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Don’t Be the Weakest Link: A Guide to Writing with Links

January 22, 2010

Links and how you should be using them

Links seem pretty simple. You know exactly what they do already — you click on one and it brings up a new page. But there’s more to it than that. When you decide you want to link to something in a blog post or article, here are a few things to consider:

  1. What text do you link
  2. What do you link to (the main page of your target or something more specific)
  3. How do you contextualize your link (if at all)
  4. When not to link
Which is the weakest link?

Which is the weakest link?

#1: What text to link

The easiest way to delve into this subject is with a sample sentence, so here’s what I’ll work with:

There’s a really great magazine that does especially excellent articles about search engine optimization.

This sentence has a few things that could use a link: “magazine,” “articles” and “search engine optimization” (depending on whether you can expect your readership to already understand what search engine optimization is). The adjectives in this sample sentence are generic, so avoid converting them into link text. So with links, the sentence would look like this (note: not real links):

There’s a really great magazine that does especially excellent articles about search engine optimization.

But what if you had more descriptive descriptors, as in “16th century coins” versus “really great coins.” This is fully a judgment call, but I think it’s important to making your links as clear as possible.

#2: Where to target your links

Be specific. If you’re linking a certain article, link that article. If you’re linking to an image, get the exact page of the image and not just the website where the image sits. If one of your readers clicks on a link, they should know exactly what they’re getting into and not be surprised at all.

But there’s also value in providing a link, for example, to a magazine’s homepage as well as to the specific article you’re referring to. And this leads into my next point…

#3: How do you contextualize your links

Going off of the example I just used, here’s what a line might look like that links both a home page and a specific page.

The Economist put up a really great article about pandas.

Links often take the place of parenthetical statements in print writing. So where in print I might write: “The Economist, a news and finance magazine,” online I can simply link to it. It’s the same reason I converted “search engine optimization” into a link earlier in this post rather than writing a quick description in brackets. Linking well allows articles to cover more ground. If you’re writing an article for print, you’re on your own. On a blog or online magazine, take advantage of the resources available to you and link.

#4: When not to link

Sentences shouldn’t end up with more link than regular text. You risk a) overloading your reader with information and b) distracting readers from your original content, which is the most important part of your site. An example of a badly over-linked sentence:

Maclean’s Magazine has a Twitter feed which they use to publish Canadian news and stories.

Too many links!

Some extra tips for linking

  1. Link only the words you want to link (i.e. don’t link spaces around a word, like this: word )
  2. Don’t link the homepages of websites like Twitter or Facebook when you’re talking about a specific feed or page (see my example of bad linking)
  3. Don’t link to explicit material, sites that spoil events in television shows/movies that haven’t aired yet, or anything else your reader might be upset about without adding a label, as in: Here’s a link to a cool website (NSFW).

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Teshi permalink
    January 22, 2010 5:38 pm

    I approve this article.

  2. February 22, 2010 1:22 pm

    P.S. I’ve just learned that Google also looks at what text is made into links and ranks accordingly. So if your linked text is “click here” then Google thinks the linked site is about “click here,” not whatever the website is actually about.

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