One fear a lot of new website slash online business owners have is linking to other websites. From my own experience, and from concerns I've read from other newbies at WA, here are some of the reasons why.
1) Concerned that visitors will leave to another website and not come back
2) Concerned that they will lose a commission
3) Concerned that they will lose ‘link juice' or authority in Google
4) Does not want to link to competitors
5) Does not know how to properly link to a source
Probably the biggest worry on a new bloggers mind is losing visitors. Linking to another site, if the link actually does spark a readers interest, mean that the person will leave the owners site and maybe never come back! We've got to ‘lock them in' until we make a sale.
This is very far from the truth, and there are some things you need to consider. When I am reading an article and a link sparks my interest, I open it in a new tab. I do not read half of an article and then suddenly switch gears and start reading another. If the piece I'm reading links to another site for further explanation of a term or event, I read that, then return to the article. If it's supplementary information, I finish my first article, then move on to the next.
Providing your readers with high quality information from OTHER sources will keep them coming back. Ideally, you will not just lock readers in for a one article shot at making a sale, but have them browse several pages of your site, share it with their friends, come back later, and maybe even link to you as a source at a later date.
You do not have to be a Wall Street Journal, Mashable, or huge news website that links to a million sources to prove your well-thought-out 2000 word article. This is a bit extreme. But providing users a way to see and understand what you're talking about on a deeper level (should they choose to) will help you gain trust and authority in their eyes. This should be your goal – not imprisoning them on your website.
Along the same lines is that new affiliate marketers are worried about losing commissions. After all, most of us are building these sites to make money, right? This is a legitimate concern, and converting casual visitors to a paying customer should be one of the goals you have in mind when writing SOME articles.
But a website based solely on the goal of making money will show through in your writing. I have done this before, and looking back on my previous work, it shows when a writer is directing a reader to a sales page. A marketing strategy should be a bit more subtle than that.
And many times you're battling an entrenched ‘non-buyer' or ‘the internet should be 100% free' type person. You cannot change their minds. I am in a software niche and constantly get comments from people asking for usernames, passwords, codes, and hacks to get the software for free.
If your goal is selling something, you either will sell it or you won't. It's pass or fail. If your goal is providing high quality information, you can do that 100% of the time. As a byproduct of doing this you will make sales sometimes. Would you rather have an awesome site that makes money or a crap site that makes money? (the answer is #1)
And one last point, much like in the previous section, not being a door to door salesman helps you gain authority. You gain readers trust, get more activity on social media, more traffic, and as a result, more sales. It's counterintuitive to ‘not sell in order to make sales', but put yourself in the position of the customer and my point will be clearer.
Though I've covered ‘authority' from the point of the customer, what about your authority in Google? Anyone who's been marketing for a period of time and has looked into SEO has heard the term ‘link juice'. It sounds a bit derogatory…maybe like a new designer drug…”Hey man, pass me some of that link juice.” In a way, it is a kind of drug for SEO people.
The idea is that when you link to another site, you are passing some of the ‘power' of your site to them. If a site like CNN or Wikipedia links to your site, they give you a small ‘power up', and make your page stronger in search engines. That power they give you, then causes them to lose a bit of power. So, if you don't link to anyone, you keep all the power, right?
Google isn't dumb. Nobody knows what the algorithm is, so part of this whole link juice thing is speculation. Matt Cutts, the face of Google Search has said some things about passing rank between pages but no specifics were given. There are a lot of other things going on that will affect your rank OTHER than how much you link to other websites.
Video: Matt Cutts on Passing Page Rank (internally)
Video: Matt Cutts on Passing Page Rank (externally)
I don't know either.
So it's a lot of speculation. Write articles how you like, and link to things you think will help the reader. Worrying about link juice is a waste of time.
What About The Competition?
A legitimate concern is when your competitor has better information than you or you read something on their site that sparks an idea for an article. Should you link to them as a source?
This is up to you, but one thing I've learned over these years as an internet marketer, is that there is plenty of money to go around. If your business is weak enough that one link, to one page, is going to crumble your entire marketing campaign, then you need to rethink your strategy.
Themed much like what you've read above, think about the reader and put yourself in their shoes. When you research something, do you read only one site and then call it a day? No. You probably have about 10 sites open at once, compare information, come back the next day, look at a few again, and then make your purchase decision.
You are not going to be able to stop your visitors from discovering your competitors websites. You cannot own the complete first page of Google. If you did, it would probably piss your readers off (I have seen this and it's super frustrating when I need some info from different sources). You can only make your site better, your content better, and improve you business from within. That will keep readers coming back, sharing, liking, and buying.
Linking to Sources
Lastly, and although probably the most boring to talk about, but maybe the most important is how to properly link to sources. When you are starting out in a niche, you do a lot of reading and learning. But where do you draw the line between learning and creating your own content from what you learn, and reading, memorizing, and plagiarizing what you have just read?
I'm sure there's an exact way of measuring this, but someone once told me (and it's really stuck in my mind as the right thing to do): If you read something, let it sit in your mind for a few hours or day. Come back and write the article you want to. Whatever information you remember is now yours, it's from your brain, not theirs.
With that in mind, there are a few things to think about.
Is the article you read the ONLY source of this information? If this is the case, linking to the source in the body of text or before/after the article is a good idea. This way your readers can fact-check your information.
Are you summarizing something or did a particular article spark the idea for your post? If you mention it in your article, link to it. Avid readers will want to know, so give credit where its due.
Does it enhance your article? Sometimes there are some recurring themes on your site, and you find yourself repeating things over and over. I have explained about a million times on this site what affiliate marketing is. If it's crucial that a reader understands what a concept is to get the most out of the current post they're reading, link to a page on your own site or to another site (not your own) to further explain the topic so you don't have to use 400 words explaining it again. Those that are hip to the scene can read with interest, and newbies can take the extra time to read up before continuing.
Linking to other websites is not a big deal. It can actually help you authority in Google and in the eyes of visitors. Above all else, keep your reader in mind. Making a one time sleazy sale is temporarily gratifying. Having a popular website and valuable long term business is much better.