When people browse the web, they follow links (URLs) from one page to another. The anchor text of a link aids the user in deciding which links to follow. Using descriptive links allow users to make better informed decisions to click a link and will more likely be directed to a page that they were looking to find. By following the suggestions in this article, your website will become easier to navigate, improve the users satisfaction with the website, and even improve your website’s ranking with search engines like Google.
Descriptive Links and Usability
It is said that the average user spends 10 seconds or less on a web page. This means that if there are some users spending minutes reading the content, the majority of users are spending only a couple of seconds on a page; not even enough time to read a sentence. So, what are they doing then? They are skimming the webpage for links which match the topic they are looking to find. For people with accessiblity issues (i.e. blindness), their screenreader software can quickly pull all of the links from a page and read them to the user as a list. Therefore, in both cases, descriptive anchor text for links will make navigating the website easier for all types of users.
Descriptive Links and SEO
Just like a screenreader, search engines use a computer program to read and index web pages. These “spiders” use regular expressions (programming term for finding matching text) to collect all of the link tags. They then associate the keywords used in the anchor text with the target URL. Keywords are the important words of a web page that can be used to return search results when a user inputs strings of keywords into a search engine. The better ranking a web page has for a keyword the better placement the web page will get in search results for that keyword. Obviously, targetting common keywords has greater competition with other web pages also targetting those same keywords. But, when more keywords are used together in a search query the search results are narrowed and become more accurate. By being descriptive with your link anchor text, your web page can target these niche areas of your market. As your site becomes more popular for these types of searches, it’ll also begin to earn rank with more general search terms.
For example, at Numinix we offer a lot of free modules for Zen Cart. Notice on our homepage in the centerbox it says “free Zen Cart add-ons.” We’ve deliberately made the word “free” part of the anchor text rather than as a word next to the link because it better describes what can be found at the targetted page. Had we not included the word “free” the page would have be competing more with pages offering “Zen Cart add-ons.” Now, it can compete with both.
How to Write a Descriptive Link
This seems really straight forward but it really is the most common mistake website make when it comes to SEO. The general rule is that if you cannot tell what a link is targetting without any other context beyond the text of a link, the link is not descriptive. For example, if a large website has many different departments and a different contact form for each department, labelling this link as “Contact Us” on each page is not descriptive since the user needs to know an additional context, the page they are currently on, to know which department the contact link is for. In this example the department name should be included with “Contact” to make the link more descriptive. Another simple method is to use the target page’s title as the link text. This only works if the page’s title is descriptive of the page and is good practice for improving the association between links and their target pages.
Employing a descriptive link strategy using either of these methods will help to increase your website’s exposure on search engines and will improve the likelihood that these new users will be able to navigate your website and find the information they were seeking. When users find what they are looking for they are more likely to be happy and satisfied with your website and more likely to return to it again in the future.