Why avoid generic links?

When it comes to link writing, click here is so 1996. We’re talking 14.4k modems, a CompuServe account and the Spice Girls singing “Wannabe” on your portable electronic device, a.k.a. a Sony Discman.

Remember Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal? Your click here link does. Besides being dated, what’s wrong with links like click here, read more and get started?

7 problems with the weakest links

These generic links:

1. Make it harder to skim. Links, being blue and underlined, are highly skimmable. No wonder links and other clickable elements make up nearly half of all “eye stops,” according to EyeTrack III, a Poynter Institute study.

“Users look for links on pages like puppies look for your best shoes,” write Kara Pernice, Kathryn Whitenton and Jakob Nielsen in How People Read on the Web.

But when web visitors skim a generic link, it’s basically a wasted effort, write Pernice, et al. Generic links require people to read extra words to determine the link’s meaning. Remember, the folks are skimming for a reason: They don’t want to read.

2. Reduce SEO benefits, according to usability expert Jakob Nielsen. Search engines use anchor text as an additional cue to what the page or document is about.

3. Make visitors pause before clicking. Before clicking a generic link, visitors pause to ask two questions: 1. “Where are you taking me?” and 2. “Is this a new link, or are you sending me to the same page over and over again?”

This uncertainty causes cognitive strain, which hurts the visitor’s experience on your webpage. It can also cause visitors to hesitate or even feel paralyzed by your webpage.

4. Don’t comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA. People who are visually impaired and use a screen reader hear a list of links read to them.

If all yours links say click here, read more and get started, how is a visually impaired person to decide which to click? Worse: Your site will not be in compliance with the ADA.

5. Fail to sell the link. Writing “read more” for a link is like writing “buy this” for an ad. They’re calls to action, sure. But not very persuasive ones. Why should I click, read or buy? That’s your link copy.

6. Add clutter to the page. Every time you write click here, read more or get started, you’re adding at least two extra words to your webpage. That clutter makes it harder for visitors to pick out salient information, write Pernice, et al.

In fact, sometimes it’s so hard to deal with extraneous clutter that visitors abandon cluttered pages.

7. Don’t work on mobile devices. All of these problems are “even more important on mobile devices, when every extra click delays the user significantly,” write Raluca Budiu and Jakob Nielsen, authors of User Experience for Mobile Applications and Websites. “Meaningless links such as Next Article or Previous Article may be easy to generate automatically, but are too vague—the links should contain the title of the story and possibly a summary. A link labeled Learn More is too vague, and does not tell users whether the content on that page will be worth of learning.”

Fix the weakest links

So how can you drag these 1996 links into the 21st century?

 1. Focus links on the topic, not on the action. Instead of focusing on the action—such as “click here” or “read more”—focus on the topic. Don’t tell web visitors to click; tell them what they’ll find if they do click.

Change your focus 
Don’t focus on the action Focus on the topic
To learn to write better links, click here. Learn to write better links.
To download Dreamweaver, click here. Download Dreamweaver.
“Next year will be our best ever,” says President Phoebe Ishere. Read more “Next year will be our best ever,” says President Phoebe Ishere.

Notice how focusing on the topic lifts the idea off the screen, promises the reader a benefit and slenderizes the sentence.

2. Don’t write about mechanics or the system. Click here and Read more have some ugly cousins: URLs, email addresses and other references to the mechanics of the web.

You wouldn’t write “turn page” in a publication. Why write “point your browser at” online?

Link writing don’ts
Don’t refer to mechanics Don’t refer to the system
  • Click here
  • Go to this page
  • Visit this site
  • Point your browser at
  • Hit your back button
  • Select this link
  • Internet, intranet
  • WWW
  • Browser
  • Page
  • URL
  • Computer
  • Server
  • Email addresses

3. Write mostly verb-based links. I’ve pulled some weak links off real websites, changed the details to protect the guilty and rewritten them.

Note how most of these revised links start with a strong verb and an implied “you.” Putting the reader first and leaning on strong verbs makes for good writing, whether you’re crafting links or brochures.

Don’t refer to the mechanics or the system
Before After
Email President Phoebe Ishere at Phoebe-Ishere@XYZ.com. Email President Phoebe Ishere.
A new blog about Twitter addiction includes tips, Q&A’s and personal recovery stories. Visit the blog at http://www.Stop-Me-Before-I-Tweet-Again.com. A new blog about Twitter addiction includes tips, Q&A’s and personal recovery stories.
Videos of the ceremony are available on the I-Heart-Facebook.com website. View videos of the ceremony.
Read more about the concert in a story on Radio Kansas’s website. Learn more about the concert.

“Show that things are links by underlining them and coloring them blue,” Nielsen writes. “Never name a category ‘Links’ by itself—this is akin to labeling a category of information ‘Words’ in a print medium. Name the category after what the links are pointing to.”

4. Write links that stand on their own.

Don’t make visitors read the text around the link to understand it. Instead of:

Carlson also wrote a column about the Holocaust oratorio in today’s Register. Read the piece online.


Read Carlson’s column about the Holocaust oratorio in today’s Register.

Compare your links to these befores and afters. How can you turn your don’ts into dos? How can you turn your weakest links into stronger ones?

Written by Ann Wylie for CW Magazine.