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Think Before You Link

“Link text,” also known as “anchor text,” is the words that a user clicks on in a link. It’s often underlined or blue.

Unfortunately, writing good link text is hard and requires more thought that one might initially think, but when done well, your web content is easier to read and use.

In this post, I’ll outline link text best practices so you can understand what works, what doesn’t work, and why.

Examples

Let’s dive right in with some examples of bad, good, and better link text. I’ve written three versions of a passage for my made-up nonprofit, Widgets for the World. The blue underlined text represent hypothetical links, so don’t try to click them!1

Bad: “Click Here”

One of my biggest link pet peeves is when people use “click here” for their link text.2 It’s one of the oldest and most ingrained habits of a lot of people who write for the web. Notice how it negatively affects the text:

  1. It uses the same link text to represent links to different pages.
  2. The repeated phrases makes scanning the page for visually distinctive links unhelpful.

Widgets for the World offers widgets to children in third world countries who suffer from extreme widget deficiency. We offer many types of widgets including blue widgets and red widgets. To learn more about our widget offerings click here. Over the past ten years, we have distributed widgets in 93 countries. For a list of the countries we work in, click here. We hope you can support us in the work we do. To make a donation to WftW, click here.

Good: Unique Words

Things get better when we try to use text from the passage that represents the content we’re linking to. Each link is now unique and can be understood when taken out of context!

Widgets for the World offers widgets to children in third world countries who suffer from extreme widget deficiency. We offer many types of widgets including blue widgets and red widgets. Visit our Widget Products page to learn more about our offerings. Over the past ten years, we have distributed widgets in 93 countries. Check out our Widget World Map! We hope you can support us in the work we do on the Donate page.

Better: Integrated Links

In the previous example, we still used entire sentences that only existed so they could have links. In a sense, we’re still writing as if the “click here” links are there, we’re just using more descriptive words. However, you can usually use conversational language and still make great links:

Widgets for the World offers widgets to children in third world countries who suffer from extreme widget deficiency. We offer many types of widgets including blue widgets and red widgets. Over the past ten years, we have distributed widgets in 93 countries. Please consider supporting our work with a donation.

A final good structure, which I’ll skip the example for, involves writing text immediately followed by well-written, descriptive links contained in a bulleted list.

What’s Going On

Notice that these three examples are fundamentally different link types.

  1. The first link text, “click here,” describes the action required to use the link. However, everyone knows this. It’s practically “reredundant.”
  2. The second type of link text describes the page you’re linking to. It’s still a little redundant (we know links go to pages), but  this works and is appropriate in some cases. However, it still requires using sentence and paragraph structures that are awkward and inefficient.
  3. The final set of link text, describes the content to which the link goes rather than the page the content is on or the action required to get there. Better yet, it’s compact and reads like normal text!

Why Do This

There are three main reasons to write better link text.

  1. People scan pages. Because links are visually distinctive, they’re one thing that pops out when scanning. However, if that text isn’t clear when standing out of context, it’s not helpful for scanning.
  2. Just like sighted people scan a page, people using screen readers can have all the links read to them out of context.  How would you like it if someone said to you, “Click Here. Click Here. Click Here. Click Here?”
  3. Search engines use links to understand what information the page being linked to contains. If you use good link text to describe the linked-to page, you’re helping everyone get better search results.

Just like writing good headings, better link text is something you have control over and makes the web better. You just have to remember to do it and give it a moment’s thought!


March 8, 2012, 3:54pm – Thanks to Jeff in the comments, I went and tried to find some information for those advocating the opposite position as I do in this post. For further reading, I recommend these three posts.

  1. Does Telling Someone to “Click Here” Work?
  2. You should follow me on Twitter.
  3. Should web writers and UX designers use “click here?”

As I explain in the comments, I still stand by my opinion, but I think there are a few instances where there’s some gray area. As always, every decision has trade-offs.

What do you think?

7 Responses

  1. Ok–this might be a little offensive, but I’ll ask it anyways. You say:  The first link text, “click here,” describes the action required to use the link. However, everyone knows this. It’s practically “reredundant.” 

