Be Smart About Your Use of Links When Designing a Website
People who surf the web get very dependent on links to help them get the information they need. Those little highlighted words that take us from one website to another with just a simple mouse click are the very essence of the Internet. After all, they form a giant web of contacts that reach through cyberspace from business to user and back again. It's a huge inter-connected-net. (Internet, if you see what I mean.)
Because links are so important, you must be smart as a web marketer in the ways that you use them. They can help you create a site that encourages your visitors to browse, shop, and purchase, or they can cause frustration and disappointment in your customers to such an extent that they give up and leave your site all together. Here are a few pointers for using links in a profitable and meaningful way.
Â· If a word is not a link, don't underline it. In the world of the web, users expect underlined words to be linkable. Readers who see an underscored word will be annoyed when it does not link to anything. Therefore, do not underline any words within your blogs, articles or other content that are not links. If you need to emphasize something, try putting it in bold or italicized type.
Â· Make your links a different color than the surrounding text and underline them. Well over 90% of the websites on the net use blue to indicate links. If you do the same, you make it easy for your readers to find them. If you really feel like being a non-conformist and choose another color, then at least keep them underlined. Of course, this tip is mainly for links that are found within a paragraph of text. If your links are in a menu, and it's easy to tell that they are links, then you can forget about the "blue and underlined" rule. Remember, the easier it is for your customers to get around, the more likely it is that they will want to come back. (Read more about Website Navigation Systems elsewhere on this site.)
Â· Use links that change color after the user clicks on them. Most web pages use maroon or purple for this function, but your choice of color here is not as important as that for unvisited links. The whole idea of this feature is to help your visitors remember where they have been and where they still might want to go. If you use a less saturated, lighter color for the already visited links, it will make the unused ones stand out even more. That helps to encourage customers to thoroughly browse your site.
Â· Use good descriptive text for your links. It is much more effective to make words like "Free Trial," "Clearance Sale," or "Bargain Bin" into internal links than it is to write something like "Click here for great bargains." Remember that web users usually scan your page, so make the most attention-getting items into links that will keep folks clicking from place to place.
Â· Think carefully about linking to other websites. If you find another website with content that you think would really benefit your readers, by all means link to it. But realize that you are taking the risk that the customer may not come back to your page. On the other hand, if you regularly update your page with new links to other great websites, you may build up a nice base of repeat customers who come back to see what else is new. You may also get the added bonus of having the other site link back to you. When that happens, you have a targeted audience arriving at your site, which is great.
If you do put in an external link, be sure to give enough description about what is available there that the customer has a good idea of why she would want to see it. It doesn't make good business sense to have your readers leaving your site by clicking on poorly described links just out of curiosity.
Â· Don't use an image by itself as a link. Even though you may think a picture of a carrot is enough to lead your visitors to the vegetable section of your gardening store, for example, don't rely on everyone thinking the way you do. If you want to use the carrot, add the word "vegetables" next to it and be sure that both are clickable. That way you have all the bases covered. (Get more information about using Graphics and Images here.)
The basic rule for using web links is the same as for many other aspects of design; they should help make your site easy to use and create a positive experience for your visitors. Always keep your customer in mind when deciding whether or not to link items, and make them as easy to use and understand as possible. When you are finished, asked someone you trust to be honest with you to review your site and give a truthful critique. You may learn some valuable lessons about usability that will help your bottom line.
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