Sunday’s Tech Talk with Author Elizabeth Ann West: Links

Mark Says:

Turning Over a New Leaf

Turning over a new leaf: organization!

I promised a few weeks ago I’d introduce some organization to this blog, and if you’ve been watching very, very carefully you might have seen the odd example of it happening.

For instance, the regular Wednesday Review seems to be appearing regularly on Wednesdays. If you’re not a regular visitor you won’t appreciate just what an earth-shattering achievement that is.

This coming Tuesday one of our resident cover artists (the guy who created the wonderful Saffina Desforges Presents cover for us) will be commencing a four-part series on cover production.

And on Sundays Elizabeth Ann West will be here making sense of the techie side of ebooks and writing in the ebook age.

If you’re like me, IT is a scary word. It’s a foreign language so alien to mankind that only in the last few decades have we even begun to explore its bizarre syntax, crazy conjugations and impossible pronunciation.

So Elizabeth Ann West has drawn the short straw, and will be here every Sunday giving us some pointers on IT mumbo jumbo and how it can make our lives easier. Elizabeth thinks it’s simple even a child can do it.

And of course, they can. Kids can do anything. But what about an adult writer like you or I? Can she make IT make sense for us? We’re about to find out.


It was hardly a short straw…. I think I got the good end of this deal! 🙂 I’m happy to be here every Sunday!

Basic HTML Authors MUST Know: What’s In a Link, Anyway?

Welcome to the technology isn’t scary/hard/outside of my comfort zone series! Every Sunday, you can sit and chat with yours truly and we’re going to demystify the things that beep with little lights. I’m not going to throw you in the deep end, don’t worry. Today, we’re going to start by treading water in the shallows with a most basic HTML function an author* must know: links.

NB: That’s ALL authors. Not just the self-published or indie author.

Attitude Check

Before we begin our journey, I have a slight requirement from the class. Ready? Smile in place. That’s right. We’re not going to go into this series with fear. Fear is for the people too weak to try anything. We are courageous. We are mountain climbers. We are those who dare. And if you ever have ANY questions, email me. Eawestwrites on gmail.

Here We Go Linky-Do, Here We Go Linky-Lie

Can you dial a phone number? Yes? Good, then you can understand links! A link is just the Internet’s version of a telephone number. Let’s look at the parts of a phone number:

(555) 555-5555.

The parenthesis is what? The area code. It tells the phone the general area you are calling and whether or not to charge you outrageous long distance fees. Next is the prefix. The prefix relates to specific neighborhoods in that area code. Growing up, my phone number was 479-1759. My neighbor’s was also 479 and four more digits. And the boy down the street I totally crushed on? 479-1129. Cell phones, at least in the United States, have eradicated much of the geographical references in phone numbers. Finally, the suffix. Those last 4 digits are what designates a unique home in that area code and in THAT prefix area.

But Elizabeth, that’s a phone number, not a link. Ah, stay with me. Let’s look at a link from my blog.

http://eawestwriting.com/books/buy-cancelled-ebook-direct

Http:// – that part is like picking up the phone. You can’t call anyone unless you pick up the phone. Sometimes, people use a phone on a secure line. For the Internet, that’s a link with https://

eawestwriting.com – There’s the area code! This tells the web browser you want to go to my site specifically instead of the millions and millions of other sites out there.

/books – My site is organized. This is the prefix that begins to narrow down the area of my site you want to go to. This could have been /news or /aboutme and so on.

/buy-cancelled-ebook-direct – Now we have the unique part of the URL, our Internet “phone number.” There isn’t another post or page on my website with this ending, which is also the page title. Why? Because I don’t want to confuse visitors or the search engines. This is like calling up a specific house in a specific neighborhood.

Search Engine Tip: Be thoughtful when you title pages and posts. In the above example, I call my post “Buy Cancelled ebook direct” This was on purpose. I get credit in the search engines for the phrase “Buy Cancelled” and “Buy Cancelled Ebook.” Same with my categorization “books.” Search engines like to see related words and phrases on the page and in the URL for top results. Using “Products” or “Christmas Sweaters” wouldn’t be a good use of SEO (search engine optimization) and your readers will think you belong in a loony bin because you aren’t selling Christmas sweaters. You’re selling books.

