How do you use links in your blog posts? Bloggers link to other online resources for many reasons: to give credibility to a claim, to provide additional information, to give credit to another person or institution, to allow users to easily follow a natural progression or procedure, and so on.
You could say that in-text links allow us to apply a degree of functionality to written content. If they’re used appropriately, links can achieve their goals without confusing—or losing—the user. They can also support a good search rank for your content. If they’re used poorly, they can frustrate users, undermine your credibility, or create gaping holes in your site, SEO efforts, or sales process.
When we’re talking about in-text links—links that aren’t part of your blog’s buttons or navigation—it’s important to remember also that the links aid scanning. Well-used links can boost your posts’ readability, as well as reader comprehension. While some argue that a scanner finding an interesting link will simply click away from your site, ending their engagement with your content, I’m not so sure. I have the feeling that’s only likely to happen if the user is looking for something specific and their scanning suggests that your content doesn’t provide the answer.
If, as I’m scanning, the page content looks good, and the links seem interesting, I’ll go back and start to read the page content itself. Often, scanning is used as a means to gauge the page’s value and relevance to the individual, so if your links’ text, which jump out at a scanner, doesn’t help to communicate the content’s value or relevance, you’re missing a golden opportunity to connect with readers at first glance.
So let’s look at the link text specifically. I’ve noticed three broad approaches to using text links:
- the minimalistic approach
- a call to action
- the descriptive approach.
The minimalistic approach
The minimalistic approach links a single word—maybe two—to the external content, like this:
You can read my article on tutorials here.
There’s a variation of this approach which links individual words in a phrase to multiple, related examples or sources of the information being discussed:
You guessed it—I’m not a fan of the minimalistic approach. Firstly, for scanners, or those using screenreaders, the word “here” isn’t exactly indicative of what we’ll get when we click on that link.
In the second case, readers may not even realize that different words are linked to different sources—a number of web developers and content creators (i.e. heavy web users) I’ve spoken to over time have said they’ve never noticed this technique in use, even though I see it often. Perhaps they’re just not realizing what they’re seeing when they come across these kinds of links?
A call to action
Once upon a time, when the web was young and users weren’t always sure what was possible, there was a school of thought that said every link should involve the words “click here”, as in:
Click here to access Darren’s article on ProBlogger’s October income.
A scanner scanning this page would only notice the words “click here” in the above sentence, so they wouldn’t know how relevant (or otherwise) this content was to their interests. We could link the entire sentence, but again, that makes it difficult for scanning readers to discern the important information in those first, split-second glances.
The words “click here” do form a call to action, and are certainly justifiable in cases where we want readers to take action:
For all the details on the Copyrwriting Scorecard, click here.
But in cases where you have no vested interest in the reader clicking on the link, I think it’s best to avoid “click here”. These days, when web users know what a link is, and what it does, this kind of link text can be boring at best, and patronizing at worst.
If you believe that the words “click here” do actually create impetus in the reader to take that action, you’ll use “click here” sparingly, saving it for links that make a difference to your bottom line, rather than verbally encouraging users to leave your site every time you reference another source (which may be often).
The descriptive approach
The descriptive approach indicates to readers—and to scanners, screenreader users, and search engines—what they’ll get when they click on the link:
Darren explained this point in his article on ProBlogger’s October income.
To me, this approach seems appropriate, at least in any case in which you want to link to another page—on your site, on someone else’s—that doesn’t impact your bottom line. You may also choose to use it as a softer, more subtle sales link in cases where the content in which the link appears isn’t primarily related to the product you’re promoting.
Text link composition
There’s one last consideration we haven’t touched on yet: the composition of your text links. If you’re going to treat them, at least in part, as scanning aids, you’ll want to keep links short and pertinent. Try to include the description or title of the linked document in the link, and if you’re not using the document’s title, include the most important words at the beginning of the link.
Let’s look at this in practice. Here’s an actual sentence I wrote naturally as part of a blog post critiquing infographics:
This one, revealing how teens use cell phones, hints at some of the informational problems that can arise when researchers focus on the form, rather than the function of infographics.
My immediate inclination is to link the words, “This one”, but of course that’s not very informative for scanners, since it doesn’t make sense out of context. I could link the phrase “revealing how teens use cell phones,” but that’ll make the words “This one” look weird in context.
What if I changed the word “one” to “infographic”? We could have a winner—although the words “This infographic, revealing how teens use cell phones” will make a very long link. This revised version provides a nice compromise:
This teen cell usage infographic hints at some of the informational problems that can arise when researchers…
This version would also work in cases where the nature of the linked content (infographic) wasn’t as important as what it was delivering (information on how teenagers use cell phones): it puts the information first—catching scanners’ attention—and the content type last.
Link text is important, don’t you think? Do you spend time honing your in-post links to communicate clearly with your readers? What tips can you share?