Chrome’s Highlight Links May Change How We Use The Web

For better or worse

Key Takeaways

  • Chrome 90 lets you link directly to any highlighted text on a web page.
  • Web searches could become smarter and faster.
  • Only Chrome-based browsers support highlight linking.
Someone doing a Google search on a laptop computer at a conference table.

Benjamin Dada / Unsplash

Google’s Chrome browser will soon change how links work on the web—and it’s going to be awesome.

Chrome 90’s new link to highlight feature lets you link to any chunk of text on a web page, not just the page itself. This simple change could change the way we use the web, how we search, and more. It could even be enough to wrest users away from Safari and Firefox unless they follow along.

"For people writing blog posts, they can now link directly to a specific phrase that they are trying to reference," marketing consultant Phil Johnston told Lifewire via email.

"Historically, page-to-page links had a bad UX because you wouldn’t know which section the important text resided in unless an anchor was used."

Highlight The Web

Chrome users can select text on any page, right-click on it, and choose Copy link to highlight. This copies a URL just for that particular text snippet on that particular web page. If you share this URL, anyone who clicks it will be taken directly to that text, and it will be highlighted. 

"It’s a smart functionality that allows you to be more precise with your linking."

This is useful for all kinds of reasons. You can bookmark specific parts of a page, making it much quicker to get back to them later. 

Or you can send these links to others, and they won’t have to search the entire page to get to the part you want them to see. But this is just the beginning.

Highlight linking is currently available only in Chrome and Edge, so if you click a link and it opens in Safari or Firefox, you won’t see any highlights. But if that changes, then this fundamentally changes the way the web works. 

Words Not Pages

Right now, a link goes to a webpage, similar to how a phone number used to be associated with a building, with extensions to reach individual offices. Now, we can contact people directly via their cellphone. Highlight links are like cellphone numbers for the web. 

Once you start thinking of the web in terms of individual chunks of text, it opens up what you can do with it. Google searches, for example, could link to a specific paragraph answering your query instead of dumping you at the page and requiring that you do another search to get what you need. 

A GIF illustrating how links to text within a page works.

Google

In fact, Google already has laid the conceptual groundwork for this. Google’s search results often show you the relevant snippet of text, clipped out of the linked page when you search.

"So, if someone searches 'How tall is King Kong,'" SEO specialist Greg Birch told Lifewire via email, "they’ll show an excerpt from a blog post that they believe has the answer in it. Text block linking is another aspect of that strategy."

This will, of course, be exploited by link-hungry SEO optimizers, but in this case, the result could actually be good for users. An otherwise poorly ranked website might be lifted thanks to an especially good or relevant snippet of information. 

"It will likely just change the way that SEOs approach improving their rankings," says Birch. "You could use it to rank your site higher for specific question-based queries."

This could make search results a lot more focused and mean the end of spammy blog posts that pad their word count with fluff to improve their search ranking. 

What’s Next?

For this kind of atomic linking to take off, it needs to be supported by all browsers, and it has to be possible for anyone to generate those links. Will Apple and Mozilla follow along? "I don’t see why not," says Birch. "It’s a smart functionality that allows you to be more precise with your linking."

A screenshot of Chrome Shared Highlights.

Google

There is a new crop of apps that use this kind of deep-linking. They let you link to paragraphs within documents on your desktop, phone, or iPad, and the best of them work together, allowing deep interlinking between apps. Imagine this combined with Google’s new highlight links. 

For instance, you could simply highlight web pages right there in the browser and then search later, confining your search only to snippets you have collected. Or you could have an app that automatically collects those snippets. And in this scenario, text on a web page could be added live into a document, and that text would change whenever the original page gets updated. 

The possibilities are huge. Let’s just hope this doesn’t just end up as yet another SEO tool that ruins the web even more.

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