8 dos and don’ts for writing great Web links

Links that say “FAQ,” “Resource” or “Tools” are ineffective, according to this Web usability expert.

Write links like you would write a headline: use eight words or less. Write the link as if it’s all the customer will see. You must deliver everything they need in a maximum of eight words. You should only add surrounding text if absolutely necessary. Here are some tips:

1. Avoid describing the format. Links that state “Video” or “PDF” are rarely useful. Describe the task or benefit of the video or article.

2. Lead with the need. The first three to four words are incredibly important on the Web. If you have a guide on how to install a router, write the link: “Installation Instructions,” and not, “How to install this router.” Otherwise you’ll have lots of links beginning with “How to.”

3. Ditch frequently-asked links. A link is a promise from you to your customer. It is a signpost. You are giving directions. Let’s say you’re a tourist in Ireland and you want to visit Middleton in Cork. You see a sign labeled “Frequently Visited Towns.” Should you follow it?

The Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) link is a very poor one. The FAQ is a classic example of organization-centric thinking. The organization knows which questions are frequently asked, but how can the customer know? It’s much better to use links such as Buy, Install, Troubleshoot, Fees, Specifications, Programs, and Contact.

4. Treat links as steps in a task. A customer clicks on a link as part of a journey to complete a task. It’s your job to make sure all the links in the task path work well.

Links create tremendous confusion when they overlap. On the homepage of Vodafone Ireland, the first two major links on the navigation bar are “Phones & plans” and “Smartphones & apps.” That’s confusing because a smartphone is still a phone.

5. Group related navigation links together. If you’re on a page for a particular product, don’t have some of the links in the left column, right column, and center. The customer won’t know where to look.

6. Be specific. Don’t use links such as “Resources” and “Tools.” These are like websites within websites. When you need to book a flight are you looking for a tool? Many British government websites use “Do It Online” as a way to organize links. What exactly does that mean?

7. Avoid audience-based linking where possible. Only use audience-based navigation where the audiences have totally different tasks.

8. Never use “Quick Links. What does that mean? Are the other links “Slow Links”? And if you have “Useful Links,” do you also have “Useless Links”?

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords and New Thinking e-mail newsletter. Contact Gerry at gerry@gerrymcgovern.com.

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