Changing habits is hard to do


Humans being humans, we tend to believe and cling to the first version of a rule that we hear. Think about the grammar "rules" your granny taught you, such as "Never split an infinitive". That rule never was true or appropriate for the English language. It probably arose from the Latin model of the first English grammarians. In Latin you can't split an infinitive, they thought, therefore in English you mustn't split an infinitive. I suppose — but how would I know?

Here is another early rule revered beyond its limitations:

"When people click a link, the headline of the web page they arrive on should always match the link-text they have clicked."

You can see the logic behind this: web readers should get no nasty surprises. We click, assuming we know what the page will be about. The page must obviously be the right page or it is annoying and time-wasting.

The link=headline equation is perfect when the link is embedded in the content of a page. There, writers are free to use enough words to give the gist of a page. But when the link is a menu item, the rule turns to custard. It produces mountains of web pages with 1- or 2-word headlines, generic labels that provide almost no information.

Anyone who has learned this rule early in their web career will find it hard to change. But change they must, if readers are to grasp the point of a page in a glance lasting less than one second—as we do.

It's worse when the web developer has the link=headline rule embedded in the brain. Then entire web sites are locked into a cycle: writers are not permitted or enabled write a powerful headline, but must use a wimpy label like Products. That's fine for breadcrumbs, no good for a headline.

If your web site uses this system, here's a workaround. Follow the headline with a sub-headline that says what the page is *really* for or about.

P.S. The photo shows me trying to change my walking habits on instructions from my physio. Sometimes I remember. Sometimes not.

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