They say imitation is the ultimate form of flattery — unfortunately, when writing online content, not properly crediting your “inspiration” could land you in hot water.
Citing quotes, statistics, ideas, and other borrowed material helps you become a more ethical and thorough digital writer while boosting your credibility and content quality. And to have the biggest impact, you’ll need to know how to properly cite a source.
Why do we cite sources?
Documenting sources in your writing is integral to researching and creating content.
While many people associate citations with lengthy academic papers or reports, including credit for online blog posts and articles is just as important.
By clearly attributing external information to sources through quotes, links, or in-text citations, content writers can showcase a just, detailed, and credible approach that their readers will appreciate.
Gives credit and avoids plagiarism
Quoting and attributing content to the original creator, author, website, or publication avoids plagiarism while giving credit where credit is due.
Using another person’s or organisation’s work without citing is considered unethical and could have legal consequences, depending on the circumstances.
Citations, when done correctly, prove to readers that you’ve done your research on your chosen topic by referencing authoritative sources.
This lends greater credibility to the points you’re trying to make, the stats you’re using, or the quotes you’ve included to support your content and arguments.
Detailed citations enable your readers to verify information or find out more details if they desire. This further builds credibility by demonstrating your content has substantial facts and research behind it.
Expert opinions, scientific findings, statistics, and quotes from authoritative sources help strengthen your points far more than relying solely on your perspective.
Properly citing these sources indicates you have solid ground to stand on beyond personal views or opinions.
Enable AI-improved search
Future search engines will be fuelled by generative artificial intelligence (AI). As a result, many site owners are now optimising for generative search, coined GEO (Generative Experience Optimization) by some.
Appropriate attribution is thought to benefit these efforts — search engines can analyse content citations and references to better understand the correlation of information across sources.
Optimising for Google SGE (Search Generative Experience) might include reevaluating your citation approach.
For example, how are you backing up what you’re saying? Is the data credible? Have you used it correctly?
Proper citations could help to improve the discovery and page ranking in AI-enhanced search results.
When you should cite sources
It’s important to cite sources whenever you include any external information in your content that comes from elsewhere.
This usually includes:
Quotes: Word-for-word quotes from another publication, webpage, book, or any other content must be wrapped in quotation marks accompanied by a citation indicating the original source.
- Statistics and facts: If sharing a statistic, study outcome, percentage, or little-known fact users may not know, you need to say where you got that information using in-text citations.
- Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing doesn’t eliminate the need to cite correctly. Even if you’ve put the research findings or insights into your own words, you should include an in-text citation to show where the information came from.
- References to specific works: If you mention a particular report name, article, website, company, product, or solution, cite it so readers can learn more.
- Unique ideas: Novel perspectives and interpretations also need attribution. If you include any unique ideas, cite the thought leader behind it so readers understand you’re not claiming it as your own.
Although not strictly necessary, you may also want to cite any knowledge you think your readers might not already know or find commonly available.
Supporting references help improve your credibility, so if in doubt, add some form of citation.
How to cite sources in a blog post
In-text citations work best when citing sources in a blog post.
You should use these whenever you mention external information, placing quotation marks around the excerpt and including the author’s last name and year of publication in parentheses.
For example: “64% of companies saw an ROI from content marketing efforts last year” (Johnson, 2023).
For stats or facts without direct quotes, omit the quote marks but continue including the author’s last name and year information, like this:
Nearly three-quarters of marketers plan to increase content production this year (Smith, 2023).
You can include a link to the report either on the quote or fact itself, or in your final reference list.
Reference list citations
You should provide a full “references” or “works cited” section at the end of your blog post. This offers biographical information on each source you cited in alphabetical order.
How you do your footnote citations depends on your site guidelines or editor’s preferences — most choose an academic referencing style such as APA, MLA, or Chicago.
Each formatting type contains core pieces of information about the source, such as:
- Author last name, First initial. Middle initial
- Year of publication in parentheses
- Title of work italicised
- Publisher name
- URL or DOI if a digital source.
- Author last name, First name
- Title of work in quotation marks
- Title of container (journal, website, etc.) italicised
- Publisher name
- Date of publication
- Page range, if applicable
- URL if a digital source.
- Author last name, First name
- Title of work italicised
- City of publication
- Publisher name
- Year of publication
- Page range cited, if applicable
- URL or DOI for digital sources.
Citation generator tools can help you create your end references — these quickly generate properly formatted citations depending on your chosen type.
AP citation style
Some blogs adopt the Associated Press (AP) citation style. It’s used when space is limited, focusing on in-text citations for readability.
For direct quotes, AP style uses attribution tags that typically follow this format: “This is a direct quote,” [last name of person quoted] said.
The full name of the person quoted should appear in the attribution tag. You can also include job titles or other identifiers for clarity.
