Use link titles as a check on your architecture decisions

Recently at work, there was a discussion about link titles, their utility, when to use them, when not to and so forth. Link titles are those attributes you insert into a link tag that helps set expectations for users of where a link will take them. Conceptually, they’re easy to understand and rationalize. The hard part is actually writing them. I’m certainly guilty of writing banal descriptions that would make you wonder why I included one at all. But since no one ever calls you on them, it’s easy to let them slide. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that the seeming chore of title tags is actually an excellent check on your site’s information architecture. Let me explain.

Since title tags are an exercise in telling people what they’ll find behind a link before they actually go there, the act of writing it requires you to justify the relevance of the link in the first place. If you’re at Apple’s website on the Macbook page, you might see a link to their Macbook Pro page. Makes logical sense, right? If you’re interested in a Macbook, you might be interested in stepping up to a Pro model. A title tag might say “Step up to a Macbook Pro for added performance, storage, memory and more.” The sentence establishes relevance and a reason why you should click or not click. Job done, move on.

Let’s take another example, however. Let’s say you’re on a university’s annual report site, on any page. There’s a global link to the chancellor’s site. You write a link title that says… what? “Go to the website for Chancellor so and so.” No, that’s too obvious. “Get information about Chancellor so and so.” No, that’s not relevant to the annual report as a whole. “Get Chancellor so and so’s impressions on the year’s events.” No, if that information existed, it would be part of the annual report site itself.

The above reasoning hints at the utility of link titles. Writing them forces you to double check your architecture. Why does a link exist on this particular page or in the global nav? Is it relevant to include here versus over there? How does the inclusion of this link in this area on this page help the visitor accomplish their goals or further their aims?

All of these questions should have been asked early in the process, but things slip through or circumstances change. Writing link titles help verify that your user experience goals are kept intact and on track. Try it, it works.

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