Are link previews important? UX Research

By Alejandra Bustos

How many times has this happened to you when sharing interesting content on social media?

link preview of a social media app showing only a part of an image depicting sneakers. It should say SNEAKER STORE, but only NEAKER STO is partially readable with some effort.

How many times has it been sent to you and a huge link full of numbers appears without any reference image?

We can guess: lots of times. You don't know what you're dealing with or where it might lead you, so you decide to ignore it and move on with your life.

Our early research

In the first stage we could only raise assumptions, so we began to investigate thoroughly and we found that it is not a very studied subject. What we did find out was where website views come from.

If we focus on e-commerce sites, according to Episerver's 2020 Retail Benchmark Report, the majority of website traffic comes from direct searches and paid search. However, social traffic has doubled from 4 to 8% in share of website traffic from early 2018 to late 2019. To some it might seem like a small number, but if you are part of the business world, you know that this increase is HUGE. And it will continue to grow.

Chart titled 'Traffic sources on Retail Sites' showing that within 2019 the trend has been negative for Organic and Paid searches, while it has been a positive one for Social. Why was this percentage so low until recently? The main reasons why users do not click links seem to be lack of interest and trust. There’s too much information. We are already used to “Five things you should know about blah blah blah”.

According to a Columbia University study, **59% of the people you share content with won't even see it. While Facebook surveyed users and found that 80% preferred links with headlines that helped them understand what an article was actually about.

We needed to know more.

All this has led us to have some clues but it still does not answer our questions, in fact, it generates many more and as we love challenges we set out to answer them by going to the first source: people.

As we mentioned in our blogpost Marketing strategy for humans, we are visual beings, so our main hypothesis is that well designed previews can increase trust in links since they offer a better visual experience, which could increase our clients websites CTR.

We conducted two tests; remote meetings with our UX researcher and a survey.

1. The interviews

The first one consisted of remote meetings with 27 users where we first talked about their habits on social media.

Given the nature of our service, we knew that we needed to recreate a navigation that would provide us with the most realistic answers possible, so we designed an interactive prototype with Figma simulating the Twitter platform. Within this simulation we presented our users with four scenarios:

  1. A feed where various publications were shared in the form of links, default previews and Flyyer previews. We asked volunteers to navigate as they normally would, clicking if something really caught their attention and to speak their thoughts out loud to us.

  2. In the second one, we did a direct comparison between the same publications from the first scenario.

  3. Simulation of a specific situation about searching for a new apartment to move in. There we showed default previews and Flyyer previews and make choose as many as they want, while explaining their decision to us.

  4. Finally, we simulated a chat where a close friend shared links and previews of a product, and we asked them to do the same as in the previous scenario.

Animated image showing moving stream of link previews that were presented to the test subjects.

The results

The conversation confirmed that when buying in online stores, 92% of users go directly to websites when they need something very specific, however, 74% said that before buying they usually send links or ask for references to their close as they seek to compare prices.

On the first part of the test we obtained a click through rate estimation, increasing clicks by an average of 57.6%. We could also see how users did not even notice the links without a preview.

Infographic showing that the CTR increase for better flyyers was of 57.6% on average

The second part did not give us major insights statistically speaking, since in 62.5% of the cases the previews with Flyyer had a 100% success rate over the default ones. Nevertheless it was a huge motivation and it gave us the clue that we were on the right track 😊.

In the third test, 85% chose the Flyyer previews, arguing that the information displayed was very useful, however, some of them also stated that due to the quiality of this information there was the possibility of not clicking if it helped them to discover that the apartment did not have the characteristics that they needed.

In the last test we tested trust. We designed previews for ice cream brands and arranged with default previews and written links.

Here, users stopped to examine closely, but they stated that if they trust who sent them, they probably would not hesitate regardless of the preview, if and only if the subject was interesting, although the presence of logos of recognizable brands gave them the feeling of authenticity. Which led us to ask them what else they felt when they saw the images, and they answered: hunger.

Left side: two vertically stacked flyyers depicting icecream that don't show the full image. Right side: The same flyyers but this time horizontally placed and showing the whole content with additional design.

The insights that we were able to obtain from this first instance were:

  • The use of Flyyer using flyyer doubled (and a bit more) the CTR.
  • People don't usually look at links without previews (and trust us, brands that haven't solved this are many more than you might think)
  • If your goal is to simplify life for your users, giving them all the relevant information before they click will be very appreciated. We think that this could also reduce the gap between the number of visits and sales conversions.
  • But if visits are essential for the company, the information to be displayed must be chosen wisely, so you attract enough attention to prompt them to visit your webpage for more details.
  • Trust is a variable issue. There are users who trust their close eyes closed, while others are more cautious.
  • Images with logos gave them greater confidence and made them think less whether to click or not, since they assured them that the links would redirect them to an official page.
  • Designed previews allow to evoke sensations and show a context in which users could imagine themselves using the products or services.
  • We need to try those ice creams.

2. The survey

The second test was a two-part survey. In the first part, we sought to validate the results of the first test with a larger sample of people. In the second part we asked them about their preferences by presenting them with Flyyers with different types of visual and informational elements.

In a total of 203 respondents, 78% declared that they usually share links with their close friends, of which more than half said they do it frequently.

Horizontal bar chart showing how frequently users shared and were shared links. The difference between being shared and sharing links is very small. Approximately, 45% of the users shared links many times, 20% never, 23% few times and 12% always When asked how often they click on the links they receive, 70.9% said it depends. And what does it depend on? We asked them this question openly, so they could tell us as much as they wanted.

