Linking – within the story or after?

Here’s a real poser: when writing for the web do you think you should include links within an article, or leave it till afterwards? I used to teach students to link within an article if they mentioned a specific report or piece; but to leave more general links (e.g. organisations, topics, explanations, etc.) at the end.

Do links in an article interrupt the flow – or add scannability?
Also, if you work online, what is your own organisation’s policy about links?


20 thoughts on “Linking – within the story or after?

  1. Mark

    I think linking within the story is the only way to go.
    There are a number of reasons why I believe this.

    Links within the story allow for contextual understanding. Seeing the link in the sentence/paragraph allows the reader to quickly grasp the correlation between link and story thus enabling them to decide if following the link will give more depth/benefit to them now or to wait till later.

    Linking within the story forces us to write better links. As the link is part of a (hopefully) well constructed sentence we learn not to write:
    click here for more information on product A but rather:
    Product A has a number of problems
    This is also more informative to as it helps readers navigate.

    Linking within the story also helps the flow as you don’t have to scan outside the article for the link you think may be there.

    The usual argument for not having links in the story is that people will click on them and that you then loose them.
    I would argue that if your story is good enough they will either read on or come back. If your story is not good enough, the re-work it till it is.

  2. Nico Luchsinger

    I completely agree with Mark – link within the story whenever you can. The only links I’d put at the end of the story are links to related stories.

    The website of the Swiss newspaper I used to work for usually does not link within the story. There was, however, no clear policy when I worked there – if you wanted, you could use in-text links.

  3. Alexandre Gamela

    This bothers me a lot, i’m tired of going through news websites, blogs and having highlighted content but that won’t work as links. This happens specially with newspapers. I think that references to people, places (linked to a map), institutions and organizations or “Product A has a number of problems” like Mark said, should be linked within the story , and if there was a full outside report about the story’s subject, it should appear linked at the bottom of the story.
    So, in short: quick references, corporate/institutional names, previous articles, names that can be linked to biographies, etc, should be linked within the story. Full reports, outside stories or posts (if they’re are the cause for the story), and similars, linked outside text body, at the bottom of the story.
    This need for reference links demands for the creation of reliable side contents, like maps, bios, wikis etc- we can all send it to Wikipedia, but most corporations (sensibly) won’t. It also raises an ethical question: if a cell phone, car,potato chips or someone’s book or record is referred, should the link for the product appear and be redirected to Amazon, Itunes, or the local retail store that buys a whole page of publicity on the printed edition?Should these things be linked at all to commercial websites?
    Most times better design and link visibility should help readers to use the embedded links.And we must not forget, in some places there’s a policy for site rank not allowing external links.
    But to tell you the truth i’d be quite happy to see linked content in most online news i read. If i can’t click it, it means it’s for fish and chips tomorrow.

  4. Andrew Rogers

    Oh, inside, inside! It does break up copy so; it also makes it more scannable and when I get to a bit that really interests me, I can follow up on it through the link (if there is one).

    Please, please, please Bas Timmers, I’m sure your copy is excellent but don’t try and make me read it all. If it’s sparkling enough, I probably will anyway.

    The question should always be “what is best for the user?”.

  5. Kristine

    We always link within the article, to add depth/context/additional information/let readers can see the sources we refer to etc, which is also what I prefer as a reader. In addition, we often provide a list of other articles we’ve written on the same subject/story in a separate box next to the article.

    Leaving links that are integral to the story at the bottom of the article sucks (at least that’s my humble view as a reader, because I’m then forced to waste time scrolling up and down the page to get the context).

  6. Matthew A. Gonzalez

    I like seeing a blog post full of links. I mean not overboard or anything, but just the right amount. I’ll usually read through. As I read I right click and open in a new tab any of the terms I found interesting along the way. Then I go ahead and check it out.

    I’d say score one for scanability instead of interrupting the flow.

  7. Kasper Sorensen

    Google rank links as the most important thing when indexing, so whether you are doing internal linking or linking to external sites. Contextual links will rank you higher in Google.

    @ Bas Timmers
    If you write long articles that may be of a complicated nature, or you get new visitors that are not familiar with you content. You might get the opposite effect, you might lose readers before they get to the end. If you provide links inside your articles you can educate them about the matter and if what you have to say is relevant, they will read the whole lot. A good example of this is Wikipedia, try and count the amount of links they have in an article. If they were to appear beneath the article it would be pretty hard to navigate.

