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FutureNow Article
Friday, Sep. 28, 2007

How to Write Persuasive Links

By Jeff Sexton
September 28th, 2007

links.jpgOur response to Marketing Sherpa‘s recent test of click-through rates for anchor text links caused some healthy debate among people who, for the most part, seem to agree with each other.

Here are the linked phrases Marketing Sherpa tested, followed by the results expressed as a change in click-through conversions:

  • Click to continue”: 8.53%
  • Continue to article”: 3.3%
  • Read more”: (-)1.8%

So, yes, “Click to continue” was the clear winner. But look at what it was being compared to! As calls to action go, those links stink*. I especially liked Brian “AdWords Man” Carter’s analysis:

“My take on ‘click to CONTINUE’ working better than the ‘read more’ or ‘continue to article’ was that continue is an innocuous word, whereas a lot of people don’t like reading or think it’s work, and even if they are reading, don’t remind them that they are or will have to after they click. Likewise, ‘article’ brings the person’s attention back to the larger context of what they’re doing, as opposed to ‘continue’ which allows them to keep their head down and their brain engaged on the exact same track that brought them to the link.”

In other words, you’re comparing a relatively clear and non-friction-inducing call to action to two losers: one using a rather flaccid verb, and the other creating friction in the mind of the reader.

Copyblogger Brian Clark’s — not to be confused with Carter — statement that “…if you want someone to do something, you’ll get better results if you tell them exactly what to do” has to be understood within the context of his larger body of work. For instance, consider it in light of this quote from his most recent post:

“Persuasion is generally an exercise in creating a win-win situation. You present a case that others find beneficial to agree with.”

Basically, what he’s saying (and correct me if I’ve misinterpreted this, Brian) is that once you’ve provided readers with “a scent trail worth following,” and a win-win situation or offer, it’s best to clearly tell those readers HOW to take that next action — and make sure they know how to get that win!

Don't hate the straw man...That’s a far cry from the straw man Clark’s detractors so readily maul when deriding his perceived advocacy of “using ‘Click here’ all over the place.”

Looking beyond the straw man (define) to a more contextual understanding of Brian’s advice, what Future Now teaches is largely similar. The difference is that we explicitly state that HOW to take the action must be appropriately influenced by, and combined with, a (re)statement of WHY they should want to do it. In presenting the win-win proposal, we tell our clients to focus on the visitor’s win, not their own. (The JigsawHealth.com case study is a great example.)

See, Brian does this intuitively all the time; the gestalt of his writing agrees with this approach. Unfortunately, though, Brian’s too good a writer, and blogger, for the rest of us to, um, copy.

Here’s our best crack at a formula for persuasive links: imperative verb + implied benefit.

Instead of this:

  • Steve found an investment secret that changed his life. Read more…

Or this:

  • Steve found an investment secret that changed his life. Click here for the investment strategy of a lifetime.

You get this:

  • Steve found an investment secret that changed his life. See how you may be able to double your income in one year.

Notice that the call to action in #1 lacked the benefit to the reader, and that even though #2 stated the benefit for the reader, the imperative verb wasn’t congruent with the benefit like it is in #3.

We feel, and have usually seen with our client’s Websites, that the formula infused in the third example outperforms other options. And I personally believe that this formula offers a contextual understanding of Brian Clark’s advice.

But, hey, this is the web, right? Why not test it out? Next Tuesday, October 2nd, Thursday, October 4th, we’ll announce details on how you can volunteer your site for a little free A/B testing on this very subject. Stay tuned!

[*Although generic, “Click to continue” is sometimes good enough. Use it sparingly, though, since it only works in limited contexts. For instance, if it's used repeatedly on a page that overtly links to similar content.]

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Comments (43)

  1. You make some excellent points Jeff. Although “click to continue” works within specific contexts, a more embedded call to action approach is more successful. Now Marketing Sherpa only tested with the 3 calls to action listed above; why they chose those specific ones remains a mystery.