The responses were very interesting, some people elaborated more than others, but we managed to group the information into two categories with some subcategories.

Vertical bar chart showing how frequently users click on shared links on social media. It depends: 70.9%. Always: 22.2%. Never: 6.9%.

Users considered that the most important subjects when clicking a link are trust and interest. Sounds familiar?

Within the answers, people declared that the elements they pay most attention to are the previews, the URL's and the type of information or text on the preview. We believe that these concepts are directly related to the two categories that we mentioned in the previous paragraph, that is, by providing well designed images and the right information to users we can increase their trust and perhaps their interest.

Venn diagram composed of Trust, Interest, and their intersection, which is Images, Url's and Info. Later in the survey, we showed volunteers six concepts corresponding to items in a preview of both products and reading articles and asked them to rank them according to their level of importance.

The concepts associated with products were image, brand logo, sale information, price, shipping information and product description. The top 3 items were very clearly defined:

Infographic showing 6 ranks: First place is Image. Second is Price. Third is Description. Fourth is Logo. Fifth is Sale. Sixth is Shipping.

While the concepts related to reading articles were author, description, image, headline, logo and type of publication, and were ranked as follows:

Infographic showing 6 ranks: First place is Headline. Second is Image. Third is Description. Fourth is Logo. Fifth is Type. Sixth is Author. Here begins the second part.

First, we presented four Flyyers related to a news publication with little changes related to the type of information.

Infographic showing four ranked flyyers according to percentage, each representing the same link but with a different design. All show a picture of a politician and the text in the lower right corner. The first image has 44.3% (first place in the rank), and has additional informational text conveying the news category which is National, and the date, which is January 26. This text is in the same corner as the text "". The second place has 39.4% and shows the same information as the first, but with the additional information placed at the top left corner, although this time also showing the year. The third place has 9.4% and only has the category as additional information, placed in the top left corner. The fourth and last has 6.9% and has the same information as the third, but with the category placed along the "" text

In this question, respondents preferred the preview that contained the date of publication on the left side of the image. This could be explained with the theory that it is easier for our brain to process texts when they are located to the right side of our vision, as we explained in our blog “Catching attention: Guidelines”

We also wanted to know if the use of images changes the perception of a brand, or if it causes users a sensation, so we designed a Flyyer for an alcohol sales brand. The test consisted on comparing this design with the default preview and assigning a personality to the brand.

Flyyer with minimal design, only showing the logo of an alcoholic beverages brand. Next to it is a horizontal bar chart showing adjectives associated with percentages in descending order: Youthful with 43.2%, Relaxed with 26%, Expensive with 14.1%, Cheap with 6.8%, Exclusive with 4.7%

Respondents defined the personality perceived in the default preview as youthful and relaxed, while seeing the Flyyer preview this perception changed to a classy personality.

Flyyer representing same link as before, but with a different design. The logo is included in a photograpy background that shows a diagonaly distributed color layout with the colors being blue and light blue; on top of the surface stand two cups of an alcoholic beverage, with tropical style, and a full lemon fruit, with some blueberries next to one of the cups. The cups are at the left of the image, while the brand logo is on the right.

Then, we made users choose between pairs of Flyyers, changing only the information. In the first pair we used a preview showing in one the location, the price and the logo of the website, and a preview shoowing only the logo of the website and the characteristics of the apartment.

As stated by some questions back, number one pick was the preview where users could see the price, with 65.1% of the preferences.

Two ranked flyyers placed horizontally, with the first one noticeably bigger, both aligned on the bottom. Each shows almost the same design: A picture of an apartment, but with different information. The first has 65.1% and shows the price and the approximate location, while the second has 34.1% and shows the number of rooms, baths and square meters.

Then we presented another pair of Flyyers and we tried to ensure that the description under the image showed relevant information, in this case, the price and location of the apartment.

Two ranked flyyers placed horizontally, with the first one noticeably bigger, both aligned on the bottom. Each shows almost the same design: A picture of an apartment and the number of rooms, baths and square meters, but with different additional information. The first has 75.4% and shows the location and price. The second does not display additional information and has 24%.

Our hypothesis was that the difference in the results would be narrow, since both previews in their entirety had the same information. Well, people continued to prefer the option with the price and the location within the image.

Finally, we asked if during all the examples users read the descriptions below the image, to which most of them answered they did.

Infographic partially showing a flyyer, with focus on the text below the image that most link previews have by default. In this case this text has a brief piece of information saying the price and the location, along with a call to action. An accompanying graph tells that 77% of users read this information, while 23% didn't.

To sum up:

  • People share links mainly via chat to their closest ones.
  • Although there is trust with who shares a link, users are cautious when deciding whether to open one or not.
  • Trust and interest both relies on the preview’s image, type of information and URL. In this order.
  • Adding your brand logo increases user's trust.
  • When talking about products, images are fundamental. Remember, well-made adverts captivate us.
  • If you run a site that publishes information, showing the date of publication is very important.
  • Using the right images can totally change the perception of your brand, which could bring you even closer to your target audience!
  • Even though most declare that if they read the descriptions under the image, it is in the preview where people focus the most.

Final thoughts

To wrap this up, these seem to be unexplored lands, but we are sure that taking care of the link previews can be a great plus that makes a difference.

And the best advice we can give you: don't make assumptions. Not all of us think the same, although there are certain collective agreements, constantly testing is the key to really knowing how our users perceive our campaigns.

We have developed our Flyyer platform so that you can design and test your creations easily and quickly. Visit the get started page or contact us if you want to get the most out of it with a personalized plan. Transform people's interactions into strong marketing opportunities 😊.