Link Location: What Works Best?

I was reading "Link location that works", a (rather brief) article by Rachel McAlpine of Quality Web Content; a generally good repository of web writing resources and information.

I'm pretty interested in link best practices as I've seen links written very badly many times, and have also witnessed the proverbial "link splatter" she so disdains.

Rachel provides a number of 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.

Some interesting options there, a few of which I don't think I've really seen used widely on the web (for example, #4). However, I was pretty disappointed by the lack of support for Rachel's preference for options 3,4 and 5, especially as she touts them as being "excellent choices". Maybe they do work well for skim readers, but what about the rest of my site's visitors?

If they are such great choices, then surely she could provide some examples of sites that are using these methods, presumably to great effect? Or are her readers simply supposed to take her words at face value? In fact, a quick sortie around some major news/magazine sites reveals a strong preference for option #6, the old favorite.

Given the fact that the only convention (of which I am aware) when it comes to the placing of links is to embed them within the body of a paragraph, I would be very wary about breaking that convention without extremely good justification.

On a related note, when Rachel does provide an example, why does she not link up the URL? As a reader, who now has to copy and paste it in to his address bar, this is very frustrating, and goes against the whole point of the web in the first place.

Indeed, the site she cites as an example of good practice, Arts and Letters Daily, is actually a terrible example from an accessibility standpoint (thanks, Keith).

All those linked up "more"s will play havoc with a screen reader and provide a very poor experience for such visitors. I would suugest that writing good web content means writing for *all* your visitors, not just the obvious ones.

A somewhat cruel aside: I found it ironic that in one article Rachel says that the page title "Must give precise information about page content." However, the title for her "About" page is incorrectly entitled "Products"!

Although most will see it as simply an oversight, given the nature of her business, it could easily create negative implications for her credibility in potential customers.

Posted on: March 23, 2004 | No comments

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