  2. I love these before/after examples. Thank you.

  3. Is the lead in to the link as important as the link itself?

    If so anyone know how to improve the lead it text to the link?

    cheers

  4. This is something I am most interested in. I have a website that sells Audio Bibles. Each item has 2 different chapters, customers can listen to, to get an idea of the speed of the reading and the sound of the person’s voice reading it. Orginally I had the links listed as “Mark Chapter 4″ or ‘John Chapter 7″. After getting an idea from Bryan, I changed it to “Listen to God create the Heavens and the Earth, Genesis 1″ and so forth. Letting the reader see what they were going to be able to listen to and the location in the Bible where it is at.

    I am not sure this is the best way to do it, and not sure on the best call to action, “Listen to” versus “Hear” or something else.

    Any feedback? Thanks………..

  5. ALL this amazes me frankly. If I were interested enough to read the article summary I don’t see why I would NOT click any of the links suggested. To me it makes no difference…I’m just looking for a continuation of the article. (ahh…maybe with that thought in my head, I would SEE “click to CONTINUE” versus the others…I’m not sure). Apparantly, I’m not the norm…and that’s what I take from this. Most people build sites and calls to action based on what they would do. We all have to just suck it up and test; knowing that when it comes to your audience you don’t know everything.

  6. BINGO Greg! – “Most people build sites and calls to action based on what they would do. We all have to just suck it up and test; knowing that when it comes to your audience you don’t know everything.”

  7. Greg is a smart person. :)

  8. I think I’m right in thinking that ‘click here’ is picked up as spam by most of the email filters.

  9. Thanks for the mention, Jeff. Your formula, imperative verb + implied benefit, makes total sense to me… Looking forward to results of tests of that hypothesis!

    And the choice of which verb, and which benefit is also a field ripe for debate and testing. For the imperative verb, for example, it could be see, get, find, learn… yes I’d imagine there are people and contexts where learning would be a desired action- and others where that would be a turn off.

    Super interesting stuff- experiments to understand the psychology of action and best stimulate action-

    I liked Ayat’s point, which if I may expand, is that tests and research can only be as good as their design. In my alternative life as an acupuncturist, I read a lot of acupuncture research, and was constantly frustrated by why the MD’s running the tests chose the acupuncture points they did- if you choose the wrong ones, of course it doesn’t work!

    Another thing I learned about research is that it’s easy to forget that the conclusions you draw from research are often just further hypotheses and to keep testing.

  10. [...] value of using generic calls to action (e.g, "click here"). Sure, we've shared our formula for writing persuasive links, but that doesn't excuse flaunting our clients' landing page optimization results. So, [...]

  11. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links Our response to Marketing Sherpa’s recent test of click-through rates for anchor text links caused some healthy debate among people who, for the most part, seem to agree with each other. (tags: content copywriting links tips) [...]

  12. I’m taking this advice to heart and trying a new call to action for the sale taking place on my glass jewelry and art jewelry website. Regardless of the results, I like the new version way better! Will have to evaluate many other links.

    Before:
    Inventory reduction sale. Over 140 pieces of glass jewelry discounted 30% to 65% off until October 22!

    Click “here” to start shopping.

    After:
    Inventory reduction sale. Over 140 pieces of glass jewelry discounted 30% to 65% off until October 22!

    An amazing selection awaits you – “Shop for discounted art jewelry” now.

  13. How about something like this…its much shorter!

    Inventory reduction sale from x to xx October. Get 30-60% off on over 140 pieces of glass jewelry now!

  14. Thanks for kindly reminding us that it really always goes back to the basics.

    It’s so easy to loose sight of the objective of a web page – a good old fashioned call to action.

    Again…thanks.

  15. I know that the tried and true always has an allure…but so what! You don’t have to stick with just ONE ad. Try STUFF. This ad is sooooo boorriinngg. Who hasn’t had an inventory reduction sale? Sorry but it doesn’t get my attention no matter how “short” it gets. It’s still cliche’.

    Hopefully you don’t expect me to deliver the coolest thing I’ve ever heard (that might take 5-10 minutes…: )

    But how about something like: “Being first pays off! 60% discount today only. Tomorrow 55%. Next day 50%! Get it! Click “here” and get the top discounts on the coolest glass jewelry before it disappears!