Understanding a link is important for a number of reasons, especially when you are planning your own websites and blogs.

  • Are you using logical, but human friendly URLs?

  • Do you categorize areas of your site so your reader is clear about the part of the website they are in?

  • You can see how a minor typo in a link, making it broken, is just like dialing a wrong phone number.

You can LEARN information about a site from a link. Let’s glance at a link full of gobbledy-gunk:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005MW1RL2/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=eawestwriting-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B005MW1RL2

WHAT A MESS! But we can dissect it. The site it’s going to is obvious, Amazon. No idea what gp stands for, but product makes sense. Then there’s B005MW1RL2. Guess what that is? It’s my ASIN for my U.S. ebook, Cancelled. The ref= information refers to how this link should behave, it opens in a new tab. ie=UTF8 identifies the character set that should be used (for other languages, this is different) and that eawestwriting-20 is my Amazon Affiliate name. The rest of the link? That helps identify the shopping trip purchases for my Amazon Affiliate report.

Links are the vehicle of selling your books on the Internet. Now that we learned the basics, and saw a link that goes above and beyond, let’s look at ways to make links work for us!

Just How Effective IS My Marketing Going?

One of the neatest tools available to authors is a link shortener. There are many free ones out there, I use bit.ly. Remember that massive link up above for my Amazon Affiliate link? Using bit.ly, I shortened:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005MW1RL2/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=eawestwriting-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B005MW1RL2

to

http://bit.ly/CNXaakindle

Bit.ly makes the initial ending tag random, but I customize mine to keep track of my link traffic. For example, anytime I tweet my U.S. Book version, that is the link I put at the end. This link sometimes changes if I’m tweeting through Hootsuite (a website that let’s you schedule tweets), as they have their own link shortener that begins with hoot.(rest of link). But even when Hootsuite shortens the shortened link, the servers at bit.ly get clued in that the link was clicked on.

Since my book is called CANCELLED, I use CNX on all of my shortened links for it. This will help immensely when my next book comes out next year! The “aa” tells me it’s my Amazon Affiliate link, and the kindle is just to make the link user friendly. A reader seeing the shortened link won’t know what bit.ly is, but they recognize the word “kindle” thus expecting to go to Amazon.

Bit.ly will show me how many people click on each of my shortened links (I shorten EVERYTHING, including my interviews on other sites so I can make sure I’m driving enough traffic there). It will also show me the COUNTRY the click came from. 🙂 This information helped me tweak my tweets to make my UK links clearer to people it’s for, readers in the UK. (I sell my UK version through Mark Williams). I noticed a high percentage of U.S. clicks on my UK Amazon link when I put #Ukkindle at the end of the tweet. I now mention UK somewhere up front, or put the hashtag up front, and this greatly cut down on the amount of erroneous clicking. I would never have known there was an issue with my tweet format if I didn’t track my link clicks.

I’m a big believer in the 10% rule of advertising: 10% of the people who SEE the ad will click and 10% of those people will buy. So 100 people see an ad, 10 will click, 1 will buy. This holds somewhat true for my tweeted links. I average 10 clicks daily on my Amazon U.S. link and I’m seeing 1-2 sales per day. My UK links gets fewer sales, but I just started to reach out to that market, and I’m not British, so that probably hampers my tweet reach. But I’m not giving up! 🙂

Make links blend in.

But, But, I WANT a Pretty Link

Everyone still smiling? We’ve learned the parts of a link, what each part does, and how we can use links. I know this is long, but I promise after this blog post you’re going to recognize concepts you learned here all week.

There are times when a link needs to blend in with the text around. In talking about your book, in an interview or blog post, you might want just the book title to be a hyperlink to a site. My first post on Mark Williams was called On Safari to Find the Reader. See how that’s just words to click? The HTML behind that is:

<a href=“http://markwilliamsinternational.com/2011/10/23/on-safari-to-find-the-reader-elizabeth-ann-west-is-armed-and-dangerous/”>On Safari to Find the Reader</a>

Many programs do this automatically, or give you a clever little chain icon to make a piece of text a link. But it’s always a good idea to know what’s going on under the hood because you can then fix things when they break.

