Listen to this article here: The Anatomy of a Hyperlink That Woo Readers
Links play a huge part in online content.
When people scan web pages they automatically look at headlines, sub-headlines and links to judge whether the page holds any interest for them.
So the question is how do you write links that grab people when they scan your web page and turns them into a passionate reader?
Simple. Master the following 8 rules.
Web Links 101
It may not be fair, but based on what people see in the headlines, sub-headlines and links will determine whether they stay or leave. [See, you are doing it now.]
This is called information foraging.
And it doesn’t help that this evaluation usually occurs under 27 seconds. This means that web visitors’ ruthless, critical eye can sometimes overlook important information if it’s not clearly articulated in headlines, sub-headlines, and especially links.
Also, links tell search engines what your web page is all about. Links rank high as one of the factors for good search engine results.
And when you have less than 30 seconds to woo a potential reader, I think you do what ever you can to make your page stick out from the million others.
Links can be:
- Sentences: Are you too busy to spend money on advertising?
- Fragments: In Pursuit of Leads: 21 Ideas That Really Work
- Phrases: Red-Handed with a Glamour Magazine
- Call to Actions: Subscribe Now
- Navigation Labels: Homes, Sellers, Buyers, News, About Us
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 8 easy guidelines for writing meaningful, compelling links that please both people and search engines.
1. Don’t Make New Program and Product Names into Links Themselves
For example: Instead of “Every Kid Deserves a Yard” as a link to your new campaign to help families move out of apartments and into a home create the link on your website into something that both people and search engines will recognize immediately: “Ditch the Apartment” or “Buy a Home”.
The trick is to write links that your visitors—especially your first time visitors—will recognize and understand immediately.
Notice how the British Museum writes their navigation links.
For the most part, the navigation links make sense.
But what does “The Museum” link mean? I’m guessing it’s about the museum—which it turns out to be partially true.
Hitting The Museum link takes you to a page about the history and architecture of the museum. Better if it was named “History of Museum” or “Museum History” or “Museum Architecture.”
[Can you think of something better?]
If it was an About Us page, then “About Us” would work great.
2. Rethink Document Titles and Headings That Turn into Links
When turning print articles into web pages sometimes you may need to rethink the title of the article. Things don’t transfer smoothly from print to web.
First of all, avoid cute, clever or generic headline titles like The Power of Online Technology. They don’t clearly communicate the content of the article, sales letter or flier. Neither is the title really compelling or enticing to the reader.
What’s bad in print becomes only worse online.
On the web, when visitors are fierce and fast in their judgment, titles, headlines and links need to stand out. Boldly.
Your web document titles, headlines and links need to offer the thing people want most. And the links needs to satisfy a need they have.
High-Tech Cowboys in Social Media: The Race to Dominate Web Space is one way to rewrite the above link to give people a full meaning of the article. It would work equally well as a page title.
3. Match Links and Page Titles
This is a biggie, so pay attention.
As people move through websites, the first question they ask on each new page is “Did I get where I thought I was going?” They expect the page title to match the link.
When you have links and page titles that match, you reassure your web visitors that they are on a good pathway and have landed on the page they expected.
In fact, the secret to writing successful matching links and page titles is to plan them in both directions: as you write the page title, think of how the same link will work on all the pages where the link will appear.
As you write links, think of how the same words will work as a page title. For example, if I wanted to patch you through to an article on gapingvoid about living the bliss-centered life best I use the actual title of the article as the link like this: living the bliss-centered life.
And when writing page titles, always imagine how they’ll look as a link. See point 2.
4. Be as Explicit as You Can in the Space You Have
And make more space if you need it. The longer the link, the better. See point 6 below.
5. Use Action Phrases for Action Links
“View My Profile” beats “Profile” any day.
“Buy a Home” dominates “Homes to Buy.”
“Subscribe Now” is better than “Mailing List”.
Heck, “Click Here to Read More” is better than “Continued” but point 6 will show you why you shouldn’t use either.
6. Use Longer, More Descriptive Links
Single nouns or short noun phrases can work as labels or as links for general categories and overall topics, but only if your site visitors recognize the nouns you use and give them the same meaning.
[Think back to the British Museum page and “The Museum” link. It probably made sense to everyone involved in building the website, so nobody questioned it. Not so to those who actually use it.]
Descriptive links that lead to specific information are just like headings. Fox News creates compelling, descriptive links that are hard to ignore.
Couple it with a powerful image and you have an irresistible message.
Furthermore, in the report Designing for the Scent of Information, usability engineer Jared Spool and his colleagues discovered that links of 7 to 12 words achieved the highest success in getting people to the information they are seeking.
Why is that?
Longer links are likely to have the words your visitors have in mind. Remember, people scan web pages looking for headings, sub-headlines and links. That’s about it. If they just see Great Blog Ideas in the body copy they’re likely to overlook it.
It’s just too general.
On the other hand, if they want answers on how to use social media to generate leads, they’ll quickly gravitate to 45 Blog Post Ideas That Always Create Buzz.
That’s more likely to satisfy their quest.
That link is actually 8 words. Ghastly, you say. Too long. Will muss up your pretty web page?
Think about this: people will likely only read your links, because they stand out. Wouldn’t you want them to read the most important and compelling piece to draw them in?
7. Add a Short Description If People Need It
Or rewrite the link.
If you don’t have the space to can’t get enough information into the link to create a meaningful link, then you can add a short description about what’s behind the link.
Again, I lean to Fox News to demonstrate short descriptions that follow vague link titles.
8. Avoid “Click Here” or “More” at All Costs
I hate these links the most. Why? They add zero value to the people who mean the most to you.
For example, the other day I spent about twenty minutes unsubscribing from email newsletters I no longer read.
Of course the link to unsubscribe was buried at the bottom of every email, but worse yet, nine out of ten publishers created links like this:
Click here to unsubscribe. [This actual link will take you to a Google search results page for the term “click here.” These are the people who rank for “click here.” Interesting. See point below.]
There are two good reasons why you want to avoid these terms.
First, when someone is looking for something specific on a page—like how to re-sell a home—and all they see is “Click Here,” they’re likely to miss the all important “to Learn How to Decorate Your Home So It Sells” that follows the “Click Here”.
The second reason you want to avoid Click Here and More links is because they are meaningless to search engines. Unless you are searching for “click here” or “more.” I guess to some people that’s a legitimate hunt.
Finally, never, ever write links where each of the words drives to a separate web page like this:
This is Andrew Sullivan’s blog.
Here’s why it’s a bad idea: it just plain ticks people off. What do you want me to do? Really click all of them to find out what lies behind each? No thanks.
And what is a search engine to make of it?
This approach is a subtle but ill-will builder that costs you. And all that eventually adds up.
Not only people, but search engines deem descriptive, keyword links to be of high value in telling them what a page is about. And so with less than 30 seconds to win over potential leads and clients, I believe it’s in your best interest to do your best in getting people to not only find your page and stay on your page, but actually convert on your page from a visitor to a reader.
Do you have any suggestions on how to write meaningful links? I’d love it if you shared them. Look forward to hearing from you.