Hyperlinks Are the “Tubes” of the Internet

While U. S. Senator Ted Stevens’ metaphor of the Internet as a series of tubes (2006) is inaccurate, we can reasonably think of hyperlinks as the paths (or if you want to get sci-fi geeky: wormholes) through which we travel across the World Wide Web. Click a link and almost instantaneously you will move to a new page within a web site or—seemingly magically—to some new website hosted half way around the globe. In fact, the importance of hyperlinks cannot be overstated; there is no web without hyperlinks connecting one text to another (or more often, one text to many).

Thus, understanding how to create effective hyperlinks is important because when you create hyperlinks, you are adding your pages to the network called the World Wide Web. The following sections will help you to effectively use hyperlinks in your web writing.

Click Here to Learn More about Hyperlinks

One of the most common mistakes that noobs make is using the “click here to . . .” hyperlink. Consider the following example:

As reported at Endgaget, the buzz this week on tech news sites is Apple’s “iPhone tracking software.” Using data from cell phone towers and wifi networks, iOS constantly stores the phone owners location in an unencrypted file on the phone. Click here to learn more.

Well, duh! Because Internet users know that that if they click links, the browser will take them to another web page, it’s redundant to say “click here.” That’s why the words are underlined and a different color than the rest of the text. Here’s a quick fix:

As reported at Endgaget, the buzz this week on tech news sites is Apple’s “iPhone tracking software.” Using data from cell phone towers and wifi networks, iOS constantly stores the phone owners location in an unencrypted file on the phone. Learn more.

We also recommend that you never set your links to open into new windows. Your readers can be confused by this action and often do not realize that the browser has opened a new window—they will try clicking on their back buttons, only to find they no longer work. Web-savvy users can always force content to open in a new window anyway, so it’s not like you’re eliminating the option for anyone who wants it. Sven Lennartz’s article Should Links Open in New Windows? from Smashing Magazine has an excellent discussion of this issue. For now, though, just remember to have your links open in the same window

Use Contextual Hyperlinks

Most people won’t click on a link unless you let them know why they should bother. Let’s consider the previous example of the post about the iPhone. Where you put the link can let the reader know whether you’re just citing it as a source. If you put it at the very end, it usually signifies either that it’s your main source of information and that users should click it to learn more.

For example, a company who puts a press release on the Web featuring a new product might add a “learn more” link at the end pointing to a product page on their website. The company wants you to read the press release first, then follow the link.

However, in many texts, we can better assist readers by putting the links in context, by linking to something meaningful in the text. Using contextual links, we can create effective transitions for the reader to the next web text, and we better connect the texts we write to those on other web pages. Here are two different revisions of the previous example that illustrate this concept:

As reported at Endgaget, the buzz this week on tech news sites is Apple’s “iPhone tracking software.” Using data from cell phone towers and wifi networks, iOS constantly stores the phone owners location in an unencrypted file on the phone.

As reported at Endgaget, the buzz this week on tech news sites is Apple’s “iPhone tracking software.” Using data from cell phone towers and wifi networks, iOS constantly stores the phone owners location in an unencrypted file on the phone.

In the first example, the link is emphasizing where you got the information and where readers should go to learn more about it. The second example emphasizes what the link is about. Since you mentioned Engadget earlier in the sentence, users will probably realize the link will go there. But it could also go to a Wikipedia definition or to a link on Apple’s apps store. In any case, the meaning of the two is slightly different. One provides direct indication of where the reader will go on the web (revision 1), and the other indicates to the reader what will be learned (revision 2). If you’re reporting news or items from another blog or website, it’s typical to put a link to the original source in the text.

Yes. There Are Punctuation Rules for Hyperlinks

Just as with other types of writing, punctuation has a role in creating hyperlinks:

Exclude ending punctuation from hyperlinks. When hyperlinking text that has punctuation immediately following it, we recommend that you do not include the punctuation in the hyperlink. Consider again this example from the previous page:

As reported at Endgaget, the buzz this week on tech news sites is Apple’s “iPhone tracking software.” Using data from cell phone towers and wifi networks, iOS constantly stores the phone owners location in an unencrypted file on the phone.

See how the comma following Endgaget is not included in the hyperlink? Do the same thing if hyperlinking text at the end of a sentence followed by a period; don’t include the period in the hyperlink either.

Leave off quotes and italics from titles in hyperlinked text in prose. Another style rule that we recommend involves hyperlinked titles. Bloggers and other social media writers will often include the title of another post or web page in their writing, and then link that title to the original web page. When doing so, be sure to capitalize the title, but do not include quotations as you would in print with smaller works (e.g. a blog post title or news article) or italics with larger works (e.g., a website title). Here’s an example using a modified version of the Endgaget post:

As reported in The iPhone Tracking Fiasco and What You Can Do About It, the buzz this week on tech news sites is Apple’s “iPhone tracking software.” Using data from cell phone towers and wifi networks, iOS constantly stores the phone owners location in an unencrypted file on the phone.

Yes. This is contrary to what writers do in print where quotations and italics are added to emphasize that the text is a title of a work, and whether it is a small or large work. In web writing, the formatting for the hyperlink will emphasize the title that you have already capitalized. The reader can click the link and immediately see what kind of work it is; adding quotes or italics adds unnecessary additional emphasis.

EXCEPTION: if you include a bibliography in your web writing, you should follow the conventions for punctuating titles in the citation format you adopt for your references, whether or not you chose to hyperlink the title of a reference that is also available online.

Source: Writing Spaces Web Writing Style Guide, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) License.

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Materials & Meaning Handbook Copyright © by Phil Lonergan. All Rights Reserved.

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