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Links Matter

I was reading an article this morning by usability expert Jakob Nielsen, which discusses the importance of being careful and intentional about what your links say. You can read the full post (First 2 Words: A Signal for the Scanning Eye), but I’ll also sum up here:

If there is one principle that’s the most useful and enduring about website content, it is perhaps that users scan. Instead of reading word-for-word, users look for what’s relevant to them.

When it comes to links, the Nielsen study revealed that on average, users use only about two words or a mere 11 letters-worth of text at the beginning of a link to decide whether or not it is relevant to them.

If this is the case, then there would be a difference in success between the two links below, even though they convey the same message:

Ben Stein to speak at May commencement

May commencement speaker: Ben Stein

Consider the first two words of each link. Since this is a news story, we can assume the public is more likely to be interested in who the speaker is (particularly if it’s someone recognizable) rather than details about the university’s commencement exercises.

When creating link text, keep in mind:

  • Brief is best
  • Put the most important words first
  • Be specific
  • Use language people understand
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