Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Monday, May 09, 2005

"Click Here" Is Not A Bad Thing

There are many worthy usability battles to fight, but "click here" is not one of them. The use of a hyperlink that says "click here" has often been frowned upon by experts, and yet many people still use this idiom. Why? Because it is a useful thing.

Suppose I said to you, "Get Amaya!" Your obvious reply would be, "Okaaay . . . how?" And yet, "Get Amaya!" is the recommended wording from the W3C standards body.

They frown upon the wording "To download Amaya, click here," which is an obvious, natural way to say it. If your computer could talk (and some do), that is what it would say. It wouldn't leave you hanging with "Get Amaya". It would tell you how to accomplish this task (if you wanted to do it).

Interacting with the web is a two-way conversation. It is perfectly valid for the web to speak in terms of informing you what to click on to accomplish various tasks.


  • Even the W3C can't get away from "click here". Their QA homepage has links that say "Learn more", which is essentially the same thing.

    See? It's a perfectly natural idiom.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/09/2005 6:15 PM  

  • In general, the use of 'click here' is because of writers are used to writing for paper and are not used to writing for the interenet.
    Using 'click here' is the www's equivalent of putting 'turn the page' on the bottom of every single page of a book. It is unnecessary in a well-written document.

    On paper, the actions take place outside the medium. On the www, the actions a user takes occur within the medium.

    Also, there are accessibility issues, particularly for users of assistive technologies like magnifiers or screen readers: a lot of users use the list links function which would read the page as "Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here, Click here"

    Search engines in general rank link text as more important.

    Users know that clicking invokes some sort of action. Let the action be the link. i.e.: 'Do Whatever', not 'to do whatever, click here'

    I agree with you about w3c's 'get Amaya' example. if they actualy want you to get Amaya from a link, the whole phrase 'get Amaya' should be the link, or even better: 'Download Amaya'

    By Anonymous Joseph Lindsay, at 5/09/2005 7:12 PM  

  • Hi Joseph - Good points about search engines emphasizing link text, and about the List Links function in assistive technologies.

    As you say, "Download Amaya" is a good alternative satisfying most parties.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/09/2005 7:20 PM  

  • Hmm ... Thought about this some more. Even "Download Amaya" is not perfect -- it sounds as though the computer is ordering you to do something. "What if I don't want to download Amaya?", the user might ask, indignant.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/09/2005 7:27 PM  

  • But technical objections aside, "Download Amaya" is of course perfectly reasonable.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/09/2005 7:33 PM  

  • What about symbology, why use words at all? I'm sure we have all gone to foreign language sites that have been identified in a web search, in search of some esoteric piece of knowledge, only to be frustrated by the inability to understand the language. If there was a common international set of symbology for common features, then debating the context of 'click here' would not be necessary(fun though it is!).

    By Anonymous WebHooligan, at 5/09/2005 8:52 PM  

  • Hi webhooligan - Yes, it is kind of fun to play with these ideas.

    Interesting idea about a universal web symbology.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/09/2005 8:55 PM  

  • I wish i can stay but a girl has got to do what a girl has got to do.. but i will always be a victorian at heart.

    By Blogger Celine, at 5/09/2005 10:13 PM  

  • Celine - Fine...! (Celine is referring to her post on leaving Victoria.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/09/2005 10:52 PM  

  • In addition to J. Lindsay's comment, descriptive link text (i.e. Download Amaya) is also usefull for pages with many links.

    Because standard link decoration (underline and/or bold) helps them stand out within blocks of text, they are often what the eye is naturally drawn to first when scanning a web page. Using a number of "click here" links on a page requires users to read around the link to infere where it will take them. Descriptive link text (if written properly, such as using verbs like "download") can immediatley indicate the link's action, and it can help users scanning a large page of links for the download, page, PDF document, etc. that they want.

    There's also context, which J. Lindsay touches on. Aggregate all the "click here" links from a page and what do you have? The W3C example page is a more complex one, but perhaps choosing link text that will still make sense out of context, like "Learn More About Participating", "Learn More About Education and Tools", would be better.

