If you’re writing for online media, the text that you specify as hyperlinks can make or break your Web content. Well-crafted links not only connect they also inform, guide, highlight, and create context.
Web users tend to scan content quickly before reading a page word-by-word. Effective link text makes online content easier to scan, since links visually “stand out” from Web pages, HTML e-mail messages, or RSS feed content (they’re typically displayed as underlined, bold, or colored text). Therefore, if you create your links with scanning in mind, you’ll help your online audience quickly grasp your content.
Here are five tips for more effective links:
- Be obvious. By reading the text of a link and only that text your readers should be able to make a reasonably accurate guess as to where they will go or what kind of information they’ll next encounter if they click on that link. This is why links that say only “click here” or “this page” tend to be problematic they waste time because they do not inform.
GOOD EXAMPLE: Don’t miss this year’s New Orleans Jazz Fest
BAD EXAMPLE: For more information on this year’s New Orleans Jazz Fest, click here.
- Keep it brief. Link text should be as short as possible without becoming cryptic. Try to limit your links to one or two words. Avoid specifying entire sentences, or even phrases, as links (except if you’re giving the title of an article or similar work).
GOOD EXAMPLE: A ship’s ballast water can help spread harmful invasive species around the globe.
BAD EXAMPLE: A ship’s ballast water can help spread harmful invasive species around the globe.
- Structure sentences to yield good links. If you know you’re going to want to link to a certain piece of information, it helps to first come up with the most concise and clear text for that link, and then structure your writing to support that link. This helps prevent verbal gymnastics, as well as unclear or unwieldy links.
FOR INSTANCE: If I were writing an online article about nuclear power plants that are renewing their operating licenses, and I wanted to link to relevant plant-specific info on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission site, I would consider using the intriguing, question-like phrase “which plants” in a sentence that clearly refers to the subject matter.
The resulting sentence might look like this: “The NRC Web site tells which plants have submitted, completed, or are expected to submit license renewal applications.
- Don’t go link-crazy. If you have too many links on a page that are too close together or poorly organized, you might as well have no links because none of them will stand out to your readers. Try to limit the number of links in your document. Don’t feel you must create a link just because some related information happens to exist. Your role as a writer or editor requires you to be selective about how much information you present, so that you don’t overwhelm, distract, or confuse your readers.
- Avoid breaking links across lines of text. If you specify a link that’s two words long, consider using (or asking your Web designer to insert) the special invisible character between the two words that comprise the link. This creates a “no-break space” which means that the two words of your link will not fall on two different lines of text if the link happens to fall at the end of a line in your reader’s browser. This will avoid the problem of a single link appearing as two links.
If a link is more than two words long, it may or may not be practical to use this technique between all words in the link but it may be helpful to use between the last two words of the link, as long as they are not both long words.