How to write good hyperlinks
Click here. Find out more. Check this out.
Every day on my internet travels I see hyperlinks written like this, where the link itself, when taken out of context, is entirely meaningless. This is not the way to write hyperlinks, for plenty of reasons.
The first is accessibility. Not everyone who uses the web has perfect sight or is able to use a mouse, trackpad or keyboard like most people can. That’s why they use a screen reader, a marvellous device that reads web pages aloud. The person using it can then navigate from page to page like anyone else.
Or at least they can if the hyperlinks mean something. Screen readers work by calling up a list of links on a page. Imagine a list of ‘click heres’ and ‘find out mores’ and think about how you could possibly know where on earth they will take you.
On a basic level, to make sure your site can be read and enjoyed by everyone, your links should mean something.
- Bad: Check out this page on web accessibility.
- Good: This article on Wikipedia will help you learn about basic web accessibility.
See the difference?
People scan pages
Studies show that generally, people scan web pages, rather than read them, and that they’re always looking for the next place to go. You should aim to make this process as easy as possible.
First, as before, your links should mean something. They are typically designed to stand out on the page, so when someone scans, they too don’t want ‘click heres’ and ‘find out mores’. You’re forcing them to find the extra context and slowing them down.
The second thing to think about is whether your links are presented in the best possible way. If you have, say, four or five links in a single paragraph, would they be better arranged in bullet points, or even as part of the navigation system?
When you’re writing for the web, whether you’re a professional copywriter or an occasional blogger, your aim is to express yourself in the best way possible. That goes for the words you choose, of course, but also how they appear on the page.
You have to think like a reader, not just a writer.
Form and structure
Finally, the way you structure your link will affect the likelihood of someone clicking it. It may be meaningful and positioned sensibly, but if it’s too long then it won’t get read. People scan pages, remember.
Four or five words is a good maximum to aim for. Anything over that and you’re heading into too-long-ignore-it territory. Like constructing a sentence, it’s about rhythm and context. It’s not complicated once you get used to it.
Another strange web phenomenon is that people only tend to focus on the first two words of a link. Where possible, you should try and put the important information up front. It’s pretty tricky, but it can be done.
Let me have a go here, using the same example I used above to show meaningful links.
- Before: This article on Wikipedia will help you learn about basic web accessibility.
- After: Find out more by reading the web accessibility Wikipedia page.
My first attempt had meaning, but the important information was at the end of the link. You can see how a quick rewrite can make a difference.
The Holy Grail of writing web copy
The problem with trying to follow all these rules is that, if you’re not careful, they can impact the quality of your writing. I’ll be honest with you, I think that my ‘before’ sentence above sounds better than the ‘after’ version.
And that’s the Holy Grail of writing web copy: finding the balance between form and function. You have to make something sound great, but ensure that it’s appropriate for both your reader and the format. Pretty much all writing is about expressing yourself to an audience in the best possible way that you can.
When you write links, it may not feel like poetry, but you do have to engage people. What’s more, your primary job is to help them get from one place to another, all with the minimum of fuss.