Link-love etiquette

By Sterling “Chip” Camden
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

I’m frequently asked “Is it OK if I link to your post?”  The short answer is “Absolutely!  Any time!”  Links from other blogs increase a blog’s reputation, not only among readers but also among search engines.  Perhaps someone who never saw that blog before will become a new reader, or maybe they’ll submit the post to reddit or digg.  Link-love can help bloggers in many ways, but there are some unwritten rules to help make the experience good for both sides of the lovin’.

If your link doesn’t quote anything from the linkee’s post, then you really need to use a tease to get the reader to click through (assuming you want them to read it).  Or, you can briefly state exactly what they can expect to find on the other side.  Or some combination of the two.

It’s OK to quote a passage from the content, as long as you provide a link to the full post.  Quote the part that will make your reader say “Wow” and click through.  Or perhaps something that will make them mad.

Some people think it’s fine to quote an entire post as long as you provide a link — after all, there could be no greater flattery for the content.  But to my mind, this borders on content theft.  Just quote a few relevant passages, and then encourage your readers to go read the full post over on the author’s site.

Before we go on, lets define some terms.  If you already know all about automated linkback, then you can skip this paragraph.  I’ll skip over RefBack, because as far as I know nobody uses that to automatically create links on their posts (maybe I’m wrong?).   Trackback is an API that requests a site to provide a link (usually in the comments section) to ostensibly relevant content.  Pingback performs the same function, but the linked-to site reads the linking page and hunts down the reciprocal link before complying.  Trackback is therefore much more susceptible to spam.  But if a link is genuine, then it benefits both parties, because the content you linked to is also linking back to you.

Just like in human love, you can run into bad link-love.  Some automated sites will repost your entire content, but link to your original in the hope that pingback will create a link from your site to theirs.  Others use a similar strategy, but only post an excerpt with a link.  The latter seem like they’re playing fair, but in reality they’re only sploggers or spammers — trying to game the search engines in order to gain page rank.  The really scuzzy ones try to trackback your post without so much as providing a link.  Fortunately, there are plugins available to detect that type of trackback spamAkismet is also pretty good at weeding those out along with pingback spam, although I have seen a few false positives.

Finally, when you use images from another site, it’s customary to copy the image to your site, and provide credit with a link to the source.  In the image at the top of this post, the original site is hyperlinked, but the image itself resides on our server.  Don’t hot-link images!  That uses someone else’s bandwidth without their permission, and can be embarrassing for you if the linkee notices your requests in their referrer logs and replaces the image with something inappropriate.  Here’s a way to prevent hot-linking of your images if you use Apache and have mod_rewrite enabled.

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5 Responses to Link-love etiquette

  1. Regarding the last paragraph, bloggers might want to consider avoiding copyright infringement, which is a bit more serious than mere "hotlinking." You should ask the blog owner BEFORE copying and reposting an image. Send an email and tell the owner you'd like to use his image. Oftentimes, he'll give the OK. But take the image, and the owner finds out–and it's not hard for them to discover–and your site's host may receive a DMCA takedown notice. You might not be pleasantly surprised with the results.

    The same goes for copying other content, including text. Paraphrasing small portions is generally considered fair use (though there is no bright-line test on what amount is considered OK). But take the whole post, and you could be deemed an infringer.

    A little communication can save you lots of problems later.

    Cheers.

  2. Hi Chip, it sounds strange but we built a site that encourage people to hotlink for images. Have a look at it and give your comments, if you like. Cheers!