Layout Image

10 Ways to Link Out Responsibly

Working links into your work is an integral part of blogging.

Linking out is good for:

Your readers: by providing them with ideas and suggestions (that they can trust) on interesting sites, new ideas, valuable resources, other blogs to explore and so on

You: linking out adds life to your blog, making new connections, forging new friendships, helping new readers to find you.

There’s no point writing great stuff if no-one knows you’re there.

This is one of the first and most valuable lessons I learned about blogging: if you don’t link out you’ll end up with a dead blog.

The interconnected web: links help everyone, including you, to find things on the web.

“Google (and pretty much every other major search engine) uses hyperlinks to help determine reputation. Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and link-based analysis has greatly improved the quality of web search.” (Matt Cutts at Google)

Links are also easily abused (sold, traded, exchanged, hidden).

Given the value of credible links to everyone using the web it’s not hard to see why responsible linking matters, and why it should be something you think about very carefully when you’re publishing material on the web.

I’ve learned a lot from other people over the last 15 months, both in terms of what they’ve written about links, and the way they practice linking out themselves.

Much of this learning has come from the work of Liz Strauss and if you’re interested in developing your own practice I’d encourage  you to dig around in the archives at Successful Blog for more ideas and suggestions (and demonstrations of how it’s done).

1. Link to quality:

This is the fundamental principle, underpinning the rest.  Link out to resources, posts, sites, videos that are quality, that add value to your readers’ experience.

2. Visit the site:

Before you include a link, visit the site.  Check it out before you send your readers there.  That includes those times when you’re cutting and pasting long lists of links that you might have received from elsewhere (perhaps if you’ve been nominated or included on a list of blogs).  A link is a link no matter where it’s come from.  Visit it before you post it.

3. Watch your widgets:

Remember that some of the things you have in your sidebar are creating links to other work too.  Are you happy with the quality of the sites that widgets like Blogrush or even MyBlogLog are pointing your readers to?

4. Think of your readers:

Don’t go crazy with long lists of links - most of the time your readers won’t have time to follow them all up.  Tastes seem to vary but between 5 and 12 was the preference last time I asked

5. Think again about your readers:

There are different ways you can work your links into your writing. They can be written out as a list; interwoven, as a ‘natural’ part of the text; or set out as footnotes at the end.

The best approach will depend on your readers and the kind of web reading they’re used to. For more on this, you might be interested in this comment from Rosa Say at Managing With Aloha Coaching on ways she has adapted her linking style:

I’m trying to keep my writing more uncluttered, and defer to linking in a footnote style, giving readers a message without interruption. Every once in a while I remind myself that books have done perfectly fine without links— and still do!

6. Think twice before you do link exchanges.

I don’t trade or exchange links.  I link out (generously, I hope) and I’ll do my best to say thanks if you link to me.  But I only link to you if your work is going to add something of value to the experience of people visiting my site. I know some people trade amongst friends.

I prefer the clarity of a ‘no exchange’ rule.  Most people get it, I think, and only once has someone taken umbrage.

7. Don’t sell links.

8. Think about the anchor text.

This is a point I learned from Liz Strauss.  The anchor text (the bit of text that is hyperlinked, and that you can click on) counts a lot in SEO terms.  If you’re linking to sites, blogs and bloggers that you respect, the words you use can help them (in a practical sense, to get found) and is also a ‘signal’ of that respect.

Well-written anchor text is one more way that people and spiders know why you made the link — the relevance between your post and where you are sending them. Link anchor text is another way to reach out with respect to bloggers who offer information we value.

9. Monitor:

Use an alert system so you find out when other people link to you.  That way you can pop over and say a courtesy “thanks” to someone who’s taken the time to highlight and promote your work

10. Be transparent:

Let your readers know what your policy is towards link exchanges, affiliate links (where purchases through your site can generate some income for you), how you write links.

What else would you add to this list?  Are there points you disagree with or that you’d like to put differently? How have you learned to link out responsibly?

