Your site can use “Click here” links or it can be easy to use — pick one

Summary: good copywriting is key to making a site easy to use. “Click here” links lack the context to help visitors decide whether or not they’re worth following. Making things easier for them isn’t difficult but it makes a big difference.

Everyone wants their site to be easy to use. A key factor that’s often overlooked is link text.

What is link text? A link — like this link to my website’s Home page has two components:

  1. an address (tantramar.ca in this case; it also happens to be hidden because different link text has been specified) and
  2. text (“my website’s Home page”). That text is the link text. Notice that it is completely unambiguous — there is no guesswork required to know where that link will take you.

We’ve been seeing links with Click here as link text everywhere forever. This might seem like a reason to use them. It’s not. Click here links make a site harder to find and to use.

It’s easy to get this right, though, so let’s see how, after detailing some of the damage they do.

Why are Click here links so bad?

  1. They offload effort onto your readers.
  2. They’re a weak call to action.
  3. They’re outdated language.
  4. They’re inaccessible (see Accessibility matters below) — and your search engine rankings are not helped by inaccessible content.

If you offload work onto your readers — they won’t do it

Time and patience are in limited supply. No one comes to a site thinking “I need to know [a name, a number, a policy, a date]; I really hope they make me work for it.”

How does a Click here link make people work? Here’s what happens when someone scans a page looking for something:

  • the links probably stand out from the rest of the text — because they’re a different colour, they’re underlined, or they’re in a heavier weight (or some helpful combination of these) — so far, so good.
  • they find one that says Click here. This tells them nothing. They wanted to find or learn something specific; instead you’ve handed them a task.
  • their new task is to read the text around the link for context to decide if it’s what they’re after. This is a really inefficient thing to do, because they have to decide how far back to read, and start over if they didn’t go back far enough.
  • If this link wasn’t what they were after, then they get to do it again. And again. Because Click here links reproduce like rabbits once they get into a site.

If this all sounds exhausting, you’re starting to understand.

“Oh,” I hear someone object, “our readers are deeply engaged in our site and carefully parse every word from top to bottom without interruption and never skim and will understand from the previous sentence where the Click here link goes.”

Your competitors love that you believe this.

Call to action?

Links are always a call to action — you want people to do something or you wouldn’t include the link — but Click here is a weak, ambiguous call to action; a rude, imperative statement with no inherent value proposition. It fails to answer the all-important question: what’s in it for me?

It’s really a call-to-inaction.

“Clicking” is outdated

Clicking is the sound of someone using a mouse (look them up; you might not believe the hardware we used to use). Presuming mouse use is odd now that we mostly access sites using mouse-free devices (including desktop-class machines like laptops).

This is not an argument for replacing Click here with the equally uninformative Tap here.

Accessibility matters

Neil Milliken tweeted about this from the perspective of blind users:

You think you’re being helpful using “click here” links, but this is how a blind person reads your copy:

screenshot of JAWS (Windows-based screen-reader software) displaying a web page’s links: 27 identical and indistinguishable instances of 'click here'

Screenshot of JAWS (screen-reader software), showing how links are presented: in this case, 27 instances of ‘click here’. Who would endure this?

Negative reactions to this can range from we can’t afford to accommodate everyone or it’s not worth accommodating everyone to I don’t care.

Don’t look to your site’s analytics to justify comforting preconceptions that you have few visually-impaired visitors, either: they may be staying away because your site is challenging to use. (Depending on your jurisdiction, this may even be illegal: section508.gov.)

Remember that accessibility challenges aren’t always permanent: anyone can be tired, injured, distracted, can’t find their glasses, just had surgery, etc. Even if willing, people won’t always be able to overcome the repercussions of Click here links.

Search engines index link text

There’s at least one assistive-technology visitor — like those running JAWS — you don’t ignore: Google.

Google indexes websites’ text, images (and their alternative text), links, etc. Link text is more important than plain text — links are literally the hypertext, the HT in HTML — and link text should relate to the page’s keywords and content on the link’s target page.

The solution

Making a website easy to use isn’t a checkbox in a software tool or even a feature in a content-management system. It’s the result of many small decisions — like choosing to write link text with the reader in mind.

What to do

  1. avoid Click here (Read more, etc.) link text
  2. provide good predictive value to readers with your link text
  3. consider using the target page’s title as link text. If your site’s page titles are well-chosen, they should make excellent link text. Bonus: this probably makes them naturally keyword-rich for search engines, too.

Maybe your content-management system has built-in tools to help (prompting you for link text when you add a link) or maybe you’re doing it by hand. Either way, writing good link text isn’t hard and doesn’t take long.