After more than a decade of Web development, most of us have gotten used to adding links within the context of our text—just as I did in this sentence. Yet despite our good habits, awareness and best intentions, many links are still awkwardly managed. I see them appended to paragraphs as afterthoughts, or worse yet included via the dreaded phrase, "click here".
I think this happens most often when the writer is one who doesn't write primarily for the Web. If he has produced a document originally intended for print, any links mentioned in the document must be fully referenced. Until our friends in macromolecular science and engineering give us the materials to create clickable brochures, print writers will need to include the full address of any links they mention.
As Web writers, producers, designers, etc., we can help to reduce this problem, by rewriting sentences that include links, when converting documents from print to Web. We can also try to lead by example—producing sites that use contextual links*—as a reminder that this should be the norm for online usage. In the following examples I'll show you different types of linking problems and their potential solutions.
Imagine the following is an event announcement for the fictitious Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association benefit. Notice how they've included two links at the end of the announcement.
The Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association is having its annual benefit next Tuesday at the Birdhouse. All proceeds go towards preserving habitat for the Great Horned Owl. To register for the event, visit the Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association Web site. Learn more about Great Horned Owls online."
In the first link problem we tell them to register, which is good, but we don't really need to give them the full name of the site. The second link is better in that it doesn't mention a site name, but it could have been linked in context. The paragraph could be rewritten as follows without any decline in usability.
The Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association is having its annual benefit next Tuesday at the Birdhouse. All proceeds go towards preserving habitat for the Great Horned Owl. Register online before Sunday.
In this version we are able to link to the association's site, information about Great Horned Owls and a specific registration page in a manner that is both easy to follow and takes less space.
I often receive copy for Web sites that includes the phrase "click here." This is used so readily that many people don't realize that it is bad form. There are a variety of reasons not to use "click here" but here are the basics. I've included additional reference sites below.
When faced with a situation that seems to require an appended or "click here" link, look at your existing text. In most cases you will find the words you need to link are already there. If that isn't the case, try adding the appropriate words to an existing sentence—or to a new sentence that offers useful information in addition to the link. With a bit of practive you should find that in most cases it is fairly easy to put your links into context.
* While I use the term "contextual links" in the traditional sense—descriptive words and phrases that link to a page or site about the topic the words describe, the phrase is now often used in a different commercial sense. In this sense the term refers to links or ads for which you pay so that others will link to your site.