<a> </a> These are the HTML anchor tags. HTML tags are always surrounded by these symbols: < >. Call them alligators (I do), less than and greater than signs, etc. The / means stop. Think of this as walkie-talkie speaking. When you start, you usually give your handle then say OVER to signal you’re done speaking. The computer needs these tags to know when to start what’s in the middle and when to stop.

Href stands for hyperlink reference. Programmers are slackers too, who wants to type hyperlinkreference? No one. Hence the abbreviation.

The quotation marks are another universal piece in many programming languages as a text delimiter. It’s plastic wrap around the actual text of the link so the computer or browser knows the characters inside of the quotation marks go together.

There’s one last little part of that hyperlink I didn’t include, but you should probably know.

<a target=“_blank” href=“http://markwilliamsinternational.com/2011/10/23/on-safari-to-find-the-reader-elizabeth-ann-west-is-armed-and-dangerous/”>On Safari to Find the Reader</a>

Ooooh. Target=“_blank” If you’ve clicked the link you’ve probably figured out what that does. If you haven’t, give it a go and impress yourself.

Anchor tags can have MANY HTML attributes (we will get into this more with images next week). Target is one of them. Target=“_blank” is a very handy attribute because it opens the link in a new tab or window. So if you are putting links on your blog, or into an interview, it’s a nice courtesy to use this attribute. It allows the reader to navigate away from the website she is on without losing the site or having to cycle through a ton of Backs to find where she left off.

PHEW…. YOU ARE NOW A LINK MASTER

I'm clapping for all of you!

I’m glad everyone made it to the end. Links are just the Internet’s phone numbers. The parts of a link are very important, and used by search engines to judge what is on any given web page. You can use links to learn about the type of website you are going to (and probably now see a phishing scam a mile away!). Links are also great tools to track how effective your marketing efforts are. Finally, you should also now be able to put a link into a page with manual HTML if necessary.

Come back next week as we tackle images and how to make them work! And again, if you have ANY questions, I will be checking up on the comments here and I am available via email.

 Always Smiling,

Elizabeth Ann West

(Tech Guru for Mark Williams DPI and the WoMen’s Literary Cafe)

Disclosure: I am not a programmer nor do I hold a computer science degree. I hold a Bachelor’s of Art like many other writers, I’ve just always been technologically inclined from an early age. My husband and I are geeks, with more computers than family members. I’ve ran Windows, Mac, and currently run Linux (Ubuntu). I read documentation, have volunteered to write documentation for the Fedora project, and generally never give up until I understand something. This is why my mantra is firmly “If I can do it, YOU can do it.” I hope we have many enlightening Sundays together, and if you ever find a resource that contradicts me, share it. I’m always happy to learn!

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  1. … My little teenage brain is struggling to fit all this in, but it does make some sense, I must admit. The subtitles made me laugh too – great post!

    • I’m glad you liked it, Charley! 🙂 I know it’s very simple stuff, but I needed to start here so next week when we tackle images, I can just put a link back to this post for reference. I can’t very well start talking about attributes for height, width, and page position if people don’t understand how a link works!

      Hope to see you back next week!

    • Little teenage brain? This is a person who eats Latin for breakfast, dines on Plato, had Henry VIII’s foreign policy for tea and for supper writes posts for MWi. 🙂

      • Miriam Joy
      • December 4th, 2011

      It is more confusing for us because our phone numbers don’t fit like that … for example, in London the prefix is 020, although all numbers start with 8. For example, 020 8475 2943 (I just pressed random buttons. Don’t call this number because it might belong to someone).

      The ones in our area are all with a 3 – 020 83__ ____. Some have 020 8300, others have 020 8301, etc….

      And I am NOT going to get into a long complicated discussion about London phone numbers because that’s not what this post is about….

      • Perhaps the configuration is different, but the explanation I think remains the same. International phone numbers have area codes and then it appears 2 other portions of the phone number. The idea is similar for a link, there are set components. Each component give the computer more specific information about where to go on the web, just like each set of numbers tell the telephone or cell phone a narrower place to connect. :0) Thank goodness we don’t have party lines anymore.

