I offer this for peer review. Please read the note at the end for more information. Feel free to offer your feedback however you receive this, Facebook, Twitter, or on this blog.
The Web was founded on the idea of creating links to related resources in a non-sequential fashion. Special consideration must be used when writing the text to be used within the link, linking to external sites, and embedding internal and external multimedia content.
Best Practice: The text within the link (the actual text that the visitor sees and clicks on to follow a link) must describe what the visitor should expect when clicking on the link.
A simple “click here” should be avoided. When possible, the link text should fit nicely in a sentence. A great check for this is reading the sentence and asking yourself, does the sentence make sense without the ability to link?
Bad: Click here for our Terms of Service
Better: Please refer to our Terms of Service page.
Best: Please read the University Terms of Service before posting to our site.
URLS in the Text
In some cases, where the page is likely to be printed out, it may be advantageous to use the actual URL as the text that provides the link.
For example, in printed documents, E-mails, or Web pages that will most likely be printed, you may wish to provide the content:
Be sure to check www.myuniversity.edu/basketweaving/events for this week’s events.
Note a few things about this URL:
- http:// is left off. It is a given and is not necessary.
- Default.asp is left off of the end. (You can also leave off any “default “or “index” followed by .asp, .cfm, .html as well.
We left “www.” In the URL, but for UST it could have just as well been left off. In printed documents it should be left off (if it works). However, in E-mail or on the Web it should be left on so that the E-mail application or Web browser will be able to identify it as a link. Note that for some Web sites you are not able to remove the www from the beginning. Always try the link after you trim it down.
Best Practice: A hint of what site will be linked to should be given in the link text. Also, the site should rarely (if ever) open in a new window.
Linking to external sites must take the visitor’s expectations into consideration as they will want to know that they are leaving your site. The visitor trusts your site, they may not wish to go to another site. If they click on a link expecting to go to another page on your trusted site, how will they react when a video starts playing or ads pop up without warning? You would like visitors to know you are not responsible for the content on the other site. The provider of the external site wants proper attribution.
It is expected that the Web is a set of interconnected links; therefore, a disclaimer stating that you are not responsible for content on another site for each link you post is overkill.
Think of your daily routine. You go from room to room in your house expecting the ordinary. When you open the front door to leave the house you don’t expect to be met with the surprise of someone standing there looking back at you. Proper etiquette for standing on other people’s front porches is to knock or ring the door bell (or not stand there at all if you do not intend to talk to the occupants).
Knocking is a signal to the occupant that someone is at the front door and when they open the front door they should not be startled. Sometimes the occupant will look through a peep hole to decide whether they should open the door or pretend not to be home. Regardless, they will be a little guarded when they do open the door if they are unfamiliar with the knocker. Give a signal or hint to the user that they are leaving your site so that they are not caught off guard.
Finally, opening links in a new window is bad from a usability standpoint. With modern browsers users have the ability to choose which links they wish to open in a new window as well as use the Back button if they wish to back out of a site to return to yours. Since these options are already built in, there is no need to hassle the user with an accumulation of multiple windows as they brose your site.
 Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox for January 11, 1998: Using Link Titles to Help Users Predict Where They Are Going http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980111.html
Please note: This is a living document about to be released from its first draft. Even after the first version is complete, it will evolve as I discover new studies/resources and receive feedback. I am placing it on the Web for any comments, questions, or feedback. Though it is written for the staff of a private college career and counseling center there are many points that may be useful for the community at large. Contact me, post comments, agree or disagree. I just ask for feedback and hope we can benefit from this peer review together. I will add comments to this post or post newer updates under the tag: “Writing for the Web”