You’ve probably already heard that your web visitors don’t read; they scan. And what are some of the things that catch their eye as they scan? Words in bold print, italics, underlines words and bullets. What catches their eye even more? Hyperinks.
Hyperlinks are top eye-catching devices – they stand out even more than words in bold or italics. Why? Two reasons: hyperlinks are in a different color and, as a web literate group; we are trained to look for them.
The Information Finding Process
Think about it. Most pages we visit on the web don’t contain the specific information we’re looking for; they merely help us get to the page we want. If you’re like most of us, the process you typically go through to find information on the web looks like this:
1. You land on a website page.
2. You scan – looking for a link that might take you where you want to go.
3. You follow the link and scan this new page looking for the information you’re after.
4. Still can’t find what you want? You scan through the links on this page and click on one. Or you click the back button in order to click on a different hyperlink.
5. And so on and so on until you find what you’re looking for (or until you give up!)
Does that sound familiar? How can it not? Because of the way the Internet is structured, it’s essential that we can find and understand hypertext links quickly. The moral of this story? The easier you make it for people to understand and use the hyperlinks on your website, the more effective your entire site will be. Don’t make your website visitors search, don’t make them guess, and for heaven’s sake, don’t have links that are so vague or broken that visitors leave your site entirely.
If you want to maximize the power of these words, you’ve got to go beyond the ubiquitous “click here.”
Here are 5 tips to help you get started:
1. Think about the Words
Before writing your link, ask yourself what you want your users to get from the link? Think of each hyperlink as a highlighted keyword. Take advantage of the attention hyperlinks automatically draw and make them do double duty – not only as a link but as a source of important information.
People come to your site with a topic or question in mind. They are looking for the words they have in their minds. To make connections between what your site visitors want and the content you have, you must use their words, their language. If you anticipate their needs and questions and provide the answers in the text of your hyperlinks, you will instantly increase the number of people who stay on your website.
Don’t make people wonder which link to click on. Your visitors are thinking about their topic, their needs, not about how you’ve put the site together. They don’t want to have to figure out where you’ve put the information you need; they don’t want to have to waste their time figuring out whether “click here” will get them where they want to go.
You want your links to be informative and clickable. You also want them to communicate enough information so that your visitor knows whether or not they want to follow the link and what to expect when they get there.
2. Think about Placement
Where you put your hyperlinks on each webpage matters almost as much as the words you use. Here are a few suggestions, based on eye-tracking studies and click-through rates:
Place links at the beginning or end of a paragraph
Place links at the end of a sentence
Place important words at the front of link text
3. Think about Color
Like we said at the beginning, in order to be able to easily spot hyperlinks, they should be a different color than the rest of the text on the page. This sounds pretty obvious, but it’s truly amazing how many websites don’t have their hyperlinks in a different color.
By far the most common combination is black text with blue link text, but it’s certainly not necessary to follow this.
Some experts insist that link text has to be blue as blue is the most common link color on the web. They argue that Internet users become accustomed to certain conventions and every website should follow these conventions or fear confusing their visitors. However, there are enough websites with non-blue link text for this to not be labeled as a convention so it could be argued their reasoning isn’t sound.
Visited vs. Unvisited
By changing the color of visited links, users are provided with a visual clue as to where they’ve already been on your website. This is essential if you want to allow visitors to freely explore your site without continually going back to where they’ve already been – a frustrating experience and one that’s sure to encourage them to go elsewhere. To be honest, I love sites with this feature, and I am confident I am not the only one.
4. Describe your Destination
We scan web pages looking for hyperlinks to give us direction to information that we’re after. Have a quick look at the following two hyperlinks, each written in bold and underlined:
To read more about our widgets please click here.
Please read about our widgets.
In the first hyperlink, the ‘click here’ by itself is completely meaningless and its use should be avoided like the plague. The second paragraph is far better: when you scan it, you instantly understand where that link will take you. You can then decide whether to click it or not without having to read any of the surrounding text.
The best advice: try to keep links brief but descriptive by picking the words that describe the link.
5. Limit link text to a maximum of four words
When we scan, we only spend a split-second looking at the text contained in any link, so it’s really difficult to quickly take in the content if there are more than five words in the link text. Any more than four words will slow your website users down or a text-heavy link will just be seen as burdensome and be skipped altogether. And you don’t want either of those things to happen.
Link text is really important. When you write links, it may not feel like poetry, but you do have to engage people. What’s more, your primary job is to help them get from one place to another, all with the minimum of fuss.
As you can see, hyperlinks make the Internet what it is. Follow these guidelines and your links will be easy to find and understand quickly, for which your site visitors will surely thank you.