Statistics, facts, and other source information should cite the originating organisation or the name of the published work in-text where possible.
While AP doesn’t traditionally use reference lists at the end, some newer versions include added source links or footnotes to give the reader verification.
How to reference a guest author or a contributor to a post
A guest author is someone who (other than yourself) has written a post for your blog. This differs slightly from a contributor to a blog post, who instead may have inputted large amounts of research, ideas, or phrasing assistance to the content you wrote.
Nevertheless, both guest authors and contributors must be adequately acknowledged — that means citing their participation.
For contributors, you can give an in-text mention early within the blog post (often following your byline) to recognise their help, as follows:
“Special thanks to guest contributor Jane Smith, who provided invaluable research and writing for the statistics cited within this post.”
You might also include where they’re from (company, profession, etc.) and a link to their website or social media if it’s within your guidelines.
Guest authors (people who composed a large portion of the post rather than just assisting) usually have their full name as a byline author.
In the post’s reference section, you should also include an entry detailing the guest author or contributor’s full name, position, company or affiliation, contribution type, and data.
For example: Smith, Jane. Marketing Researcher, Analytics Pros. Guest post research and statistics contributor. August 2022.
Acknowledging third-party contributors openly demonstrates you had qualified support for creating a compelling blog post that goes beyond your efforts alone.
This shows readers that you went above and beyond to get quality, expert information for their benefit.
How to cite statistics and data sources
Simply stating numbers without clear evidence is bad practice and could harm your credibility.
Whenever you include statistics, percentages, metrics, or data points from external research in your content, you need to cite them properly.
Here are some best practices to follow:
- Name the source: After stating the statistic, include the research report, whitepaper, or article name, followed by the author and year in parentheses. For example, “72% of digital content goes unread by target audiences” (Johnson’s Annual Content Benchmarks Report, 2022).
- Link the source: If the statistic is from a publicly accessible source, you should also link directly to the report or web page for reference after the in-text citation.
- Provide context: Give one or two sentences clarifying the research details, such as the number of respondents or industries covered. This helps the audience understand the validity and relevance of the data.
- Include references: Fully detail the report or article name, author, publisher, URL, and other important details in your works cited entry at the end of the post.
- Check your sources: Ensure you use sources that make sense in your content and that your audience will find helpful. Check that your data points come from recent and reputable sources.
- Cite the origins: If you found your stat or data point in another article or blog, take time to find and cite the original source. Doing this also helps you check its context and credibility, i.e., has it been interpreted correctly?
How citations and external links affect “normal SEO”
Linking to external sites won’t directly impact where your page appears in the SERPs — Google’s EEAT isn’t an official ranking factor.
However, correct citations can help you create content that adds value for readers, keeping users at the core of your optimisations.
Incorporating high-authority pages doesn’t influence SEO, but search engines will take note if you’ve signposted to genuinely valuable sources.
Google essentially regards outbound links as an extension of your content – are they meaningful? Do they improve the user experience? Ask yourself these questions before adding them.
With that said, backing up your content with worthwhile external research makes it more credible and, therefore, more helpful to the user.
Google evaluates pages based partly on what readers find useful, so ensuring your blogs and articles contain enough supporting evidence can be advantageous.
Citations and reference links also clarify the precise applicability of the information, helping readers understand why it’s relevant.
You also bolster your perceived knowledge level by showcasing in-depth, authoritative sources — in short, your readers will believe that, when it comes to your chosen topic, you know your stuff.
Ultimately, search engines want users to explore, learn, and navigate through pages.
Citations and linked sources support this — while they can technically take traffic away from your site, the authority indicators and helpfulness they bring far outweigh the minor drawbacks.
What’s more, as machine learning progresses, semantic search will also transform how we look for information online.
Many AI-driven semantic search tools use citations and supporting references to connect related concepts and surface content that’s more relevant and helpful in its results.
One recent study found that citing sources and adding quotations or statistics were the top three optimisation strategies to rank in AI search.
This could mean that the better cited your content is, the easier it is for these technologies to understand its usefulness for searchers, even if they haven’t directly looked for that specific phrase or keyword.
- Citations are a necessary part of digital content.
- They give credibility to your writing and enable users to understand how and why you reached your points.
- Proper citations can affect how useful readers find your content — this lends itself to stronger SEO as your post is considered more helpful.
- There are many ways you can cite sources. The key is to pick a respected and consistent formatting style that provides enough information.
- Ensure your sources benefit your points and audience — don’t just cite or include research for the sake of it.
- Make sure your evidence is solid and that you understand it. If you found the stat in another article, go straight to the source, read it, and cite it.
- Understand that citation isn’t going anywhere — proper attribution will become more critical as we move towards generative search engines that look for credible sources.