    Does everyone know this? I oftentimes will use the dreaded “click here” link text, knowing full well what I’m doing is wrong. But I feel like I have to do it because my target audience might not understand what a highlighted and underlined text means in the context of an email or a website. My target audience skews a little older, and maybe a little less tech savy, so I don’t want them to miss out on opportunities to click. I also don’t want to look like an idiot. Should I stop doing the “click here” all together? Does everyone really know what a link is?

  2. mrwweb says:

    Jeff, I, at least, am not offended. I’ve come to learn that writing this blog is as much for me as others. It’s a great check on my assumptions and a way to probe my ideas.

    Thanks for forcing me to think about this issue even more. I’ve done some further reading
    http://prosekiln.com/should-web-writers-use-click-here/ and
    http://www.copyblogger.com/click-here/ and remain mostly convinced. (The
    comments are very good on both posts, but particularly the first.) After mulling over your comment for a while, here are some new thoughts:

    On the web, a lot of bad practices become common once people get used to them and that familiarity makes the bad practice easily understandable to most visitors. I think the “Get Involved” menu label is an example of this. It’s rather vague, but it’s so common now that most volunteers/donors/etc. look for it. Just like I think language can evolve, I don’t think that’s always a bad logic.

    In the case of links, though, because of the accessibility and SEO concerns (points 2 and 3 at the end of the article), I think this is a case where it’s good try to avoid “click here.” It’s not just confusing, but it actually causes problems for people.

    It seems like there may be cases where it’s appropriate—I’m thinking a single “call to action” link on a page styled as a button—but I think those are less common than most. In situations where you have 10 links on a page or a link in the middle of a paragraph, “click here” just seems to cause so many adverse effects.

    I think your observation points out a common inertia on the web, but at some point, a large group of people has to take action to create a new common practice that follows standards, and this is one of those times, at least for me.

    And personally, FWIW, I have an adverse reaction to “click here” links and try to avoid clicking on them (other commenters in those above articles feel the same). They worry me and am more likely to hover over those links, inspecting the URLs of where they’re taking me before I click. So, no matter what you do, someone will be unhappy. C’est la vie!

    • Hmm…so what about email marketing? Obviously, this isn’t what your post is about, but I think most of your points still hold (except SEO). Is having an email with a “click here” link in it enough of an ask, or should you try to steer clear of that?

      • mrwweb says:

        You should check out this article: http://www.dustincurtis.com/you_should_follow_me_on_twitter.html

        I think that’s most relevant to your question (and it’s short)! That article is the only test I’ve seen that begins to convince me there might be a place for “click” or “here” in link text. However, the only acceptable place I can think of is these call-to-action links, like the one in your example.

        These articles don’t really address design either. That certainly plays a role in catching people’s attention and getting them to click. Putting links as buttons is probably effective although I haven’t seen much research to backup that assumption.

        Finally, I suspect that cases where there’s a more-specific action to take shouldn’t use “click here.” I mostly describe “informational” links in this post rather than “task-based” (actionable) links, but I don’t think Amazon and other e-retailers would use “Shop Now,” “Add to Cart,” and “Buy Now” if “Click Here” was more effective by even .001%. For your email scenario, I’d imagine some texts like “Sign Up,” “Subscribe,” or maybe even “Read Now” would be effective.

        • This is super fascinating. I never considered all the work that goes in to something as simple as an email link.

          Good point about Amazon–they probably know what they are doing.

  3. Ian Dunn says:

    I agree with everything you wrote, but I do have one small thing to add. When using integrated links, it’s often helpful to add title attributes to the links that give a more formal description of the referenced page. For instance, “many types of widgets” could have a title tag like, “Widgets available from Widgets of the World” so that it makes sense outside the context of the sentence. That’s usually more of an issue when linking to external sites, though.

    • mrwweb says:

       Ian. Great point. It seems that adding the title attribute even increases accessibility, but only marginally so. It doesn’t work with all screen readers or it’s at least hard to setup.

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