teleportThink of travelling through the web via hyperlinks as a form of teleportation.  Now think of teleportation.  Specifically, if you really were teleporting what would be your main concerns?

1) You’d want to make darn sure you KNEW where you were going

2) Upon “landing,” you’d want to ensure you arrived in the right place

Those are two of the most important things you can learn about crafting and structuring your hyperlinks, and they translate as:

  • Word links so people can figure out where the link will take them, and
  • Match your headlines, pictures, and page content with visitor expectations created by the hyperlink they clicked on to get to your page.  Let them know they’re in the right place.

And yet these are also the two most frequently violated “rules” of hyperlinking.  E-mails frequently have call to action links/buttons that take you to a page that utterly fails to follow-up on the offer presented in the e-mail.  Call to action buttons meant to take you to a product page are often mislabeled as if they will place the item in your cart.  And so on.

Master these two basic lessons and you’ll have learned more than 90% of most Web users, and even most Web developers and (sad to say) more than a few copywriters.

And yet, those are just the basics.  Another, perhaps more sophisticated, way of looking at this is to say that every link represents a promise and every click represents permission.

The Promise

The promise comes from the expectations created by the hyperlink’s wording or label.  You’ve essentially promised the visitor that,  if they click on the link, they’ll be teleported to the kind of content they expect.  Which means that, on an emotional level, visitors will feel a site is “dishonest” if a link “tricks” them by teleporting them someplace unexpected or undesired.  Ouch!

More fundamentally, this also means that you, as the copywriter, have to craft links (and content) that offer forth promises compelling enough to motivate visitor clicks.  There is no gravity to an online conversion funnel; nothing will “pull” visitors through to the next click or micro-conversion except their own motivation based on promised benefits.

joeisuzu1In other words, you can’t take visitors where they don’t want to go.  You can’t force the conversation.  You have to offer to talk about what the prospective customer wants to talk about – what SHE finds important.  Ignoring a topic of conversation by not providing the appropriate link (or by failing to provide the right content on the other side of a link) is like a car salesman refusing to talk about the price of the car when asked.  It kills credibility and trust.

The Permission

The permission is what you get when a visitor clicks on your link, and permission is a copywriter’s best friend. Why?  Because the right hyperlink construction can give you permission to speak about things that you’d never get away with otherwise.  Here’s an example:

You’re crafting an About Us page that focuses primarily on a company’s history while throwing in a few credibility increasing features like a picture of the actual office and the team of employees, etc.  But what you might really want to do is openly brag about all the home-runs the company has had — except that you feel a self-promoting tone might be “against brand.”

So you simply use self-deprecating link that talks about “our brag sheet” (or something similar) that links to exactly the kind of self-promoting copy you knew you couldn’t get away with on the About Us page.  Why?  Because any reader who clicks on a link to your Brag Sheet has mentally given you permission to brag. Following that click, you can brag without looking like an egocentric jerk.

Similarly, you could link to that same kind of content with an “Our track record” link placed most anywhere else on the site.  Again, by clicking on “our track record” clients have given you permission to talk, at length, about the company’s successes.  Normally you’d want to talk about What’s In It For the Customer and how you can help them, but the link provides permission to ignore WIFFM for a bit while you build credibility.

First-Date-ConversationTo give you another analogy, this link permission for something like “Our Track Record” is kind of like a date explicitly asking: “So what about you? What’s your story?”

And if you ponder that analogy, especially in light of context, I’m sure you’ll come up with even more lessons about linking, persuasion, and online conversations 😉

In fact, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that last analogy. Tell me what you came up with…


  1. Charlie Moger on 01.14.2010

    Great way of putting it, Jeff. Don’t you think there’s a big trust piece to it as well? The more often you keep a promise the greater the visitor’s trust in you.
    .-= Charlie Moger´s last blog ..There’s something new coming soon =-.

  2. Tom Wanek on 01.15.2010

    Very good advice, Jeff. And if I remember correctly, Google AdWords even recommends that you match your ad’s promise to your site’s headline for better conversions.
    .-= Tom Wanek´s last blog ..Coca-Cola’s Feel Good Video: Branding Hit Or Miss? =-.

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