A question I get asked frequently is whether to provide multiple links to the same content from the same page. While the intent is good, the long-term outcome is not what you might expect.
The answer is generally no. In many situations, it’s better to streamline your interface with a few clear choices than to offer more links intended to capture a broader audience.
Reasons you might link to the same thing more than once
Provide safety nets: If people don’t notice the link the first time, maybe they will notice the second occurrence as they scroll the page. The redundancy may minimize individual differences: one person might notice the link at the top, while another person might notice it at the bottom. Showing links in multiple places is thus hypothesized to capture a broader audience.
Deal with long pages: Having to scroll all the way up to the top of an overly long page is time-consuming. Offering users alternative ways to access links will help alleviate the pain.
Create visual balance: Empty space is common on top-level (wayfinding) pages, where content might be sparse or nonexistent. Filling in awkward white space with extra copies of links will make the page look more balanced.
Follow the evidence: Analytics show that traffic to desired destination pages increase when links to them are duplicated.
Why Redundant Links Are a Bad Idea (Most of the Time)
Redundancy can be good or bad depending on when it’s applied. Each of the explanations above may sound reasonable. However, relying on redundancy too frequently or without careful consideration can turn your site into a navigation quagmire.
Google’s head of search spam Matt Cutts said:
(1)” PageRank flows to each link individually as it would any other link on the page, at least according to the original PageRank document.”
(2) “Anchor text may vary depending on time. Matt said, last time he looked, which was in 2009, they only counted the anchor text from the first link. But he said Google may change that over time; in fact, he said it may not work that way now. This means, if you have two links to the same page from a specific page, but the anchor text in the first is different than the last, Google in 2009 would have used the first link’s anchor text.”
Rand Fishkin from Moz.com said:
“As far as PR “leaks” go, ideally you’d only want one link from any page to any other, but the original PR formula appears to do this for you, as they don’t consider multiple votes for a URL by a single page to provide benefit (each page can only vote for another once).”
However, it appears there is no penalty for having more than one link to the same page on an individual page. It is believed Google will consider the first link on the page for link juice, and just ignore the duplicate links that follow.
So what’s the big deal about having a few duplicate links?
Each additional link increases the interaction cost required to process the link because it rises the number of choices people must process. The fewer the choices, the faster the processing time.
Each additional link depletes users’ attention because it competes with all others. Users only have so much attention to give and often don’t see stuff that’s right on the screen. So when you grab more attention for one link, you lose it for the others: there’s substantial opportunity cost to extra linking.
Each additional link places an extra load on users’ working memory because it causes people to have to remember whether they have seen the link before or it is a new link.
Are the two links the same or different?
Users often wonder if there is a difference that they missed. In usability studies, we often observe participants pause and ponder which they should click. The more courageous users click on both links only to be disappointed when they discover that the links lead to the same page. Repetitive links often set user up to fail.
Extra links waste users’ time whenever users don’t realize that two links lead to the same place: if they click both links, then the second click is wasteful at best.
At worst, users also don’t recognize that they’ve already visited the destination page, causing them to waste even more time on a second visit to that page. (Remember that to you, the distinctions between the different pages on your site are obvious.
Not so for users: we often see people visit the same page a second time without realizing that they’ve already been there.)
Only show what’s needed. Nothing more.
Double linking on pictures and icons with their corresponding text is OK
It is ok when a picture and its label both link to the same place. That would provide a bigger click target (helpful for mobile users), but would not cause user confusion.
Similarly, combining an icon with a text label doesn’t create confusing redundancy. In both cases, users will consider the two interface elements to be a single unit and thus they only perceive one link, even if there are two links in the underlying page code.
How to Decide When to Use Redundancy
Let’s reexamine the (often legitimate) reasons organizations give for having redundancy. Can these problems be solved without redundant links and are redundant links ever justified?
Provide safety nets: The practice of adding safety nets can get out of hand quickly if you try to accommodate every situation. In many cases, making a link more noticeable by placing it prominently in an expected location on the page can yield better results than duplicating it elsewhere on the same page.
Place common links in standard locations and people will go there. When it comes to navigation, following user expectations usually results in better outcomes than forcing efficiency.
Before you provide redundant systems for navigation, make sure you have sufficient information about typical user scenarios and behaviors of your target users.
If you have strong evidence to support the need for duplicate links, such as when different user groups expect to find the links in different areas of the page, make sure to choose those links carefully.
Pick only a few of the highest-priority links to duplicate. Keep in mind that redundancy can serve one group, but hurt another.
Place redundant links far apart from each other. If they can be seen together within the same view, then it’s an indication that you may have too much redundancy.
Deal with long pages: Saving people from having to scroll excessively is a good reason to place a few duplicate links at the top and bottom of webpages. However, the key word here is ‘excessively’.
Duplicating links is usually not necessary if your pages are 2–3 screens long. People don’t mind a reasonable amount of scrolling to acquire a target if they know where to look.
In cases when the page is extremely long, such as when the same long-form content is presented on mobile devices, having links at the bottom of pages can be a time-saver.
However, you can’t count on people scrolling all the way to the bottom to get to the links, so having a Back to top or sticky menu feature might be better solutions to the problem of excessive scrolling.
Create visual balance: This is probably the worst reason to have redundancy. Filling empty space with links is a bad strategy, yet so many organizations do it.
Make the effort to fill in the empty space with valuable content. Surface interesting and relevant information such as facts, announcements, and high-priority items that might be hidden under deep menus or submenus.
Follow the evidence: I’m not surprised to hear that page traffic increases when duplicate links to that page are added. Such statistics may sound compelling, but they are often deceiving. Many marketers rely on page views as the prized metric for measuring success.
But page views are easy to inflate (for instance, due to pogosticking) and often give you little insight into how usable or engaging your site is. Remember, clicks don’t equate to reading or interest.
They may include undesirable actions such as when people click on the wrong thing because it has a low information scent, click on the same thing twice, or backtrack because they didn’t find what they needed the first time.
It’s true that duplicating a link can increase overall traffic to a destination, but that’s simply because you are promoting that item more heavily than others and giving it more screen space.
Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture by focusing only on one metric: the extra traffic from one page might simply be taken away from other pages.
Worse, while short-term traffic to the double-linked area can indeed increase, the long-term value of the website could easily decrease, as users get more confused and less efficient in using the site, which will reduce their likelihood of returning.
If a page is truly important for your business and you need to increase traffic to it, simply devote more space to the one link you want to emphasize, instead of duplicating it and increasing cognitive strain.
Providing redundancy on webpages can sometimes help people find their way. However, redundancy increases the interaction cost. Duplicating links causes cognitive strain.
Even if you increase traffic to a specific page by adding redundant links to it, you may lose return traffic to the site from users who are confused and can’t find what they want.