Writing Concise
If you’ve ever read Strunk and White’s classic writing guide The Elements of Style, you know that good writing should be concise:
“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
I personally like to provide links to cite sources because doing so reduces the number of words it takes me to communicate an idea. Consider the difference between these two examples:
Example A: “The average age of onset for migraines is 20.”
Example B: “According to neurologist Carl Dahlof, MD, PhD, the average age of onset for migraines is 20.”
Example A is clearly shorter and more concise than Example B, but both include appropriate citations.
The above examples highlight an important difference between writing for a digital audience and writing for print: in a print magazine or newspaper article, we do not have the option to include a link to citations. But on the web, we can keep our writing more concise by using anchor text to cite sources.
Keeping Visitors On Your Site
Sometimes people hesitate to include links to external sources because they believe doing so will encourage users to leave their site. If you share the same concern, just set the link to open in a new tab
Here’s an example of how to set a link to open in a new tab on Wordpress:
Some users will be annoyed when links open in a new tab (my husband falls into this category). Use your own best judgment as to what will please your audience. Even if you don’t set links to open in a new tab, if your content is useful, users will return to your site.
Good Content Marketing Writers Understand How To Format For A Digital Audience
Content marketing writers should know how to write. But they also need to understand how to format web articles for readability. Making web content easy-to-read means:
Keeping articles concise
Including bolded headlines
Keeping paragraphs short
Weaving in keywords where it is natural to do so
Providing anchor text with links where appropriate
Including Links: A Personal And Contextual Choice
The decision to include links in a blog post is a personal and contextual one. Some writers or editors prefer to include a list of citations at the end of an article. Others prefer to exclude citations altogether.
In fact, Associated Press (AP) style guidelines advise writers to use in-text citations rather than linking or even listing sources. Such guidelines make sense for a journalist who is performing original reporting and obtaining her own sources.
But blog posts are different than news articles. My personal preference? When I’m reading something, I like to check facts. When a blog writer includes linked citations, I find it easier - and faster - to fact-check. Unless a website’s standards specify otherwise, I will continue to include links wherever it makes sense to do so.
Do you include source links in your blog posts? Why or why not?