There is a certain similarity between how electric current behaves and how the human mind behaves. This similarity is based around the earth wire and the natural tendency of the human brain. As per one of the derivations of the Ohm’s Law, discovered by Georg Ohm in 1837, electric current always leaks through the path of least resistance.
This is where the earth wire comes into the picture to prevent countless disasters since its development. The human mind is not that different from how electric current flows and, as science has shown, thoughts are nothing but a series of nerve impulses i.e. biological electrical current.
What this means is that the human brain also tries to seek out the path of least resistance i.e. the easiest, most convenient methods for getting things done. Once the brain discovers a method, it promptly creates a pattern that is followed for the same problem repeatedly by the human being.
The tendency to seek out the easiest solution may be the hardwiring of the human brain being fixed in such a manner through genes because of the basic tenets of evolution.
There are other examples of this tendency as well such as the fact that most people prefer to imitate things than to innovate, order in than cook, drive than walk, and even play video games than real sports.
Key takeaway: People are more likely to click on links that are easier to spot than those that are inconveniently placed.
The Beginning or the End?
There are two other concepts that have a strong bearing on which links in an article get clicked and which are ignored. These two concepts are known as the Primacy Effect and the Recency Effect. These two concepts focus on the fundamental tendency for the human brain to give importance to information received at the very beginning and information provided at the very end.
The Primacy and Recency Effects have been proven by numerous studies in the last few years. For instance, as per a research paper published by researchers from the University of Western Australia, people favour colours over blandness, larger sizes over smaller sizes, and the first and last few items on lists more than items in the middle. This research was done with the help of Yellow Pages’ ads.
From the perspective of web pages, a research was done with 12 web pages that contained links in different locations. This research revealed that the position of links had a huge difference in how often they were linked. For example, this research also showed that the links which were clicked the least were in the middle of the pages, the links near the beginning and end of the page got the maximum clicks, and the links on the bottom right performed significantly better that links on the bottom left.
Key takeaway: Links which are placed at either the beginning or the end of a list or article are more likely to attract clicks than other links on the same page or list.
Preferential Tendencies of Visitors
A link on a page only becomes relevant if that page is good enough to capture the attention of the visitor i.e. the visitor feels comfortable enough to go through the page in the first place.
This is where the concept of User Experience becomes relevant. User Experience is an area of expertise that focuses on designing pages and content in a manner that appeals to visitors. The following are some established truths about the preferential tendencies of visitors as per User Experience.
- Most visitors tend to scan pages as opposed to reading each and every word on it. What this means is that large chunky paragraphs are unattractive to most visitors because they are perceived as large masses of text that are not clearly delineated. The trick to facilitate scanning of pages is to break them down into smaller paragraphs and incorporate as many lists and bullet points as possible.
- Research of various types has shown that simple designs are favoured by visitors much more than complex designs. The foremost research on this subject was conducted in 2012 by Javier Bargas-Avila, a former researcher for YouTube. His results showed that most people form an aesthetic opinion about a page within 50 milliseconds of laying eyes on it. Effectively, if the page is visually complex then the natural inclination of the visitor would be to deem it less beautiful and possibly navigate away from it quickly.
- Typography is defined as the art of forming sentences i.e. their syntax in less technical terms. Kevin Larson from Microsoft and Rosalind Picard from MIT conducted a research on The Aesthetics Of Reading where they discovered that text that is typographically sound tends to be more engaging and attractive. Needless to say, more engaging text means that links will have a better chance to be noticed and clicked.
Key takeaway: Links placed in content that is visually simple, typographically sound, and easy to scan are more likely to be noticed by visitors.
The Limitations of Options
The established belief amongst mankind is that the more options there are the better it is for the people. However, there is ample proof in mainstream media on the limitations of having too many options. A good example is Barry Schwartz’ book Paradox of Choice where he states that life can become bitter if a person clings to as many options as possible.
Academically, the concept that having too many choices is actually detrimental to making a choice was proven by Columbia Business School’s Sheena Iyengar who conducted a social experiment in Menlo Park Draeger’s, a luxury store, with jam products.
Ms. Iyengar set up two sets of jams with one set having 24 choices and the other one having only 6 choices. Her findings showed that while the larger pile drew a bigger crowd, the smaller pile ended up with more conversions.
Statistically, 30 percent of the people who came to the smaller pile made a purchase while only 3 percent of the people at the larger pile bought anything. The logic behind this phenomenon is fairly simple in that having more choices makes making the choice more difficult because more factors have to be taken into account.
Key takeaway: Keep the number of links on a page low so people would be more compelled to click on them.
Playing Emotions Up
Man, at heart, is a social animal and the cause for this is nothing but the emotional dependence of each human being. Even an individual who claims to be completely rational and emotionless while making decisions is susceptible to emotions. The only difference is that he is less susceptible.
A click occurs when the individual feels emotionally compelled to follow through on a hint of some reward. Click is the precursor to the fulfilment of a desire which can be qualified further in terms of the release of dopamine, which is widely regarded as the pleasure hormone of the human body.
Dopamine is closely connected to a person’s satisfaction and happiness levels. It is released when a person is satisfied or happy with something and it, in turn, causes happiness and satisfaction. In essence, new and more rewarding information is the quest of every individual on the internet.
A page where links and headlines are created in a manner that appeals to the curiosity and natural reward system of a person will get far more links than another more mundanely created page.
The trick is to create links and headlines that entice the reader. This means that while information must be provided, it must be couched in such a manner that it is alluring to the reader. The allure is how the link will get a click.
Key takeaway: Whether a link gets clicked or not depends on how the anchor text and its surrounding text are created.
Placing Links and What Anchor Texts to Use
The ‘click here’ syndrome is widespread on the internet. The vast majority of pages stuck firmly in the mire of mediocrity tend to use the phrase ‘click here’ as the anchor text.
This phrase, unfortunately, is as compelling as tumbleweed floating across a barren landscape. The reason why the phrase is so ineffective is that it does not give the visitor any incentive to click on the link.
As people are always looking for rewards and want the easiest way to get to those rewards, these two words fail to inspire anyone to even go to the trouble of clicking on a link.
What is the alternative to ‘click here’?
As per Anthony T of the Smashing Magazine, anchor texts should either focus on nouns or proper nouns if they are to attract clicks from visitors. Nouns are good as anchor text because they describe or allude to something that can be visualised by the visitor while proper nouns are useful because they tend to be unique in the context, are simple, and can help visualisation as well.
On the other hand, anchor texts should, in the majority of cases, not be based on verbs because these tend to be vague and ambiguous. The anchor text also needs to be at the end of the sentence as opposed to being in the middle or one.
Placing anchor text in the middle of a sentence creates conflict in the reader in terms of whether he should finish the sentence that he is reading or click on the link. Often, this little millisecond of a dilemma is enough for the reader to forego clicking on the link.
Key takeaway: Ideally the links should be placed on anchor texts that comprise either nouns or proper nouns and are located at the end of sentences as opposed to in the middle.