Yukon.ca should link externally where doing so helps meet a clear user need.
Make sure you also follow the Using links in content standards.
Where user needs on Yukon.ca are better met by third parties, we should consider linking to them and always seek to avoid unnecessary duplication. Whether it’s a non-profit organization’s website offering information or a third party tool, we will consider linking to external sites and services if we believe they will meet the user need and help them to complete their task.
Risks of linking to external sites
There are several risks to consider when adding links to external sites, and principles that should always apply when linking externally.
Is it clear to users that they’re leaving Yukon.ca?
Yukon.ca relies on users’ trust in order to fulfill its role as the home of government information and services online. This means:
- when pointing users towards third party services, we need to be clear that users are leaving Yukon.ca; and
- as part of the ongoing user testing of Yukon.ca, we will continue to test that users are clear and confident about when they are on Yukon.ca and when they are being taken elsewhere.
Changing external content
By linking to external sites in order to meet a user need, we open ourselves up to the risk that those sites will change and our link is no longer useful. By linking to things which can change outside of our control, there’s a possibility of us accidentally providing misleading information to people, which could cause frustration and stress for our users.
Content on third party sites we link to might be moved and redirected, removed or shut down completely. We can automatically test for these scenarios and should regularly review missing, broken and redirected external links.
Content on third party sites might change substantially so that it no longer meets the original user need, taken over by someone who provides a different type of content, or a third party site might substantially change its approach to privacy, cookies, mobile or accessibility.
These scenarios are much harder to detect automatically, so in addition to taking feedback from users, departments will need to regularly revisit their external links, the success of external links and review the content of the highest traffic external links to ensure the intended user need is still being met.
Recognizing that third parties will use the provision of information as a route to selling a service (whether via advertising, consultancy or other services, or establishing a market), our approach must be impartial and even-handed. We also need to be careful of any perceived endorsement of specific private sector suppliers.
The communications team in the Executive Council Office (with input from the relevant departments) will need to ensure that relevant external links to third parties do not act as an unfair endorsement of a specific site, for example.
Including or excluding specific links must be based on the principles and policies outlined here.
External linking considerations
Follow this checklist when assessing any external link requests.
- Does the link help meet a clear user need?
- Does the external site have clear privacy and cookie policies?
- Are we being even-handed and impartial?
- Do other sites provide similar information and if so why would we choose one over another?
- Is the external content free to access?
- Is the ownership of the external site clear?
- Does the site work on mobile devices?
- Would the site meet our accessibility standards?
- Is data being collected on our behalf?
We should only link to third 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 are an essential next step in meeting the user need addressed by the page.
Where we link to relevant third party content, we must link deeply to the relevant content (for example, when linking to a piece of content from a third party organization, we would link to a specific helpful page, rather than the organization's homepage).
Privacy and cookies
We should always review whether third party sites are similarly responsible and only send our users to sites that have taken these concerns into account. Where third parties we want to link to are not clear or have made mistakes, we should encourage them to change before we link to them.
Our decisions about who to link to will be scrutinized by users and those whose sites we choose not to link to. We should choose the sites and tools we link to carefully.
We must never include a link in return for cash, services or any other consideration in kind, including requests for reciprocal linking.
We should be prepared to explain the suitability of any third parties chosen, for example, where we’d be seen to be favouring one commercial provider over another.
Where appropriate, the communications team in Executive Council Office will challenge 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 one over another?
Free access and commercial sites
Some needs might be best met by third parties with a commercial model (whether via advertising, consultancy or other services, or aiming to establish a new market). While we should not normally link directly to pages whose main purpose is commercial (for example, selling services), if a user need is clearly met by a site which is broadly commercial, we should nevertheless consider linking to it as long as the content is free to access and does not require payment or registration before the user need can be met.
We should not link to content that requires payment or registration from users in order to be accessed. That does not mean we cannot link to organizations that have a paid membership but we should only link to content that is free to access and does not require payment or registration in order to access it.
Many visitors access Yukon.ca via a mobile device. If we link to external sites that do not work for them, it could create a frustrating experience. Before we link to external sites, we should be confident that the site will be usable on a mobile device.
We’ve put significant effort into making Yukon.ca the most accessible website it can be. We should ensure any third parties which we link to have provided for accessibility. We will not be able to thoroughly review every site we link to, but we should do what we can and we should avoid linking to sites that are not accessible.
If data is being collected on our behalf then we should only work with providers whose privacy and cookie policies are at least as good as ours. We 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 third 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 and procedures
To add external links the following processes will need to be followed.
Departments with specialist content on Yukon.ca will be required to follow the external linking policy, in the same way they follow the style guide.
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 Yukon.ca pages, they can suggest this is added by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Requests from external organizations
External organizations are likely to contact the government asking for links to be added to Yukon.ca.
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.