This article is a guide to making good links. Links are the text or images that take you from one page to another on a website. They can also be used in emails, documents, or just about everything else. For the sake of this guide were going to be sticking to web pages and emails. We are not going to be focusing on traffic generating links, but instead on links that appear in the content of the page.

Determine if a link is needed

One of the more common mistakes that I see is clients linking to things for no good reason, or for reasons the user base won’t care about. A good example is linking every instance of the word link to the w3c standard for the a tag (used to make links). To do that would make the text look bad, and the a tag syntax isn’t really the focus of this article. I could also make the page load slower if the visitor has any kind of browser plugin that previews or preloads links.

On the other side of the coin, I also see clients use two few links. If you have something you want to show as an example, some kind of related resource, or a reference to something these are perfect times to link. Don’t worry if you link to the same thing twice there is no harm in that. Again linking all occurrences of a word is probably not a good idea.

The best examples of when to use links, are image thumb nails, references to other pages on the site, calls to action, or references to materials off site. You should never create links for the sake of advertising (i.e. linking the word XBox to a XBox sales page when your talking about game reviews).

When you decide that it’s time for a link you want to make sure it stands out and is noticeable. You also want to make sure that it’s understandable what it’s going to be linking to. For that reason I always suggest the following:

  • Link on verbs
  • Never Link on generic text like “click here”
  • If you can’t link on a verb link on a specific important word like the site name or page/article name.
  • Use plain text when you can for links, images can look nice, but they can also be confusing for people that don’t see well or that have slow internet connections (or that have images disabled).
  • If you link on an image (thumbnail) make sure the image has “alt” text.

Following these guidelines will help both readability of your site and search engine rankings.

Good Examples

The best examples of good links are links that your can see clearly but don’t hinder the page. Take a look at Google. Their links are very subtle, you can find them, but they are not in the way of the main function. Apple is another good example. They have ton’s of links on the page, but they don’t really get in the way. Alfred’s Homepage is another good example of links used well.

Bad Examples

I’m not going to put other websites “under the bus” in this section, mostly because thats just not a very nice thing to do. But examples are pages of links or links in the middle of articles that don’t go anywhere. We have all seen systems like Konetra used incorrectly to make a site a pain to browse. Sites that link every other word, just because it’s a keyword, or in their blog’s tag cloud are also common “bad examples.”

A Special note for email

Email is a special case because when you send out an email you need to send at least two versions. A “Plain Text” version and “Enriched (or html)” version. In both cases you may want to include links, but you need to remember that in the plain text copy people can see the URLs. Take a look at the two examples below:

HTML
….. such a great article on linking take a look at A guide to good linking

Plain Text
….. such a great article on linking take a look at A guide to good linking (http://www.coteyr.net/articles/)

Because of this, I always recommend using as few links as you can in emails. No one really wants an email full of cryptic looking URLs.

So….

As you can see there are some really simple guidelines to creating links in websites and emails. It may not always be possible to create the best links ever, but creating better links helps SEO, makes your content easier to read and navigate, and will make your users happy. Quick tip, if your in safari, turn on developer mode, then disable images and styles and see what your site looks like. Is it still easy to use? It should be.

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