Photo Credit: You’re only as strong as the… by bigeoiono on Flickr
Share on Twitter


  1. Chris Moran says:

    Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk says:

    It hasn’t been that much of problem for me. I’m interested in fostering deep conversations and link when I want to give the reader a chance to get more information without me having to interrupt my post.

    At the bottom of each post I thank, and link to, everyone who commented on the previous week’s post. It takes a little time, but I don’t get so many comments that it’s a burden.

    Jean Browman-Cheerful Monks last blog post..Creating a Sacred Space

  3. Rosa Say says:

    Such great advice Joanna! Linking out seems so easy, and like such a no-brainer when it comes to building community, yet over time it can be quite amazing how your preferences change, and how something like the *open new window/replace this window* decision can cause such deliberation!

    I think it differs with overall blog intentions too: For instance I have been using my links on MWAC to fill the week with my readers’ self-coaching progression there since I only publish each Tuesday. I have started writing there with a “do this first, then this” in my coaching approach.

    In contrast, at Talking Story and Joyful Jubilant Learning I try to be much more self-contained in postings, knowing that those readers generally prefer that I keep articles more self-contained; once I link out the assumption is saying I am saying goodbye to them with a recommendation to meet others and further explore.

    I like how you have connected the value of responsibility to this discussion though, for each blogger ultimately can be thoroughly responsible for delivering attention shifts in their degrees of separation, and it takes time to responsibly check out where you are sending people! It also takes a great deal of trust: What will happen over time at that link location when you have now forgotten about it, but the archives (and the Google gods) still remember?

    All you can do without going crazy, is put your trust in the values of those others you have linked out to.

    The quote you were kind enough to include here for me? I freely admit to you that I flip-flop on this constantly!

    Rosa Says last blog post..October 2008: Out of the gates and running

  4. Parth says:

    Nice! I’ve certainly made some mistakes in this sector. Do you have any articles on self-linking? Any rules I should know about?

    Parths last blog post..Five Things That Are Right With My Life

  5. Leslie Doyle says:

    Excellent information!! I blog for personal entertainment, but I work in the computer industry, often doing training documentation for clients. This article is beneficial both personally and professionally. Thanks for taking the time to share!

    Leslie Doyles last blog post..I’ve Been Tagged

  6. Liz Strauss says:

    Hi Joanna,
    This post is one of the best on the subject that I’ve read in a long time and I’m passing to a friend of mine. Good linking practice connects as much as good thoughts do. Thank you for putting this together.

    Liz Strausss last blog post..The Mic is On: We’re Talking about Web Design!

  7. Meghna says:

    Hi Joanna,

    This is a very useful post.

    Is there any tool to monitor when other link to my blogs? (Other than google blog search)

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful points.

    Meghnas last blog post..Killer Maths

  8. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jean, thanking previous commenters is a nice touch.

    I wouldn’t dismiss linking as a way of fostering deep conversations though - some of the best and most lasting conversations, relationships and friendships have come as a result of consistent linking out.

  9. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Rosa, you will notice I stayed well clear of the open new window debate in compiling this list!

    I agree absolutely that how we practice linking relates to our blogging intention - and that to me was the real learning point behind the comment you shared with us last year.

    Funny, I’ve never thought of linking out as saying goodbye - but maybe that comes from my own practice which is too offshoot (in a new tab) without leaving the site of the person who’s suggested I go there. Assuming that is they’re someone I trust, rather than a site I want to get away from as soon as possible.

    I do try to check for broken links (one of the wonders of wordpress) but as for checking if they’re still quality sites… you’re right, that way madness would lie.

  10. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Parth, I suspect we’ve all made some mistakes on this one!

    There’s lots written on the web about inter-linking. Here’s a post from Liz that might get you started (I told you the answers could all be found there…)

  11. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Leslie, I’m glad you found it useful. Thanks for taking the time to leave the feedback.

    Liz, I’ve learned so much from you about seeing links as part of a relationship. I was glad to have the opportunity of the ‘responsibility’ theme to share some of that learning again.

