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Link location that works

Link text standing out.

Where to put links on a web page? That's a standard dilemma for content writers. Best to establish a policy and make sure all writers on your site follow it. That has an added advantage of standardising the "look" of your pages.

We're not talking about links in menus or navigation bars, but links that the writer places within the text.

Their location is crucial, because they are more than links. They function like flashing signs about the subject matter. And they are an element of structure. As such, links in the text send subliminal signals about how well organised the page is - and therefore how easy it will be to read.

A surprising proportion of people read only link text and nothing but link-text when they first encounter a page. At first glance, they don't read headlines or image captions or logos or taglines. Their eyes go straight to the usually-blue, underlined text. After questioning hundreds of people in my workshops, I guess at least 50% are link-readers.

Link-readers get an instant impression of your page based on the placement (and wording - but that's another story) of link text. Do it right, and you give people confidence in your expertise. Do it wrong, and they get an impression of a disorderly and annoying page.

By placing links thoughtlessly, you can force readers to reread text, or scroll, or misunderstand the topic of the page.

Options for link placement

  1. Place links at the top of the page.
  2. Place links at the bottom of the page.
  3. Make links headings, followed by relevant text.
  4. Place links right at the start of paragraphs.
  5. Place links on a new line after the relevant paragraph.
  6. Embed links randomly in the text, within a sentence or paragraph.
  7. Use a carefully judged combination of these systems.
  8. Use a chaotic combination of these systems.

Left align links for easy skimreading

I'm convinced that options 3, 4, and 5 are excellent choices. They all ensure the link text is left-aligned: the skim-reader absorbs the text without missing a beat.

Sometimes you just can't help putting a link in a paragraph - for example, when giving an email address.

The convention is that links at the top of a page are shortcuts to items on that page itself. However, this location also works well for pages that do nothing more than list publications, news items, media releases etc. The function of the page is simply to list those links.

Links at the bottom of the page are fine, as long as the page is short. Otherwise this location can be a nuisance. Some users may never scroll down to the list of links.

Links embedded within a sentence or paragraph

This is the old-fashioned way to position link-text. We all did it when the Web was new. Wow! I can make any word a link! Wow! this is fun - let's do it again! Link spatter is the result. Link-readers see a jumble of garbage. They are tempted to leave your page on a whim, without reading the paragraph. And reading is hard: the eye zigzags between the links and complete sentences.

How about "click here" embedded in the paragraph? Don't do it. It's gormless.

However, a page such as Arts and Letters Daily (www.aldaily.com) can use the discreet "more" at the end of paragraphs to good effect. It's right for them, or the whole page would be links, and defeat the purpose. The main thing is, the page uses links with complete consistency. This inspires confidence, and is easy to read.


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