Click Here For Better Usability And SEO

by Barry Welford February 25th, 2009 

Introduction

The title, Click Here For Better Usability And SEO, is not intended to be provocative although some may instinctively question it.  The problem is one created by Google and it all relates to what is called anchor text. That is the text associated with a hyperlink to another web page and which causes the mouse cursor to change to a hand when hovering over the text.

We all surf the Web by following hyperlinks, often designated by a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or more technically a URI (Uniform Resource Indicator)..  Google puts a great deal of emphasis on the anchor text associated with a hyperlink.  That is why, for example, the Adobe Reader Download website is number one in a Google search for 'Click Here', even though those words do not appear on the website itself. Very many other websites have links to this website with links that involve the words 'Click Here'.

The usual wisdom is that one should not use Click Here as anchor text because it gives little information on what the other web page really is about.  That is a pity because Click Here has a very clear meaning in terms of what action is needed.  In this article, we will explore how to get the best of both worlds.

Usability Comes First

Usability measures whether  a web page visitor can perform whatever tasks they might wish to do on that particular web page.  Unless they can do that, there is little point in visiting that web page.  That is why Stoney deGeyter gave an unequivocal Always as the answer to his question, When Is Usability More  Important Than SEO?

You would think most people would agree that the anchor text for hyperlinks should be very visible.  However Zach Dunn prefers the counter argument

He suggests it’s easy to be writing site copy and link to another location with a “Click Here for more” link at the end of the sentence. Although he is certainly guilty of it, he suggests this is an often unnecessary step. Since you’ve already written something, why not use that text for the link instead?  As argument he presents the following three variants.

click here examples

He then goes on to say, It isn’t natural to have a “Click Here” spacing out sentences. This breaks the flow of reading. Placing the link inline with the text is unobtrusive, and increases readability.  Option three is the only one whose content would remain unchanged if a link was not involved.

The problem with 'unobtrusive' is that some members of the audience may well miss it.  Website design should work for most visitors.  That includes some whose eyesight may not be as good as average and others who may be very new to all this and not understand how hyperlinks and anchors work.

Brian Clark is very much in the other camp: Telling Someone to “Click Here” Does Work

I’ve always been a big proponent of having actionable anchor text for links when I really want someone to click. From a copywriting standpoint, it’s a no brainer—it’s been proven time and time again that if you want someone to do something, you’ll get better results if you tell them exactly what to do.  Not only should you use actionable anchor text if you really want someone to click, but you should also tell people to take the exact action you want them to perform in order to get the best response.

If you need any confirmation that Click Here works well in making the sale, then just check out the website of Perry Marshall, the very successful expert on Adwords.  The calls to action on his sales pages always seem to involve Click Here.

Click Here Is Not Search-Engine Friendly

Even though Click Here seems to find favor among those creating calls for action, it does not get the same respect from those hoping to develop search engine friendly web pages.  Here is what Lisa Barone says on this.

Simply put, descriptive anchor text aids site usability. It tells visitors what’s on the other side of that hyperlink. It lets them know that if they click on the link at the bottom of your page they’ll be taken to a site or a page that discusses [X].

And what about the search engines? If you don’t include keyword-rich anchor text, how are they going to know what that page you’re linking to is about? They’re just going to assume you’re about clicking or reading, things that probably have nothing to do with that site or page.

So there is the dilemma.  Either use Click Here to encourage people to take the action or use some other text that works better for the search engines. 

Ann Smarty has recently summarized a thread at WebProWorld forums, which discusses methods to both encourage more people to click the link while making it user- and SEO-friendly.  She summarizes the pros and the cons of Click Here links:

  • People tend to respond better to this type of link (it is basically a call to action)
  • Most SEOs find them quite useless since they do not offer a search engine any information as to what the referred page is about
  • Click Here links are bad for accessibility and usability: screen reader users navigate through a page using the tab key, moving from link to link.  “Click Here” links give them absolutely no information.

Another problem that Smashing Magazine points out is that text links may be too small to be easily clickable.  To avoid anchor text being too small, they suggest using padding via CSS to create slightly larger anchor text areas.

A better solution, which was also mentioned in the Ann Smarty article, is to use images rather than text for hyperlinks. This gives maximum flexibility for usability and even has advantages with respect to SEO.

Click Here Buttons – Both Usability and SEO

Personal Finances for Seniors

Using an image for the anchor to the hyperlink allows more text to appear to explain what is to be found by following the link.  The image to the right, for example, is a link to one of my blogs.

There are two attributes that can be added to the anchor for increased effect.  The first is to add a title.&#
160; This has zero value to the search engines but can provide a useful tool tip as the human visitor considers whether to click on the link.

The second is the ALT attribute.  This originally was available to give information to those people whose browsers were not displaying images.  The ALT text is used by search engines and has essentially the same value as the normal anchor text for a text link.  Since the ALT text is not visible to the human visitor, more words can be added including keywords.  It is likely that spamming a large number of keywords in such ALT  attributes will be counterproductive with the search engines.

Comparing image links with text links, image links are far superior.  They are certainly worth considering as a preferred way of providing links to other web pages.  They win both for usability and for SEO.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.

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18 Responses to “Click Here For Better Usability And SEO”

  1. Jeremy says:

    I don't like inline links as Dunn suggests, because they often make me think of spam/ad links. I wonder how many visitors see them as such. I really hesitate to click links that aren't menu links or clearly button type links. I might be more cautious than the average user, but I think its an aspect of this that wasn't discussed.

