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April 02, 2007

Don't say "click here." Include your links in context.

clickhere.jpg
Click where?

After more than a decade of Web development, most of us have gotten used to adding links within the context of our text—just as I did in this sentence. Yet despite our good habits, awareness and best intentions, many links are still awkwardly managed. I see them appended to paragraphs as afterthoughts, or worse yet included via the dreaded phrase, "click here".

I think this happens most often when the writer is one who doesn't write primarily for the Web. If he has produced a document originally intended for print, any links mentioned in the document must be fully referenced. Until our friends in macromolecular science and engineering give us the materials to create clickable brochures, print writers will need to include the full address of any links they mention.

As Web writers, producers, designers, etc., we can help to reduce this problem, by rewriting sentences that include links, when converting documents from print to Web. We can also try to lead by example—producing sites that use contextual links*—as a reminder that this should be the norm for online usage. In the following examples I'll show you different types of linking problems and their potential solutions.

The Link Appendage, tacking a link to the end because you know it has to go somewhere.

Imagine the following is an event announcement for the fictitious Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association benefit. Notice how they've included two links at the end of the announcement.

The Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association is having its annual benefit next Tuesday at the Birdhouse. All proceeds go towards preserving habitat for the Great Horned Owl. To register for the event, visit the Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association Web site. Learn more about Great Horned Owls online."

In the first link problem we tell them to register, which is good, but we don't really need to give them the full name of the site. The second link is better in that it doesn't mention a site name, but it could have been linked in context. The paragraph could be rewritten as follows without any decline in usability.

The Great Lakes Owl Watchers Association is having its annual benefit next Tuesday at the Birdhouse. All proceeds go towards preserving habitat for the Great Horned Owl. Register online before Sunday.

In this version we are able to link to the association's site, information about Great Horned Owls and a specific registration page in a manner that is both easy to follow and takes less space.

The dreaded "click here"

I often receive copy for Web sites that includes the phrase "click here." This is used so readily that many people don't realize that it is bad form. There are a variety of reasons not to use "click here" but here are the basics. I've included additional reference sites below.

  • "Click here" contains no descriptive information about the link. The text you use in links should carry enough meaning that it can be understood out of context. This is particularly important to users who have difficulty reading or who are visually impaired. Such users will look or listen for links to be associated with descriptive key words. It you have 10 links on a page, all of which say "click here," you will make it more difficult for all users to scan and navigate your site.
  • "Click here" isn't helpful to search engines and other agents that index Web sites. Non-human systems have no way to connect the term "click here" with the description you may have used in the sentence before. If you want to include a link about three-toed sloths, do it in context, so that the indexing robots connect your linked words to the link address. This lets them know not only what sites you link to, but what these sites are about.
  • "Click here" provides an unnecessary instruction. Users already know that they will click (or sometimes, mouse-over) to follow a link. Why give them instructions on something they're already doing? What if they are using a device that doesn't click at all? Why tell them to do something that doesn't work on their system?
Linking in practice

When faced with a situation that seems to require an appended or "click here" link, look at your existing text. In most cases you will find the words you need to link are already there. If that isn't the case, try adding the appropriate words to an existing sentence—or to a new sentence that offers useful information in addition to the link. With a bit of practive you should find that in most cases it is fairly easy to put your links into context.

* While I use the term "contextual links" in the traditional sense—descriptive words and phrases that link to a page or site about the topic the words describe, the phrase is now often used in a different commercial sense. In this sense the term refers to links or ads for which you pay so that others will link to your site.

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Posted by: Heidi Cool April 2, 2007 06:36 PM | Category: Heidi's Entries , Tips and Tricks , Writing

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I try to avoid the "click here" thing but sometimes can't get around it. Part of it is my problem. I sometimes write multi-part posts and when referring back to them later, I have not found an elegant ways of saying "see here, here, here, and here".

Any suggestions to avoid this ugliness?

Posted by Mano Singham on April 3, 2007 09:19 AM

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There are always exceptions and that is a tricky one. To list the titles of each of your former posts would be cumbersome in this context. Perhaps the following (adapted from Scientific proof of god's non-existence) would be a good compromise.

"I will readily concede the first point, and in fact have done so previously (See Burden of Proof Part 1, part 2, and part 3.)"

In this case the first link provides sufficient description, and part 2 and part 3 indicate that this is more on the same topic. This should offer sufficient clues to the user.

While in a perfect world each link would be named, there are cases, such as this, when doing so would actually make the text more complicated.

Navigational links such as "previous" and "next" or "Read more"--at the end of an article excerpt pose a similar problem. While those terms aren't topically descriptive they do present some guidance to the user.

One wonders if such terms are as weak as "click here," or if their context at the end of descriptive text is sufficient. I'm inclined to think we can forgive navigational aids such as "read more," but I think in the future I'll try to be more descriptive with "previous" and "next."

No matter what the general recommendation, we have to examine each scenario individually.

Posted by Heidi Cool on April 3, 2007 11:56 AM

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Dawud Miracle over at Healthy Web Design just posted an amusing entry
on the "click here" topic
which quite clearly illustrates the problem. He used "click here" as the link text throughout the article.

Posted by Heidi Cool on April 11, 2007 02:26 PM

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The contextual links has a further benefit: they urge the visitor to think contextually. The linked content leads to a new content. We can conclude that a contextual link's value is higher than a non-contextual link's value, as the call to action ["click here"] is replaced by a topic-related and descriptive [key]word or phrase.

Posted by Respiro, the logo design guy on April 11, 2007 02:30 PM

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Because Google regards anchor text as part of its determiner of the content behind a link, click here should never be used, unless of course one doesn't consider the SEO consequence.

Posted by HDR on April 22, 2007 03:49 PM

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So true, yet many people (including myself until sometime ago) tend to make this mistake.

Apart from the SEO consequences the link structure can also make it visible for the reader where he will go if he clicks on the link.

Posted by Daniel on April 24, 2007 11:20 AM

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Great advice! As you have said "click here" is not helpful for search engines nor visually impaired users.

Many usability studies have also shown that when users scan a web page to find out if it is relevant to them, their eye is drawn to anchor text links. If you don't have relavant key terms in your link text perhaps you may be running the risk of losing visitors because they haven't recognised the subject matter of that web page.

Basically, anchor text is important from an SEO, a usability and an accessibility point of view.

Another article that may be of interest: Internet Shopping Carts and SEO

Posted by Tracey Simpson on May 1, 2007 10:42 AM

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I have been a webmaster now of a href="http://www.japanlinked.com">The Japan Travel Guide
for only 8 months. But through out the time I never put any thought into the text of my links. Now I feel I have just wasted a lot of time and effort. Thanks a lot for this info. Now to go and try and change my links *Sigh*.

Posted by Japan on September 3, 2007 04:40 AM

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As the webmaster of an Okinawa Japan site, I can tell you of my frustration of learning about anchor text way too late in the game.

Posted by Okinawa on September 15, 2007 12:59 AM

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Posted by: hac4 (Heidi Cool) April 2, 2007 06:36 PM | Comments (9) | Trackback