Can You Handle On Page Links?

 Both Read Write Web and Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type Blog  featured articles today on the pros and cons of on page linking.  Read Write Web asked if links were

     a net negative for readers online

and wondered if 

      Placing links at the end of articles is more respectful of a person’s intentions and concentration. 

Hmmm.  Nicholas Carr was a bit more entertaining  and explained his views on why links shouldn’t be in content:

Links are wonderful conveniences, as we all know (from clicking on them compulsively day in and day out). But they’re also distractions. Sometimes, they’re big distractions – we click on a link, then another, then another, and pretty soon we’ve forgotten what we’d started out to do or to read. Other times, they’re tiny distractions, little textual gnats buzzing around your head. Even if you don’t click on a link, your eyes notice it, and your frontal cortex has to fire up a bunch of neurons to decide whether to click or not. You may not notice the little extra cognitive load placed on your brain, but it’s there and it matters. People who read hypertext comprehend and learn less, studies show, than those who read the same material in printed form. The more links in a piece of writing, the bigger the hit on comprehension.

Bold mine for emphasis.  In case you can’t comprehend what he’s saying, there’s a study out there saying your concentration is diminished when you click a link because you’ve clicked a link.  We’ll have to take his word for it since he didn’t offer us the study link and I can’t figure out which one it is from the list he left at the bottom of his post. 

Read Write Web offers multiple takes on why you should leave links in content.  They say:

I like to add links out to other sources at every opportunity in order to enrich what I’m writing, to broaden the conversation, and frankly because I think linking to other blogs is a good faith way to encourage other blogs to link to us. To act as if our blog is the only place online to learn about what’s important is the height of arrogance and a real disservice to readers. Internal linking is good business practice, but I think a balance is best

Bold is mine ‘cuz I like the arrogance angle but…then they have to go and mess things up with this:

Search indexing is largely powered by links, and the words linked inline are key. That’s a tough one. Links between documents are the foundation of much of the most innovative analysis being done online, but maybe those links could just be placed well away from a body of text.

Shades of 1999!!!  I’m not really sure what “innovative analysis”  is since there’s no link or description to help educate poor-confused-me  but I do know webpages rank based on the concept of link popularity which has been around since the dawn of the engines and uses both links and content in it’s calculations.   Hope that’s clear and you’ve not lost your train of thought.

If you think all this sounds a little far fetched, don’t.  There’s a number of people who feel putting links at the end of the page is a better way to do it, check out my link and the comments on the ReadWriteWeb article.  I’m thinking they’ll be early adopters of a warning label like this one:

SURGEON GENERAL LINK BUILDER WARNING:  Outbound links can cause confusion, loss of comprehension and may complicate your pregnancy and life”

Here at the Link Spiel we’re going to stick with linking out from the body of the copy, we know our readers can handle clicking, reading, and returning to our blog.    We feel the whole link clicking thing is akin to walking and talking or eating and reading, it’s possible to do it without getting distracted.   Hopefully we’re in the majority with this line of thinking, I’d hate to see people change what’s natural, helpful and algorthimally efficient.  Nobody puts our link baby in a corner.  

Power to the people and links!