Writing good hyperlinks is more important than you think

Make links relevant, descriptive, and start with keyword

Recent research by the Nielsen Norman Group found that hyperlinks are a key part of online writing. For site visitors to quickly find what they need, a link should stand out from the body text and accurately describe the page it relates to.

Eyes are drawn to links

Users scan web pages looking for clues on page content and where to go next. They use signposts such as headings and bolded keywords as shortcuts to information. Hyperlinks also attract users’ attention and need to stand out, both visually and contextually.

Underlined blue text is still the most obvious visual indicator of a link (although red is used in this website). Easy-to-understand links make the page more scannable because they provide both information about what is on the page and an idea of where to go next.

Users usually scan the first couple of paragraphs of a story in an F-pattern, but then tend to look mainly at the links. Good links make it easy for the user to navigate to additional information about a topic, but also act as headings for each paragraph, informing the user what each section is about.

Poor link text hurts usability, accessibility, and SEO

Photo of laptop with 404 message by Erik Mclean on Unsplash.

Even when the links visually stand out, they need to be meaningful to be helpful. It really backfires to draw people’s eyes to something irrelevant. Links must clearly explain where they will take users.
Additionally, poor link labels hurt your search-engine ranking. Search engines use the anchor text as an additional cue to what the page or document is about.

Good links are descriptive, unique, and start with keywords

  • The most helpful link text describes the page that’s being linked to. When writing a link ask yourself, “What will the user get when they click this link?”
  • Link length is less important than a good link description. Use as many words as you need to accurately describe the page or document being referenced, while still being concise.
  • When users see the same link twice on the same page they assume it goes to the same place. If the second link refers to a different page, make sure the text in the second link is unique. Remembering this will also help you write more descriptive link labels and avoid generic links such as “Read more”, or “Click here.” (Another reason to avoid “Click here” is that there are no clicks on touch-screen devices.)
  • Finally, the best links start with the most important words. Frontloading the link name helps users scan the page more easily. Eyetracking research shows that people mostly look at the first couple of words of a link. Remember this if you are tempted to start all the links on the page with the same introductory text, such as “Read more about….” The American Diabetes Association is a good example. They have made the section headings clickable. The links on their “Treatment & Care” page, for example, function both as headings and navigation. Links on the “Treatment & Care” page are unique, descriptive, and concise.
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