Why “click here” is a terrible link, and what to write instead

An astonishing percentage of what I do with my clients’ web copy involves eradicating the phrase “click here” from their links. For more information, click here.

You see it everywhere. Everyone’s doing it, so it must be a best practice, right?

Wrong. It’s the worst possible practice. You should never, ever use “click here” in a web link.

Why?

“Click here” requires context.

You’re already getting sick of seeing it on this page, aren’t you? But it’s so much worse for people with attention deficit problems or visual impairments.

Our eyes are drawn to things that are different. Links stand out, so if we’re skimming text–which most of us do–we tend to zoom right past the text leading up to the links and focus on the links themselves. But if all it says is, “click here,” we have to read back up to establish the context and figure out where that link might go. If several links on a page say, “click here,” we have to remember the context of each one. Links written with unique and descriptive phrases don’t make us do the extra work of building this mental model as we read.

Context for the visually impaired

Screen readers, if you aren’t familiar with them, are applications that read the text of web pages aloud. They’re mostly used by people with visual impairments. If you’ve never heard one in action, listen to a couple of minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PMuBQ7LyOw&t=5m10s

Notice how it announces how many links are on each new page? That’s Colleen’s cue to press a button if she wants to hear only a list of the linked phrases on the page. This feature allows her to skim the page, just as we do when we let our gaze slide across the paragraph and focus on the links.

Now imagine what that list sounds like if all your links are the same:

Click here.

Click here.

Click here.

Click here.

Click here.

Click here.

This list is useless to Colleen, but instead of merely reading back a couple of sentences to establish context, she’s going to have to listen to the entire page.

“Click here” forces everyone to work harder to establish the context of the link, but it’s especially hard on the visually impaired.

Context for search engines

“Click here” is deadly for your search engine optimization. Google reads your page more or less the same way Colleen’s screen reader does, except it follows each and every link. How does it figure out what a page is about? It compares the phrases people use when linking to a page and the text on the page itself.

When you use “click here” for all your links, you’re removing half of the information Google uses to establish context.

That’s bad enough if you’re linking to other people, but when you’re linking to your own content? That’s even worse. You are, in theory, the most authoritative source of information about your subject. Why would you forfeit such an important opportunity to describe the content you’re linking to?

“Click here” is too restrictive.

Check your traffic reports. Does more than half your traffic come from mobile devices? That’s true for me and most of my clients. Most of those visitors aren’t using a mouse.

There’s also a huge range of assistive devices available to those who have trouble using a mouse. A short list of things people might be doing instead of clicking:

  • Mobile screen taps
  • Keyboard navigation
  • Puff sticks and joysticks
  • Voice recognition

Writing “click here” not only ignores those other modes of navigation, but implies that other modes are not supported. Why give the impression that your responsive, accessible site works only on desktops?

“Click here” is patronizing.

It’s not about the journey, it’s about the destination. What will the reader find at that link? Describe the destination instead of dictating how she should get there. She knows how to do that, using whatever device she has–which might not involve clicking.

People started writing “click here” back in the mid-90s, when web designers were getting too artistic with their designs and removing the underlines from links. Needless to say, if links are indistinguishable from plain text in your design, fix that instead of writing bad copy to compensate for it.

Assuming that the reader can tell what’s a link and what isn’t, you don’t have to tell her to click it. The web has been part of our professional lives for twenty years now. Even the grumpiest old technophobe in your organization knows what to do with a link.

Writing better links without “click here”

The easiest way to write great links is to simply use the name of the destination page. This reassures your readers that they have arrived on the page they intended to reach, and haven’t gotten lost by accidentally clicking something else.

Consider these three versions of a sentence:

a. For more information about the publisher, click here.

b. For more information, visit the author’s publisher, Macmillan.

c. For more information, visit the author’s publisher, Macmillan.

The first example obviously offers the least context. Who is providing the additional information? Where is this link taking the reader? Who knows.

In the second example, the writer has linked the word that describes his relationship to the destination site. That might not be a bad choice in some contexts, but here it fails to answer the fundamental question of where the link leads. When this link is taken out of the sentence’s context (for example, in lists of links read by screen readers), it doesn’t provide sufficient information to guide the reader.

In most cases, it’s best to identify or describe the link’s destination, as in the third example.

Further reading

Writing Hyperlinks, from the Nielsen Norman Group

W3C Quality Assurance team on “click here”

Smashing Magazine article on “click here”

Speaking at BEA Bloggers Conference, May 29

I’m delighted to be going to New York City in May to speak at the BookExpo America Bloggers Conference. I’ll be on the Blogging Platforms panel, talking about how book bloggers can make the most of WordPress.

Plus I’ll be, you know, wandering around BEA for three days! I’m so excited.

(I’m also looking for a roommate, so if we’re acquainted and you’re going to BEA, please drop me a line!)

Saying goodbye to Textile

I came to WordPress after using TextPattern for a while, and when I switched, I didn’t want to give up Textile formatting, so I found a plugin and kept using it.

That was six years ago. These days I do a lot more code samples, and trying to get characters escaped properly is becoming more and more difficult. Also, a lot of commenters have overlooked the little “Textile formatting is in effect!” message in the comment form, and their stuff has gotten screwed up six ways from Sunday.

So, with regret, I’ve just converted all the posts and comments back to regular HTML. I expect to find broken things for a while. If you notice something that doesn’t look right, please leave a comment, and I will fetch an older revision out of the database.

moving the furniture

If you follow me on RSS or LiveJournal, you probably just saw a flood of new posts. Sorry about that! When I started wordpress-as-cms.com last summer, I meant it to be a place where I could write about all my geeky technical WordPress stuff without boring you all here. But, since I’ve written so many plugins, and because my WordPress book is coming out soon, it made less and less sense to separate the two.

So, I just imported a bunch of stuff, and I’m now cleaning it up (the code from those posts really doesn’t play nicely with Textile, which might force me to abandon it at last, as much as I love it), and in a little while I’ll shut down the other site and redirect everything here.

Sorry about the mess.

New WordPress plugin: Import HTML Pages

This plugin will import a directory of files as either pages or posts, according to configurable settings. You may specify the HTML tag containing the content you want to import (e.g. <body>, <div id=”content”> or <td width=”732″>) or the name of a Dreamweaver template region (e.g. “Main Content”).

If importing pages, the directory hierarchy will be preserved. Directories containing the specified file types will be imported as empty parent pages. Directories that do not contain the specified file types will be ignored.

As files are imported, the resulting IDs, permalinks, and titles will be displayed. On completion, the importer will provide a list of Apache redirects that can be used in your .htaccess file to seamlessly transfer visitors from the old file locations to the new WordPress posts or pages.

Options:

  • import pages or posts
  • specify content and title as HTML tags or Dreamweaver template regions
  • remove a common phrase (such as the site name) from imported titles
  • specify file extensions to import (e.g. html, htm, php)
  • specify directories to exclude (e.g. images, css)
  • if importing pages, specify whether your top-level files should become top-level pages or children of an existing page
  • choose status, author, and timestamp
  • use meta descriptions as excerpts

Requires PHP 5.

More screenshots and download info

This plugin is part of the WordPress plugin competition. Like it? Give it a rating!

Results: imported pages and rewrite rules
Results: imported pages and rewrite rules