25 June 2012

Seriously, what's so wrong with "click here"?

Image via 365psd

Over the past week, several publications and aggregators I follow have been ripping into the practice of using "Click here" as hyperlink text. This struck me as a little odd--"Click here" has been verboten in web design practice for as long as I can remember. I'd hardly consider it a buzz-worthy subject.

And is "Click here" really so bad as to warrant repeat hazings? I certainly avoid them myself, but I was never fully convinced that the alternatives I came with was much better.

So I did a little secondary research. Interestingly, it seems that whether "Click here" is tasty link bait or web design hellspawn depends on whether you ask a copywriter and a designer. And man, I can tell you that designers are passionately against the use of "Click here".

"Click here" vs usability

The main usability argument against "click here" is the self-referential nature of the wording:

  • "Click" focuses too much on the mechanics of using a mouse, and creates dissonance for readers who are using other types of input, e.g., track pads, touch screens.
  • "Here" just marks a location on the screen. It says nothing about what comes after the link. And if it's  buried within paragraphs of inline text, the user would have to try the link before he can continue reading. That slows down reading and buyer action.
These criticisms of "Click here" are taken as self-evident. Almost all usability practitioners accept this wisdom without question.

Meanwhile, marketing copywriters, whose work are measured against click-throughs and conversions, have observed for some time that "Click here" does have occasional uses. In fact, in direct marketing, the much-reviled "Click here" tend to generate more click-throughs than more aesthetic alternatives.

Why is this the case? I'd love to test this myself, but my guess is that users have become so used to "Click here" that it's become a design pattern--a convention that users come to expect through prolonged exposure, even if they were't the best approach to begin with. 

Interestingly, I haven't seen people having problems interacting with links labelled "Click here" on touch screens. Perhaps it's because "Click here" links tend to be dressed up as buttons, rather than rather than left naked as text links. But more on that later.

"Click here" vs SEO

"Never name a hyperlink 'Click here'" is also considered a basic rule in SEO (search engine optimisation). This is because your page's ranking on search engines is based on 1) how many links there are to your page, and 2) how relevant the wording on those links are.  You can't get more generic, nondescript and irrelevant than naming your links, "Click here".

I certainly agree that relevantly-worded links is basic to SEO--"basic", as in "rudimentary and inadequate". When someone tells me "Click here" hurts SEO, my immediate impression is that they last did SEO years ago, when keywords and the number of links mattered more than the content itself.

In my Google+ complaint against a particularly UX snarky piece about the subject, a commenter remarked:
The "Click Here" title on the link wouldn't matter at all, for instance, if it led to a landing page or sales/lead generating microsite, which it's probably going to a lot of the time - that's not something you want discoverable organically, anyway. And it wouldn't matter much more for anything else - links to are hardly the only thing spiders use to rank a page. 
In other words, how well your content and information architecture maps to the customer journey or purchasing funnel is a bigger factor for clicks-through than your links' wording. If a mere "Click here" link could wreck your SEO, there are more serious things that's broken on your website.

"Click here" vs accessibility

The one criticism against "Click here" that I fully agree with is its negative impact on accessbility. If you have a long directories of links, each ending with "Click here", what visually impaired users get when they call up a list of hyperlinks is a dreadful list of meaningless Click-here's.

But why is "Click here" is singled out while its cousins are ignored? What about "Read more"?  "Continue here"? How is "Before" and "Next" better than "Click here"? All such microcopy pose accessibility problems, yet none of them get as much flak as "Click here".

Obviously, the sensible thing to do is to name hyperlinks after the destination page's. But what happens if the title cannot be used?

There are many such scenarios:
  • The link is inline, but the title doesn't fit properly into the copy
  • The destination page's title is unnecessarily long, grammatically incorrect and so cannot be used in its original form. Lots of government online services have clunky titles that don't work as outbound link copy.
  • The link is to an object rather than a html document. Examples include a zip file, an executable, etc.
Clearly, some form of contraction is necessary for such links. Even if it's not "Click here", it'd be "Download file" or "Export document". And none of these alternatives are contextually self-sufficient for users of screen readers. The solution, clearly, is not, "Avoid all microcopy in the body". The problem can only be solved at the meta-document level, i.e. by adding title attributes.

"Click here" is here to stay 

If copywriters and UXers were to reach a consensus, (first we'd have to find an open-minded UXer--a Diogenic effort for me, so far), I think it'd be that microcopy like "Click here" should be reserved for calls to action. That would keep the occurence of Click-heres to a minimum--assuming, that is, that designers understand there should only be one primary call to action on any given page. (In other words, this is an issue of content architecture, not copy.)

Of course, being a call to action, it should  be a button rather than a link. I don't think any designer would have quarrels with using short text for buttons.

Which reminds me: I think there's nothing wrong with self-evident design elements. Red buttons on heavy machinery tend to have some variation of the word, "PUSH", and it's never occurred to me that the designer was being too obvious.

Will "Click here" continue to be used on the Internet? It's certainly much less common than it used to be.

But I think the wording will stick around. Given how outdated metaphors have persisted in UI design--for example, floppy disks representing "Save", or steam locomotives in road warning signs--I have a feeling that "Click here" has a good chance of surviving the post-PC, post-mouse era.

A better chance than, say, having the words "Tap here" or Swipe across" entering the vernacular of the keyboard-and-mouse world.