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When adding hyperlinks to the markup in paragraph-sized runs of text, how much of the text relevant to each link should be included?

So I know links that just say "here" or "this" are bad, but what about links that just pick one word to include and leave all the surrounding text out of the link? This seems to make it harder to spot the link and harder to click on it. On the other hand can including whole sentences in links be too much?

I was thinking that linking phrases, possibly noun phrases might be best, but I'm not an expert so I ask the experts here at UX.

Assume for the purposes of answering this question that we have control over the text as well as the placement of links, so rewording is also OK.

(I'm asking for editing posts here on Stack Exchange sites, but it seems to be a question relevant to user experience everywhere where hyperlinks are embedded in text.)

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Well stockexchange has it rules, so about that, you should ask in meta stackoverflow. –  PatomaS Oct 23 '12 at 10:44
    
@PatomaS: I considered asking in meta but then considered that SE isn't the only place where people have to decide how to integrate links into blocks of text that it would be useful here, especially considering there's no previous question covering it. Also I didn't find any SE rules about it so far ... –  hippietrail Oct 23 '12 at 10:49
    
Of course, what I mean, is that sometimes, even what is considered common sense may collide with internal rules in a site. That happened to me with a few things and I've seen it happening to more people. –  PatomaS Oct 23 '12 at 10:55

3 Answers 3

We should aim to make links self-descriptive, in that their meaning is clear without having to read the surrounding content. As you say, generic phrases like "click here" force the user to read and interpret the link's context in order to understand its meaning. Also, ideally, links that appear on the same page with the same target should have the same link text and links with different targets should have different link text.

Linking a whole sentence is almost certainly not appropriate - it's a pain for screen reader users and indeed sighted users who will effectively be forced to read the whole sentence when scanning through the links. When using a link phrase that is even in part reliant on the surrounding context to make its purpose clear, it is usually best to include the link at the end of the sentence rather than the beginning; it's easier, particularly for screen reader users, to read and interpret.

I find it's usually easy to resolve these issues with a slight rewording of the sentence.

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I'd say that there is no clear answer for that; obviously many words as a link could be confusing, but if you are linking to a post in a forum or blog, and the title of that post makes sense as a sentence in your paragraph, you can link with the whole title.

If you are linking to a search result, you may link to those words or a little rephrasing of that, but exclude words like "in this search", "google shows ...", etc, since that's not the relevant part.

If you are linking to pages that have clear titles, you should try to use that in your sentence since that gives the user direct sense of continuity and a feeling of getting what was promised before clicking. That rule applies almost always.

If you are linking to something that is a bit bogus, or an answer in a thread in a forum, you may use a rewording of the original title/question or a phrase that tells you user what will get when he clicks your link, something in the lines of "in this forum thread you can find an answer to your question", or "here you is a clear description of the process of ...". Sentences that even when include words like "here", "this", etc, are still very clear.

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From the Search Engine Optimization perspective, which may also help with user readability, the best links use keywords that are relevant to the article you are linking to.

Consider this example:

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the way information is sent over the internet.

Linking keywords useful if you want to reference something from a document. The search engine crawlers would rank your page higher, because the quality of your outgoing links is better (keywords linking to relevant websites).

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