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Improve Accessibility: Think Before You Link

A link that only says "Click Here" or anything else that is very generic such as "follow this link" or "more information" is difficult for some people to use because there's no specific content in that link nor a clear sense of its actual destination. To improve it use meaningful link text. It should describe the result of the user action, not describe the user action.

Basic Accessibility and Usability Concept

Using meaningful link text is a basic accessibility and usability concept. The more generic the link, the more difficult a site or document can be to navigate. As the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Success Criterion 2.4. states:

Whenever possible, provide link text that identifies the purpose of the link without needing additional context. Assistive technology has the ability to provide users with a list of links that are on the Web page. Link text that is as meaningful as possible will aid users who want to choose from this list of links. Meaningful link text also helps those who wish to tab from link to link. Meaningful links help users choose which links to follow without requiring complicated strategies to understand the page.

Let's say a page has 10 "Click to Read More" links on it, which are related to 10 different news articles (Article 1 ... "Click to Read More," Article 2 ... "Click to Read More," Article 3 ... "Click to Read More," etc.). A screen reader user who lists links will hear 10 "Click to Read More" links, which will make no sense when heard out of context of the surrounding text. Ideally, each of these links should make sense in their own right.

Well chosen link text helps both sighted and unsighted people. Users scan web pages looking for clues as to what the page is about and where to go next. "Click Here" forces the user to read the entire sentence to determine what can be found "here," which increases the amount of time needed to access information. For example a person visits a page promoting an event that they would like to attend. He or she wants to purchase tickets to the event but doesn't want to bother reading the whole page, as they have already decided to go. If the page has numerous links that say "Click Here" for this and "Click Here" for that, the user must make the extra effort to read before or after "Click here" to determine to where the link goes. It takes longer to find the link to purchase the tickets visually and non-visually.

Moreover, not everyone can or does click. It is not an inclusive call to action. "Click" places focus on mouse mechanics (and many people don't use a mouse). Some users with repetitive strain injury prefer keyboard equivalents to using a mouse. Some use screen readers. There are disabled users who rely on assistive technology that responds to verbal responses, or perhaps a touch screen, a pressure switch triggered by blowing into a tube, or microswitches that respond to available muscle action or be zoomed in to aid their reading.

How to Improve ItIcon: No Click Here

Avoid using "Click Here" or anything else that's very generic such as "follow this link" or "more" or "Click to Read More" or "here" as no content exists in those links nor a sense of their destination. It's not about what a link does. It's about the resource that the link points to, especially in the context of the referring document.

Describe what's going to happen in the actual link text. Put the link on the item itself. Hot spots should be a descriptive and integral part of the text. They should inform users of what they'll be getting. You can also make linking words or phrases part of a meaningful sentence, so that the user has a clear understanding of where they are going once they connect to another page. The link language should entice the reader to activate the link, and the link itself should deliver on the promise.

As the Quality Assurance Interest Group at W3C has advised for years, Don't use "click here" as link text, instead:

When calling the user to action, use brief but meaningful link text that:

  • provides some information when read out of context
  • explains what the link offers
  • doesn't talk about mechanics
  • is not a verb phrase

In Writing Hyperlinks: Salient, Descriptive, Start with Keywords the Nielsen Norman Group, a leading voice in the user experience field states:

First, the most helpful link text describes the page that's being linked to. When writing links ask yourself, "What will the user get when they click this link?" Mention that the link opens a PDF if that is the case... Second, when users see the same link twice on the same page they assume that it goes to the same place. For this reason, if the second link refers to a different page make sure that the text is unique... Finally, the best links start with the most important words. Front loading the link name helps users scan the page more easily: we've learned from our eyetracking research that people mostly look at the first 2 words of a link.

Examples

To improve the first example that used the link text, "Click to Read More" for 10 different news articles, use each news article's title as the link text.

To improve the second example that used the link text "click here," use the link text "Purchase Tickets."

Instead of writing, "For information on penguins click here," simply write "penguin information." Alternatively you could write, "The Penguin Wikipedia Entry provides more information."

References