Language

The language we use is crucial. The wrong terms, tone, or vocabulary can convey confusion, dismissiveness, condescension, disinterest, or contempt. The right words can engender trust, authority, friendliness, and helpfulness.

Users vs. visitors

It has been famously said that 2 groups are regularly called users: computer users and drug users. Neither term implies respect. In the context of websites, prefer the term visitor, which balances the concepts of honoured guest, seeker, and customer.

Avoid Click here

Click here is awful because it expects people to take action without knowing what will happen. Its common variants are no better (read more; after the jump/break/click; more information). These terms shift the effort from the writer to the reader while also being shrill and imperative. Surely that’s not your intent?

There’s no there there

People want answers, but click here delivers guessing games.

From your visitors’ perspective, Click here never has the scent of what they’re after. It offers no predictive value, no reason to follow the link. To decide, you’re making them to go back to read (or re-read) the sentence or paragraph before the link. They must guess whether or not Click here takes them somewhere interesting.

Which is easier? You’re in hurry, skimming a page, trying to find the Public swim schedule:

Clicking is an outdated term

Still not convinced? Click here is tone-deaf in the age of tapping-and-dragging fingertips on glass screens or laptop trackpads: clicking as a catch-all term is a relic of the mouse-only desktop-PC era (also known as the 1990s).

Click here is an accessibility disaster

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'

Sadly, for many the reaction to this falls somewhere between ‘there aren’t enough visually-impaired people to be worth accommodating’ to ‘I don’t care about blind people if it’s going to cost money.’

Since people generally scan web pages looking for what they want — and links stand out — click here links are equally frustrating for everyone, not just users of screen-reader software.

Don’t look to your site’s analytics to find data backing up your comforting no-visually-impaired-visitors-come-to-our-site theory: they may well be staying away because this attitude has made your site hostile to them in many different ways. Congratulations: your (unintentional?) moat is fully operational.

There’s at least 1 assistive-technology visitor you don’t ignore

Google indexes the text associated with links. Unless Click here is a term you’re trying to rank highly for, then you’ll want to avoid using it altogether. Think of the Googlebot as the world’s largest user of screen-reader software.

Avoid verbal ticks

“Going forward” (and variants like “go-forward basis” or “go ahead and…”) — are meaningless verbal ticks. They never change a sentence’s meaning. They’re completely redundant and should only be retained when quoting someone directly.

Avoid common misuse of words

Just as distracting as verbal ticks, common misuse of terms draws reader attention away from your message.

  • Quality should have a qualifier attached: high quality or low quality. Blame Ford Motor Company for hammering this one home.
  • People are hanged, pictures are hung.
  • Buildings and bowels are evacuated; people are not (though people do commonly evacuate their bowels in buildings).

Avoid making broad assumptions

  • “Type ‘Control-C’ to copy” — assumes your visitor is using a Windows PC and not a Mac or a smartphone
  • “Enter your zip code” — assumes your visitor is American

Which spelling & grammar?

US, UK, or Canadian English? Canadian Press style? Chicago Manual?

Canadian spelling is the preference at Tantramar Interactive Inc., depending on the intended audience and, to a lesser extent, on the domain name.

Organizing Our Marvellous Neighbours: How to Feel Good About Canadian English by Joe Clark (no, not that Joe Clark), is an excellent reference on Canadian English.