  2. Andrea Hill says:

    Can I chime in and request you also consider accessibility?

    Think about listening to the page: the addition of URLs written out, or "click here for" is distracting to the main content. Yes, we want to create links, but are they not supplemental to the main content of the page? Do you really want to interrupt your article in the middle of it to tell readers to leave?

    As well: for those using assistive technologies like screen readers, "click here" is all but useless. There is a way for screen readers to bring up "link lists", which list out all links on the page to facilitate navigation. If your anchors all read "click here", the page is all but useless. (If you want to see an example of what I mean, check out the FANGS extension for Firefox; it's a screen reader emulator)

  3. @Jeremy – I agree entirely with you on this one. I'm never sure what the implication is of an embedded text link. Should I jump ship now? It was one of the many aspects that came to mind in thinking of this simple topic. Unfortunately it did not survive the cut.

    @Andrea – This is a message that bears repeating often since most of us do not consider those of our readers using screen readers. At least using images for links you have a variety of ways of giving them a good experience.

  4. Dan Gorgone says:

    If you have to put "click here" to identify a link, it means that your images or links don't look clickable and/or you are not creating a clear distinction between clickable and unclickable content.

    Perhaps the style you're using strips out underlines and doesn't create clear distinctions between normal text and hyperlinks. If we're talking images, perhaps your clickable image doesn't look clickable, like a button.

    I will concede that adding "Click Here" to the text written on buttons could not have any negative effect. Personally, any hyperlinks with "Click Here" in them cause me to have to back up and read more than I already have to discover the destination of the link. I shouldn't have to. The link should just say where it's going.

    @Andrea – totally agree. Not enough people consider accessibility when designing or writing.

  5. Well done Barry! You did a great job picking this apart and making it easy to understand. There's no one rule of thumb fits all situations cheat, so I try to use business requirements as the guide. Sites that have no business req. for mobile display or accessibility will be less likely to consider these users, for ex. Those that do, you'll see some solutions. They may not work, so spllit A/B testing will help figure out what each particular site or page needs to perform best.

    To NOT meet accessibility needs is too common and a huge mistake. Above all, the task we have with usable design that can be marketed is to always create confidence with each word, each step and each direction. In some cases, that is anchoring the text within a sentence and adding a title attribute for a description for screen readers and mouse overs.

    For calls to action where revenue is the top biz goal, calls to action must be stronger and more visible, so embedded text are not the proper solution.

  6. Andrea HIll says:

    @Barry – then the idea of linking images highlights the importance of the alt text being a true representation of the image (the term "alt" DOES stand for "alternative" and really shouldn't be used to string together keywords)

  7. @Kim Thanks, I really appreciate your comments.

    @Dan The only concern I have is that some visitors may not know the conventions. Perhaps your grandchild would have no problems but your grandparents who are new to all this might not know about text links.

    @Andrea – I fully agree with not just pumping in keywords to the ALT tag. However I am suggesting the ALT tag should describe where the link will take you rather than just what the image is about. I wonder if that causes problems.

  8. This is all why the title of a page is so important. If you properly title your page, making it keyword rich, and make sense, it's how people will link to it. That is an seo tip. For a usability tip, you should always link to a page using it's title as the anchor text. That way, when visitor clicks it, they know they are on the right page, and know what to expect.

  9. Dr. Pete says:

    I think that any issue where so many smart people disagree is obviously a complex one. From the usability perspective, I'm starting to think that it depends a bit on the intent of the link. If I have copy like:

    "In barry's recent article revealing that monkeys like bananas…"

    I think it's fine, from a usability standpoint, to link "Barry's recent article" or "monkeys like bananas" (although they differ in SEO intent), instead of using a direct call to action.

    If, on the other hand, you need a strong call to action, it may need to be overt. If I post:

    "Next Friday, I'll be doing a webinar on SEO…"

    …and I want people to sign up, just linking "webinar on SEO" probably isn't enough. Here, I think it's ok to break the flow a bit and put in a direct call to action, such as "Click here to sign up". Of course, you could use a hybrid approach, such as:

    "Sign up for my SEO webinar next Friday…"

    …or something similar, and then link "Sign up" (at least it's part of the sentence that way). Not so great for SEO, but it is a situation where people need and expect a direct call to action.

  10. wayne says:

    yeah i agree what ann smarty says “Click Here” links give them absolutely no information…

  11. I too was going to mention accessibility but @Andrea beat me to it. A ream of click heres is useless to someone using a screen reader.

    I find this one difficult to balance – having been trained to adhere to the DDA and think accessbility first I try to avoid click here – but from a user perspective I think inline links are often lost. I wrote a blog post about a file that could be downloaded and had the link as an inline and got reams of comments asking where the file could be downloaded from! In the end I had to break my own rules and add Click here to download…

    If anyone has a perfect solution I would love to hear it!

  12. PageTracer says:

    Title attribute can also be used with textual links, not only with images.

  13. Well I agreed that google really give more value and importance to anchor text. When we search different things at google than we can see the results accordingly.

  14. No matter how much time and effort you put into a site you will always get people that don't what to click. Sometimes if you don't put "click here" certain people just won't know what to do.

  15. [...] Click Here For Better Usability And SEO – 02/25/2009 SSc [...]

  16. Brian says:

    One could involve the purpose of clicking: Click for …..

  17. Andri Yarusman says:

    I like your explanation above … as Penguin also cought many sites used anchor text with this anchor in their backlink profile …