Follow Basic Common Linking Practices
What It Is
Follow basic linking practices when providing links to other websites. Post a clear and comprehensive linking policy that explains your agency's criteria for choosing external sites. Provide appropriate notification and disclaimers when your visitors leave your site for a non-federal website, and regularly review external links to make sure they still work and that they are still appropriate. Do NOT show a disclaimer when linking to another federal website.
Why It's Important
Linking to outside websites—both federal and non-federal—can add real value to a website, but organizations must manage links effectively.
- The public needs to know how an organization chooses its links.
- Links need to work, and they need to lead the visitor to additional information related to a particular topic.
- Visitors expect federal public websites to take them to other websites that will be helpful. Web content managers of federal public websites have a responsibility to their visitors to ensure that they select links that fulfill that expectation.
- Linking to other websites reduces duplication of content. Content should be posted once by agencies with the greatest expertise and used by other agencies and portals, through links.
- All federal public websites must meet certain requirements mandated by laws, regulations and policies; therefore, it is safe to send a visitor to another federal public website, without using a disclaimer. Moving from one federal public website to another should be as seamless as possible.
- When sending a visitor to a non-federal website, owners of federal public websites have a responsibility to inform visitors that the website they are going to does not necessarily operate under the same laws, regulations, and policies as federal websites.
- Linking to another website is valuable since it brings additional visitors to the website. Web content managers of federal websites must have clear and fair criteria for deciding which links they will use, particularly when they are asked by another website owner to establish or trade links.
OMB Policies for Federal Public Websites require agencies to (under Section 3) "establish and enforce explicit agency-wide linking policies ... appropriately limit external linking to information or services necessary for the proper performance of an agency function ... assure external links remain active or otherwise continue to provide the level of quality (including objectivity, utility, and integrity) as intended by the agency and expected by users." The OMB policies also require agencies to clearly identify "the limitations inherent in the information dissemination product ... so users are fully aware of the quality and integrity of the information or service..."
How to Implement
- Linking Policy: Develop and post a clear and comprehensive policy for linking to other websites. Policies should include criteria or guidelines for selecting links to non-federal government websites. At a minimum, make your linking policies available from your "Policies and Important Links" page or an equivalent page.
Notification: Notify visitors when they are leaving your website for a non-federal government website. Preferred methods for notifying visitors include:
- Placing an icon next to the link;
- Identifying the destination website in the link text or description itself;
- Inserting an intercepting page that displays the notification, after the user selects the link; and
- Displaying all non-federal links in a separate listing from federal links.
- Disclaimers: Disclaim responsibility for the content and privacy policies used by non-federal government websites. In the interest of seamless government and maintaining the general public's trust, it is best not to disclaim responsibility for the content of other federal public websites. Organizations that currently disclaim other federal websites should remove disclaimers.
- Review: Agencies should establish a process and schedule for reviewing existing links to make sure that they still work and add value. Organizations should review links quarterly, at a minimum. Websites with a large number of external links, such as portals, should be reviewed more often. The review schedule should be included in the linking policy.