Hyperlinks Get Even More Respect

Hyperlinks have never really got the respect they deserve.  Without them the Internet would be impossible.  The word is often now shortened to link and this word is often bandied around without thinking about the mind-opening implications bound up in that hyperlink word.

The term “hyperlink” was coined in 1965 (or possibly 1964) by Ted Nelson.  The Wikipedia explanation describes what he had defined

Hyperlinks are the basic building block of hypertexts. For example, some key words in a wiki such as Wikipedia are highlighted, and provide links to explanations of those words at other pages in the same wiki.
In directed links, the area from which the hyperlink can be activated is called its anchor (or source anchor); its target (or destination anchor) is what the link points to, which may be another location within the same page or document, another page or document, or a specific location within another page or document.

He also coined the word hypertext and the associated word hypermedia.  He bemoaned the fact that the latter had not taken off and instead became what we often call interactive media.

The hyperlink concept is really very powerful.  However Microsoft, as it has done with so many great ideas, did not leverage that power.  It is true that files or documents in the Office Suite of programs always have the hyperlinking capability.  So you will find:

  • Word hyperlinks
  • Excel hyperlinks
  • Powerpoint hyperlinks, and   
  • Outlook hyperlinks

Adobe also to an extent slowed down the wider use of hyperlinks since it is only recently that you can now create a PDF document with their software with active hyperlinks.

Luckily the hyperlink concept is much too powerful to be sidelined by this somewhat lukewarm support.  What really caused the hyperlink concept to take off was the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.  No longer would a hyperlink merely connect you with some other point in the same document.  You could now connect with some online website that could be half way round the world.

The other powerful influence was that the two Google founders latched on to the notion that hyperlinks confirmed the popularity or authority of web pages.  They then they used this concept within their search algorithm.  Since for a given Web page they were interested in hyperlinks pointing to that web page, they used the term Backlink instead of hyperlink.  If they had only stuck with the term hyperlink, then again the concept might have gained more general understanding.

The strength of hyperlinks is confirmed by what was written in 1999.  As the ClueTrain Manifesto authors pointed out, almost everyone was hyperlinking and this was a movement that could not be stopped.

However, employees are getting hyperlinked even as markets are. Companies need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets.

Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.

Ten years later, the strength of hyperlinks and the World Wide Web they made possible cannot be denied.  Most website owners acknowledge the mutual networking benefits they receive and include hyperlinks to other relevant sites that their visitors may wish to visit.  This summer there was even a question whether the BBC had finally changed policy and was using hyperlinks to external sources.  The answer is unclear but the eventual outcome will undoubtedly include external hyperlinks.

The latest word from Google points to an even greater support for the hyperlink concept.  The Google Webmaster Central Blog is now encouraging webmasters to include named anchors to define sections of their webpages and tips on how to do this best.  This will mean that a keyword search could actually rank most highly a hyperlink to a point within a document that is deemed to be most relevant.

As the Official Google Blog explains, the aim is to enable users to get to the information they want faster. Searchers will now find additional links in the result block, which allow users to jump directly to parts of a larger page. This is useful when a user has a specific interest in mind that is almost entirely covered in a single section of a page. Now they can navigate directly to the relevant section instead of scrolling through the page looking for their information.

We generate these deep links completely algorithmically, based on page structure, so they could be displayed for any site (and of course money isn’t involved in any way, so you can’t pay to get these links). There are a few things you can do to increase the chances that they might appear on your pages. First, ensure that long, multi-topic pages on your site are well-structured and broken into distinct logical sections. Second, ensure that each section has an associated anchor with a descriptive name (i.e., not just “Section 2.1”), and that your page includes a “table of contents” which links to the individual anchors. The new in-snippet links only appear for relevant queries, so you won’t see it on the results all the time — only when we think that a link to a section would be highly useful for a particular query.

If you have such web pages, this should ensure greater visibility and higher rankings for sections of your information-packed pages, so this is something to carefully consider. As a small test, you may wish to see how these internal web page links for Therapeutic Riding Associations and for Associations for the Disabled rank in Google searches for those terms. Once indexed, they should rank highly in related searches. Those hyperlinks certainly deserve some serious respect now.

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4 thoughts on “Hyperlinks Get Even More Respect”

  1. Hey, Thanks for the good info! It was a real eye opener on hyperlinks for me. I enjoyed the points from the google blog and you can be sure that they have got my attention. Look forward to reading more great content from your blog!

  2. Wow I can’t believe the concept of a hyperlink has been around since the mid 1960s. There wasn’t even an Internet back then. Did the military network exist that early back then? I know the concept of the Internet and the WWW was from the US military.

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