Am I allowed to link to other websites?
This post was inspired by a question posed at a networking event, where I was honoured to run a short workshop about blogging.
The question was simple – Am I allowed to include links from my blog to other websites?
I am sure a lot of people have probably never even given it a second thought. Only seeing the ‘good’ of linking to someone else’s content, hopefully to promote it.
My response to the question was a confident ‘yes’, then I did hesitate a little! I was sure you are allowed, but I wanted to go away and do my homework to make sure.
I am pleased to say my answer was factually correct, but let me just explain a little more about why you are allowed to link to other websites, the small ‘caveats’ and how you actually do it.
Linking to external websites
Let me start by explaining this heading. An external website is simply a website other than your own, whereas ‘internal linking’ is where you provide hyperlinks to other pages within your own website, for example, linking to your ‘contact page’ via a ‘contact us’ link or button on the homepage.
An external link takes the website visitor somewhere else, and it is important that you respect that you are doing this. Consider if it is the best course of action for your website visitor (as you are potentially sending them away to another website and they won’t return to yours) and do it openly and explicitly, so the website visitor doesn’t end up somewhere unexpected.
In 2014, it was ruled, by the European Court of Justice, that websites can link to “freely available content” without permission to the copyright holder.
I think the important points to raise here are that you should only link to ‘freely available content’ or ‘free content’. This means if your website visitor could find this website and access the page you are linking to easily and for free, then it is fine for you to link to. However, if you had access to content only available to members or via a paid subscription then linking to this type of page or site would not be ok. To be honest, it is unlikely that a simple hyperlink would work, leading anyone who was not a member or subscribed to a password protected or log-in page – but you still shouldn’t do it.
With my background in publishing, the other thing I just want to highlight is the term ‘copyright holder’. Be aware of what you are linking to (and effectively guiding your website visitors to) and ensure the content is original. If not, consider linking to the original source rather than secondary source. So, for example, if you have found a relevant YouTube video on another site, consider finding the original video on YouTube itself and then linking directly to that instead.
If you are worried, then consider, is it worth it?
Good Linking Etiquette
Having said that you can insert links to external websites, there are some caveats and, importantly, some good etiquette I recommend that you follow.
Firstly, it is important that you do not suggest that by linking to someone else’s content, that they in any way endorse your content, page or products.
Secondly, it should be clear and understood that the linked page is not in any way produced or created by you (if it isn’t).
Thirdly, the linked page must not appear to be or considered part of your content and, therefore, original.
The official wording is along the lines of creating the link does not convey any endorsement, authorship or ownership.
Therefore, if you are providing a link you should be very clear to your website visitors, what it is, why it is there and who you are linking to. Furthermore, you should not suggest anything negative, defamatory or libellous in the content/wording surrounding the link.
Arguably, it is also bad etiquette to ‘deep link’. This means providing a link to a page ‘deep’ within the site, rather than simply the homepage or a main page. Some sites actually have policies or terms and conditions which ask you not to do it. Therefore, it is worth checking if you wish to guide your website visitors to a very specific page.
In most cases, the homepage is probably sufficient, however, for something like a specific article or blog post, you may have more reason to offer this type of link, so just be aware of this and check T&Cs.
It is also bad etiquette to ‘embed content’. This means creating a frame or image which captures something from another website and makes it appear to sit actually on your own site. I am not technically knowledgeable about this, but be aware it does upset people as it very much looks like you are passing off someone else’s work (their content on their website) as your own.
In publishing there is something called ‘fair dealing’ and it is where you can use a quote from another text for ‘criticism and review’. This means using other people’s words to help demonstrate and discuss a point you are trying to make in your book/article. I recommend following a similar mindset for external linking. Think about why you are providing the link – are you trying to highlight or explain your own point more thoroughly? Are you trying to genuinely help your own website visitors? Is the link necessary? Are you including the link in good faith?
If the answer is ‘yes’ then you are probably fine, but if not, consider if it is worth deleting. Another good rule, is treat others’ website how you expect them to treat yours – hopefully, positively and fairly.
If you are concerned about including a link, perhaps a deep link, or you want to really ‘show off’ someone else’s work and feel the only way to do it is to almost present their content on your site, then you do have the option to get in contact and ask them if they will give you permission to do so. Ideally, ask them to sign a link agreement. If you search for it, you will find pre-written templates available. This means the copyright holder of the website can agree for you to link (and use their material, if necessary) in the way you wish – and you have clear, written permission to do so.
How to hyperlink
Now you are clear on the rules and etiquette, in case you are unsure, here is how to create a hyperlink:
- Write some text or copy out the whole URL (web address) depending on what you want to display on your website, e.g. ‘Visit this great site for more advice about blogging’ vs ‘www.bloggingmasterclass.com’ – this is called your anchor text or link text. It’s better to use an ‘explanation’ or the address, than ‘click here’ for SEO purposes too.
- Sometimes if you write the URL or an email address a hyperlink will be created automatically – this will be visible by a change of colour to the font and sometimes an underline as well.
- If not done automatically, look for the icon of a chain (see image), highlight your text or the URL and click on the icon.
- You are often given the option to create ‘Text to display’ and insert the URL. If you are hyperlinking to an email address, it may recognise this automatically or you may have to insert “mailto:” then the email address. This will then open a ‘new email’ window when clicked on, with the email address inserted already.
- Once your page is live, make sure you test the links to check they work and will send your website visitor to the exact place you expected.
I know from experience that whilst the icon is the same, the way you enter the text or URL it can be slightly different in Gmail vs Hotmail or WordPress vs Squarespace and even Mailchimp. So if you have any specific questions, just let me know.
If you are able to, you may alternatively want to add a button, again make sure the button text is clear and you make the ‘link’. Always check buttons and link once your page or post is live …and in preview mode for emails.