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Link Out of Your Site
You should link to another web site when:
Previously I said that you should only link out of your own site as a last resort. In general you want to keep your visitors at your site. Heck, isn't that why you built it? But there are times when it makes sense to stop the insanity and add that link. You must send visitors away sometimes.
Therefore, your task is to understand how external sites can help you and, more importantly, your users. Let's explore when you should link out of your site.
You should consider linking to other sites when you start talking about things you don't have personal knowledge about. If you are stone cold ignorant, refer to an expert. Link to a site that explains those ideas. For example, I know nothing about flow cytometry, but there are people out there who are experts. It is amazing what people know. I suggest that you concentrate on what you know, and link to others when you are in doubt. Your users will appreciate this.
You can make your site look and feel smarter by pointing to folks that are smart and resources that are valuable. This appeal to authority can carry a lot of weight with your users. And, it is fair to you and to the expert.
You might want to link out of your site if you need to save space on your site or on your page. A perfect example is when you are writing something technical and you need to link to a glossary definition of a term.
Realize that sending people away from your site can be quite lucrative. Consider that search engines, such as Google, are constantly sending people away. The trick for search engines is to provide excellent results. If users can find what they need, they will be drawn back like ants to honey.
Realize that there are entire web sites that are dedicated to any topic you discuss. For example, I mentioned the Google search engine above. There is an entire web site dedicated to search engines. I can't compete against such a site since all they do is talk about search engines. The strategy is to send you there with the idea that you'll come back if you want other great information and pointers. I am here to serve you. That user centered approach should pay off in the long run.
I'll call this general idea the Site Domination Law. Basically, no matter what page you develop, there will always be an entire site dedicated to the topic you cover in that single page. Here is another great example. As many of you know, I have a Hot Sites page. I like it and I think it is a useful page of usability and related links. However, it is pathetic compared to Keith Instone's excellent Usableweb site. Usableweb is a site that is better than any single page I could ever develop. I would need to develop a huge collection of pages, not just links. I'd rather offer you a link to Usableweb and stick to writing Moving Webword articles, conducting expert interviews, and so on. In short, the Site Domination Law indicates that no single page can compete with an entire site.
To extend the ideas of the Site Domination Law, consider that by the very nature of hypertext, your site is not an island. Other sites will not be as likely to link to you if you don't link to them.
I realize that WebWord.com is not your first or last destination.The "fresh meat" of other sites is smelled by web users a mile away. You can't keep users at your site forever because users are always hunting for the next best thing.
People will leave your site, so at least guide them to what they want and need. And, influence their decisions by linking strategically. Ultimately, as a rule of thumb, you should link out when it is best for your users.
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