    Some times users come to your site, just to find that it was not what they were looking for. But if you can provide them a link in the first or second paragraph that takes them to a place that will help them. You have at least done something for you visitor, even if you are linking to a rival.

    Links at the bottom of the article should be linking to things like related content that are not directly mentioned in the article, categories and tags. This makes navigation easier and more consistent.

    That being said, there are times were you don’t want to be linking inside articles. If you are finding yourself linking several times to a website, you will be better off just providing a ‘find out more about’ link at the bottom. Excessive linking to one source can be taken as a form of link farming by Google and ban your site.. Not good

  8. Pete Ashton

    Linking should add value to the piece. Here’s three examples off the top of my head:

    “In a recent report on the fishing industry it was announced that they catch fish a lot” – “recent report” should link to the report in question.

    “The minister, Jo Bloggs, was reported to be rather annoyed” – link the name to a profile somewhere (I’d use Wikipedia myself)

    The list at the bottom should be used as a “further reading” list. An example would be when reviewing a book. Link to Amazon, the authors site, the publisher’s site, etc. Think of this as a “next page” link.

    The format of better Wikipedia articles is probably a good model to follow, not just because it’s how the web was intended to work but because most people are comfortable with that level of linkage.

  9. Ed Walker

    I prefer the links below the story, or to the right, or wherever. I like my story without lots of links highlighted as I read through it – I find it slows me down. I read, digest and if I want more information I’ll want my links in a nice list below or to the side.

  10. Pete Ashton

    @Bas: “I prefer to link below stories. Because I would like people to read the entire story first.”

    The thing is, many people have tabbed browsers now. As I’m reading an article I’ll right-click on the links so they open in new tabs. I continue reading the article right through and then check out the linked pages. So inline linkage shouldn’t affect your desire here.

    If the links which related to subjects at the top of the article didn’t appear until the end I doubt I’d click on them because my mind would be elsewhere.

  11. Pete Ashton

    Oh, one final thing. Just because you put in a link doesn’t mean the reader will follow it. You’re giving them the option to find out more. Whether they do or not depends entirely on the individual.

    So I’d say pile on the links. If you have 15 and someone only follows one, one that you might not have put in, and they learn something new then it’s worth it.

  12. kus

    Context rulz, so link within the story!

    Might be interesting: We analyzed, how many user actually click on those links. The result: about roughly 5-10% click on them (of course, this might not be represantative)

  13. Mike Whiting

    I could not agree more with the content of your piece .
    I’ve been banging on about this for years as a managing editor within the regional press and more recently in my role of head of digital development.

    You can see the tensions between the media owners, who see the new landscapes and want to move quickly, and their management teams who are pushing the boundaries as they strive to deliver a profit. Then there are the dinosaurs for who the ability to stall, procrastinate, “research” and “develop” is the new currency with which they buy time to merely get left behind.

  14. Richard Kendall

    I’m not sure there is a completely fail-safe right or wrong way?

    Links within the story make logical sense, as adding them at the end may mean the read has forgotten their purpose or relativity.

    Although linking at the end lets the reader read the story without distraction.

    But if there are no links, then the stories become dead ends on the website, and that page becomes an exit page rather – BUT the external links take users away anyway?

    On our site I add related internal links and useful documents in clearly spaced blocks either at a pertinent point near the top or the end of a story. But specific relevant links go within the flow.

  15. Pete Ashton

    This notion of links being a ‘distraction’ is intriguing. It implies that the links are being forced onto the article and not an organic part of it. I guess this is a nice illustration of the difference between writing for print and for the internet. I know most of my writing would lose a lot if bound in a book (which is why I’m not interested in a book deal).

    Looks like training on linking is needed Paul!

  16. shawn smith

    Links must be inside the post/story. One of worst things a story online can do is reference something and not link to it. For example, yesterday I watched an ESPN video that talked about an NBA player’s YouTube contest – and did ESPN link to the YouTube contest? NO!!!! What a pain. I had to go and search for the information myself! News orgs are meant to be informers, and guiding is part of the informing process.

    There are also different ways to present information within links. For example, links to related stories can often be put in a fact box within the story, I have no problem with that. MSNBC and other sites have been doing that for years and it really helps me navigate to related stories.

    Links within a story to related content are important. But if I see one more link to “click here”…

  17. Pingback: Links « O Lago | The Lake

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