Why "Click here" is bad linking practice

Web pages often contain links like "Click here" or just "here". This document explains why such usage is bad practice, especially for accessibility reasons. The incitement for writing this was a discussion in the WAI IG mailing list under the heading Click here. For general information on accessibility, click... no, wait, I mean: There is general information on accessibility on the pages of the Web Accessibility Initiative, WAI.

Section Link text in HTML Techniques for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 says, among other things:

Good link text should not be overly general; don't use "click here." Not only is this phrase device-dependent (it implies a pointing device) it says nothing about what is to be found if the link if followed. Instead of "click here", link text should indicate the nature of the link target, as in "more information about sea lions" or "text-only version of this page". - -

"Auditory users" -- people who are blind, have difficulty seeing, or who are using devices with small or no displays -- are unable to scan the page quickly with their eyes. To get an overview of a page or to quickly find a link, these users will often tab from one link to the next or review a list of available links on a page.

But isn't "click here" a useful hint of what to do?

In the early days of the Web, the use of "click here" was defended on the grounds that users wouldn't otherwise know what to do. That is, authors thought that users needed hints on the elementary use of their browsers. Do you wish to get associated with that, with the presumptions of the era when Web browsers were something exotic?

Mental exercise: Imagine that pages generally contained phrases like "whistle to follow link", in a world where voice-controlled browsers are common (as they might be in the future). If you were using such a browser, the phrase would hardly do any good, since you most probably already knew how to follow links; it would just irritate to some extent. If you were using a different browser, well, you might find yourself alienated.

But of course it is relevant to users to recognize links as links. The mistake of using "click here" is often made as an attempt to reduce the harm caused by a different mistake: preventing links from looking like links. For example, if you use an image as a link and try and prevent the browser from drawing a border around it, or if you use style sheets to prevent from being underlined and/or not appearing in a distinctive color, then you might think you need to say "click here". But it's much better to fix the original mistake. For a lot more about such issues, refer to the treatise Links Want To Be Links.

Link texts out of context

On a Web page, links appear in contexts, such as in a list of links, or as adjacent to an image, or some text around. In fact, "click here" as link text presumes that there is some textual context that explains what the link refers to. The basic reason for avoiding "click here" is that there is no need to make such assumptions, which are often false in different modes of use.

Web pages are very often designed so that reading a page sequentially from the start till the end is rather uncomfortable. A user who wants to get a quick idea of the content can usually skim over the headings, emphasized phrases, links, and other prominent parts, then perhaps follow a link that points to a page he really needs. But such use is impossible to people who cannot see, or are otherwise using the page in non-visual mode, or are confused with the structure or the presentation of a complex page. Hence, various tools for the blind, for example, need to give users options for doing something that corresponds to "skimming over", e.g. to get a list all headings or the list of all links.

For example, the Mozilla browser has "View Page Info" function, where the Links tab contains a numbered list of links on a page, with link text as the basic information. For the current page, this would contain items like 1 stylesheet, 2 WAI IG mailing list, 3 Click here, 4 WAI, 5 link texts out of context, 6 click here, 7 click here, etc. Several browsers and other programs can automatically generate a list of links on a page, based on the markup for links and on the link texts. The list might be displayed on screen, printed on paper (perhaps as "references" at the end of the output), or read aloud. A browser could also have a "links reading mode" where the user can tab from one link to another and have the links read for him. Even for browsers that have no such features built in, you could install one, provided that you a willing to allow JavaScript execution; in Ian's favelets at the Accessify.com site, there is a utility that you can easily install so that it can be used via a browser menu whenever you wish to get a list of links on any page.

A list of links might or might not be accompanied with the presentation of the address (URL) that the link refers to or with the value of an eventual title attribute in the <a href> element. It is safest to assume that it is not, i.e. that the link text needs to "stand alone". The list could in alphabetic order, or in the order in which the links appear in the document.

Apparently, "click here" does not work at all when isolated from its context. If you have several links with that text, the list looks very silly and is not of much use.

Wouldn't a title attribute help?

Some Web developers are arguing that adding the title attribute with explanatory text resolves any problems with link texts. This is a false assumption on several grounds:

Citations of statements against using "Click here"

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 say, in guideline 13: Provide clear navigation mechanisms:

Link text should be meaningful enough to make sense when read out of context -- either on its own or as part of a sequence of links. Link text should also be terse.

For example, in HTML, write "Information about version 4.3" instead of "click here". - -

Tim Berners-Lee, now the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, wrote, in his classical Style Guide for online hypertext, section Printable Hypertext:

Try to avoid references in the text to online aspects. "See the section on device independence" is better than "For more on device independence, click here.". In fact we are talking about a form of device independence.

The document Don't use "click here" as link text, which is part of Quality Tips for Webmasters by the W3C, says:

When calling the user to action, use brief but meaningful link text that:

Jakob Nielsen, the usability expert, has written, in his alertbox Accessible Design for Users With Disabilities:

Users with dyslexia may have problems reading long pages - -. Selecting words with high information content as hypertext anchors will help these users, as well as blind users, scan for interesting links (no "click here", please).