Links are how we share information on the web. They are how we connect one piece of information to another. Seems simple enough to link one thing to another, and essentially it is, but there are some guidelines that are important to follow if you want someone to trust you enough to click on one of your links. For instance, when you receive an email from someone you’ve never heard of that contains some brief text and a link to a website you’ve never heard of, do you click on it? I sure hope not! Most of the time you shouldn’t even click on a similar-type email from someone you DO know, because it was likely not sent by them, but someone that hacked their email account.

A link can send you to somewhere with valuable information, or it can send you to a virus that kills your computer, or anything in between. Some links are just annoyances because while not malicious, they send you somewhere unexpected or a place you didn’t want to go, or nowhere at all (broken links).

Whether on a web page, in an email, or in a document, here are some tips about building links that build trust with your readers:

Auto-links: It’s almost never a good idea to use a service that auto-creates links for you. When you see a random word (links to another article I wrote about optimizing images for the web) linked in an article, you assume it’s going to go somewhere that is useful to you. However, if instead it goes to an external sales page, then you’ve just lost a little more trust from your readers. Make your links count, and be clear about where your link is taking them.

Adobe PDF FileLinks to PDF’s: Always be clear when you are linking to a PDF. Depending on someone’s operating system and setup, it can be anything from a surprise to a major annoyance to open a PDF unexpectedly. Sometimes a PDF will automatically open in a browser, and other times it will bring up a dialog box in the browser asking them if they’d like to Open or Save the PDF. If they don’t have Acrobat installed (although most everyone does) then they will have no way at all to open the file. Be clear that you are sending someone to a PDF by either writing (PDF) after the link, or using an icon to indicate the nature of the link/file. The worst thing you can do is to link to a PDF through the navigation on your website. Never do this! Navigation on a page should only go to places within the same website and/or offer the same navigation options as the original site. Readers will quickly leave your site when they become frustrated from jumping between your site and PDF’s. If information is important enough to include in the navigation, then it’s worth the time it takes to create a page with the same information.

Tell reader what will happen when they click on a link: For example, there are a couple of tools such as ClickToTweet that will provide you with links that you can use to help someone to share text that they can share on Twitter. This can be useful if you want someone to tweet chunks of your article, however, if readers don’t want to tweet about your article, or are not even on Twitter at all, then you’ve only managed to annoy them and lose a little more link trust. A better way might be to use social media buttons that allow readers to link to the article or dedicate a section of your post where it’s clear that clicking will take them to Twitter.

External Links: Links to external pages should always open in a new tab or window. If you’re writing this in HTML code it would be <a href=”” target=”_blank”>, where the target=”_blank” is a new tab or window. Most likely though, it’s just clicking a check box when you create the link within WordPress or other blog system. So now when the reader clicks on the link, goes to the external site, decides they don’t like the site and close the tab or window, they are right back to your site instead of on to the next Google search result.

Open link in new tab

Links in Comments: If you’ve ever set up a blog and forgot to turn on SPAM controls, then you know that spammers  L O V E  comments. They leave general or nonsensical comments about a post and include links to websites hoping to rise in the search engines. Google’s latest algorithm has targeted links within comments to have a negative impact on a page. When a link is posted within a comment, it should be set to “nofollow”, meaning that Google will not follow it. This prevents spammers from posting junk comments to your site since it will not benefit them to do so. Hear what Matt Cutts has to say about nofollow links, or read about it in Google help. Matt also issues a reminder about selling links that pass page rank.

As an aside, Google also penalizes the blog that the junk comments are posted on. This includes comments with no link at all. Short comments or comments that are too general in nature may be considered as SPAM and can damage a page’s ranking. You should closely moderate any comment on your blog to be sure that this does not happen to you.

Broken Links: This happens when a page that was once linked to no longer exists. This can happen for many reasons, such as going out of business, a redesign with no 301 redirects set up, or perhaps the links were never properly formatted to begin with. If users click on enough of these broken links on your site, they will simply leave because they realize that your page is outdated, irrelevant, or think that you just don’t care. How many times do you take another bite after you realize that your grapes are sour? Check links periodically to be sure that they are working. The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) offers a free link checker to help you with this process.

A word about affiliate links: Affiliate links are when you get paid when someone clicks on a link. Since I write a lot on the web, I am an affiliate for lots of things. You can bet that when you click on a link I’ve created, that I’m going make money on it if I can. While I don’t put out links for the sole purpose of making money, if I’m going to be mentioning a product anyway, and they have an affiliate program that is easy to join, then I’ll join and be rewarded for it. Affiliate links get out of hand when someone posts links everywhere without regard to whether they have a legitimate reason for posting the link. Do that and you will lose trust. On blogs where I have affiliate links, I post a disclosure so that people know I will get paid if they click on an affiliate link. This is actually now the law, and also makes Google happy.

Are you already doing these things? What else do you do to build trust on your website?