The art of linking

by / Filed under Web

The web is a network of links; they’re what make plain, boring text hyper. Luckily, making a link is very, very easy, although crafting it properly takes a little thought.

You only need to follow one rule to get links right:

When you write link text, make sure it makes sense on its own.

It’s surprising how many good writers get links wrong.

An example. You want to link to your organisation’s annual report PDF (rather than publish an HTML version, but that’s a different story). Many people write:

To download our annual report, click here

A better way:

Download our annual report.

(You can argue over whether to include the verb in your link; I don’t, some would.)

Or to take an example from Stumbling and Mumbling:

investors are prone (pdf) to buying poorly perforning [sic], high-charging funds

would be better as

investors are prone (pdf) to buying poorly performing, high-charging funds

  1. Accessibility. Screen readers isolate page links to make it easier to find a document’s important information. Isolated, Click here makes no sense, but annual report does.
  2. Easing the reader’s workload. What is this link? Where does it lead? If the link doesn’t make sense on its own, the reader has to reinterpret the words around it to figure out what it is.
  3. Easier scanning. What’s this document about? It’s rare for a reader to work through your text word by word, from start to finish. Instead, they’ll scan for words and phrases they’re interested in. Links stand out from the rest of the text, so they’re a key clue to the text’s meaning.
  4. Reader interest. You can tease readers with a well turned link; maybe good writers get links wrong piqued your curiosity. investors are prone (pdf) to buying poorly performing, high-charging funds is a lot more enticing than prone (pdf).

Getting links right will improve the reader’s experience of your writing – it’s worth sparing them a little time and thought.