Date adopted: 
August 12, 2018
Last update: 
August 26, 2020

This page includes guidance on using links in website content and it outlines the government's external linking policy and process for adding external links.

Using links in content

Do not duplicate information. If content exists elsewhere on a government website or it's better supplied by an organization outside government, link to it.

Writing link text

When you write a link, use a verb so there's a call to action. Make the link descriptive and front-load it with relevant terms. Do not use "click here" or "more". Generic links:

  • do not make sense out of context;
  • do not tell users where a link will take them; and
  • are not accessible for visually impaired people using screen readers.

Links help people scan content. Do not overwhelm users with too many or link to the same tool or web page on your page. Where possible, always link to online services first, offering offline alternatives afterwards.

Formatting links

  • Add links anywhere in body text but not in titles, summaries or subheadings.
  • Never write out URLs. The link must always be part of the wording.
  • Links should open in the same window.

External linking policy

Avoid duplicating content on government websites. In some instances, user needs may be best met by adding external links to 3rd party websites or tools.

Risks of linking to external sites

Weight these risks when adding links to external sites.

Is it clear to users that they’re leaving a government website?

The government's websites are built to be trusted. For example, is the reliable home where users can access the government's information and services. This means:

  • when pointing users towards 3rd party services, you need to be clear that users are leaving; and
  • as part of the ongoing user testing of, we'll continue to test that users are clear and confident about when they're on and when they're being taken elsewhere.

Changing external content

Linking to external sites opens the risk of those links no longer fulfilling the original user need. What users access via external links is out of our control. Information on other websites can change or links can break. This can unintentionally mislead users and cause them frustration and stress.

Make sure you regularly review automatic broken links reports to minimize this risk.

Content on 3rd party sites can also be taken over by someone who provides a different type of content, or changes its approach to privacy, cookies, mobile or accessibility.

To minimize this risk, departments should regularly revisit external links. Check the success of links and review high traffic content to ensure user needs are still met.

Commercial sites

Recognize that 3rd parties will use the provision of information as a route to selling a service. This could be through advertising, consultancy or other services, or establishing a market. This means your approach must be impartial. Be careful of any perceived endorsement of specific private sector suppliers.

How to assess external linking requests

If someone requests a link to an external website, use this criteria to assess whether or not you should add it.

Does the link help meet a clear user need?

Only link to 3rd party content to meet a clear user need. It should not be the default to link to private sector and non-profit organization sites, unless they're an essential next step in meeting the user need addressed by the page.

Make sure you link directly to relevant content. For example, link to a specific helpful page rather than the organization's homepage.

Does the external site have clear privacy and cookie policies?

You must always review whether 3rd party sites are responsible with privacy and personal data. Only send government website users to sites that have taken these concerns into account. Encourage 3rd parties to make adjustments if their information is not clear or there are mistakes.

Are we being impartial?

Our decisions about what to link to will be scrutinized by users and those whose sites we choose not to link to. Choose the sites and tools you link to carefully.

Never include a link in return for cash, services or any other consideration in kind, including requests for reciprocal linking.

Be prepared to explain the suitability of any 3rd parties chosen. For example, where you could be seen to be favouring 1 commercial provider over another.

Where appropriate, the Executive Council Office communications team will ask the relevant departments to answer the following questions:

  • Will a specific external link help the user complete a specific task?
  • Do other sites provide similar information, and if so why would we choose 1 over another?

Is the external content free to access?

Some needs might be best met by 3rd parties with a commercial model. Avoid linking to pages whose main purpose is commercial (for example, selling services). You can link link to a commercial website if:

  • a user need is clearly met;
  • the content is free; and
  • the website or tool does not require registration before the user need can be met. That does not mean we cannot link to organizations that have a paid membership but we should only link to content that is free.

Is the ownership of the external site clear?

Ensure you've identified the ownership of any external sites you link to.

Does the site work on mobile devices?

Confirm the site is usable on a mobile device.

Does the site meet our accessibility standards?

All government websites meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. Websites you link to should also meet this standard.

Is data being collected on the government's behalf?

If data is being collected on the government's behalf then you should only work with providers whose privacy and cookie policies are at least as good as ours. You must:

  • be confident that data is stored and handled securely and seek assurances this has been considered and that security is regularly tested;
  • make sure all obligations under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act are met;
  • ensure we own the data collected and the 3rd party has no rights to exploit it; and
  • ensure there is clear information to users about who owns the data, what their rights are and who they should contact with questions.

Processes to add external links to a government website

To add external links the following processes will need to be followed.

Specialist content

Departments with specialist content on will be required to follow the external linking policy, in the same way they follow the Style Guide.

Non-specialist content

For any new non-specialist content, the program area working with the department's communications team can suggest useful external links as part of the content request. The communications team will assess whether these help to meet the need and whether they comply with the approach outlined here.

If departments become aware of a site or service that they believe would help to meet an existing user need on non-specialist pages, they can suggest this is added by emailing [email protected].

Requests from external organizations

External organizations are likely to contact the government asking for links to be added to

Requests for links should be passed to the department communications team for assessment. If the communications team are satisfied that adding a link will help to meet a demonstrable user need, the link can be added as a link in context or as an external related link.