Linking to Reputable Web Content
Evaluating the Websites Your Site Refers Its Users To
As website managers and administrators, we are always busy taking steps to build or maintain the reputation for our own websites. If yours is a site that links to a lot of external content, you may want to consider reviewing whether the reputation(s) of the website(s) your site links to matches, or surpasses, that of your own. Some websites have even found it necessary to add language on their disclaimer page that removes the referring website from responsibility, or other such endorsement, for the content on a linked, outside website.
Before you rewrite your disclaimer page, there are steps that you can take to evaluate outside sources of content that will reflect well on your website, and add value for your site's visitors. If you are linking to medical or financial information that could impact someone's life negatively due to gross misinformation, you should be doubly concerned about linking to reputable content sources. Don't impose the burden upon your site's users to determine for themselves whether they can trust a website that you've just sent them to. Here are some tips to help you decide if your linked sites are a reputable outside source of information:
1. Who is behind the site? Find the <i>About</i> and <i>Contact</i> pages, usually in a website's footer, but sometimes in the main menu, to get an idea of who is behind the site. Is it represented by someone who is anonymous, or isn't using a full name (maybe using an Internet handle instead)? Is the contact us page a form, and not an email address? If the answer is Yes to any of these, you should take that as a cue to investigate the site further, before linking it from yours.Moving from red flags to green ones, sites with a .gov, .edu, or .net address are often government, university, or nonprofit sites (in that order), and are usually free of commercial sponsorship. Don't stop at the URL's extension - visit the site and confirm that that is in fact the case.
2. Are they trying to sell me something? - Does the website exist to only pitch a product, or does it also include helpful information like product specs, customer reviews, or an informative blog? If it is a commercial website, is it missing a physical address, or other contact information? If so, you might want to ask yourself why this site appears to not want to be contacted.
3. Is the author qualified to write on the subject? Looking up tax advice information? Then you probably want to read that the author is a CPA, and not someone named "taxinfoguru". Look for full names, and credentials (either as an active link in the article's byline, or at the bottom of the article). Are the credentials general or specific? For an article about drug interactions, something written by a medical professional is far more preferable than by someone who "has been a freelance writer for 10 years, writing about health, beauty, wellness and fitness". That freelance writer may very well be knowledgeable, but are you going to bet the reputation you've built with your users by sending them to somebody that doesn't display the proper credentials when it comes to discussing specific drug interactions?
4. Is the information current, factual and referenced? If you come across content that doesn't have a publish date or any listed sources, do an experiment. Copy a random couple of sentences and paste them into Google, and see how many results come up with the exact same wording. You will be surprised (or maybe not) at how much copy-and-paste content is online. Look for sources at the bottom of the article, a byline and dateline, or evidence of original writing or reporting - anything that allows you to evaluate the information's relevance. Even a well-written article from two years ago may contain information that has become outdated. Is there a source in the article that the author quotes directly? If so, that is a good sign or original content.
If you work hard to make your website a trustworthy source among your users, then you don't want them to feel like they can't trust the outside sources you send them to. Prior to linking to an outside website, consider using the above points to evaluate that site just to be sure there are no red flags. If your site's users feel like they don't need to worry about the outside sources you send them to, that only bolsters your website's reputation, making it a winning proposition for you and your website.