Learn the Etiquette of Good Linking

Links to credible content take nothing away from content creators. But there's an etiquette to good linking.
January 30, 2012

Linking to credible content delivers value to your customers without taking anything away from the content creators. But be mindful of the etiquette of good linking, which benefits both the source and your site or newsletter.

A CPA firm published entire articles on its blog without getting permission from the authors. I should know: A tweet from one of the principals led me to her site, which contained an article of mine in its entirety.

I'm not interested in shutting down the offending website, but it's useful to discuss the etiquette of proper linking.

If you have a business blog or website, here are the questions that you should ask.

Should I copy an entire article or blog post onto my website or print it in my company newsletter?

If the article resonates with your audience and if you have permission or the content is in the public domain, you can post the entire article. You should not post the entire piece if you do not have permission.

To request permission, contact the content owner, which may be the author but it may be an organization or business that published the piece. Inform them of how you plan to use the content, naming your print or online publication, and describing its distribution and its audience.

Once you have permission, credit the author when you post the content, and link to the original piece. Add language indicating that you have permission to reprint it.

Content creators and content owners vary on granting permission to copy work. Because duplication of online content can blur the original authorship, many reject republication requests. They prefer that you create commentary with a link, rather than copying the entire article.

Unless there are compelling reasons for allowing full reprints, full copies are generally not beneficial to the writer. However, if the requesting organization reaches an audience that is significantly larger than the original, reaches new and different types of people or contains prestigious contacts, the writer might realize the benefit of allowing a reprint and grant permission.

If republication isn’t detrimental, many content creators give permission if you ask.

Occasionally, content owners grant blanket permission to redistribute work, typically with caveats. For example, you can copy articles with specific Creative Commons licenses, as long as you attribute them properly. The mnmlist blog by Leo Babuta allows people to copy, distribute or modify without permission, and “credit is appreciated but not required.”

How can I share great content?

Directing a friend, colleague or customer to great content is simple: Link to the content from social media or embed a link on your website.

Sharing and expanding on ideas you find in articles takes more effort and finesse. If you want to generate discussion, build on knowledge and broaden your audience’s perspective, try adding value in the text surrounding the link. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Relate a story from your experience that reinforces the message of the article you're linking to.

  • Add relevant information that the article does not contain.

  • Be specific about which of the article's points you fully agree with and which you are still debating.

  • Highlight key points or items in a list and elaborate on them.

  • Ask questions that you want your audience to consider after they read the article.

A good example of value-added article-sharing is an ARMA blog post that distills key points on customer service from one of my articles.

Do I need to tell the writer that I am linking to the blog post or article?

No. Usually, the content creator or owner welcomes links. If you feel compelled to express gratitude (or respectful, contrary opinion), leave a comment on the blog post, share the article through social media or e-mail the author.

Should I ask for a reciprocal link to one of my articles if I link to a blog post, article or website?

No. Your business benefits by linking to the resource, so you serve your audience without having to create content. You are not doing the writer a favor by linking to an article; you are acknowledging its value.

What does proper linking look like?

Link the words that describe the topic. For example, link to “this informative article on reasons people resist change,” rather than “this article” or just “here.”

Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a personal-finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.

Image credit: iStockphoto