Are external links a good idea for your blog? Do they direct readers away from your website or do they tie your blog to other, more highly trafficked sites? There seems to be a growing divide among marketers, but as lawyers-writers the choice is clear: cite your sources.
I’m beginning to develop a pet peeve: bloggers who reference, and even quote, resources available online, and then don’t link to the source article. While eliminating external links from your blog may ensure readers aren’t distracted, it also reduces credibility and can hurt your back-end SEO.
Last week I was writing a blog for one of my ghostblogging clients on Deacon v Pandora, a recent Michigan Supreme Court decision on whether consumers have a right to privacy in their play lists. I found out about the decision through a local news article. While researching, I found reference to it on legal blogs and other news outlets. One article even quoted the opinion at length. But not one of them linked to the decision. Eventually, I had to go to the source – the Michigan Supreme Court’s website to find the opinion.
External Links Establish Credibility
You should never make your readers work that hard to verify the credibility of your statements. Any time you use a statistic or quote an expert, you should give your readers assurance that it comes from a credible source. It will build your authority and show your readers that your opinion can be trusted.
That does impose a little more work on you, the writer. Because you can’t take your quotes from just anywhere. As a best-practice, you should do the work to dig down to a credible source. Whenever you can, cite to government pages, established journals, and well-established news sources. Try to avoid quoting other blogs, unless it is the original language of that blog writer. That way you can keep from joining in a game of Internet telephone, with each layer of paraphrase further distorting the content.
Are You Driving Readers Away?
So what about marketers’ argument that external links direct readers away from your content? Don’t you want your readers to get the the Call to Action at the bottom of the page? Of course you do. But unless the page you are linking to is more authoritative and more interesting than yours, it is a safe bet your readers will be back for more.
That’s where being smart about your outside links comes in to play. If you are linking to a 32-page PDF of a court opinion, most of your readers will see it as authoritative without reading the whole thing. If you link to a blogger with whom you disagree, many readers will want to watch the debate. But if your article has nothing to add to the conversation, then the marketers’ concerns could have merit.
The lesson here is not to simply parrot another writer’s opinion. By promising your readers unique content, you’ll bring them back to finish your article, even after following a link.
External Links Build Back-End SEO
There is a less obvious reason to cite your sources too. External links strengthen the web around your law blog. By connecting your blog to other websites with wider reach, you can piggy-back off of those website’s search engine optimization. Google and other search engines often look at the number of links into and out of a website as one factor to establish relevance and importance of a given site. By building external links, you can improve the back-end SEO of your website, while at the same time building credibility.
Using external links to build readership may seem slightly counter-intuitive. But by connecting your blog to other authoritative sources, you can build credibility among your readers and establish back-end SEO for your own site. Those benefits greatly outweigh the risk of losing an occasional reader to an out-bound link.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and webpages for law firms and small businesses. If you need help creating regular, high-quality content, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.