        • LOL! You’ve been Mimmed, EA! Miriam is your worst nightmare for identifying any weakness in a post. 🙂

          • Well then I feel honored! Kind of like a initiation ritual… of course the term Mimmed made me think of the Walt Disney movie The Sword in the Stone and the Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad….Madame Mim. 🙂

  2. hey thanks! great stuff 🙂

  3. A useful post. Many thanks! I’ll be back for more. 🙂

  4. Aha – I don’t need to know this stuff, my husband does it all! It’s a bit like having a car, isn’t it? If you know how to drive it, and a few basic things, you don’t really need to know everything that goes on under the bonnet! (Or if you have a husband /friend, etc. who knows about it.)
    But excellent post, Elizabeth, anyway! Good idea for a series, Mark.

    • LOL, Gerry. I come from a military background, my Dad was Navy, my husband is Navy. Give me a screwdriver and there aren’t many appliances I can’t scare back into proper submission (the second the boat leaves the pier, I swear, the household appliances declare mutiny).

      But I’m glad we helped you learn a little about under the bonnet. Whether you choose to do an oil change yourself or not (I can and I do not, I hire someone or hubby does it) at least armed with knowledge you can know if you’re getting screwed or not! 🙂

    • Gerry, I’m with you. When I drive a car I sit behind the steering wheel. Anything under the bonnet is a mystery best left to those who voluntarily go there.

  5. Hi, EA! Congrats on your new position here. I’m excited to be an elite blogger with you starting in January at http://www.womensliterarycafe.com/
    It amazes me how well you can explain this stuff. I know it, but I can’t explain it like you can. I’m definitely visiting you every Sunday so I can learn how to explain this techy stuff to writers who are constantly asking me about this. My DH is a tech wizard and he is a solar energy specialist, he can do the techy stuff but I don’t have the patience to listen to him;))

    • My husband is a nuclear reactors rep. 🙂 We do geeky all day here at the house. But I’ve loved computers ever since we got our first one when I was 7 years old in 1989 (yes, I’m turning 30 in March, for those counting…). I once printed out the entire DOS help manual… just to read it. My husband turned me on to Linux and open source software, but everything HTML etc. I’ve taught myself. I started making my own websites and blogs 6 years ago and just kept up with the times with new projects. First site I ever did I hand coded though.

      I’m throwing my hat in the ring to start formatting ebooks. I can’t wait to make enhanced ebooks and play with embedding media. I envision Kindle Fire/Nook Color versions and a regular ereader version.

    • Thanks for popping over. Tonya.

      I suspect it’s because EA is self-taught that she can explain it so well. Those who were taught by professionals just repeat what they were taught originally, instead of converting it to layman’s language.

    • patricefitz
    • December 4th, 2011

    Great post, thanks! I followed you all the way, and while I knew (or surmised) some of it regarding the parts of link names, it was nice to learn more. I look forward to reading you on Sundays.

    Now of course my quandary will be to decide how much of my precious time to spend on making links short and beautiful…

    Kudos to MWi & Co. for adding you to the lineup here.

    • Hi Patrice! Thank you for the kind words. It made me feel like I got big virtual hug. 🙂

      I know the material is the very basic building blocks, but I need everyone to start on the same level. The series this month is all about HTML, next month I want to get into making the most out of social media for the shortest time investment, and then get into the nuts and bolts of formatting ebooks. I can’t wait! Glad to hear you’ll be here for the journey.

    • Thanks for joining us, Patrice.

    • Hello, Patrice. Nice to put a face to words. You wrote such a nice review of the new Saffina Desforges anthology! (I think your grandmother Ella would have loved to make music with my cousin Woody 🙂

  6. *giggles* Your my age EA (or there about anyway)… Though it’s weird to type EA since I’m used to the video game (EA Sports – it’s in the game).
    *head shake* Okay focus right? :}

    I’ve got a very, very basic understanding of html, and even took one programming class in which I did well (to bad it was an ancient programming language). I liked your analogy of the web address to a phone number, even if it got Mirriamed *chuckle*, plus I learned something new. Two thing actually. First off I never knew what href stood for, despite having used it over and over in this past year. the second one was the Target portion of the code. I am defiantly going to have to remember that for future links!

    Oh and Linux rules… not that we use it anymore but my bf (now hubby) forced me to use it when he gave me his old computer while I was in college. Now, because he hacks, writes, and reviews code (and other geeky stuff) at work, we run on Windows at home.

    I definitely am joining the club that’s looking to hear more from you on these techy subjects.

