Working on writing the correct link text may seem trivial, but viewers rely on links to navigate and understand your Web site, and, most importantly, to find the content on your site. Some usability experts define link quality as “information scent”.
That is, when viewers click a link, they may have an “instinct” on what they will find, but won’t be really sure until they get to the new page. The more accurate the “scent” of a link is, the more viewers are willing to trust and spend time on your site. However, the first links they see should be as scent-worthy as possible. The tips below will discuss some good strategies for enhancing the “information scent” of your links.
Distinguish Navigation Links from Links in Content
Most Web sites actually have two kinds of links – navigation links and specific links within a content page. Navigation links help viewers find all the pages on your site and are generally placed to the sides, top or sometimes the bottom. Navigation links on THIS site include the green links on the left and the white links on top; there are also some miscellaneous navigation links at the bottom. Note that they’re in a different format from the main content on this page – signaling that they are delivering something other than content (probably navigation).
The “content” in generally in the center of the page and generally contains the important elements of that particular page. For instance, this content is information about how to create better links.
Tips for Content Links
These links are the most “unpredictable” in terms of information scent. They could be pointing you to a specific page on this site or even a page outside the site. It will depend on the content. So…
Avoid links that say “Here” or “Click Here”. The destination “Here” is quite vague – even if you described it a few words earlier, viewers may not have the patience to re-read the text. It’s also small – sometimes viewers can’t always see the little four-letter word in the sea of text.
Be specific and be large – The more specific a link, the more viewers will trust that they have a good idea of what’s waiting on the other side. For instance, instead of saying “Click here for my Teaching Philosophy Statement” try “See my Teaching Philosophy Statement.
Use a different color for links – Viewers generally identify a link because it’s a different color and often underlined. If you’re link is in the same color (even if it’s underlined), they probably won’t realize it’s there. The generic link color is blue, but other colors can be used – just make sure it’s easy to spot from a distance.
Tips for Navigation Links
The good news about navigation links is that you can exercise some formatting creativity, but remember to:
Include a core set of navigation on each page. For instance, it’s recommended that you be able to get to a home page from anywhere on your site. You should also be able to get to major sections from anywhere. Note that the Sites at Penn State portfolio template provides an excellent navigation scheme in the form of its tabs on top.
Format the navigation links differently from the content links. A subtle design can beautiful, but isn’t useful if users don’t know where the navigation is. Make sure you a key formatting difference (color, size, font change) so that user understand they are in the navigation area.