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I run into this, or into something like it all the time, and it’s pretty understandable why. Obviously, if you don’t know how to create a hyperlink, or if you’re working with a CMS which will automatically convert a URL into a hyperlink, this is the most reliable way to provide access to somebody else’s site.
Either they have the URL, and can use it “straight up” if they know how, or they can follow the hyperlink generated by the system. Nice and easy. I understand perfectly well why an inexperienced content manager might make use of hyperlinks au naturelle, or so to speak.
Of course, I’ve never used them that way myself. Partially it’s because I think about links from a search marketing perspective, and understand that the terms used in the anchor text is very important to the target page. Partially it’s because I think from an accessibility perspective, and believe that clear anchor text is utterly critical to ensuring easy navigation of content.
Nonetheless, I do run across sites created by experienced web developers, where I know that the person authoring and inputting the content is familiar with the use of hyperlinks with effective link text which nonetheless make use of plain old URL strings.
I don’t have a good answer for this — I think it has a lot to do with the way people tend to think about writing content. People think about the direct object of the sentence, and therefore their sentences sometimes tend to be of the format which requires a clear object for the link:
“Visit this site”
“Read more at http://www.mydomain.com”
Effective contextual use of links actual has a general expectation that the link itself is not part of the sentence syntax. The structure of a sentence is not relevant to contextual linking. Any combination of words can act as a link, and therefore the behavior of a link is actually “extra-syntactical” (to coin a silly term.)
At any rate, I’m getting a little off topic. I’d intended to discuss whether or not a bare hyperlink, devoid of anchor text beyond it’s defining URL string, has any usability advantages.
I can think of one: that it is absolutely and definably a pointer to another location. Whether it’s an active hyperlink or not, if you see a URL you know that this is a piece of information which can be used to learn more. You never have to worry too much about discovering which parts of a page are actually links and which aren’t — no “mystery meat” exists when it comes to a bare URL.
Of course, this is better dealt with by making use of smart styling. Like Mike Cherim mentions in a recent Accessites article:
What I hope to convey is that if everything is thought of as a progressive enhancement, a solidly applied embellishment if you wish, then the chance of adding this stuff smartly increases. Mike Cherim, “Everything is a Progressive Enhancement”
To apply this in context, if you’ve added styles such that you’ve removed the differentiation necessary to identify hyperlinks, you’ve made the accessibility and usability of the site worse through your actions. If, instead, you’ve styled them such that they’re very clearly identifiable, you’ve instead enhanced the site.
At any rate, I’m just curious about the practice of using bare URL strings in site content. Anybody have any thoughts?