    Meghna, I use blog search too. Don’t forget you can search for the links eg link: as well as to blog title or your name. (I should also say now I’ve moved to WordPress the system does the monitoring of incoming links for me…)

  12. Brad Shorr says:

    Joanna, A well chosen collection of links makes a fabulous post, in my opinion. It saves readers the time to find the posts (assuming they can find them at all), and turns readers on to new, high quality blogs.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Beat the Clock - Please!

  13. Ariane Benefit says:

    Joanna, this is such a timely post for me! I have been confronted with many of these dilemmas and it’s a great resource to help me get clear about what my policies will be and why. I get lots of people asking to buy links and I never know what to say! Thanks so much for your ever “responsible” and well thought out advice and references to other sites on the topic…especially to Liz Strauss! I love her!

  14. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, I loved Rosa’s thoughts on linking and it makes perfect sense. So often we can get caught up in the blog world that we forget the practical lessons from other medium. Your list was informative and one that personally jumped out at me was the bit on anchor text. This is honestly something that I had overlooked. These are great lessons and such a nice follow on from the lessons on respect. Thank you Joanna!

    Karen Swims last blog post..Carrots, Sticks and Such

  15. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Chris, thanks for the feedback. Sorry for the delay in posting and replying to your comment - the spam monster ate your words :-(

  16. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Brad, I agree, and I’ve learned a lot from the way you organise your links by theme and topic, taking great care to highlight what’s relevant and valuable. Your marketing round ups are always a great read.

    Ariane, I’m glad you found this useful. I think you’ll find that it’s easier to deal with requests once you’ve got your policies clearly set out, and it avoids any future awkwardness… including with friends and colleagues.

    Hi Karen :-) The lesson on anchor text is one I’d never have thought about were it not for Liz, and it’s definitely an area where we can go the extra mile. One of the things I also learned from the IttyBiz book on SEO is that we should be clear what kind of anchor text we’re looking for - if friends and readers are going to link why not let them know what anchor text would be good for us? For example in your case is it “Karen Swim”, “Words for Hire”, “brilliant resume writer”, “inspirational blogger”, or…? :-)

  17. Kevin Cimring says:

    Hi, just found your blog via a reference by @sopan on Twitter (isn’t Twitter great for discovering new content.) Will certainly keep following your posts.

    Kevin Cimrings last blog post..A day to remember

  18. Jamie Simmerman says:

    Absolutely terrific post, Joanna. I think new bloggers will especially appreciate this clear-cut guide to linking responsibly.

    Jamie Simmermans last blog post..Do You Write Pork Rinds or Meatloaf?

  19. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Kevin, thanks for letting me know where you came from, and yes Twitter is great for finding new material… I must try and get back into Twitter!

    Jamie, thanks for the feedback. I do try and write a mixture of stuff for different levels of writing and blogging practice. Though some of the ethical issues only emerge over time. Ariane (her comment below) has been blogging successfully for a long time, which is probably why she’s now getting lots of requests to sell links…

  20. Paunchiness says:

    I’ve always been afraid of linking out to much but I suppose, as you mention, it’s very important in creating the blog community.

    Paunchinesss last blog post..busy?

  21. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Paunchiness, I don’t think it’s something to be afraid of. If you link out to smaller blogs in particular you’re more likely to build relationships as they’re more likely to pop over and see what you’re up to. Liz really gets you thinking about links as being part of relationship building - after that it becomes a lot easier.

  22. Fortuitous Bouncing « man.of.depravity says:

    [...] advice on how to do a good job of linking to other blog posts. You can link to mine [...]

  23. Jess says:

    I find that linking out properly in terms of getting the anchor text right for your friends is one of the most important things you can do for them. If they are trying to make money online than this is doubly important because search traffic is most often the revenue generating traffic - and proper anchor text is key for search engine traffic.

  24. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jess, that’s very true. It took me a long time to figure that out though!

  25. Destroying your brand with non-stop lists - WinExtra says:

    [...] 10 Ways to Link Out Responsibly [...]