Formatting Web Links: a Puristic View

by Bob DuCharme

Related link:

While reading the recent chromatic O'Reilly developer posting Good Hyperlink, Bad Hyperlink, I looked at the referenced page, followed through some other links, and ended up at the essay "Links Want to Be Links" by Tampere University of Technology's Jukka Korpela. It's a thorough discussion of link formatting, with the underlying message being that we shouldn't mess with defaults, because consistent formatting (for example, blue underlined text for hyperlinks) makes web use more intuitive for everyone, especially visually impaired people.

Much of the advice is pretty extreme, or as he puts it at one point, "puristic," but whether you agree or disagree with his points (and whether or not you're innocent of all charges he makes—I'm certainly not), anyone interested in linking will learn something from his methodical discussion of text link formatting, image link formatting, the best use of the associated attributes, and the potential role of CSS. For example, I always knew that "click here" as anchor text (for example: click here) was bad form, but now I have a better idea why. From now on, I'll imagine each of my anchor text phrases pulled out of context into a list of the document's links, and I'll try to write them so that they make sense in that context. Even if that particular list is never created, knowing that the information can be re-used that way means that it can be re-used other ways as well, and greater possibilities for content re-use mean greater value for that content.

Are there any good counterarguments out there?


2004-12-04 02:02:50
on click here
the argument against click here as an anchor text would make sense if one didn't have the custom of making the link relate to the subject of the preceding text, to argue against it in that context then seems analogous to argue against the strong visual clues of default hyperlink styling, given that a click here text is even a stronger clue than link styling, and less likely to be misinterpreted as a link in itself. the misinterpretation of a click here link is a misinterpretation of the subject of the linked resource, a misinterpretation enabled by
  1. not clearly delineating the relation between the link and the text preceding the click here

  2. a user not reading the preceding text to find out what the link is actually about

how do click here links relate to links were the the anchor is an arrow or some other object meant to indicate that one will proceed to a following page in a selection of pages? I would suppose that one way in which they relate is that they present particular automatic link generation strategies different than solutions which require a meaningful text be the anchor of every link.

2004-12-04 02:37:57
on click here
to go through the main points of the linked article:

  1. "Click here" just looks stupid. - okay. I don't care.

  2. "Click here" looks especially stupid when printed on paper. - I have a sneaking suspicion that no matter how much effort we put into it, material presented for one media transposed into another media, even with style alterations, will probably have a bunch of design decisions and content that will just look stupid. I have come to this conclusion from examining the print versions of many popular websites which take into account that ads and menus should be removed, but still look craptascular. Furthermore, until we have a printing browser that allows you to print a page, and select print reference pages one level down, which will then put the primary page and referenced pages in a reasonable order for you, the stupidity of click here on a printed page will be of lesser import than the media limitations of print itself. And since we will probably have book thin browsing appliances with liquid paper before that happens I'm thinking this particular argument against click here is stupid in itself.

  3. "Click here" is useless in a list of links or when in "links reading" mode, or whenever a link text is considered as isolated from its textual and visual context. The problems of link texts out of context will be discussed in more detail below. - This is true

  4. Click here" is bad food for search engines. If you say "For information on pneumonia, click here", search engines won't know that your document contains a link to a document about pneumonia..... - again true, although as I indicated the main value of click here, or other types of links in which the anchor is not descriptive in and of itself is in the context of link generation strategies. the loss in search engine optimization that click here might cause in some contexts might also be offset by the possibilities it opens up for the application itself.

  5. There's usually a fairly simple way to do things better. Instead of the text "For information on pneumonia, click here", you could simply write "pneumonia information". - yes, if you're writing the first one above, you might as well write the second one. if on the other hand there is not a fairly simple way to do things better this reason doesn't count.

  6. "Click here" is device-dependent. There are several ways to follow a link, with or without a mouse.... - well as is also observed users probably know what you mean, i think I would rephrase that to definitely know what you mean. so if instead of click here one wrote 'link' would it all be solved? This device independence thing doesn't seem like it is actually very important in these reasons, given that no thought was given to the actual problems of links involved in printed media. as an aside I think we should note that many descriptive anchors used in links still make absolutely no sense in the context of a printed output of the document.

much of the argument against click here, or other non-descriptive links, deals with the needs of disabled users, I believe disabled users are ill-served by getting pages that are suited for non-disabled users with some thought given to making the pages accessible, the needs and habits of most disabled users are such that a page in their favored applications functions nearly as a seperate media.

there are of course other arguments in the document, many of them correct. however some of the major ones really rather irked me.

2004-12-04 08:33:29
on click here
>I have a sneaking suspicion that no matter
>how much effort we put into it, material
>presented for one media transposed into
>another media, even with style alterations,
>will probably have a bunch of design
>decisions and content that will just
>look stupid

The professional way to do it is not to present in one medium and then transpose into another; you store in a device-independent medium (this is why SGML, XML's predecessor, was invented) and then use stylesheets to convert that to different versions for different media. People do it all the time.

