Friday, September 21, 2007

Learning to love link text

A few days ago, Brian Clark posted an article called 'Does Telling Someone to "Click Here" Actually Matter?' on Copyblogger.

In the article Clark argues for actionable link text: if you want people to 'click here', then make it really clear, by saying so in the link text - to visit our other blog, click here. He points to recent Marketing Sherpa e-newsletter test, which showed the actionable link text lead to a greater click through rate:

  • "Click to continue": 8.53%
  • "Continue to article": 3.3%
  • "Read more": (-)1.8%
This goes against another link writing school of thought (never thought I'd type that phrase) which argues for descriptive, keyword-loaded link text: Visit the National Library's Create Readers blog.

Clark's post has generated some buzz in copywriting blogs I follow: 'Are you using the five types of links properly?' asks another author on Copyblogger; 'Simply put, descriptive anchor text aids site usability' retorts Lisa Barone on the Bruce Clay blog.

The art and science of link writing is not a new topic (see Paul Boag's 'Don't be the weakest link' for a great outline of descriptive link writing). What I find interesting is the intersection here between usability concerns (tell the reader where they're going; help out people using screen readers) and search engine optimisation (using keywords cannily in link text to up your search results).

Link text and the National Library

Believe it or not, how we were going to write link text was a topic of significant discussion here at the Library when we were redeveloping the Library's main site. The E-Govt web guidelines advocate for descriptive link text:

13.1 Clearly identify the target of each link. [Priority 2]

Good link text should not be overly general; don't use "click here." Not only is this phrase device-dependent (it implies a pointing device) it says nothing about what is to be found if the link if followed. Instead of "click here", link text should indicate the nature of the link target, as in "more information about sea lions" or "text-only version of this page".

All fine and good. But with 80-odd different people submitting text for the new website, and the knowledge that we were only ever going to have more pages, and more links, how to guide staff in writing link text?

A solution

We settled on 3 forms of links:

1. Internal links

These point to other pages within, usually for the purpose of giving more information. They take this form: More information about the Cartographic Collection.

2. External links & National Library subsites

If we're sending people off the site, we tell them so: E-Govt web standards - E-Govt New Zealand website

When we send people to our subsites, we sometimes use an action terms: Search the new Papers Past website, and sometimes just a plain descriptive link: Papers Past website. Either way, we try to make it clear people are leaving at that point.

3. Links to the document repository

The document repository is where we store all kind of presentations and publications - from the Annual Reports to XML schemas. These can then be linked to throughout the site - the link text convention is: Download the ISBN fact sheet.

And some rules

1. ALWAYS tell people if clicking a link will download a Word doc or PDF (personal bugbear as well as good practice)

2. In almost all cases, link text is separated out from the body of the text and given its own line.

The Papers Past site was re-launched in September 2007 with new functionality that allows users to search the full-text of some of the newspapers. Over time all the newspapers will become searchable.

More about the Papers Past redevelopment

Download information about the 2001 Papers Past website project

Yeah? So what about this blog then?

I advocate for descriptive link text on this blog - for both the usability and the SEO advantages. But I pulled back from enforcing the same standards we use on the main site (although as we update subsites we're starting to follow them). Why?

Partly because, despite fervently believing in the conventions, I don't follow them to the letter in my own personal blogging. Partly because the contributors to this blog are squeezing writing into their already brimming work days. And partly because I believe that good blogging is not always the same as good content writing - and in this context, good blogging matters the most.

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