Unlink at your own risk

// // June 01st 2010 // Rant + SEO + Web Design

unlinking text

There’s a new unlinking meme going around that contextual links are a bad thing for web content. That they’re a distraction and take away from the prose of the journalist or blogger. It’s amazing that so many smart people actually believe the myth that people are reading their content word for word.

They’re not.

People Scan Text

Jakob Nielsen found that 79% of users scanned content and further research has supported this finding. But there are ways to increase the readability of web content.

highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)

That’s right. Links actually help the usability and readability of your content.

Writing for the Web

Putting all the links at the end may encourage users to skip your content. People aren’t patient and while it would be nice if they were, I don’t think that’s going to change. Fighting against this instinct doesn’t seem to be a winning strategy, nor is it entirely bad.

Different mediums dictate different writing styles. A novel versus haiku versus grant writing. They’re all very different in style, syntax and structure. Contextual links are simply a part of the style, syntax and structure of web content.

Links and SEO

Don’t forget that links are still an important part of SEO and recent research indicates that links within the text likely carry more trust and authority. And while backlinks are far more important, establishing a hub of authority and your presence within a ‘neighborhood’ is going to help your content get read by the right people.

So, get over the anecdotal stories and past the vanity. Links within text are valuable in web communication. Period.

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Comments About Unlink at your own risk

// 3 comments so far.

  1. Adam // June 01st 2010

    It’s disappointing that 1/3rd of your argument seems to be based on “But search engines won’t find you easily!” Also, while we’re discussing content you’re right.. most users scan content, and the reason they scan content is because we’ve set up an environment that makes them do that.

    Consider this: A book is just a book, but a web page is probably one of 15-20 things you have going on on your computer right this moment. Not including audio/visual elements like music, blinking icons, notifications, etc., If you sat there with your head phones on, 6 books sprawled out in front of you, a paper you’re working on off to your right, and holding a conversation simultaneously.. you’d be skimming those books too.

  2. aj // June 01st 2010

    Thanks for the reply Adam. Hopefully the other 2/3rds of my argument are still solid!

    However, the search engine argument is valid. Whether you like it or not links are the way that search engines assign trust and authority. I think the link graph is broken but there are no viable alternatives at this point. Linking out to relevant sites and documents establishes your topical niche and helps search engines to match queries to your content.

    As for the scanning issue. Look at the date on the initial research. 1997. At that time there was just one thing going on on your computer. And scanning behavior is not just limited to the online world. So … perhaps scanning has increased with the number of tabs open and applications, but I still believe contextual links serve a substantial communication purpose.

  3. Adam // June 01st 2010

    It wouldn’t be wise of me to suggest that search engines do not use links. Given that it seems highly illogical to suggest that links produce a better piece of work, no? You’re simply suggesting that links produce an easier to find piece of work, which is something no person in their right mind can disagree with.

    Also, consider that scanning isn’t intrinsically negative behavior it is the absence of deep thinking, and focus, that is negative. Computers (not just links) encourage a person to simply not think deeply. When you first purchase a book, you do scan it before just cracking it open, right? Many people do this, that’s how we determine the worth of a piece of information. The problem is that people are no longer doing step #2, which is to read deeply and thoughtfully the content which they have scanned.

    Also try to remember that in 1997 we all used those god-awful CRT monitors that were downright painful to look at for any long period of time. I’d be in a hurry to scan through an article if my eyes were in pain as well.

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