Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Tips for writing great links

January 22, 2012 -- Gerry McGovern

Start with the link, not the sentence.

Often, all you need is a nice clear link. No summary text. The link should be the first thing you think about. You should only add surrounding text if absolutely necessary.

Write links like you would write a heading. Use 8 words or less. Write the link as if it is all the customer will see. You must deliver everything they need in a maximum of eight words.

Avoid a link that describes the format. Links that state Video, PDF, Blog are rarely useful. Describe the task or benefit of the video. Why do organizations link to formats? Because it’s easier. It’s easier to keep all videos together. Blogs are usually managed using a different piece of software than the other website content.

Have unique beginnings for all your links. The first 3-4 words are so incredibly important on the Web. If you have a guide on how to install a router, write the link: “Installation instructions”. Don’t write “How to install this router”. Otherwise you’ll have lots of links beginning with “How to”. Lead with the need.

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 or not. But how can the customer know? Much, much better to use links such as Buy, Install, Troubleshoot, Fees, Specifications, Programs, Contact.

Treat links as steps in a task. Thinking linking is about thinking task completion. A customer clicks on a link as part of a journey to complete a task. Only if they complete their task does everything work. So make sure all the links in the task path work well.

On any particular page every single link should be unique, independent, distinct, separate. Links create tremendous confusion when they overlap. On the homepage of Vodafone Ireland support pages the first two major links are: “Phones & plans” and “Smartphones & apps”. That’s confusing. Because a smartphone is still a phone.

Ideally, group all related navigation links together on a particular page. So, if you’re on a page for a particular product, don’t have some of the links for this product in the left column and some in the right and some in the center. The customer won’t know where to look.

Do not use Infinity and Beyond 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?

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

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

If you can master linking you can master the Web.