Identifying and Contex Text in Links

Web page links are the main method of navigation, both on a site and across the Internet, and as such need to be findable and reveal some context around the destination.

Making links findable is as simple as making them identifiable on the page.  The web standard is for links to be underlined and a different colour than the surrounding text.  There has been much written regarding link styles on the web, including this article on letting links look like links.  Deviating from this for design or aesthetics purposes is a bad idea.  The medium is still the web and surfers still need to navigate; don’t break that experience for them.

Even though text may be identifiable as a link it still may not be clear to the reader where the link goes or what information they will find at the destination.  As navigation signs to visitors, links should provide some context as to the reason for the link.  It may be referencing supporting material, navigation to a page with more specific or additional material or unrelated sites (such as a blogroll).

A study, as noted in Myth #2 of the Top 10 UX Myths, has indicated that many surfers only scan link text on the page and do not read the surrounding text.

Eye Tracking studies I’ve seen from the Nielsen Norman Group highlight that many web surfers are only reading the links on pages.  So the point is to make sure that linked text actually says something, instead of [click here]. And that text is concise. And readable.

Sure, website owners may prefer that visitors read the whole article or page, but if their behaviour is to scan links, providing context in the link text will help direct visitors to where they want to go, resulting in happier surfers which are more likely to spend time on your site.

Many people have a hard time writing links that are not worded [click here], which is all they have read and written for 10-15 years.  Here are a few examples of re-written links.

  1. To read the report, [click here].

    More detail can be found in the [annual report].

  2. To contact us, [click here].

    Feel free to [contact us] with questions.

  3. [Click here] to read the Frank’s article on the new initiative.

    [Frank's article on the new initiative] deserves a read.

Once you see a few examples, writing link text without reverting to “click here” becomes easy.  Link text that shows some context along with easily findable links will help your visitors navigate the web.  As a benefit, search engines will better be able to determine the focus of a page from the keywords in the link text.  For more information, a quick search on either of these topics will reveal many more articles on these topics.