On Proper Context for Links

I believe that links in hypertext should be done in a way that provides proper context for the link. The use of “click here” is abominable to me, because you’re getting zero context for the link. If you need proof of this, Google “click here”. At the time of this posting, the top results are two links for free players from Adobe, a digital marketing agency with the domain clickhere.com, the download page for Apple’s QuickTime application, and an opt-out page for the Network Advising Initiative.

Stop using “click here”. Use real language to provide context. Your readers are not mindless idiots.

Tonight, I came across an excellent post from Anil Dash about Apple’s secrecy. I like the piece largely because he gives credit where due when previously giving grief. I don’t see many people making these kinds of follow-up posts.

I did not like the use of context in the fourth paragraph:

Apple has published an industry-leading supplier responsibility document, offering insights into the environment at Foxconn and expressing a commitment to ensuring humane and healthy conditions. And this document was clearly in progress before the publication of Joel Johnson‘s excellent Wired cover story about the topic (though admittedly, after significant coverage from outlets such as the New York Times), so it seems the company has been proactive about the issue even before receiving its most pointed media criticism.

When I came across that first link, I was expecting it to be some third-party organization [JD Power, maybe] praising the document, comparing it to both suppliers of other consumer electronic devices and possibly to other fields. [My experiences as an aerospace contractor, specifically one that was a Silver-level Boeing Approved Vendor, inform this idea.]] If the link had instead been “Apple has published an industry-leading supplier responsibility document,” I would have had better context for the link.

I’d like to look at the other two links in that paragraph. The Joel Johnson one is canonical and spot-on, as a reader unfamiliar with Joel would perhaps want to know a bit about him to assign some level of credibility to the piece he wrote. The link “Wired cover story” works in the context of the paragraph: you know “about this topic”, but I think Anil has to be writing as much for Google as for his readers. I would have written it as “excellent Wired cover story about Apple’s PR problems with outsourced manufacturing“, or something close to that. [Yes, I italicized Wired. I even debated it being WIRED. I’m also the same person that calls it “Yahoo!” and “Wal*mart”, although the latter has changed.]

I would write “Apple SVP Phil Schiller’s on-the-record email to John Gruber about app store rejections“, rather than just “email to John Gruber”. I would also write “Apple offered clear, publicly-accessible published guidelines by which applications are evaluated for inclusion in the App Store.” In this last case, I’d really hope that someone is keeping a track on the shifts in these guidelines over time. They’re not all bad, but they’re not all good, either.

Anil Dash is certainly not the only person with whom I’d quibble over the context I’d like to see in links, but I do believe him to be the thoughtful sort of fellow who would see such a post as constructive criticism. I hope that he’ll see this and have a chance to consider it. I’d certainly welcome his response for why he wrote as he did if he thinks I’m way off base. I hope that he’ll find time to do so considering that he is a new father and probably isn’t sleeping much.

[Addendum: WordPress 3.1 appears to have broken WP-Footnotes. You are once again stuck with my mental asides in posts. I am striving to not have as many of these, but I am not yet ready to give them up. I did not give writing footnotes for Lent.]

2 thoughts on “On Proper Context for Links”

  1. As I said on Twitter, this is really interesting feedback, and I appreciate it. I would argue that some of my link text that you point out is unclear especially because I *don’t* write for Google. I don’t optimize the text for the standalone text to be what the page would rank for in Google, but rather write the sentence first to stand on its own, and then add the link to it, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, your point is taken, and I can certainly admit that my posts could always use more editing, though I try not to let it get in the way of just posting.

  2. I appreciate you reading it, Anil. I see what you mean about “writing for Google”. My disconnect here is that I’m taking a term of art and substituting another meaning. “Writing for Google” is all about SEO and stuff that often makes my skin crawl. What I’m thinking is more of lending good Google-juice: canonical URLs for people, and descriptive links for other things. As a reader of yours, I want your post about Apple and secrecy to have a good search result, and I should link to it in such a way that gives it authority.

    Every external link I put on this site should reflect my credibility and authority in making the link. I don’t always hold myself to this standard, but I’m trying to be more intentional.

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