If you’re manufacturing outbound links – particularly via guest placements on third party sites – your work must bear potential scrutiny from Google quality contractors… not to mention your peer competitors. How you link out – to your own or client properties as well as other supporting resources – matters tremendously.

And listen – how you link out is about more than just Google and your competitors.

You’re making task and process recommendations with the full expectation of readers following them. Outbound linking provides the basis for earning your readers’ trust in your careful, considered positions on how they should spend their precious lives.

Citation Justification:
This article breaks out circumstances where citation is required – academically/journalistically – and where citations just “feel right.” It closes with a checklist we recommend for your editorial phase of content you intend for offsite placements.

Citation Required Circumstances:

  • Data or “findings” (a recent study shows…)
  • Direct quotation of a source (according to expert individual OR organization/brand…)
  • Indicating source of a summary of key concepts, philosophy, approach
  • Further, fuller, supplemental resource on topic (for more information visit)
  • Embedded material credit (image/graphic/video from)
  • Defining jargon and industry terminology for the layperson (definition)
  • Indicating the source/discoverer of news or fact
  • Indicating the development or course of a concept as it gained acceptance/adherence (concept originated with bob, but picked up and extended here by barbara)

We found both of these resources useful in fleshing out our thinking on circumstances where citations are required and therefore “academically justifiable”:
Understand When Citations are Necessary
When to Cite Sources

So now let’s get into the spirit of citations. The Citation Required list above just feels a bit flat and uninspiring. The spirit side of citations is a bit more joyous and reverential – breathless and excited for the web of connections and relatedness that every topic contains.

The Spirit of Citation:

  • Gladly giving credit where credit is due: respecting the elders of the practice, authorities and the shoulders of giants
  • Giving credit because author was inspired by the document/document’s author
  • Each link out establishing and anchoring an overall assertion that leads the reader to a desired, healthy, safe action or mindset
  • Enable or speed task completion of task that’s related to the article but not required
  • Call out the linked document’s authors by name because they’re awesome – expressing gratitude, connecting readers to larger practitioner community
  • We don’t have enough space to fully dig into the topic – here’s more
  • We got the spark of an idea for xyz from this document
  • A funny, fun or inspiring aside
  • Wry or sarcastic aside, supported by a related document

So we hope that list gets you more in the mood to link out. It can be a fun interplay between the author and reader. Journalists have done a lovely job expressing this facet of linking (and the examples of HOW to link in these documents are lovely):

Links: Not Just the Currency of the Web, but the Soul
Four journalistic purposes of the noble hyperlink

Here are some of the questions we ask about every document we create for placement – our “Citation Justification Checklist:”

  • If we remove this link will the article’s utility or pleasure to the reader decrease?
  • Have we indicated to the reader how the link adds utility or pleasure to their lives?
  • Does the anchor text help the reader understand the cited document?
  • Can the text near the outbound link thank or call out the linked-document’s author or brand in some way?
  • Is the reader alerted that there’s a link, and why – and when – they should follow it?
  • Is the link academically justifiable/required in some way?
  • Does the linked document genuinely support a position or the completion of a task related to the article?
  • Do we link out consistently within the article, supporting all the key assertions, not just the one related to our site/client?

If you’ve made it to the end and you’re hungry for examples and/or more thinking on the subject I highly recommend reading what some thoughtful journalists have said about the practice of outbound linking.

Hyperlinking in Journalism
Maximizing the values of the link: Credibility, readability, connectivity
Wikipedia: Manual of Style/Linking
“Digital journalism” and the absence of hyperlinks

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