What the text of a particular link means to someone will be influenced by the task they are trying to complete. 

Recently I watched as customers tried to find configuration information for Product X. They got to a page where there was a description of an exhibition where Product X would be showcased. Underneath the description was a link titled “Go Now.” They clicked on it, but not because they wanted to go to the exhibition. They wanted to configure Product X. They had quickly scanned the text, picked up some information scent by reading the words “Product X.” They didn’t read on, they just hunted for the associated link. The link could have stopped them if it had said “Conference details” or “Sign up for conference.” Instead, it said: “Go Now.” In their fast calculating brain they wanted to "go now" and configure the product.

The way people understand what is on a page is colored by the type of task they want to complete. They scan the environment constantly seeking clues that will get them on the right path for task completion. If there is a link called “Solutions” then people who are doing troubleshooting will often click it because they want a solution to their problems. They won’t find a solution. What they will find is lots of marketing and selling and that just frustrates them.

As people click deeper into a site they subconsciously believe that everything around them is getting narrower and deeper. When they get to a homepage for Product X and see links for Support and Communities, they instinctively think that these links will bring them to the support or communities sections for Product X. In the vast majority of cases that’s not what happens. Instead, they get sent to the Support homepage or the Communities homepage, and they have to start a new journey to get to relevant Product X information. That’s frustrating.

We know why organizations do this. It’s cheaper and easier to design and manage. All you need is one link back to the support homepage, rather than a whole series of links to the dedicated support section for each product. This deep linking takes time and effort and you have to actively maintain the links because they can break over time.

What are the costs of not making it easier for the customer? They get confused, annoyed and frustrated. What’s the cost of that? It’s worth calculating. Year in, year out, the number one reason for customer confusion on the Web is confusing menus and links. So basic, so essential, and yet so hard to fix because most organizations have no measure of what confusion costs. We really do need a measure for customer effort.

Customers who need to make a lot of effort are more likely to leave for a competitor. Confused customers are less likely to buy as much as they wanted to. Annoyed customers are more likely to pick up the phone or send an email.

Linking is the art of the Web. The number one way to reduce customer effort on the Web is to have clear menus and links.