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Clickable links in emails are often created automatically by the receiver's email program. They can also be manually created in rich text emails.

I recently uploaded my first two videos on YouTube and I sent a web email to a friend with the URLs in the body of the email. I expected them to be clickable, but they weren't. Yet, when I paste the URLs into a Word document, they are. What am I doing wrong and how can I correct it? My operating system is Windows 7 and I'm using my mail.com account.

In this excerpt from Answercast #73, I explain how hyperlinks are created and why they often are coded automatically in email programs.

Clickable links

So, you may not be doing anything wrong at all. What confuses people is exactly how something becomes clickable.

If you just paste a URL into a message and do nothing else, it's not clickable. What you send is actually not clickable.

What happens is on the receive side. It's the recipient's email program that says, "Oh, this looks like a URL. I'll make it clickable." Same thing when you paste it into Word. Word is taking a look at it and saying, "Oh, this looks like a URL. I'll make it clickable."

So it's not something you do (or don't do) that makes it clickable to your email recipients - in the default case. It's on their email program, whatever that happens to be, to make it clickable for them.

Some will see it

In fact, you will find that if you send that same email to several people, who are using several different programs, it will be clickable for some of them and not for some of the others. That's just the difference in the email programs that they are using to view the email - not something to do with how you sent it.

How to make a link clickable

Now, having said all of that, there is one thing that I'm going to suggest you try.

If in your email program or in your email interface (Mail.com, in this particular case), if you are sending rich text emails (in other words, if you can do things like make words bold or italic or those kinds of changes), there is typically a button that will allow you to explicitly insert a link.

It sometimes looks like a couple of chain links together.

Look for that and click on that. What will normally happen is you'll be presented with a small dialog box into which you can paste that URL. You may be able to paste other information as well, such as the text to be displayed that when clicked goes to that URL.

So, you might say "My YouTube video" as that text. When you click OK, what happens is your email program (in this rich-text format) uses the HTML markup to actually create a clickable link.

It will display the text that you said should be displayed (in other words, "My YouTube video") and when the recipient clicks on that text, it will go to the URL that you specify.

Must be rich text email format

Now, this only works in HTML, in rich text email. It only works in email programs and interfaces that provide this kind of functionality.

If you're doing plain text email, it's not possible. We're back to relying on the recipient's email program to recognize something as being a URL (or not) and making it clickable at the recipient's end.

But if you're doing rich text email and if your recipient can receive rich text email (which to be honest, most can these days), then this is a different way of inserting that link that will increase the probability that it will show up as something that is clickable.

Spam filters check for clickable links

One last caveat on that last one is that when something is clickable in an email, your recipient's email program may still disable it for safety reasons. In other words, depending on the configuration of their email program, email links may not be clickable by default.

They may have to take additional steps to say, "Yes, email from this person is OK," or "Yes, I realize that this email has links in it. I really do want to click it."

There may be an extra step involved. That's because of spam; that's because of phishing attacks; that's because of people that have misused this very functionality that we're trying to take use right now.

So, that's something to be aware of. But, bottom line, in general, it's the recipient's program that decides whether or not a URL you paste into your email is clickable. If you're doing rich text email, you can take some extra steps to try and provide it as a clickable link if your email interface or email program supports that.

Article C6066 - November 25, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
James
November 27, 2012 6:13 PM

I find that I have better luck with email programs recognizing a link if I make sure "http://" is in front of the URL.

(Or "mailto:" to make a clickable email address in the body of the email).

Steven
November 28, 2012 2:44 AM

There will be a problem for some programs (Hotmail/Windows Live Mail that I know of) in that Mailto: does not work in Hotmall/WLM and you must open the mail program and start a new mail and manually enter or cut and paste the address into the To: window.

While Microsoft had said they were working on it it also seems as if it is a security problem to them and it won't be fixed soon.

I have not tried it with other mail browsers or operating systems so I know nothing about the problem specifically.

Paul Palmer
December 4, 2012 1:47 PM

Using Thunderbird, I was annoyed that links would arrive at my recipients unclickable. Now what I do routinely, is I make sure the http: part is present, then I highlight the future link, I press control L, then Enter and presto, the link turns blue and now arrives clickable.

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