Unintentionally Blank

Phil Nash on the Internet, Web Standards and Accessibility

Click Here -- It's Not About SEO!

Sep 24, 2007

by Phil Nash

An argument started up recently regarding the use of actionable anchor text for links on a page, or phrases like "Click Here" when you want someone to click. It all started with Brian Clark's question, does telling someone to "click here" actually matter? It was the following paragraph that made me think about the issue:

Another reader once chastised me for wasting anchor text with the words “click here,” even though my primary goal for the link was to get people to click (shocking, I know). This is when I first realized that Google is truly making people retarded. Somehow, this person no longer saw links as navigation for actual people to use; they only exist to pass on “juice” according to an algorithm that no one fully understands.

Does Anyone Else Feel The Argument Got Off On The Wrong Foot?

Brian was right, search engines shouldn't be telling us how to run our websites, however, rather than heading off in the wrong direction and maintaining that "Click here" and other similar, meaningless phrases are the right thing to do, we should really be thinking about what is important: the users.

Dawud Miracle highlighted exactly the reason why "Click Here" should not be used as anchor text. Put plainly, you cannot tell what a link with the anchor text "Click Here" leads to.

Context Explains The Link

Some would argue that in a sentence such as, "For more information on accessibility, click here," gives context to the link and lets users know what to expect when clicking there. But not all users are reading everything on the page.

Back in 1997, Jakob Nielson tested and wrote about how users read web pages, they scan and pick out highlighted phrases, headings and links. If you scanned down a page and found the phrase "Click Here" highlighted as a link, you would have to stop scanning and read around the link to find out what it was about. Or you could just click the link to find out, Mike Cherim alluded to this in a comment on Ian Lloyd's compromise solution on Accessify. Clicking to find out what a link is all about is an untargeted click which may have a lower conversion, if you are talking in marketing terms. I wonder if Mike has anything that backs up his comment.

How About Accessibility?

It is always sensible to consult the WCAG when concerning ourselves with the usability and accessibility of these choices. Point 13.1 says the following:

Link text should be meaningful enough to make sense when read out of context -- either on its own or as part of a sequence of links.

This is a priority 2 checkpoint, but it deals with the usability aspect above as well as assistive technologies.

Yucca Korpela has a number of good examples and explanations of link texts out of context, as part of a very good article on not using "Click Here" in general.

Click Here For A Compromise?

I mentioned a compromise solution on Accessify earlier, where Ian Lloyd suggested linking a full phrase including "Click Here" using a <span> and some CSS to emphasise the "Click Here" part of the link. This allows for the link to have all the information needed to read it out of context, but draws the attention of a normal "Click Here". I'm not a fan of this method because it still compromises on usability, by making users read around the link or click it to find out what it means.

I propose a final compromise. Let your link contain all the information that you need and use "Click Here". What is wrong with saying "Continue reading X", "Click Here to subscribe to X" or "Click Here to buy to X"? If you look at the phrases that Marketing Sherpa showed were better, none of them included "Click Here" for a start, in fact they used a little more explanation.

Ideally, I'd expect more explanation from a link still. You can tell your users what to do, but explain where they are going too. Brian Clark was right, Google shouldn't matter when thinking of your link text, but the accessibility and experience for your users should. As Roger Johansson said, almost a year ago, think before you link.

Unintentionally Blank is Phil Nash's thoughts on web development from 2006-2008. Any code or opinions may be out of date.