A typical pattern on the web is for links to hide behind text that says “click here”, “read more”, or similar. I’m going to share the reasons why this is bad and suggest some better patterns to use.
If you trust that I know what I’m talking about then the short version of this article is:
- Using “click here” is bad for accessibility, it adds cognitive load and will hurt screen reader usage
- Your SEO efforts will suffer with “click here” text. Internal links don’t have the context search engines need to score your website
- Copy punctuated with “read more” is harder to read than when link text is more natural
- “Click” is mouse-centric and “read” is screen-centric. People consume content in more ways that by a screen connected to a mouse
- If this list has convinced you, follow my “what to do instead” guidance
For more detail, please read on.
When it comes to web pages, most assistive technologies will grab the page and parse it. Instead of rendering the page, it will showcase the content in a way that is useful for that particular assistive technology.
Screen readers, for example, would be a terrible experience if they didn’t allow for skimming. One way they allow skimming is to collate a list of all the links on the page and read them out.
Links on a page saying “click here” or “read more” have no context when reading in a list.
You’ve made it hard for someone who can’t see the link in situ, decreasing how accessible your website is.
There are other accessibility reasons why “click here” is a bad idea.
Generally speaking a “click here” link will appear close to some explanatory text. The presumption is that your reader can keep the context in their head as they go through your website.
Assistive technologies are binary, someone is either using one or they aren’t.
Cognitive ability is anything but binary and can be entirely situational. When I’m in a noisy room it’s hard to think but when it’s quiet it’s easier.
The chances are when you are writing your copy you’re in your office environment. This will not be the same environment someone will read your content in.
In short; “click here”, or “read more” style links are bad for accessibility, don’t use them.
I’ve worked in plenty of teams and companies where accessibility is a nice-to-have. I could rant for hours on the reasons why that makes zero business sense, but it is a common position for a company to hold.
One of the beautiful things about accessible writing is you almost always end up making your content do better in search engines.
There are two simple reasons for this:
- If assistive technologies can understand your content, so can search engine bots. If a search engine can understand your content better, it will rank it better
- Content that is available to more people will allow more people to complete their task. Search engines want to send people to places where they can achieve their task
I could turn this post into a rationale for using marketing budget to make your website more accessible. I will refrain.
Search engines have many ranking factors. Ranking factors are criteria for what makes one page rank above another page. One of the most significant ranking factors is how many links point to a page.
If we have two pages answering the question “what is a gemfile?”, the one with more links will likely rank higher. There is good reason to assume the one with all the links is more authoritative, why else would people link to it?
But links are more than the value of the
href attribute, they are also the link text, which is the stuff between the opening
<a> and closing
Search engines use the link text to understand why someone would link to a page. This extra context is essential.
If we have a website that everyone links to with the word “cat”, we would not expect it to rank well for the word “dog”. Everything the search engine knows about this site is that “when people link to this site, they are talking about cats”.
Search engines don’t only look at links from other sites to yours. They look at how your pages link together. These internal links send a signal of “this is what this website thinks is the best page about this link text”.
To sum up. Using “click here” links won’t pass relevant context to search engines, which means they can’t score the page you linked to appropriately.
Accessibility and SEO are two excellent reasons why you would want to avoid “click here” links. I can see a counter-argument if the content you’re writing is personal and you don’t care if others can read or find it.
I counter this by suggesting that you want your writing to come across as well as it can, even if the only audience is you.
“Click here” or “read more” has become a weird kind of punctuation on the web. Like any punctuation, when overused, it becomes annoying and gets in the way of the content.
You presumably want your ideas to flow well on the page. You can do this by not punctuating your writing with meaningless words.
The Text is Semantically Incorrect
My final point is a semantic one. Clicking is something you do with a mouse or trackpad. The chances are most of your writing isn’t read by someone using a mouse. The notion of clicking is the equal of using a picture of a floppy disk to mean save. It is an archaism that rarely makes sense to use in the current context.
Likewise, to suggest someone should “read more” sounds silly if they are listening to your content either via a screenreader, or a speech-only device like Alexa.
There is an argument that web users know that a click means a press or that reading means consuming. In the same way, someone knows the save icon without having had the joy of using floppy disks. Why take the risk that someone doesn’t? What happens when someone translates your content and the word “click” gets turned into something far more literal.
You presumably want to present yourself well in your writing, so you should make an effort to use the right words.
“Click here” or “read more” don’t make sense now and will make even less sense in the future.
What To Do Instead
By now I bet you’re on board with the idea that we should do away with “click here” text. What next?
Each case is different. I have a few general tips for improving your link text.
Replace mechanical words with actions
We’ve already talked about how “click” is a weird choice of word. As well as not being accurate in all cases, it is focused on how you interact with the link, and not what the link will do.
For example “click to view screencast” is telling you to use a mouse to interact with this link. If we used “view screencast” then this link text is telling us the action.
Assume no extra context
Assume someone has removed all other text from the page and only your link text remained.
In the first example, you would see
click here, and you would have to guess at the point of the link. In the second you would have
buy a Nintendo Switch which is clear.
Name many links
A common pattern people follow when they want to share many links is to make an in-line list:
Within the context of the sentence, the reader might know the type of content they should expect. They could not infer what is different between the three links. It makes it impossible for them to know which one they should prioritise.
You can still use in-line lists, but you need to add some context. For example, “You can read The Guardian’s writeup, @tosbourn’s thoughts, and a twitter thread talking about this.”. The same three links now convey more information about what might be different between them.
Move action links to the end of a sentence
If you were citing an article, you might link to it, but you wouldn’t expect your reader to follow the link, read everything, and come back.
Sometimes you add a link because you want someone to do something. When this is the case, you should consider putting the link at the end of the sentence.
Giving it after the context means they can decide at the point of seeing the link. “@tosbourn has a twitter account, you should follow them” means the reader has to scan back to find the link. “You should follow @tosbourn on Twitter” gives the reader less work.
Improve your website by improving your links
When I first started writing this article, I thought there was only enough content for a few paragraphs, so thank you for making it this far!
Putting thought into how you name your links will improve the accessibility of your site, increase your rankings in search engines, and will engage your readers more. This will result in more people reading and getting value from your content.
If you have any other reasons that “click here” is wrong, or if you have any fantastic tips to share on writing great link copy, I’m all ears! Please share in the comments below.