There isn’t a rule but there are good standards and practices. These state that two words should be the minimum, and only enough words to compel someone to click through to the linked source. The words must also imply the link’s destination to the reader. I’ll add that the link should not interfere with readability.
Is the following easy to read?
Feeds have long been the method of reading a site through a feed reader, stripping your site’s design away so the reader can skim through your content in their feed reader contextually, focused on the words not the pretty.
Clearly, a link around an entire paragraph is not just hard to read, it looks weird, broken, and uncomfortable.
It would make sense to cull it down so the link would be shorter, but how short? And what words should be in the anchor text?
The words you choose to go into the anchor text of an HTML link, the words of the link visible on the web page as the link the user clicks, must help the reader understand what might be at the end of that click. Here are some specific guidelines that may help you learn how to create better links on your site.
One of the longest post titles on this site is “Beauty is Only Skin Deep: Designing Blogs For Feeds, Search Engines and Audience.” As a title, it is appropriate to publish the entire post title that way, no matter how long the title. It is also appropriate as the title is properly wrapped in quote marks, which the reader sees as a single block.
If the link is a reference link in an article talking about feed readers, the use of feed readers for the link anchor text implies that the link will define a feed reader to those unfamiliar with them. It doesn’t, so those two words would be inappropriate.
A more appropriate use of the anchor text for the article could be:
The growing consumption of website feeds beyond the traditional feed readers is changing how site owners and web designers think about their feeds. The new mobile, magazine-style feed readers like Google Currents and Flipboard means web design and content planning no longer ends with the web page or even a mobile version. It must take feeds into content and design consideration and planning.
The words “take feeds into design consideration” implies that the destination will talk about feeds and web design.
There are times when you will want to put a link on every word introducing a subject, which is fine, as long as the usage is rare and judicious. The word-only linking must be kept to a minimum or it becomes one long link to the eye of the reader and looks abusive and suspicious.
For more information and the code specifics of creating links on your site, see “What is a Properly Formed Link.”
Your blog exercise today is to check your links for length and appropriate context in the anchor tags. Check previously published articles with links and keep this in mind as you go forward.
Make the words in the anchor text meet expectations of the link’s destination. Make the link include two to six words, a reasonable length. If you are referring to the title of an article, consider wrapping it in quote marks or make it italic as it is a standard for proper reference and citation.
If you wish to share this exercise with your readers, remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.