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Here are some possible ways to embed a link in a sentence within an article. (The intended link text is just bolded here, rather than actually linked to something.)

"A good first step is to perform a business impact analysis (BIA)."

"A good first step is to perform a business impact analysis (BIA)."

"A good first step is to perform a business impact analysis (BIA)."

Which of these links is most likely to elicit a user click? I am looking for an answer about clickthrough, based on data.

Before answering - please note. I am not asking about accessibility, nor the SEO implications of anchor text. Don't care what Google thinks (unless they are providing comparative clickthrough data). I am not asking for a well-reasoned argument about how Web readers scan and need context within the link.

There are plenty of opinions about the ideal length, inclusion of nouns or verbs, and so on. I worked in online media for many years and I have an opinion too. But opinions are not interesting here! I want an answer about which version more people would click on, based on A/B testing or other data!

I have scoured the web (which usually means the answer is in some obvious place right under my nose...) and am perpetually surprised at the lack of data in discussions on this topic. Thanks for any relevant, data-based guidance.

  • 1
    What is your website about? Who is your target audience? – gurvinder372 Dec 28 '15 at 6:25
  • Hi - It doesn't matter. I'd take any data for any site in any context :) But when the question originally arose I was the editor of a site for business executives who lead the security function at large companies (csoonline.com). – Derek Slater Dec 29 '15 at 0:44
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Interesting question.

I did a quick test with my peers using the same text above and asked them 1. what do they perceive? 2. Which one will they click? 3. Why would they click it?

Answers are - 1. I would click on the link 1 & 2 if i want to perform a BIA. Link 2 is more evident than the link 1. 2. I would click on the link 3 if i want to know about more about BIA.

So all three are right, but the perceived affordances is the difference between 1,2 and 3. you can find some more information on perceived affordance and signifiers in here. Hope my answers triggers some thoughts.

  • Thank you - very small sample size but I appreciate it and will read the Don Norman piece. – Derek Slater Dec 29 '15 at 0:45
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"A good first step is to perform a business impact analysis (BIA)."

"A good first step is to perform a business impact analysis (BIA)."

"A good first step is to perform a business impact analysis (BIA)."

It will boil down to the purpose of the web-page and purpose of the user. Let me make an attempt to correlate the two with your links

First one makes sense if

  • User is on wikipedia and want to know what perform means

  • User is on home page of a site where instructions are given about management of change requests and on clicking perform he can see a demo of how to perform BIA.

Second one makes sense if (this is most likely candidate for you)

  • user wants to know more about the process of performing the BIA. It won't matter where the user is coming from.

Third one makes sense if

  • User is on wikipedia and want to know what business impact analysis means

  • User is on home page of a site where instructions are given about management of change requests and on clicking business impact analysis he can be introduced to the process called BIA.

  • Thank you. This all sounds reasonable, and reason is what I've fallen back on for many years. Still hoping to find data though. – Derek Slater Dec 29 '15 at 0:46
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Always look to Nielsen/Norman. Their article, Writing Hyperlinks: Salient, Descriptive, Start with Keyword might be the one you're looking for. Their articles are overall very trustworthy because they're based on research.

Here's the gist:

  • Users won't read your sentences. They'll scan the page, looking for links, missing the context of the surrounding text.
  • Good links are descriptive, unique, and start with keywords.
  • Link length is less important than a good link description.

Based on those criteria, I'd say your second example is the best of the three.

  • "Users won't read your sentences.They'll scan..." - I think this very much depends on the user's goals. If a user is casually reading a site, a blog article, for instance, he would most probably be inclined to interact (click links in the partcular example), rather than passively absorb information (read, that is). But if the users has come with an explicit purpose on the site (e.g. read a word definition on a dictionary web site), most probably he'd "go blind" for any non-purpose surrounding content, no matter what sorts of interactive (clickable) items it may contain. – drabsv Aug 17 '18 at 16:34
  • True, @drabsv. I'll read on nyt.com but won't read marketing sites for companies that want to tell me all about their mission and how wonderful their product is. – Ken Mohnkern Aug 17 '18 at 16:44
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It's probably not there, you have to make it yourself

This is a common question type. "I really need data that shows X. I've looked but haven't found it." The reason you've not found anything is probably because it's not there.

When data like this gets generated, it's usually on an ad hoc purpose. Sometimes if you get really lucky, the person who generated it is also a super-productive blogger type who turns it into a nice article that answers all your problems, but often the data remains locked away in an spreadsheet or presentation.

By stipulating all the types of data you don't want, you're decreasing the chances of finding what you're looking for even more. If you want clean data like this, you're probably going to have to make it yourself.

The first tool that comes to mind is Chalkmark by Optimal Workshop (first click testing). Google Surveys might also work. Get some links under people's noses and see what they click.

  • Thanks. Agree about the ad hoc nature of this question. I don't currently have a high-volume site under my direct control but perhaps I can talk a former colleague into an experiment. – Derek Slater Dec 29 '15 at 0:48
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I see your question "Which of these links is most likely to elicit a user click?" as an inherently irrelevant/ misleading question. Users click on links because they expect to see something of interest there. Therefore a link would elicit a click in all cases, as long as it mentions something of potential interest to the user, no matter the visual format.

What could possibly be a matter of variation, though, is how long (how easy) it would take a user to decide to click the link - in the scenario when she is generally interested in it, as mentioned above.

  • Good point. I usually think of "something of interest" as "something that will get me closer to my goal." – Ken Mohnkern Aug 17 '18 at 16:26

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