It’s Time to Abolish “Click Here to …”

Published on for WE Communications

Step On Brakes to StopDespite the increased prominence of rich media technologies such as Silverlight and Flash, the Web runs on Hypertext Markup Language (HTML for short). HTML exists so that information transmitted on the Web has context beyond mere verbiage. Without it, we couldn’t clearly define where these paragraphs start and end, how to display any imagery accompanying this article, or even whether a list was numbered or simply bulleted.

When the Web was young and largely unfamiliar, it was understandable for content creators to adopt a “training wheel” vernacular when describing its interactions. Hyperlinks in particular were initially foreign and exotic. Suddenly, any term on the page could be a gateway to a wealth of information. Like the rest of HTML, the purpose of links was contextual. One could now casually mention the ecology and behavior of the Galápagos tortoise without the need to paraphrase (potentially inadequately) for unfamiliar readers.

In order to acclimate our viewers to this method of traversing our content, we began to prefix our text with instructions:

There was a time when this was understandable given the newness of the medium, but it’s time to stop. Here’s why.

It’s redundant

Human beings rarely encounter points of interaction branded with instructions. Our street signs don’t explain how to slow down and stop. Our remote controls aren’t littered with descriptions of how to press buttons. In many cases, mere symbols are enough to spur us into action.

As a species we are impressively adaptive and perceptive. If users are not intuitively navigating your pages, the fault is likely that of your interface design or information architecture (not the lack of an instruction manual).

It dilutes your message

Links are exciting! The Web lets us instantly absorb new information, watch entertaining videos, discover music and buy lots of gadgets we could probably do without. Links are the catalyst for all our activity.

“Click here to …” focuses the viewer’s attention on what’s required of them to participate, not the adventure that lies ahead. Emphasize the call to action by letting it stand on its own.

It’s increasingly inaccurate (and insensitive)

Our world is no longer one of desktop PCs hopelessly chained to cubicles. The explosion of the mobile Web has opened our audience’s eyes to interfaces beyond the keyboard and mouse.

Dynamic online experiences demand adaptability. Use of “click here” marginalizes two important audiences: mobile users, who typically interact with their device through a touch- or key-based interface, and the blind or visually impaired, who navigate the Web using assistive tools such as screen readers.

Put simply, adopting mouse-centric language in your copy is a surefire way to alienate an important and expanding portion of your audience.

The solution is simple (dare I say, elegant!)

Abandoning “click here to” is as simple as leaving it off the beginning of your links. Instead of “Click here to search,” use “Search.” Instead of “Click here to view your cart,” use “View Cart.”

Then sit back and bask in the glory of your twenty ten Internet savvy. Well done! The Web is a better place because of you.

Now if only we could make some progress on that whole scrolling and “page fold” business … .