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!


  1. Debra says

    @graywolf Sage advice as usual Michael ;)
    @hugo @Kent – Thanks. And Kent, we think linking out to pages showing a PageRank 7 is just fine.
    @Jim – Preaching to the choir my friend, preaching.
    @Ron – Hello old friend! Glad to hear from you even when we disagree. :) Movies and webpages not the same thing IMO since what you mentioned wouldn’t and doesn’t happen but the footnote in books issue – does. I stop what I’m reading when I see a footnote and wonder about the citation so I’m interrupted as I read, that written asterik calls me away. And like hyperlinks I can choose to go or not but the point is the asterik is there for me to act on. Not having one there and leaving footnotes listed at the bottom of the page is stupid and not helpful.

    If someone wants to use the “links at the bottom” method that’s fine but they won’t have me as a repeat visitors.

  2. Kent F says

    Compelling article – thanks. What’s your take on outbound links to authority sites, such as PR7 or above?

    Kent F.

  3. says

    I think it depends on the content.

    Most of the Web is intended to be informative (even when disguised as entertainment) and embedded links clearly add depth to information. Sure, that’s at the expense of simplicity, perhaps justifying the alleged hit on comprehension, but depth is ALWAYS at the expense of simplicity. Good writing is necessarily a balance between the two.

    Not all writing, however, is meant to directly engage cognition. Indeed, much of the best writing relies on a disengagement of cognition to be effective. It’s so common that academia has given it a name we all immediately recognize: the willing suspension of disbelief.

    When you’re reading a really good novel or sitting in the theatre watching a great play you don’t want someone tapping you on the shoulder every few minutes and saying, “Hey, it’s just a story.” That is precisely, however, what embedded links (or any similar distraction) can do on the Web. They are a reminder that you are reading, not experiencing. While we ordinarily associate a suspension of disbelief with fiction, I think it also comes into play with any content that is highly emotive. When the target is the heart, not the head, anything that might take the reader “out of the moment” is usually best eliminated.

    Or, at least, saved for the footnotes. :)

  4. Jim Munro says

    Funny. I must be naive, as I’ve never seen anyone suggest that linking within text is a bad idea. Doesn’t the HT in HTTP stand for hyper-text? I thought that was the whole point of it (i.e. being able to link within your text body). Shows what I know. ;)

  5. says

    Experienced web folks like those advocating no links in the body really should know how to CTRL+CLICK and open a link in a new background tab, so they don’t lose their place

  6. Paras Pandya says

    Generally i found that core concept and central of the content is greatbut over links or promotional ideas distract readers. But some of the links at the end of the content usually hold the interest if that connect readers with constant informative content.

  7. says

    Couldn’t agree more, Debra. Glad you wrote this piece, because I read those same articles and felt exactly the same way (and will also continue to look from within my copy).

  8. Debra says

    @Kevin…. You do get around! ;)-

    @David – agree. I don’t find it very helpful to leave a list of links and not reference what they support in the article. Takes more time figuring out which one you want to click than it would clicking them as you read along!

  9. says

    Woah, how did I get here? I was just reading an article over this newspaper site, and *blam* I was teleported here. Not sure how to get back — feeling very Flight of the Navigator right now.

    Stupid links.

  10. says

    Just personal preference – I like links in text. I might not follow them often, but when I do I find them usually quite helpful. Links at the end of an article really are good only if they deal with the article as a whole (such as a link to the author’s website).