‘Click here’ considered harmful

This phrase has been trotted out a million times.

Consider the two paragraphs below:

WOW! – The new l33t hax0r programme is now available. Download this l33t c0d3 NOW!

versus

WOW – The new l33t hax0r programme is now available. To download this l33t c0d3 NOW! Click here.

Apart from probably a poor choice in using pseduo-leet-speak1 most pundits within the web development industry will tell you that the first paragraph is a better choice for creating links for the following reasons:

  1. The link that is created is contextually relevant as to what will happen should you click upon it
  2. It provides a larger area to hit the target – this is a good thing according to Fitt’s2 law.
  3. It is search engine optimisation friendly – more Google juice for everybody.

The second paragraph has the following attributes:

  1. The link that is created is not contextually relevant – in fact the user would have to read the surrounding text to be able to understand what will happen when the link is clicked on.
  2. It provides a smaller hit area
  3. No Google juice for anybody!

When you weigh these two things up… The first is obviously preferable.

Or is it?

Let us have a look at the points in order:

Point 1: The second link will tell you what to do (i.e. click ‘here’), it won’t however give an indication of what will occur once you have clicked. The first doesn’t tell you how to access it (i.e. to click anywhere on the link) – everybody is assumed to know that underlining of a resource is a link, it will however tell you what will happen if you do click on it.

This is such a nice point to trot out. When I am reading a sentence, which is then followed by a link, I have already parsed and understood what the following Click here. will do for me. I do not see the point of making the link more contextually relevant.

Point 2: No arguments here, this is a good point for those who have difficulty positioning a mouse and clicking on a small target (and, no I am not being facetious) it is very good accessibility. However – in general the small proportion of people who cannot position and click very well generally have assistive technology that helps them to do this.

Point 3: Here is where it all starts and finishes. Let us all bow down to the great gods of SEO.

You just cannot argue against this one, after all your site will probably die if you do not have SEO links – apart from the fact that the whole premise of Google is that they work on links TO your site from external sites.

So…

Taking all of the analysis of the points into consideration, it is generally a better idea to use the first format, however this is purely for search engine optimisation. The other points are moot.

I will tell you a story:

I used to be in control of a web site with about 200,000 users within a specific sector. The site was updated and SEO friendly URLs were put in place – I was given two of the three reasons (SEO was not listed). I believed and understood that it would be a good idea.

We went live, and

The users hated it. They couldn’t understand the new format. We got emails, phone calls all asking the same question:

“Where do we click for <insert random thing here>?”

When it was explained that you could click anywhere on the underlined section they would invariably ask “Well, why don’t you just say ‘click anywhere’?” and “Who on earth thought that that was a good idea?”. Unfortunately it was me.

In the end we just changed it back and people were once again happy.

So before you trot out all of the old reasons that I have already heard – have you actually talked (and more importantly listened) to your users and see what they want?

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2 Responses to “‘Click here’ considered harmful”

  • James B Says:

    Interesting article…

    I think most SEO enhancements are hostile to usability, and are not beneficial in the long run. Development resources are better spent on refining or extending site functionality, not ballot-stuffing the pagerank.

    The only exception to this would be sites selling commoditised products or services, which need Google traffic from generic queries.

    The most important metric is user engagement with the site, rather than just the raw number of hits. SEO is entirely focused on the latter.

  • admin Says:

    SEO is a zero-sum game. Once everybody is doing the same optimisation then the content becomes king. When searching for a site, it is useful to be top of the list with Google/Yahoo/MSN so that people who are unaware of your site can easily find what they are looking for. This is when the content becomes the most important part of the site.

    Once your site is known, then the subsequent usage comes down to usability of the site. Whenever I am looking for a book, cd or dvd – I head straight to amazom.com, if they don’t have the information, then off to Google I go.

    Some of the SEO rules are just good practices – especially for development and accessibility. Separation of content with HTML/CSS makes updating sites far easier and screen readers benefit from having proper titles and names for elements.

    It is when plans are implemented purely for SEO that it can sometimes be a waste of time.

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