Proper linking ettiquete

This has been mentioned thousands of times on the interwebs, but in case there’s at least one person reading this that didn’t know it, I’m explaining it again. Using hyperlinks in a piece of text doesn’t mean it has to stop being proper, readable English (or any other language). For example, imagine the phrase:

It was a nice movie, click here to read more about it.

Read it again. Now close your eyes and imagine someone reading it out loud. It doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Hyperlinks already carry the meaning that there’s more information behind them. No need to repeat it with “to read about it”. And they also carry the information about being clicked, so no need to say “click here”. And in some interfaces you don’t click, and I can think of already two cases:

  • People using the keyboard and only the keyboard to navigate. They are more than you think. I myself would be doing it much more if it wasn’t so hard on so many broken web sites.
  • People using a phone, like the iPhone. You don’t click, nothing clicks. It’s called tapping.

For computers “click here” doesn’t provide any proper meta-data. There are services that extract a lot of information about links. Google being one example. Let’s analyze what would happen to Google if you do it correctly, like:

It was a nice movie.

That was short, wasn’t it? Half the size and no-nonsense, but I digress. Google would index that link as a “nice movie” and that’s good because you are adding information to the web, you are expressing your opinion and when people search for “nice movie” they are more likely to find the movie you pointed to. Maybe you are the only one believing that’s a nice movie, but when lots of people link to it as a “nice movie”, Google will catch that.

Also, imagine that your page gets turned into plain text, or printed, or spoken, or whatever:

  • It was a nice movie, click here to read more about it.
  • It was a nice movie.

Which one makes more sense?

Now, we can take it a step further. Something else you can do to make your text more readable, more robust and nicer overall is to do more or less proper attribution. I’m not talking about academic proper attribution, I’m taking about simple things. I’ve recently found this sentence in the Stack Overflow article Advice for Computer Science College Students:

I’ve read an article from Joelonsoftware.com a few years agohttp://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/CollegeAdvice.html

which I promptly edited, thanks to my karma earnings, to be:

I’ve read the article Advice for Computer Science College Students from Joel on Software a few years ago.

Aside from the proper period at the end of a sentence, do you see how and why my version is more readable, contains much more information (while being shorter on text on the screen) and can resist being turned into text, speech or braille? So, next time you write something, please, remember that even if you are using a computer, you are still writing a proper language.

Sometimes the links are so important that you want them to get to a text or spoken version. In that case, imagine how you would write it if you were speaking or writing with a pen on paper:

I really like Joel on Software, which you can read on http://joelonsoftware.com.

which you can then later enhance for the web:

I really like Joel on Software, which you can read on http://joelonsoftware.com.

Now there’s extra information in there. The URL is there three times, one in text, two in hyperlinks. But the text is not longer and it’s not harder to read (unless you pick up hyperlink colors badly) and it gives the user more places to link, machines that look for context information more to pick up from. It’s a win-win.

Reviewed by Daniel Magliola. Thank you!

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5 Replies to “Proper linking ettiquete”

    1. Chris, many old people that find the mouse hard to use, people with light motor disabilities, people with RSI (the mouse tends to become unusable before the keyboard), people that can use only one hand to use the keyboard, people that find it more comfortable to do it. People using iPhones, G1s, BlackBerrys are certainly not using a mouse.

  1. Pablo, I though you my have some data on that. And people using iPhones, G1s, BlackBerrys are certainly not using a keyboard.

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