Adding outbound links to your blog or website is a great way to offer more information to your readers without bogging them down in a wall of text. However, some types of websites can spell doom for your content by undermining your credibility, insulting or offending your readers or frustrating would-be followers. Here are five types of websites you should avoiding linking to if you want to be taken seriously and maintain crediblity.
Sites that engage in lying for fun can be awesome reads. The Onion, SportsPickle and other sites of this genre provide news stories that exaggerate, misinterpret and outright fib for laughs. They make no pretense of being serious and it’s all constructed for good-humored giggles. However, be extremely careful if you ever link to a satire site. Your readers may not have any idea that they are being directed to a joke site and may think this questionable journalism is being presented as fact. While it could be argued that any reader not savvy enough to see a joke for a joke is not worth having as a follower, consider that no one likes to be made a fool.
You can hurt a reader’s feelings by doing this and they can be very vocal in their embarrassment! If you do decide to link to satire, make it very obvious in your text that it’s a joke and not meant to be presented as supporting evidence for any claim you may make. If you think for a moment that your readers may take the satire seriously, don’t include the link or include it only after a large and crystal-clear disclaimer. Be prepared for an onslaught of comments with links disproving the satire as well, no matter how vehement your warnings.
Your outbound links should provide your readers with quality additional information or supporting evidence, not blinking ads for Viagra without a prescription or pop-ups about mail-order brides. You cannot expect your readers to have ad-block software in place, so make sure you view all outbound link sites with it turned off. If you are bombarded with shrill auto-play videos, pop-ups, flashing banners or opaque survey screens obscuring the content, find another source. Sites with this type of advertising are not only annoying, they can freeze or crash the browser for those with older computers.
This will leave a bad taste in your readers’ mouths and convince them not to trust any hyperlinks on your site. It may cause them to leave you altogether, should they be infected with malware or spyware from an outbound link. Your name and the name of your blog or website could be tarnished forever by one particularly malicious outbound link, as those affected will likely spread the word far and wide that you directed them into harm’s way.
While you may not mind if a site is spewing racist, homophobic or offensive religious content, your readers most likely will. Take a few minutes checking out the ‘about’ section and the front page of any website before you link to it. You may be horrified at the political slants you find or the views peppered throughout their content. For example, a blogger could alienate most of their audience if they accidentally link to a study on racial tensions they found on Stormfront.
Stormfront, for example, is an extreme white supremacy website that believes in race segregation, so their studies and opinions would be considered invalid by anyone in the community looking for unbiased information. A blogger discussing the issues associated with living life as an amputee may accidentally link to a site for wannabes or ‘admirers,’ meaning those who derive sexual gratification from self-mutilation and self-amputation or those who objectify amputees. The amputee community and their loved ones usually find this more offensive than can be accurately expressed.
Be on the lookout for racial slurs, sexual content of any kind or other slants that could be seen as marginalizing or offensive to any subset of the population. Nobody likes bully sites but other bullies.
The outcry from these kinds of mistakes can be crippling to a blogger’s good name and could force a business to shut its doors. Be very cautious about the reputation of the sites you link to, as a single misstep in this area could net you wide-scale consternation, humiliation and abandonment by the vast majority of your readers or customers. If this happens to you, be prepared to do a lot of large-scale apologizing and groveling for forgiveness.
While making it known that there is an e-book available on a topic and linking to the sales page is a good way to point your readers in the right direction, dumping them onto a sales pitch when they expected more information is annoying and dishonest.
The same can be said for links that demand an email address to send the information to readers instead of displaying it. Whether the linked site wants money or personal information, it is not a quality outbound link unless you make it clear in your text. ‘Click here to sign up for a related newsletter’ or ‘click here to purchase a fascinating e-book on this matter’ are acceptable ways to give your readers a choice. Dumping them into such pages with an innocuous-looking hyperlink hurts your credibility and annoys your readers and customers. If you pride yourself on the integrity of your site, don’t be dishonest in your linking policy.
Make it a clear rule that hyperlinks inserted into text provide related information and sales pitches and newsletter sites will be hyperlinked with appropriate labeling.
Nothing can ruin your credibility faster than linking to hilarious pseudo-science websites with outdated or proven-wrong information.
For example, a blogger concerned about vaccines may link to NaturalNews. However, a closer look at the site reveals that it makes a pretty penny selling dubious vitamin supplements and is citing information from studies that have been disproved dozens of times through peer-reviewed research or are so old they are irrelevant. The same can be said for a writer who links to a religious site touting information on ‘curing’ autism, which is not classified as a disease and, thus, cannot have a cure. Linking to these types of sites can destroy any shred of trust your readers had in you, so be very cautious with scientific sites. Look for peer-reviewed studies backed by universities and other impartial parties, if possible. You can find these by adding site:edu or site:gov on to your Google search to filter out much of the questionable content available. If you have even the smallest doubt about the source, you can add your feelings about it into the text or find another source you have complete confidence in.
Finding quality outbound links to give your readers or customers more information can be a challenge. By avoiding these humiliating and damaging mistakes, you can save face and save yourself the embarrassment of losing credibility and readership. Take your time to find awesome, factual outbound links and you will be rewarded with a good reputation and a prosperous blog or website.