Tutorial 26: The Care and Feeding of Hyperlinks, Part II - HTML with Style | 4 | WebReference

Tutorial 26: The Care and Feeding of Hyperlinks, Part II - HTML with Style | 4

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Tutorial 26: The Care and Feeding of Hyperlinks, Part II

The When and the Where of hyperlinks

Now that we've covered what not to do, let's take a look at when linking is appropriate. First of all, all pages should have links that allow the user to navigate around your site to other, structurally related pages. These types of links will be examined in the third part of the series, as they are truly an artform unto themselves.

Other links are semantically related to the current document. You use them because they are relevant and offer the user more information.

Using too many such links is just as bad as using too few; the reader will be confused if he sees a link in every other word in a document, and ultimately ignore all of them. Obviously, having no links at all is also quite an effective way to prohibit anyone from following them.

The middle ground can be struck by following a general rule of thumb that I have devised over the years: Always link to whatever it is you mention, never to something about what you mention.

Let me explain: Let's say I'm referring to Dr. Arnold D. Propellerhead's seminal work on Object Transfirbulation software, "MORONS in Action." I would probably have something like the following in my document:

<P>These techniques are described in great detail in
A. Propellerhead's brilliant book on the subject, "MORONS in
Action."</P>

Since you're referring to this book here, you'd like to allow your readers to access it somehow. So do you link, and if you do, where do you link to?

The first thing to check to see is if you can link to the book itself; not the homepage of the author or the publisher's catalog or the entry on Amazon.com, but the actual text, if it is available online. If it is, you should link to it directly.

<P>These techniques are described in great detail in
A. Propellerhead's brilliant book on the subject, "<A
HREF="http://www.acme.com/books/MiA/">MORONS in
Action</A>."</P>

These techniques are described in great detail in A. Propellerhead's brilliant book on the subject, "MORONS in Action."

If the book (or other resource) is not available somewhere you can link to using a URL, then you shouldn't use a link. If the user wants to look the book up on a search engine or order it off an online bookstore, he is perfectly capable of doing this himself.

If for some reason you believe that linking to such a place is useful, you should make this obvious to the user that you're not actually linking to what your referring to in the text, but to something related. The first way to do this is to use the TITLE attribute to describe the link in more detail. However, this is not enough; the best way is to explain the purpose in the text as well. For example, if you want to link to an entry on an online bookstore, you might use something like the following:

<P>These techniques are described in great detail in
A. Propellerhead's brilliant book on the subject, "MORONS in
Action," which you can <A
HREF="http://www.cheapbooks.acme/catalogue.jsp?pid=87fg6441a"
TITLE="CheapBooks Catalogue - MORONS in Action"
>purchase at CheapBooks</A>.</P>

These techniques are described in great detail in A. Propellerhead's brilliant book on the subject, "MORONS in Action," which you can purchase at CheapBooks.

Whatever you do, don't ever, ever, ever ask someone to click here. First of all, who says they're clicking? Non-graphical browsers don't click. Secondly, you're giving no information to the user as to why he should click there. A link's contents should always be descriptive to some degree, with the TITLE attribute filling in whatever can't be gleaned from them directly.

So the basic answer to "when to link" is only when something you've referred to in your document can be linked to directly. If you want to - or feel you should - link to something related, mention that in your text and use this mention as the hyperlink head instead. And, as I've said before, remember to use the TITLE attribute when the hyperlink head doesn't adequately describe the tail. This will help your users make the most use of your links.

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URL: http://www.webreference.com/html/tutorial26/3.html

Produced by Stephanos Piperoglou
Created: October 04, 2000
Revised: October 4, 2000