Are links in blogs always a good thing?

I know it’s de rigeur to always include links in blog posts: it’s polite, gets you Brownie points with other people, provides a rich and rewarding reading experience, and generally helps make the blogging world go round.

But is always right?

Are links ALWAYS necessary?

I’m just asking the question because it seems to me that there are several reasons not to include links in a blog post, or at least not every blog post:

First, what is the optimum number of links per post? There’s no definitive answer to that question, but as a mental exercise consider this: if, say, a link in every sentence makes the post hard to read, or tedious to read because it breaks the flow of thought (even if you don’t click on the link, you still have to take the decision to not click on the link), would a link in every other sentence be better? If not, how about a link in every paragraph? If you keep going like this, it is obvious that for some people reading some posts, even one link would be one link too many.

Second, from a (narrow?) ‘marketing’ point of view, giving people a signpost to somewhere other than your site is pretty daft. It’s fine in moderation, but then what is ‘moderation’?

Third, links from an article to other articles written by yourself can be seen as incredibly egotistical and self-referential. Again, it’s fine and sensible to do that to a certain extent, but a little bit of caution and a lot of self-restraint are called for I think.

(Both of those points add up to a good reason to use Zemanta, or something like it, to add a bit of richness to your posts.)

Fourth, why not make the reader work a bit? In my article Head in the clouds? I mentioned a short story by Borges, and included a link to it. But should I have done? Perhaps I should have taken the view that if the reader wants to know what I’m talking about, perhaps they might enjoy trying to find out. Just like you will have to if you don’t know who Borges was! I shall omit a link to Sisyphus in a forthcoming post  too (like I just did!). Perhaps that stance stems from my love of crossword puzzles.

I think the bottom line is this: it may well be that the idea of links in blog posts is absolutely non-negotiable, but I do think that any sort of ‘conventional wisdom’ needs to be questioned occasionally, rather than being taken as unequivocally correct.

So how might this relate to teaching or encouraging students to blog? Well, I think it's necessary to tell them the accepted rules, but also to ask several questions each time they write a blog post, along the lines of:

  1. Will doing x suit the needs of my audience?
  2. Will doing x help me to achieve my aims in writing this post?
  3. Is there a better way of satisfying everyone's needs than doing x?

This type of thinking can and should be applied to every post, and not only for links. For example, should all blog posts have short titles? Should they have a picture? Should they be limited to 500-ish words?

The 'rules' of blogging have evolved because, generally speaking, they have been found to be effective. But the word 'generally' is important. Whenever someone is about to write a blog post, the only thing that matters is what is right for that specific post.

We want students to become critical readers. We need them to become critical writers too.

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