16 January 2018

Don’t Tell Me Where to Look! Directional Language Has to Stop

by Stephanie Lummis

Stop giving people directions in your web copy.

Seriously – it’s been 24 years. People are aware of website conventions like hyperlinks, buttons, and lists.

directional language above a stop sign
Stop unnecessary directional language

Yet for some reason, people still feel the need to give instructions on how to interact with elements on the page. They write things like:

  • Download by clicking the box on the right
  • See the form below and complete to…
  • Please select from our list of services on the left
  • Scroll down and click the green button

Good content doesn’t need instructions

If you feel the need to give instruction, the interaction is too complex and unusable. Simplify it and eliminate the need for directions.
Directional text on a call to action buttonInstead of:
“Click on any of the links below to learn more and access these marketing tools.”
Rewrite as:
“You’ll find all the tools you need to jumpstart your marketing.”
This positions the activity for the audience and has a casual tone. And you’ll avoid these drawbacks of directional language:

  • It uses more words and characters – in an environment where people don’t read, less is more.
  • It meanders to the point. People are task-oriented so give them what they want.
  • The key message will get ignored. Typically it is the directional text that gets the link. This decreases the likelihood it will get clicked.

Want fewer clicks? Tell me to ‘Click here’

I did usability tests a few years ago for a clothing retailer. One of the tasks was to order a particular size of an item, based on some measurements. All of the testers made it to the page with the link to the sizing chart – only 1 of them found it. The link stated, “Click here to find your size.”

People don’t read. They scan, and link text stands out since it is a different colour. My recommendation? Link the words “Find your size” and eliminate the rest.

In addition to the language, there are ways to use typography and other design elements to communicate direction. Talk to your designer.

  • Create visual hierarchy with headings and subheadings (H1 – H6) to guide the eye down the page
  • Designate a colour that is only used for call-to-action buttons
  • Always put the hyperlink on the keyword phrase that tells you what’s at the other end of the link!

Simplify your language

Directional language makes your voice sound stilted. More importantly, you are doing a disservice to your audience. Eliminate it and your content will flow better and you’ll sound more casual and approachable.

Think your content could be simplified? Start with a user experience audit.