Friday, April 07, 2006

Conversion: Make Your Links Work Harder

In my experience as a consultant and coach to a lot of hard-working people, one of the most common issues is the poor use of internal links. There's one thing you can do today that will improve your web site's profitability - make your links work harder.

Since I'm trying to give you ideas that you can act on quickly, with immediate results, I will start with the one thing that has proven to be worthwhile time and time again. This is by no means the only thing you can do to get more out of your internal links, but it is by far the easiest to implement, and we've never failed to improve results by doing it.

Here it is, the big idea: If you want visitors to click on a link, then you want the link to appear blue, and underlined. That's not even a link, but I bet most readers either moused over it, or tried to click on it.

If you have used a stylesheet or other methods to change the appearance of the links on your web pages, so that they are no longer blue and underlined, you are probably losing a lot of visitors in the process.

Sometimes, it's okay to make links look different - maybe you don't really think the links to your privacy policy, terms of service, etc. are that important. Maybe you have a drop-down menu or Explorer-style tree navigation system, that is easy enough to use. Fine. Your decision, but you might want to test* whether standard-issue links perform better.

But if you have links within the actual body copy of a web page, the only way that you can expect visitors to see your links and click on them is if they actually look like a link. Anything else is folly. Sorry, web design "artistes," but it's a fact. It's been shown time and again in eye-tracking studies that the visitor's eye is drawn to blue underlined links.

*How to test the results:
If you are using an analytics package like Clicktracks, Google Analytics, or Indextools, you can prove that blue links work better by looking for an increase in the number of people clicking on links. With Clicktracks, this is very easy to see visually, but any analytics application should allow you to measure the average page views per visitor.

Why is this such an important statistic? Based on my experience, with thousands of website tests, just about everything we've done that improved our overall conversion rate also increased the average number of page views per visitor. After seeing this play out time and time again, I realized that I could get a good idea of whether a change was helping simply by watching the page views.

So go ahead, check your stats, and write down the average page views per visitor from the last week. Then go make your links blue, and check again in a week. Did the number rise? Did it fall? Do you have enough visitors to make a week long test meaningful? If you have fewer than 1000 unique visitors per week, you will want to look at 2 weeks, 3 weeks, or more.

If you aren't using any kind of analytics program today, and you can't tell how many pages your average visitor is seeing, then you have a bigger problem. I will address that tremendous calamity in my next post, on Monday April 10 if not sooner.

One of these days, I'll also talk about another important factor in making your links work harder - using the right words in the text of the link. Like many things I'll talk about, this affects usability and conversion as well as search engine positioning.

How You Can Help: Folks, I do this stuff because I want to help people... but I do have to make a living too. You can help me out by telling your friends about this blog, my newsletter, and my training and coaching programs. If someone you know is lost in the search engine marketing wilderness, don't leave them hanging, send 'em here to get some help.


At 11:47 PM, Steve said...

Good to see you back Dan. I've been periodically checking to see if a new post went up. Your latest newsletter beat me to it this time.

You've already made a difference too. Your last post convinced me to break out my to do list and start crossing some of what's there off the list.

My first task will be to make sure all my in content links are blue and underlined. I just did a check and while all seem to be blue one section of my site seems to be missing the underline.

I'll be looking forward to Monday's (or sooner) post

At 10:41 AM, James O said...

Great post Dan - I look forward to pointing our affiliates your way for a daily dose of advice.

Now I guess it is time to battle it out with my design team to get some blue links up!

Keep the good info coming.

At 4:43 PM, Anonymous said...

"numerous eye tracking studies"

Care to share some? Because in my research, I've found that it's less about what color the links are and more about if they look different and clickable.

I've seen people click on black underlined text or red underlined text in actual user studies. So maybe it's less about the "blue" as it is about the "underlined". People have come to equate underlined text with clickability. If designers all got together tomorrow and decided that text that was in 20pt. Georgia Bold in bright purple with a red border was how they were going to set all their links, guess what? People would very quickly adapt and now that would be the convention. But, the idea that you must always conform to a convention and never push the boundaries is a rediculous suggestion.

A rollover state also does a LOT to indicate that a specific piece of text is clickable.

Good design takes convention and creativity into account while also making the page aesthetically pleasing. That's part of why knowing Photoshop and HTML doesn't a "designer" make.

I'm also guessing a lot of the "SEO'd" sites out there could benefit their conversion more by writing their text for human consumption rather than the Googlebot. But what do I know? I'm just one of 'dem "artistes".

At 5:05 PM, Dan Thies said...

My anonymous friend, relax, you're in a friendly place.

I've never seen any test that showed an alternative color/formatting scheme outperforming plain old blue underlined links. Feel free to share your research, though, because I'm sure that we are all sick of blue links and would love to have another choice.

I'll grant you that "underlined" is probably more important than "blue," but until you show me something that outperforms a standard issue "browser default" link, I'll stick with giving users what they expect.

"the idea that you must always conform to a convention and never push the boundaries is a rediculous suggestion."

Indeed that is a very ridiculous idea. Not my idea, so it's a bit of a straw man argument, but whatever. It's not about conformity, it's about usability and results. These things can be measured.

You're may be right, that if a large enough number of website owners were willing to sacrifice conversion for a few years, they could condition a lot of people to expect links to be purple with a red border.

I'm also guessing a lot of the "SEO'd" sites out there could benefit their conversion more by writing their text for human consumption rather than the Googlebot.

Indeed, also true. If you knew where you were, you'd know I agree with that completely. I've never seen a valid reason to sacrifice conversion and usability for SEO, nor any case where SEO results couldn't be achieved in total harmony with the user's needs.

At 4:55 PM, Adsense Primacy said...

" If you want visitors to click on a link, then you want the link to appear blue, and underlined."

This tactic can be used in your Adsense ads to achieve better CTR (Click through ratio)



At 5:49 AM, seo-kolkata said...

Hi Dan,

Great article as ususal ! this inspires me for my next article :)



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