    :} Cathryn Leigh

    P.S. Mark,
    :} I learned in college that it takes a certain brain type to understand computers. In college, a classmate and I were on an equeal level with out chemistry major, but when it came to the programming class we had to take she floundered while I made up a multi-part program, just because. So no teasing Charley if programming addles her brain. *giggles* {:

    • So you’re my age, a gamer too (EA sports) AND you like me. I think we can be friends! 😉

      Just found out other sources credit href to stand for hypertext reference… seems like there are two camps out there. I’m in the hyperlink camp. It just sounds cooler. Hyperlink is travelling, going somewhere… hypertext just sounds like someone need to cut off the Jolt soda. (Anyone remember that stuff? Liquid crack I tell you).

      I don’t know why I “get” computers and IT. I just do. And I’ve explained it for many, many years to people. Glad I can finally do so in a blog. Heaven help you running Windows. 🙂 I can’t do it anymore, we have Windows on one machine right now, Windows 7 that just took features already available for free and made crappy commercials about it. I’ve been running Ubuntu now for about 5 years. It has moved by leaps and bounds. Originally, I rarely strayed from my Windows (I used to dual boot until recently when I blew away windows entirely from my Shiba netbook).I don’t care for Unity, thinking about wiping again and going with the new Linux Mint.

      • Well my hubby is more a gamer than me, I’ve just done it to spend time with him. Mostly on the watching of it *grin* And I Love new friends. :}

        As to why you get computers, it’s all about how your brain thinks. You have to be able to think in the same logic as the computer does. At least, that’s what I determined from that one case between my classmate and I.

        My Hubby dual boots. Windows on one monitor for the games and Linux on the other with VM ware running (yes he has two monitors at home, it’s now four at work). I mostly a geek by osmosis. :}

        • My claim to geek girl started early. I single-handedly used my wiles to break up a D&D game after school in 9th grade, all so I could make out with a guy I liked (he was a cute geek).

          As far as logic goes, yep that’s me. I do logic puzzles for relaxation. I don’t program (like C++) and I’m just starting to dabble more in what .php is all about. HTML is actually markup language,

          But cheers to you, even geek by osmosis. I’m happy to make a friend!

  7. Thanks Elizabeth. I loved the phone number analagy. That made perfect sense to me when you put it like that. I am looking forward to your techie posts. I’m not very techie so anything I learn will be a step in the right direction.

    • Glad to hear you’ll be joining us Alison. Just think, once upon a time people were afraid to use the telephone, or didn’t know how. Not everyone is an early adopter, or there would be no such terminology. My hope is that making the concepts accessible, people will feel more comfortable and less intimidated. You’re probably more techie than you think. (You’re at least more techie than my mother in law, she doesn’t even know how to email.)

  8. Welcome, Elizabeth! Some of this actually made sense to my aging brain. I think I’m going to actually learn something. So glad you’ll be joining the MWiDP crew.

    • Hi Anne! Good to see another familiar face.

      I aim to please, and if we can all have fun and learn something, then I’m for it! You know what I wish there was more of? I do techie blog posts, but it’d be really neat for someone with a MFA or something to get into some really nitty gritty tricks in writing. Almost like a here’s the device, here’s the prompt, go at it. Not just flash fiction, but more along the lines of those assignments we all received in high school and phoned in because back then, writing was an easy talent, not hard work. 🙂 Symbolism, onomatopoeia, writing a paragraph from the first person POV then the the 3rd person POV. Etc.

      Sorry not aimed at you. It’s getting late here and my brain is turning into random wanderings. But it would be a very nifty blog and one I would follow. 🙂

      • To bad I have a BS instead of a MFA, otherwise I might take up that thought. Or maybe I could, but do it as I learn it sort of thing… Hm… I think I’ll jot the idea down for pondering at least. :}

      • I think I once saw a blog like that, but I can’t remember whose it was. But it’s a fabulous idea. I belong to a large writers club that is an umbrella for many critique groups. A couple of the groups decided to be “write in class” groups that use prompts, and they’re going strong. They’re especially popular with beginners who haven’t settled on a long project.

    • Melissa Schilling
    • September 26th, 2012

    Interesting way to explain HTML, I hate math which means I hate numbers by proxy. However this phone number example worked well.

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