Why you should cite your sources in your content and how to do it

Customers are inundated with content every day and to capture their attention your content needs to be great. What makes content great? The hallmarks of great content include being unique, creative, well-written, relevant to the audience, highly-engaging and useful.

Great content drives readers to share your content with others. It not only gives your content a wider audience but helps in your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. However, the most important element to great content is credible and accurate. Your customers need to be able to trust what they are reading.

In a recent Content Marketing Institute study, a majority of marketing decision makers said they do not care where they get their information… as long as it’s credible. You can have the most unique and well-written content, but if readers don’t trust the content, they won’t trust you with their business. They most certainly won’t share your content with others.

Citing credible sources

Never state a fact without identifying the source of the fact – whether from an article, research report or website. Also, be absolutely sure the source is reliable and trustworthy. On the internet, false information abounds. Use sources such as scholarly articles, research reports from respected companies or examples from reputable websites. Ask yourself if your audience is familiar with the source. How long source has been around? What does source base its facts on (i.e., original research)? Is there evidence to back up their facts?

For example, the source for the citation in the prior paragraph is from a Content Marketing Institute (CMI) study on content strategy. CMI is a reputable, well-known organization in the marketing field. One can predict that readers will trust the source as credible. On the other hand, Wikipedia is not a credible source because the content is user-generated and the information is not vetted for accuracy.

Cite (and link to) reliable sources and examples in your content not only gives the article credibility, but also helps build a relationship with your customers. It is based on trust. This is the most important thing in content marketing.

The goal of content is to provide your customers with actionable insight and information to make important decisions. Namely to do business with you. Citations and examples can help you create a convincing and compelling case for trusting you with their business.

SEO and credibility

In addition to building trust with your customers, credible content is one of the characteristics in Google’s search algorithm. Google issued Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in 2015. It states a “high-level of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness” is important for high-quality content.

Citing sources is one of the factors Google reviews. If Google judges your content to not be very credible, your search ranking will drop. The upside? When you cite reliable sources, your search ranking will increase.

Tips and strategies on how to cite sources in your content

As noted in this article, finding reputable sources and clear examples to support the content you create is important for establishing trust between you and your customer. However, you don’t want to have too many citations in your article. It will take a way from the content. Be judicious with your citations. Only cite your sources in your content when it is relevant and adds value to the article.

Here are four tips and strategies for finding the best resources for your content.

Tip #1: Greatly improves researching skills

Researching a topic is valuable to your content in many ways. You can learn a new topic or find different aspects of a topic you are already familiar with while improving your relationship skills. Taking the initiative to fully research a topic. Provide factual information and sources will set the tone for your content and show through in your writing.

For example, this article on the ShareAble For Hires blog does a great job incorporating and linking to trustworthy sources. Readers can fact check and learn more about a topic if they so choose. Rather than just state point, a part of the sentence is hyperlinked to the online source of the data.

TransUnion Check References
Image Source: ShareAble for Hires

Tip #2: Builds website credibility  

Typically, the first contact your customers will have with your business is your website. Ensuring the content and information on your website is credible and accurate helps build a customer’s trust in you and may even lead to a possible conversion.

Customers who trust the content and information on your website and other marketing channels will keep them coming back. Creating credible yet compelling content is a great recipe for success in building the trust. By developing a trusting relationship with your customers, they will continue to come back to your site and to your business.

Tip #3: Quality over quantity

Having a lot of content on a number of topics is not always the answer for attracting customers. One quality article with sources to back up the content is much more valuable writing multiple articles which aren’t as thoroughly researched. You should also consider posting articles on topics, which have a longer “shelf life.”

However, you do want to ensure your content is still fresh. If the article is quoting a survey from 2013, you will want to remove the content of update with new statistics.

Uncharted Supply Co. is a company that sells survival gear and they often, especially in the survival skills blog, cite .gov websites in order to gain more trust from their readers. Government and educational sites (.gov and .edu, respectively) are seen as especially authoritative to both users and search engines, so citing these as sources lends the content more legitimacy and can adds SEO value to the site.

In the example below, Uncharted uses an image with the text, “More than 5,400 people have been linked to effects of the terror attacks committed on September 11th, 2001”. On the bottom right of the image they add credit to the data source. Citing a source as strong as CDC.gov adds validity to the data given and further legitimizes their claims and their website as a whole.

Tip #4: Proper references and bibliography section

A citation an attribution in your content to the source of the facts or obtained facts or information. Include a citation for factual statements subject to dispute or when you quote work from someone else.

You don’t need a citation for a factual statement verified by multiple sources or if you use general information not “owned” by anyone. If a factual statement can be verified by multiple sources or if you use knowledge that no one “owns,” you don’t need attribution.


Citation: According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of U.S. adults use social media.

No citation: Social media is popular among U.S. adults.

Linking to the source is not required but it is a good idea. However, linking should not take the place of the attribution because links can be broken, removed or changed.

In the example above, Pew Research needs to be in the sentence whether you link to the site or not. Link to information you think would be interesting to your customers and to give them a chance to learn more about the topic.

Summary of how to cite sources in your content

Proper citation will lead to an increase in quality content on your website. A well-rounded piece of content has such a great impact for your website. Take the time to create quality content. Citations show you care about your work and readers will appreciate the hard work.

This guest blog article was written by Emily Banks who is a bay area native that got tired of San Francisco’s cold beaches and decided to move to San Diego. She is currently the HR editor for 365 Business and a digital marketing expert for Arnett Credentials. When she is not typing away on her office keyboard, she can be found eating street tacos in the sunshine.