And did you ever notice how only the more amateurish sites say "click here"?

2004-12-04 15:18:51
on click here
You really should read the article chromatic referred to.

Further, while you can argue against “no click here”, I'm pretty certain you'll have a hard time making a convincing argument in favour of click here. The best I've ever seen people do is “who cares / it doesn't matter”.

If the link target is to be inferred from the context, then the entire context should be clickable. You can do that for simple <a> link with a display: box; style, f.ex.

2004-12-05 01:55:18
on click here
yes, I have some familiarity with this xml you speak of. I'm pretty sure I also have quite a deep level of understanding of its usage in multiple media and cross media solutions. I would like to reference an article from some years back which argued that the problem with multiple media presentation of different data was that very frequently a true presentation agnostic data format meant that any single presentation could not be fine-tuned enough to fit most corporate design standards, unfortunately I don't know the location of that resource.
I don't necessarily want to expend a lot of energy on that matter right here though, as I should be publishing something that deals with it in the beginning of next year. Besides all this somewhat off-topic argumentation it should be noted that the reason why I used the term transposed was to imply a presentation made in the context of one media, a web browser, and then the presentation itself changed in the context of another, print, via perhaps the application of a css stylesheet with @media print which is different than the generation of an xsl-fo via xslt.

'And did you ever notice how only the more amateurish sites say "click here"?'
this could lead to an argument about what denotes amateurishness, I don't doubt that more sites that I dislike will use click here than sites that I do like will, but I don't find this to be a convincing argument that it must never be used (and also as I tried to point out earlier the argument against click here is really an argument against links that do not describe their object within the link but in which the object is discernable by a repeated, otherwise meaningless icon or term, in this case click here but just as likely -->), just as I do not believe in rules that say you should not ever use the querystring in a site design, that images should always have an alt text (presuming of course that the alt is meaningful), that you must always open new windows as new instead of as named windows (or vice versa), or even that you should never use inline javascripts.
most of these things are not things that I do, but if i feel the need to or if requirements are such that they will need to be done that way then I would like to avoid the people who often show up after the fact with articles such as this one to link to and say, oooh, you chose click here, bad bad bad.

2004-12-05 02:28:12
on click here
hmm, well i seem to be spending a lot of time defending click here, but that article didn't convince me. first off, that is not the way I would expect someone to use click here if they were going to use it, i would expect it to be used in the following way:
To learn about the Solaris Operating Environment (click here) with click here in a smaller text.
so yes, putting click here or any hyperlinked text at the start of a sentence will tend to cause people to focus inordinately on that text. I believe English has a strong tradition of putting the most important parts of a sentence at its start, and ending with the least important parts, this tradition, combined with hyperlinking an insignificant text, will make that text really stand out. I bet it also stands out more because the click here gets repeated at the start of sentence after sentence, see that is bad because here we see the click here at the important part of the sentence, and we can see at a glance it is at the important part because it is always capitalized, and we just tend to focus on it.

it is also especially annoying in that the way the text is structured means that those links are essentially a menu.

" I'm pretty certain you'll have a hard time making a convincing argument in favour of click here. "
I agree, although I can think of exactly one case in which I found it useful. This was in a multilingual site:
danish, swedish, english, german, arabic, farsi;
no matter which language you were in you could go into the same resource under all other languages which had an instance of that resource (this was to not force a linguistic synchronization between resources)
internal site links were managed by pointing at a few overarching subjects (by few I mean about twenty or so but it was an expandable list), the subject list was maintained in one language, english, thus if a text related to subject x and the language the resource was written in was farsi then at the end of the text a link would be generated to relevant farsi texts on the subject of x.
because authors were not expected to have any knowledge as to how their individual articles related to the whole click here links were used for these particular generated links. Obviously if the resources had been present to maintain multiple language subject lists it would have been preferable to use those, but even so this would have just meant that instead of (for more info: click here), it would have been (read more about x) this is of course mainly due to the unstructured nature of the articles.
compounding difficulty of the application was the fact that languages could be added, removed, or their content archived if it was found not to be useful to maintain them in continuing relation to the rest of the site (not synchronized as that is too much work, but in reasonable degree of synchronization)

2004-12-05 02:41:06
on click here
also in referring to the chromatic article it should probably be noted that one of the pages he links to has the following (in firefox):

Having problems viewing this page? Click Here

probably this text should have been guidelines for site display or something similar, but it does indicate that click here is generally used various repetive links in which the context might not be easily discernable. Hopefully the amateurs at will get their act together.

by the way, what is the opinion on Read More? the same as click Here? Less harmful because it does not have click? I suppose that it would be just as offensive to someone with a screen reader right, because they would be hearing more! (this is in reference to the point about the offensiveness of click for people using alternate browsing technologies)

2004-12-05 07:09:49
on click here
"click here" says "here is a link to something" and nothing else. "read more" says "here is a link to further material on the topic covered here," which is definitely an improvement, although it does have many of the problems you allude to: it makes little sense in print, etc.