Copy editors in the digital age need many skills that they might not have learned in school. One of the most important of these is creating hyperlinks.
Any copy destined for the internet probably needs links. Here’s why:
To add background and context. Often, a written piece has two distinct audiences: readers familiar with the topic and readers new to it. You can provide background and context for your newbie audience by including appropriate links to previously published material. And linking to background information, rather than including it, helps you keep the attention of your more knowledgeable audience.
To show your work and your sources. Readers shouldn’t have to take writers at their word. Give readers the opportunity to see for themselves that what’s being relayed to them is true — and not just the speculation or assumption of the writer — by linking to original sources.
To build credibility. Well-sourced work is more credible. And the essence of sourcing in the world of the Web is linking. Plus, if you’re not creating links in digital copy, you risk looking as if you don’t know what you’re doing.
For reader convenience. Often, a written piece prompts the reader to take some action elsewhere on the Net. Or you as the editor might imagine that many readers will want more information on something that’s mentioned in the piece. Help the reader along with a link to where they’ll want to go. That said, beware of overlinking. Your readers know how to use Google; focus on linking to related content that might be hard to find quickly.
For search engine optimization. Google’s great innovation in search was to move beyond term frequency (e.g., a good page about the birds of North America is likely to be one that often mentions the terms “birds” and “North America”) to link analysis (e.g., a better page is likely to be one that is linked to a lot by other pages about the birds of North America). Your Google visibility is affected by your links to appropriate related pages.
To be a good citizen of the Net. There could be no internet without links. And smart linking is a corollary of the Golden Rule: you should link to others as you’d want them to link to you. Is there a risk your reader will follow a link and not come back? Sure, but the worse risk is probably that readers won’t come to your site at all if you don’t give them the links they expect.
Making sure copy has appropriate links probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you’re editing. But in digital contexts, it couldn’t be more important. A great digital editor will remind writers and clients about the importance of linking and help them be smart about it.
Your writers — and readers — will benefit.
To learn more about this topic, download Nick's presentation from the ACES Conference.
Nick Jungman is director of student media at the University of Oklahoma and treasurer of the ACES Executive Committee.