The Web wouldn’t exist without hyperlinks. The act of linking one document to another is the fundamental concept upon which the Internet was built. While technologies have vastly expanded on the simple context, hyperlinks still tie the Web together, but at the same time there’s more to anchors.
Links have become extremely big players in two major aspects of the modern Web; usability and search engine optimization. Anchors now have a measurable effectiveness based on both their
href and what is more important: link text. How do we come up with link text? Are there any conventions to follow that will benefit our end goal whether it be improved usability or better SEO (or both)?
Some time ago, Cameron Moll published a very brief post asking exactly that. He went ahead and used a very comprehensive example, asking his readers where they would place the anchor. An astounding number of comments provides quite a bit of insight.
Link text and usability
It may seem a bit odd to juxtapose link text and associated usability, but the two do have common ground. I’ve written before on the (still common) tendency to use “click here” as link text and the issues that rise as a result. The phrase “click here” while strikingly suggestive, provides absolutely no insight as to the resulting action, unless viewed in context with surrounding copy (or imagery).
While “click here” has been accepted by the vast majority of Internet users as a completely valid (and sometimes suggested) phrase to use as link text, you’re much better off taking a few minutes to piece together a more effective string.
Link text and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Effectively phrasing your link text will also hold many benefits when considering your SEO efforts. Search engine technologies have embraced (to a high degree) the text used in hyperlinks. Search engines will view that text as an explanation of the resource to which it links.
When comparing a link to a product on the Web, for instance, there are many choices as to what link text you may want to use. Cameron’s example is extremely comprehensive in presenting quite a few options for link text. It only takes a quick look at the comment thread to see the varying thought that goes into the creation of link text. It’s great to see how other people view links, and the reasons chosen for which text to use.
What’s important to remember is that link text can have significant effect on both the usability and SEO of any document on the Web.
With all of us knowing better than to use “click here”, have you come up with any sort of system to help you develop your link text? Do you consider SEO when marking up an anchor? Do you make an effort to fill in the title attribute? What other tips or tricks do you have up your sleeve?
When I print an article of interest, I use Opera’s Web Developer utility, “Convert Links to Footnotes”. So putting text in a link that conveys what it links to is very useful.
I’d use a TITLE attribute to add non-essential information, like publisher and/or date.