If you struggle with writing good link text, you’re not alone – the web is filled with poorly written links.
Yet writing informative link text (also often called anchor text) makes your site easier to use and it can help search engine optimisation (SEO).
Here are some tips:
Never write “click here”
For starters, it’s bad for usability. Most links are underlined and blue – which makes them stand out from the page. Think of them as little neon signs – and what a wasted marketing opportunity to have such a visible part of the page say something as meaningless as click here.
Secondly, it’s bad for accessibility. When using assistive technology such as a screen reader, a lot of users will navigate a page by just reading the links (it would take forever to complete a task if they always had every word read out to them). Yet if your links simply say click here, the page stops being navigable.
Lastly, Google (and other search engines) want links to provide information about the destination – not to simply say click here. If you have links to pages within your own site, this can improve your site’s SEO.
So what should a link say?
A link needs to say WHERE it will take someone – or what they will get
You can write a link in two different ways: it can either be the name of the destination page or it can tell you what the link will allow you to do. Which one you choose depends on the context.
If, for example, you happen to refer to a website then you can make the name of the site the link text. For example, I often refer journalism students to the Poynter Institute because they have some great articles on feature writing.
If you’re referring to a page within a site, then don’t just link to the home page – link to the specific page, and make sure that’s clear within the link text. For example, if I want to link to Poynter’s article on writing in the nut graf feature style, then that has to be clear in the link text.
Which leads to the second way you can write link text – namely by focusing on what someone will actually get, or learn, or achieve through the link. If someone can complete a task (or call to action) by clicking on a link, then it’s usually better to make the task the link text.
For example, if people can register for one of my writing workshops by clicking on a link, then I’ll make the link text: Register for the writing workshop.
Writing effective link text is hard – it always makes me think twice (if not more) in order to get it right. It requires you to think deeply about the user, and what they need, and how they might react. There are times when you even need to rephrase a sentence so that the link text works well with it.
Don’t make the link too short – or long
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen says links should provide information scent – that is, links need to provide enough information so people have an idea of what will happen once they click on it.
As such, there’s no recommended link length – it needs to be long enough to provide the key information, but not any longer. Always think: does this word have to be part of the link in order for it to give people the information they need?
Never have a web address (ie URL) as the link text
Link text needs to be written in plain English and be meaningful – both for Google, for assistive technology, and for anyone who’s scanning the page.
If I want to point people toward my page on writing for the web training, then I’ll write something like:
find out about my writing for the web training
Never put the word “link” within link text
A link should always be formatted to look like a link – preferably it should be both underlined and a different colour. As such, there’s no need to write the word “link”. Furthermore, assistive technology will tell users whether something’s a link just by looking at the HTML code.
If you link to a PDF, Word doc, Excel spreadsheet, or any other file, the link needs to say so
Putting a PDF, Word doc or any other file on a website should only ever be a last resort – after all, the information in that file would be much easier to find, read and use if it were simply in HTML instead.
I could – and should – write an article about why you should avoid PDFs whenever possible, but for now I’ll simply say this: it is a breach of the accessibility guidelines to link to a file if the link text doesn’t mention the file type.
For example, if you’re linking to a PDF called Dan’s Fabulous Map of the World, then the link text needs to be written as Dan’s Fabulous Map of the World (PDF, 86MB).
Mentioning the file size isn’t necessary – but it is considered good form.