Links are one of the most fundamental building blocks of successful content on your website, yet many people create them – knowingly or unknowingly – in ways that decrease their effectiveness. Here are some tips that you can use when writing links within your content that can help improve their overall usability.
For the Content Writer
- The first link is the most important one – The first link in your blog post, article, or piece of content will generally gain the most attention and have the highest click-through rates because that’s what people see first. So when you’re writing content, if you make the first link the one that is of the most interest to your audience, you’re increasing the chances that they’ll click on it.
- Don’t link to everything – Links are used to either emphasize something relevant to the point you’re writing about, or to get the reader to take a particular action. Linking every other word will make both more difficult because your links will become less noticeable. Make sure that your sentences have no more than 1 link in them and paragraphs have no more than 5, and you should be fine.
- Don’t depend on links to help your content make sense – People are either too busy to click on every single link you provide, or maybe they’re reading your article in a format where they can’t click on the links: print, offline, or mobile. My point is that as the writer, you need to make sure that the reader can understand your content without having to click on the links.
- Don’t hide your the URLs of links – People are used to being able to know where a link will take them when they hover over it – either by seeing it in their web browser’s status bar, or by reading the TITLE attribute (if you’ve written one). Either way though, you should avoid doing anything that hides the ultimate destination where they’ll be taken to once they click on the link.
- Make links scannable – This is something that I mentioned in last week’s post about why you should avoid using “click here” in your link text. Your link text should be written so that when someone is scanning through your content, they can quickly identify what the link is and where it will take them to. Using “click here” as the link text won’t do that.
For the Web Designer
- Links should look like links – I covered this topic exclusively in a separate post about how text links should be styled, but the gist of that post is simple. Text links should be underlined and in a color that stands out from the rest of your content. People expect them to look that way, and not styling them according to these conventions will make them less usable and noticeable.
- Use icons sparingly – Using icons on your links can help give your visitors a sense of what will happen when they click on the link, but going overboard with them can be a bad thing. My rule of thumb is that the only time you should use icons is if clicking on the link engages a software application other than your web browser – email, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, etc.
- Skip any gadgets that alter link behavior – You can find several applications that try to provide a more interactive user experience by giving people a preview of the website that clicking on the link will take them to. While good in theory, it can get annoying very quickly when used all over your website, so skip the gadgets and use your TITLE attribute instead.
- Make the links easy to click – Horizontal lists (“A | B | C | D | …” or “1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | …”) and vertical lists are often used to help users navigate through content. Either way though, make sure that the clickable area around each link is large enough so that people can easily use it; adding in some extra padding or margins in your CSS should do the trick.
What do you think about link usability – do you have any tips that you do differently? Share with everyone by leaving a comment below!