In many eye tracking studies, it has been shown that people viewing web pages are drawn to images. But their eyes are also drawn to links. This is because, in most web pages, links are underlined and in a different color than the surrounding text. They stand out. And people tend to click on things that stand out and catch their attention.
Links Make Content Scannable
When your readers come to a web page, they are trying to learn something or be entertained. But because most people don't read web pages, then scan them. Good web writing takes this into account, and makes the pages as scannable as possible.
Because they stand out, links make a web page more scannable. But you should make sure that the links you're using link to something related to the linked text. So when your users come to the page, they can peruse the page and see the link text and the headlines and get a good sense of what the page is about.
Your Home Page Must Have Links
Unless your site is only one page, your home page will have links to other parts of your site. And most people will scan your home page more than they will read it, so you want to make the links as self-explanatory as possible. For links off your home page I recommend:
- Avoid having a home page that is 100% links. This defeats the purpose of scannability as the links no longer stand out.
- Make the links pragmatic titles, not fancy. Don't make your readers guess where the link will go.
- Link to general pages that also have lots of links.
Make Your Links Order From General to Specific
When searching for information, people tend to start general and get more specific as they start narrowing down their search. Think of your links as a funnel. You start with a very general category at the top that gets narrower and narrower as your readers find what they are looking for.
This is especially true in lists of links. The first few links should be the most general on the topic. And if the link text is useful, the reader will see the structure even if they don't realize it. As you get lower in the list, your links can get more specific.
Tips for Writing Links and Choosing What to Link To
- Don't use the text “click here” as the only link text. This provides no information at all. Most people know to click on links, and telling them to do so doesn't generally improve click through.
- Review your log files to see what people are searching for. The most commonly used words should be links to other parts of your site.
- Verify your links go where you imply they will go. Readers searching for information will leave immediately if they think your links are misleading or lying.
- Write clear links. If the link text reads “this book...” the link should go to a book, not a bookstore or the author's biography.
- Don't play games with your links. Use straightforward language, and put links in that are useful to customers, not just for the sake of a link.
- Create links that go to content rather than just lists of more links. If you're sending your readers to a list of links, add explanatory content to the page. And, make sure that the link pointing to the page explains that they'll get a list of more links.
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