Anne van Kesteren

Should names link to specific posts/comments

It might be to late for some of us to join this thread as a Sunday question, but I'll leave the comment open longer then the 48 37 minutes that I would have right now (when I post, I probably need to change that). Reading the redesign technical notes post at Mezzoblue this popped up into my head again, since I'm always wondering what is the best solution and what is more appropriate.

I'm quite sure in what I think of this myself: Names of people should never point to specific pages on the sites of those people, they should point to those people their homepage or any descriptive page about those people, not to a page that he or she has written yesterday about a nice subject you want to say something about. (Note that I like to use 'should')

And of course, no-one forbids you not to link when you name those people, just don't link to specific posts as in:

<a href="">Dave Shea</a> talks about his site.

I actually don't like that kind of linking at all, it confuses my, since I don't expect that someone links to a specific entry when they mention the name of the person. Instead, I would expect more information about that particular person. The above (using the same wording) could probably better be marked up as:

Dave Shea <a href="" title="Redesign Technical Notes">talks</a> about his site.

Ok, I admit; I added a TITLE attribute since the "real" content didn't had enough information in it. Anything to add?

(Anne is wondering what the real question of today is, but thinks (maybe he's just hoping) that readers can pull something out of the above.)


  1. This is an excellent point you raise.

    It's funny/sad how often advocates of this-or-that web standard, many of which are very high profile, fail miserably when it comes to chosing a good link text.

    I particularly hate the grouping of multiple links by assigning them to an arbitrary word in a sentence. A bit hypocritical, if you ask me.

    It can be difficult though.

    I try to imagine what the links would sound like when read out loud by a screenreader. It's a simple, but effective way of filtering out bad names.

    In the example you cite, I'd go for something like "in a post entitled "Redesign Technical Notes", Dave Shea bla bla bla...". Usually works.

    Posted by Lars at

  2. Anne: Dave Shea <a href="" title="Redesign Technical Notes">talks</a> about his site. is maybe better than linking just his name, but think about what the bookmark text would be when you bookmark it - either "talks" or "Redesign Technical Notes", depending on implementation. Wouldn't a far better solution be to link the entire text "Dave Shea talks about his redesign" instead of just a part of it, and use a link title that includes the name of the blog and the name of the entry author, possibly even including a date, like this: "mezzoblue: Redesign Technical Notes (by Dave Shea, 2004-05-30)".

    Posted by liorean at

  3. To find out whether the link text is appropriate, ask yourself if it would make sense out of context. Many browsers and assistive technologies have features to list the links on a page in a separate window/dialog. Also, most browsers allow you to skip through a page by tabbing through the links. Now combine this with a screen reader, that reads the links out loud. If the link text -- all by itself -- doesn't make sense, then your page doesn't make sense.

    If for some reason you must use bad link text, you can make up for it with a good title attribute. These will be picked up by assistive technology too, if they are longer than the link text or if the link text is one of a known set of bad links ("click here", "here", "this", etc.)

    And, as you say, linking a name to one page one day and another page the next day is simply confusing. This is one of the many circumstances where making your markup more accessible will make it more usable as well.

    Posted by Mark at

  4. Anne, you say that linking to talks would confuse you less than linking to a person's name. Well, when you link to talk I would not have the slightest idea what you are linking to, whereas a name at least tells me that it is in some way connected to the person. Rather link the entire sentence, or use footers [1]. To quote Mark:

    If the link text -- all by itself -- doesn't make sense, then your page doesn't make sense.

    Talk definitely doesn't make sense, neither would the name refer to some entry. The entire sentence would however, like liorean said.

    I think you should rephrase your sentence, or use a clarifying text in the footer as I just explained, if the link by itself doesn't make sense. In your footer you can tell about Dave Shea's entry in combination with giving the link without killing your text. This is exactly what footers were invented for and I do not think the web made them obsolete by allowing to link to information directly. It is not for nothing that when you print text out, there exist special bookmarklets to add all the links on the page as a footer below the text. The link collecting tools Mark spoke about do nothing else than that as well.

    ----------------- [2] [3]

    1. A footer looks like this and is my personal preferred way to pass links through to other people in their full form and glory without hiding them behind some obscure text maybe or maybe not explained by the title attribute.
    2. Why no hr tag? Is there any good alternative?
    3. I would have used [1], [2] etcetera separated by br's, but that would be evil in a sort of way, I think.

    Posted by Frenzie at

  5. I would stick to Lars's way. It gives me exact information what the Link is about: "Redesign Technical Notes". By reading the whole sentence I also know from whom it was written. I mean, in a h1 you dont mention Blogname, auther AND title, do you?

    And I'd really like to have the link in the textflow.
    Sorry, if I've written in a bad style or even false... Really need some sleep..

    Posted by Christoph Wagner at

  6. In reply to Frenzie.

    Footers are for e-mails. Not for webpages. Why I don't use the HR element. (Note that it would already be inappropriate, since footers like this just look plain stupid on webpages.)

    And you are totally missing the point when you say that the word talks marked up like that doesn't make sense, since I provided a TITLE attribute. You might want to reread the second paragraph of comment 3.

    Posted by Anne at

  7. I think, as a webdesigner, you should always make a website as intuitive as possible. If you want to link to a person, you link to the persons website - i.e. the indexpage, or some sort of profile, or a google search-result for all I care. If you link to an article, action or quote, you link to the direct page - i.e. a permalink. Thats as intuitive as it gets.

    Posted by Arthur! at

  8. Why I don't use the HR element.

    I completely agree that footers look stupid on web pages. However, I use a hr tags occasionally when I need to signify a sudden change in tone or the end of a content section. If you don't use the hr tag, what would you use to accomplish this?

    P.S. what you using to validate comments? It's pretty nifty.

    Posted by Joshua Kaufman at

  9. You might want to reread the second paragraph of comment 3.

    Well, you seem to say things confuse you (as in this entry), but first having to move my mouse over a link to know what it's actually meant to do for a change 'confuses' me. Opera does indeed pick up those title attributes, but You need software as a title attribute is not a good example of this... besides, in the way you put it I really see no different between click here with a title attribute or talks with a title attribute, regardless of the fact that you say the first is bad and the latter is good.

    With footers I do not mean to put all links over there, but I think it's nice to provide some extra description about the site to which you're linking. Besides, footers in the way I used them are a neccesity, or do you know a better alternative?

    Anne uses Simon's safe HTML Checker for the comments here.

    Posted by Frenzie at

  10. Even worse than a single non-descriptive link, are instances where somebody feels the need to link to about one hundred other pages rather than summarize the point to be made in a sentence. dive into mark does this all the time. An overabundance of links makes it very difficult to follow the story, and trying to decide which links are actually meaningful also slows me down.

    I think the important thing to remember, is use links only when necessary. If you are writing about content on another site, of course you should link to that content. But if the link is unnecessary and serves no truly informative purpose, please spare me the confusion.

    Posted by nickster at

  11. Elementary: Dave Shea talks about his site.

    Posted by Kris at