A network of information. A world wide web. The interconnectedness of resources on the Internet, and on our Extension website, requires some thought. Do it well and your content is more easily found and keeps people reading. Do it poorly and you may miss opportunities or end up with broken links.
There’s a whole web glossary related to websites and search engines, and jargon related to “links” come up many times. Let’s better understand the value and the practicality of links.
Value of links between Extension and other websites
Oregon State University and the Extension Service are seen as trusted sources on the Internet. When we link to another website or content outside our own (called external links), it signals we vetted this as a good resource to check out. Our “authority links” help those resources to be seen as more valuable by search engines, which helps where they rank in search results.
The same is true when others, especially media or .edu and .gov sites, link to our resources (called backlinks). The best backlink is when a web editor writes a “Top 10” blog post or “Best of” review and includes one of our resources, this is called an “editorial link” and is highly valued.
We have surprisingly low referral traffic to our site (4% of all traffic in the last year) despite how many strong partnerships we have. This is an opportunity to ask our partners to make their web editors aware of all we have to offer their audiences.
It matters what those backlinks say, so they are accurate in conveying what a person would find if they clicked on it. A general link to “check out the Extension Service” isn’t as valuable as a hyperlinked sentence within your partner’s content. For example, their popular article or page on soil health could direct people on “how to test your soil” or “find out when to plant cover crops” linking to a specific resource on our site.
We can also send a feed of our web content to display on their websites, such as events or gardening stories. This can help add visibility for our content with less work on their part since they don’t have to write it and the links update automatically. If partners are interested, our web developers can work to set it up from our content management system.
Practicalities of links between sites
On the Extension website, we have different ways that you can add links to external resources. The main way is for content teams to add an “online resource” content type, or for the volunteer and youth programs to add “program resources”. This has taken some getting used to for people.
It requires you to add more context about that link beyond just a URL and title. It includes a short description, image and tagging that helps it display in all the related places across the site. It also helps to avoid a bunch of broken links, since you update it in one place, and it updates everywhere.
This is what an online resource would look like when featured on pages across our site. After people read the short description, they click on the title “Reducing Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke” and it immediately sends them off to the external resource on the Oregon Health Authority’s site.
Content teams generally want to keep online resources to less than 20% of all educational content we create.
Within a web article, you can also add the usual hyperlinked text, such as to a few related resources at the end. Do this when those related resources don’t need to be shared or found in search like an online resource is.
Stuffing an article with a bunch of external links in bulleted lists is not recommended. When other sites change their links or remove a resource, your hyperlinks get broken if those sites don’t bother to set up redirects.
Broken links make for unhappy visitors and can hurt our credibility. We can run reports to show broken links, but it takes work to find the right link again and change it everywhere.
A better approach is to create a “collection” of online resources to manage it. See the recent Processing Meat Animals at Home collection for an example. You can see the many formats that can be used to display online resources that link off to external resources.
Value of links between content within our site
We can also create strong links between content on our site (called internal links), which is helpful for search engines and visitors alike.
Hyperlinked sentences in a web article are useful to bring people to another related article. For example, we did this before a monthly newsletter promoted our August gardening calendar.
When heatmaps showed that people were interested in particular sections, then we found relevant resources to link to for them to read more.
After (900+ clicks)
After (700+ clicks)
As a result, the most popular information on the heat map ended up also being the most popular links to click on once added. Also, people kept exploring many more resources on our site after visiting the initially-linked resources.
Internal links from popular articles help to direct people to more in-depth or less visited but still valuable resources. This process of seeing what else on the site to link to can help you to discover and assess if there’s duplicate or overlapping content too.
Practicalities of internal links
There are different ways on a page to add links beyond hyperlinking a sentence. For example, on the poison hemlock and western waterhemlock article, links were added to the pull quote, the image caption, and as a custom “call to action” field at the end.
You can easily avoid broken internal links by typing the title for the internal page in the URL link field. It should pop up a list of content for you to select the correct one. This way if the URL changes, the internal link won’t get broken.
Here’s more details in the web guide, including a video, on how to do links on the Extension website.
In the future, we will be able to automatically select our content to link in emails and newsletters sent from Salesforce CRM (client relationship management) system too. Stay tuned!