    It’s not polished but its fun. In your ad, what compels me to go now? You pretty much told me I have until October 22nd. Give me a reason not to wait, not to take this chance. In my opinion, don’t worry so much about the words…just be more creative than the next guy.

  16. I’m actually surprised that people have not known about this sooner. This is the genesis of long tail key words. but thanks to marketing sherpa for pointing out something we as marketers, tend to forget from time to time.

  17. Does the length of the amount of words that is clickable matter?

  18. Bobby,

    We tend to agree with Jared Spool’s take on this:

    “…7-12 words is what users need to ensure *their* trigger words
    (not the *designer’s* trigger words) are visible. It turns out to be a game of probabilities. With less than 7 words, the likelihood that a trigger word appears in the link drops substantially.

    Now, there are some links that only needs a single word. For example, when we tested HP.com for people who needed to download software, the word “DRIVERS” worked just fine. Every user we tested found what they wanted with that single-word link.

    But most links aren’t that convenient. They require more words to allow the user to succeed better.”

    Feel free to read more from this quote if you want:

    http://www.info-arch.org/lists/sigia-l/0508/0136.html

  19. I always tend to put longer and keyword rich text in the anchor text (even in-context links). This achieves a much higher SEO score while increasing the chance of having the user’s trigger words in the blue-underlined text that stands out.

  20. [...] "How to Write Persuasive Links" — [...]

  21. What’s better…All one link “Get more information about On-Demand Online Training.” OR “Click here to get more information about On-Demand Online Training.”

  22. Shannon, in my opinion, neither- use your on demand online training phrase (is that your SEO keyword?) but instead of “information” etc. put in the benefit they’ll receive- so that they’ll be able to what? Of course you should test it, but that’s my 2 cents on the copywriting.

  23. Shannon,

    Brian makes some good points. And, in your case, you may not necessarily want to use just the title of a given course you’re linking to for inspiration on how to phrase the link. Think about what the person will get out of the course, then use a bit of that language.

    Keep in mind, too, that those are very long sentences to be linking. Also, getting “more information” about “on-demand online training” feels a bit jargon-heavy. Sure, that all means something, but the end result is vague and generic. Try making your links shorter and specific to the benefit your audience will get from a given course that you’re linking to.

    And, as Brian said, test it!

  24. [...] Write persuasive hyperlinks that fit into your [...]

  25. Just working on a new site, thnx for the clear advise.
    Will be using them and returning the results here.

    Thijs

  26. [...] write a lot about linking especially when it comes to persuading readers to take [...]

  27. [...] write a lot about linking especially when it comes to persuading readers to take [...]

  28. [...] wrote about his research about the importance of keywords in your hyperlinks. Jeff Sexton shares how to write more persuasive hyperlinks and calls to action so you don’t sound like a [...]

  29. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links [...]

  30. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links [...]

  31. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links [...]

  32. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links [...]

  33. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links [...]

  34. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links [...]

  35. [...] How to Write Persuasive Links [...]

  36. Was there any correlation to the number of words used for the continuation link or is it irrelevant or possibly just not tested? Basically wondering if “click to continue” would get around the same click percentage of for more information click to continue”?

  37. great info! keep it up

  38. What about instead of “See how you may be able to double your income in one year.” change it too “See how you too can double your income in one year”, too strong? whats the drawback?

  39. ahh I never was aware of this or you can say never realized it might make such a difference. i would take help from someone to set me up a simple test for link text testing

  40. [...] How to Write Faster, Better, and Easier – PickTheBrain | Motivation and Self Improvement [...]

  41. It’s a question of typing “Adwords” into Google and seeing what copy Google write in their ads in order to entice and deliver… FYI it’s “check out” or “See now”

  42. It is a remarkable thing when one word can motivate a person to make a move.

    I can see how phrasing your link could have a greater impact on click through rate.

    I appreciate the feedback on this. It got me to brainstorm about how my links look and what I am saying to my visitors.

  43. [...] 10 Writing Tips from the Masters: A concise list of tips from great writers throughout history. How to Write Persuasive Links: Tips on writing persuasive anchor texts to drive conversions from [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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