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What do Your Links Say and Where Do They Lead?

Writing Usable Links


When a reader clicks on a link, she is expecting something based upon what that link said. The number one expectation is that the title of the page she lands on is going to be the same as the link text, or very similar. If the page doesn't have a title that is the same, the reader will then have to think about the page. And since studies have found that web users judge sites instantly, or at least within the first 1/20th of a second, if they have to think about your site, that judgment is more likely to be negative. They’ll think the page doesn’t have what they wanted, and hit the back button.

Links Should Match Page Titles

When you click on a link that says “cute puppies” you’re going to expect a page that is named “Cute Puppies” or something very similar. Now, before you start arguing with me that a link that says “cute puppies” means the same thing as “Adorable Young Dogs,” the problem isn’t in the meaning. The problem is in the time it takes.

As I mention in 10 Tips for Good Web Writing, web readers scan the web, they don't read. They don't read.

Links are very easy to scan for, as typically they are in a different color from surrounding text, they are usually underlined, and the mouse changes when you move over it.

Titles are also very easy to scan for. They are typically at the top of a page, in larger font, and often a different color or background.

Thus, when you click a link, you’ve seen the text there, and when you get to the resulting page, you scan for that same text. If you don’t see it, you have to think. And the split second you start thinking, your mouse is heading for the back button.

Don’t Go Overboard

As with most things in web design, there are always exceptions to this rule. But you should be aware that you are breaking faith with your readers every time you decide not to link with the page title. You are risking that they won’t be getting what they want and will lose trust in you. So, if you decide to link using other text, do it knowingly and have a reason, even if it’s only for yourself.

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