How To Use Links Properly

What Are Links?

While this is probably a simple question to most people, the correct implementation of links on web pages is often sporadic. When referring to links on a web page, it is the HTML element anchor tag "<a>". Typically, a link looks similar to this:

< a href=""><a>

Often this element appears different from the rest of the text, which helps the user navigate through the website. Links can point other web pages anywhere on the web. This includes pages from the same domain or external domains. Another purpose for links is to act as a table of contents to objects inside the page using a "#" in front of an element's id in the "href" property. While links can be used for other purposes, these are the most appropriate uses of links.

Creating Useful Links

Link Text

Without a doubt, the example provided above is a link, but it is also a poorly designed link. The link references the URL and displays it as text providing little information to those users who have never visited that URL. To provide quality text for your links, you should tell the user two things about the URL they would navigate to if they click the link. First, you need to summarize the content of the page that is being linked. Second, you need to inform the user why the link is relevant or not relevant to them. Read the how to improve link text quality article for more information about link text.

Rel Attribute

The Rel Attribute is unique in that it is specifically designed for search engines. Users will not notice this attribute unless they have some sort of extension that enables them to see this attribute. While there are several values for the rel attribute, SEO is primarily considered with the nofollow value.

Nofollow and Link Juice

Essentially, the idea behind the rel="nofollow", nofollow links, creation is that a link can be posted on one web page and use that attribute and value combination to say that the web page does not want to pass any link juice to the web page that is in the link. Link juice is somewhat complicated and you should do some research on it. Basically, it is an idea that each page has a certain level of reputation, and when it links to other websites without the nofollow value, some of the web page's reputation is given to the web page that is in the link. Therefore, web pages with nofollow links retain more link juice or a higher reputation that helps them rank higher in search engines when compared to those web pages with links that do not have a rel="nofollow" attribute.

Recently, many webmasters and content managers have abused this tag, which makes the future of this attribute or websites that use attribute uncertain. Google's Matt Cutts has repeatedly shown resentment against websites like Wikipedia that have implemented nofollow links in their references. His argument is that these links should be follow links because they are relevant to the user, and why should Wikipedia keep all of the page juice to itself when the content and ideas come from these links. He strongly recommends only using nofollow links when you are linking to pages that you do not trust. To give a great example, he recommends that if you are going to use nofollow links to use them in places such as a comments section where users can post links to other websites. Since you obviously no longer have immediate control over these links, it would make sense not to trust them initially.

Other Important Rel Values

Two other important tags for search engines are next and prev. These are great for pages with pagination such as comments sections. The idea is that if these links only change the comments of this page, they should not be treated as another page but as a continuation of the current page. Without these values in the rel attribute, these search engines would see each link pointing to a different page with similar content but with different comments. Since search engines do not particularly like duplication, a web page is likely to be penalized in this situation.

Target Attribute

Finally, one of the last important attributes in a link is the target attribute. This attribute allows you to tell the browser how to handle opening the link's URL. You can tell the browser to open the URL in a new tab, new window, or simply just have the browser navigate to the URL in the current tab. People vary by their preference of this behavior. Some people like all links to open new tabs so they don't have to use the dreaded back button, but other people prefer not to have a ton of windows or tabs open. For a consistent rule, we have found that most users will like internal links to open in the same tab and external links to open a new tab.

Number of Links

While search engines have matured to handle more than the previous 100 link limit, it still makes sense to have a reasonable number of links on each page. How useful would it be to have more than 200 links on a page if you were the user? The user would have to read each link and determine if it was where they would want to go. It is very likely the user won't waste their time reading all of the links. Instead, they will probably leave your website and never return. On the other hand, web pages with less than 10 links restrict access to the rest of the website. Ideally, every page should have a link to the home page, privacy policy, terms of use, and a contact page. With every web page having at least 4 default links, a user should probably have more than 6 different directions to take to read your content. It is entirely up to you to find the perfect balance, but you should provide a reasonable number of options for the user to find and read your content.