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Website Decisions VII - Linking

Dustin Schwerman
 


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If you've been following the path outlined in this series you should be almost at the point of having a basic website set up. With keywords determined, graphics created, layout established, and some content written, it is time to turn your series of pages into a single cohesive site. That means linking. There are several ways to link to different pages, each with its own benefits and hindrances. Do not assume that links are not integral to the user's experience. In fact, in their own way, they might be one of the most important parts of your design.

This is because, as explained in the content article, you don’t want to inundate your visitors with all of your information on one page. You want them to navigate your site, to get their questions answered, to get your points made, and to eventually purchase your product. No matter how good a page looks, no matter how riveting its content, no matter how efficient its keyword selection, without an effective linking scheme it is of no use to you. If your visitors cannot get to other important pages easily, all you have is a very impressive way to wave goodbye.

Thus you have image links. Links that are designed as visually impressive, possibly animated graphics. These are highly useful, because they attract the eye and clearly represent the primary places to visit. Use image links for those pages that you want to make sure visitors reach, because these links are the ones that are most likely to attract a click. You should have a section of your layout designed for these links, and keep the same set of links on each page.

What links should be made into images? Home is always a good choice, allowing visitors to return to your main page from any other. Contact is critical; you want your visitors to always know how to get in touch with you with any questions, comments, or suggestions they may have. If your site doesn’t have the information a given user wants, and that user cannot figure out how to get in touch with you, it will probably simply leave. Aside from those two major links, important sections or obvious questions deserve button links. Pricing is always good, as well as the page that might lead to all of your other content. Image links, in short, should represent the main sections of your site.

Within a section you want users to navigate easily. However, if you have a large site, image or text links will take up too much space. Thus, drop-down menus—whether standard html selection forms or more advanced image-based menus—are highly useful. For added usability, you can even make your image links into image-based menus, putting your entire site at your user’s fingertips. These sort of links allow the user to quickly move from page to page within sections, and take up little space until the user clicks or hovers over one of the menus.

But users won’t be the only visitors. You also have the search engines to concern yourself with, and they follow text links best. As such, to make sure your site is search engine friendly, you should have a text link to every main section somewhere on every page (typically in a small font down at the bottom, usable if the user wishes but also out of the way). These text links should also include a link to a site map, which contains a text link for every page in your site. In this way, the search engines (and users as well) can get from any page to any other page by following no more than two links.

The goal with links is to make the site as easy and intuitive as possible to navigate. You don’t want a visitor to have to guess about where it is going. Remember the cardinal rule that if someone is looking for information on the Internet, that person is probably impatient. When deciding what links to use and where to put them, make sure that visitors can get wherever they need to go, without dominating the screen with a massive wall of links.

Copyright © 2007 Dustin Schwerman.

Dustin Schwerman is the primary web designer at Truly Unique Website Design . Truly Unique specializes in impressive, custom sites designed to capture the essence of the businesses they represent, as well as creating useful web-based programs to improve and simplify some of the tasks of running a business.

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