    By Anonymous Jeff Werner, at 5/10/2005 12:19 AM  

  • Hmm, OK so I actually read the W3C page on link text again and they say NOT to use verb phrases, as you two were discussing, but they don't specifically say WHY one shouldn't. I understand the point about complicating links with "the mechanics of getting," so I'm trying connect this the no verbs rule.

    I think their example is confusing in that it's not a direct download link at all, but rather a link to the Amaya home page, where you can download the thing if you want. I can then see the distinction between a download link (a GET in the general, non-http sense of the word) and a page link (where linking a verb with the noun could confuse matters).

    By Anonymous Jeff Werner, at 5/10/2005 12:30 AM  

  • Hi Jeff - Good point about the W3C example. Indeed they are not linking to the download directly, but to the Amaya homepage.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/10/2005 8:09 AM  

  • Jeff - Agreed about how the eye is drawn to the link text. Hadn't thought about that very important usability point.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/10/2005 8:11 AM  

  • I'm not sure why the w3c would recommend against using a verb for link text. If you are on the www, you are there to do something, therefore to me a verb makes sense. Although there are always exceptions.

    By Anonymous Joseph Lindsay, at 5/10/2005 12:03 PM  

  • Joseph - Yeah, I don't know what's up with the anti-verb directive. Maybe in the Web 1.0 era, but Web 2.0 is all about verbs: Download, Comment, Delete, etc.


    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/10/2005 12:13 PM  

  • It's not so much about the "conversation" as it is about usability. Chances are, I'm not going to read every single word on your web page. What's more likely is that I'll quickly scan around, looking for key words and navigational cues to help me decide what I need to do to accomplish my goal. A link stands out from the surrounding text. It's usually a different color and underlined. When my eyes are running over the page looking for those visual cues, I stop and read the easy-to-spot link text. If that text is "click here," I'll either miss it (because those two words in and of themselves don't have any meaning) or I have to go back and read the entire sentence to put it into context.

    The solution is simple: make sure your link text makes sense out of context. It makes your web site easier to navigate and use.

    By Blogger Travis, at 5/25/2005 8:38 PM  

  • Hi Travis - Good point about the link text standing out.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5/25/2005 11:07 PM  

  • Hey Jonathan,

    I've got to say this post made me think about my usage of the dreaded "click here" link text. I find myself using it time to time, but stray away from its use because it can come off as a tacky geocities developed site.

    Anyway, I enjoy your posts and dig the style (I use the same blog theme).

    By Anonymous bnaro, at 6/01/2005 9:10 PM  

  • Hi bnaro - Sounds like you got some food for thought. Good stuff. Yeah - I love this blog template, designed by The Master himself, Douglas Bowman.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 6/01/2005 9:30 PM  

  • I think that the W3C and others are trying to get us to have the text of a link describe WHAT it links to.

    There certainly are other valid perspectives to take on this issue, though, as have been mentioned here.

    However, it seems to me there are much bigger issues underlying this dilemma. Specifically, we can't quite agree on whether the link's text should describe the target, describe why you'd go there (or why the author wants you to go there), or whether it should just compliment a full set of directions.

    I'm thinking about XHTML 2.0 now (as it currently stands) and about how the W3C hopes to make it more Semantic Web-friendly. This could be an important step for the web. Of course, people will have to understand the concepts behind the Semantic Web, which are currently NOT being explained well.

    Just look at how confused we are over this (seemingly) simple and common use of the web...

    By Blogger Darren Torpey, at 6/07/2005 5:15 AM  

  • Hi Darren - I'm delighted with how you have summed up the three approaches to link text: where, why, and how. Yeah - the semantic web isn't being explained very well. I tried out Piggy Bank (a semantic web browser) and I couldn't see how it would be useful for me.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 6/07/2005 8:11 AM  

  • I'm not sure why the w3c would recommend against using a verb for link text.

    Because not everyone clicks. Some use a keyboard for everything. Some are using their cell phone to view websites. Some disabled are blowing in a tube or blinking their eye to "click" (not making that up).

    "Click" is what you do with a mouse. The mouse is not the only tool available and will not be here forever.

    By Anonymous Robert Purcell, at 10/22/2005 10:13 PM  

  • Hi Robert - Good point about "click" not taking into account all users.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 10/23/2005 9:02 AM  

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