Citing Sources in Brand Journalism: How to Avoid Bad Link Penalties

Citing sources in brand journalism.Bill Hartzer at Globe Runner SEO has shared the story of an interesting manual penalty experienced by one of his clients who used HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to source an interview for their blog. It seems they fell on the wrong side of Google’s sword with three specific links pointing to their website; two from Help a Reporter Out and one from a media outlet that picked up the press release.

The argument for “these links are natural” is that the business owner was being quoted for an article. If you’re using HARO or other outreach tools and services to get exposure, this is your ideal outcome: you are used as a source for a story. Increasingly, that story is going to be printed on a blog or brand publication – you have a far greater chance of being selected by a smaller publication than mainstream media.

The argument against the links being natural, it seems, is that you used a service to connect with someone who then linked to your website and therefore are actively building links. This is being compared to the My Blog Guest debacle – which isn’t the issue at all.

If you want to either a) be a publisher, as many businesses do, and source quotes using outreach methods like HARO or PR agencies, or b) market yourself as a source for stories in the hopes of being cited as an authority or topic expert, here’s how you can avoid the long arm of Google.

Citing Sources for Brand Publishers

Brands are becoming publishers, yet as I said last year in an SES presentation, you don’t just wake up one day with a new career as a publisher. Publishing is a real “thing;” it’s a profession and it takes time to learn the nuances of the industry. If you want your team to act as journalists, they need to understand the basic tenets of mainstream media and journalism.

In this case, when citing an interviewed source, you don’t need to link to the website of the person you’re quoting.

If you are citing material they’ve already published, you should link to that material to give them credit for the work they’ve created. However, if you get a quote in person, over the phone or via email, there is no need to link to the person quoted. In fact, it’s unnatural if you do – you’re linking to a webpage (like a homepage) lacking material relevant to the quote.

People give links away for all kinds of misguided reasons and gratitude is one of the worst. You’re not actually doing the person any favors with a bad link as thanks for their participation in your story. If they’re asking for a link, they either don’t understand what I’ve explained above or are actively link building. Just say no, the exposure from appearing in your story is thank you enough.

Becoming a Source for Stories

You’re a business owner or manager and want to get your company’s name in the news. When done right, it’s a fantastic tactic for generating exposure and establishing topic authority.

If you’re a source for a story, tell the reporter or publisher not to link to your website.

Mainstream media probably won’t link anyway, but brand journalists (for the reasons mentioned above) may not know any better and could think that’s just what they’re supposed to do. The only real exception where it makes sense and is natural is where there’s something on your website – a report, a chart, a piece of research – that they’re mentioning in their article. In that case, it’s good user experience to offer that access to the information being discussed.

And for the love of everything linky, don’t demand a link in exchange for your statement.

And the verdict is…

Google doesn’t have a hate on for people who use HARO. This latest example of a manual action for unnatural links is just a reminder that so long as links are a currency exchanged between publishers and sources, businesses and publications, you have to toe the line. If the link doesn’t improve user experience or cite a source in the way journalists properly reference information, it doesn’t belong in a brand publication.

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