“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.
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! ((For a few extra examples, see the World Wide Web Consortium’s anti-“Click Here” page.))
Bad: “Click Here”
One of my biggest link pet peeves is when people use “click here” for their link text. ((And “click here” isn’t just a pet peeve, it’s an official bad practice as described in point 13.1 in the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Standards.)) 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:
- It uses the same link text to represent links to different pages.
- 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.
- The first link text, “click here,” describes the action required to use the link. However, everyone knows this. It’s practically “reredundant.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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.
- Does Telling Someone to “Click Here” Work?
- You should follow me on Twitter.
- 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?