Summary: Links that follow up on the user’s current interest encourage site exploration and reduce bounce rates. With the proper invitation, people will stay longer on your site.
Too many websites miss opportunities to engage readers. The problem is often not the content, but its discoverability: it’s about visitors not knowing more of it exists.
Many people arrive at websites by clicking on links from search engines or outside sources. Their initial intent is to get to that one article that answers their information needs and search engines make it easy for people to leave after a quick one-page dip. However, even goal-oriented users can be swayed to browse if they notice links that match their interests.
If your site analytics show a high bounce rate, it may be time to evaluate how well your site provides readers with relevant content. Many factors — such as credibility and content quality — contribute to pageviews and bounce rates. However, evaluating related links might be a good first step.
Global navigation is crucial for providing one-click access to the homepage and a simple overview of the site’s broader offerings: it will help those users who want to see completely different things than their initial question. But most users retain a sufficiently one-track mind to be more easily tempted by narrow offerings that are closely tied to their current interest.
Unfortunately, users often overlook related links because they are:
- Unavailable or irrelevant
- Placed in areas where people don’t look
- Graphical and looking like ads
- Written in a manner that discourages scanning
Here are 7 guidelines for creating discoverable related links.
1. End Articles with Links to Related Content
Always offer related content and or strong calls to action at the end of articles. Don’t shut the door on your readers when you have answered their initial question. Your article might be fine, yet not enough for everybody. Guide users who want to know more about the topic. Like a polite host, keep the conversation going by providing additional insight when the audience is most receptive. And in the case of articles and blogs, maximum receptivity is often when people are done reading a post. Offer a set of related content as cues for the next step. Doing so improves the user experience and translates into improved pageviews and a boost in your site’s ranking.
2. Choose Relevant Related Links
One of the biggest complaints readers have about related content is the lack of relevance. Duh, they’re supposed to be related. “Related” content must match people’s current goals: it’s a narrow-casting mechanism. Web users are goal-driven individuals who emphasize the need for quick information retrieval. People value sites that offer suggestions tailored to their interests.
Until we invent mind-reading, it’s impossible to be 100% accurate in matching the user’s precise current interest. Luckily, knowing what page the user is currently reading provides a good proxy for that user’s current interest. With a small, judiciously selected, number of follow-up options, you have a good chance of getting close, and the user can apply their personal intelligence to screen the links and choose the best one. We suggest around 5–7 related links to avoid overwhelming users. (Too many links aren’t helpful; they become an ordeal.)
Ensure that the suggestions truly relate to the current article. Showing the same suggestions repeatedly or indiscriminately makes people feel alienated and unheard. Presenting appropriate suggestions at the right time can make a positive difference in user satisfaction and loyalty. Develop a strong strategy for tagging content, which includes manual fine-tuning.
3. Consider Context When Judging Relevance
The strength of relevance differs from one situation to the next. The context of the reader’s situation affects how receptive people are to the content you suggest. Suggestions should match the mood of the user. Don’t appear insensitive by offering the wrong level of suggestions. For example, a person who wants the latest updates on a natural disaster will probably not appreciate suggestions about a health fad. But someone looking for current headlines may not mind seeing both stories featured together.
People who arrive at your site from search engines or referred links are generally focused on a specific topic or article. Their initial intent is to read one article and leave. Keep them engaged by offering them specialized links that match their interest. Knowing the keywords used to find your page provides additional insight into the user’s goals and should preferably be employed in adding relevancy to the selected follow-up links.
The deeper people are on your site, the more focused the offerings should be. It’s more appropriate to offer a broader range of articles on the homepage and section pages as they serve as a jumping board to content that people might be interested in, but not have thought about.
4. Avoid Placing High-Priority Links Among Stylized Content
“Banner blindness” has expanded beyond the deliberate act of not looking at banners to encompass avoidance of anything that usually signals irrelevant information or advertisements. This means that web users have trained themselves to divert their attention away from areas that they associate with advertising.
Traditionally, the right side of the page is reserved for advertisements and less important information. The visual design of this area can have a huge impact on whether or not people notice elements contained within it. The more the element looks like an ad, the more likely people will ignore it. The more ornate it is, the less compelling it becomes.
When designed well, sidebars can effectively increase content discoverability. If you want people to notice related links featured in the right side of the page, the right rail must be devoid of any promotional-looking visual elements. Position links to content away from the banner ads to avoid "guilt by association" and to fight against right-rail blindness.
5. Don’t Let Anything Come Between the Article and Related Links
Keep the scan path clear between the bottom of the article and the set of related link. Readers often don’t look beyond the current article or blog post when the links are not immediately available. Avoid blocking related content with nonessential elements or excessive white space. Both approaches provide a false indicator for the end of the page and deter people from scrolling beyond the article. Readers are more likely to notice the suggestions at the end of articles when they are presented immediately below the article.
6. Feature Relevant Categories
The heading label you choose for related links can affect whether or not people scan them. Category headings should help readers differentiate the topics and determine relevancy. Relevant and descriptive categories provide good information scent and help readers quickly identify topics.
7. Front-Load Hyperlinks with Keywords
You have a higher chance of people noticing and clicking on links when the most informative words are placed at the beginning of hyperlinks. Most people don’t read full phrases or sentences. Grab attention by communicating what the content is about within the first couple words. Good hyperlinks are salient, descriptive, and start with keywords.
Using related links is a great strategy for keeping people on your site and earning loyalty. Sites that offer useful suggestions encourage people to interact with them and to come back repeatedly. Maintain the conversation by ensuring that related links are written well and presented so that they get noticed.