If you’re a writer and you work online, you need to know how to write a lead, nut graph, headline, deck – and how to link. Linking means including live Web addresses or URLs in your story to information related to whatever it is you’re writing about. The art of the link is in putting your story into the context of other stories, blog posts or comments that have been written on the same subject. If you’re a blogger, it’s putting your opinion in the context of other opinions on the same subject. Or it’s giving weight to your opinion by backing it up with additional sources. But instead of citing all the sources, or the entire text of another source, you refer to a little bit of it and then link to the the rest.
In online news circles, there’s been an ongoing discussion of links as news and links as reporting. The creators of Publishing 2.0, a blog about how technology is transforming the news, are huge advocates of what I’ll call link journalism. They wrote definitive article art this called Reinventing Journalism On The Web: Links As News, Links As Reporting. They later wrote this piece explaining how a New York Times article on John McCain really missed the boat because the reporters didn’t take the opportunity to link to what else was out there on the same subject.
So what does all of this mean to freelance writers? You’re only as smart as your links. You don’t live in a vacuum. If your posts don’t have links, what does that say about your ability to do research on your topic?
It’s not hard to do Google searches and find something that relates to what you’re writing. But if you’re really good, you’ll be able to pick through the chaff to find the stuff that best underscores your point, or even helps make your point. Whatever you may think of Penelope Trunk, the contrarian career coach who blogs as the Brazen Careerist, she is a link master. Her blog posts are chock full of references to academic research supporting her sometimes wacky theories. And she never misses an opportunity to link back to her past posts. That’s smart because people click on the links to read them and that ups her overall Website visitor numbers.
The most popular post I’ve ever written for WordCount was on the best blogs for writers, which was essentially a list of links. But it wasn’t just any list. It was a list I’d culled from ideas a bunch of writers submitted that I carefully read through and then sorted according to the type of blog, and then edited down to the very best, and then wrote about. Even though I wrote it back in February, according to my stat counter, at least a handful of visitors read it every day. That’s proof of the power of the well-placed link.