Don't Click Here: The Art of Hyperlinking

I've often thought there is a subtle art to the humble hyperlink, that stalwart building block of hypertext, the stuff that Ted Nelson's Xanadu dream was made of.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:


Yeah, if it weren’t for “intellitext” advertisements I might leave javascript enabled by default.

…with only cookies, referrer headers, gif animation, embeded sounds, and flash disabled.

Re the links, I think this is where tabbed browsing comes in.

There are two types of links in blogs like Jeff’s.

  1. Links to articles that provide background for the current topic, which I want to read immediately before proceeding with the main article.

  2. Links to articles that are related, but can wait until I’ve finished the main article.

I open type 1 links in a new tab with focus, and type 2 links in a new tab without focus. This results in a good mix of getting background without interrupting the ‘flow’.

@Steve, Right on! Using “click here” is intuitive and it speaks to people in a clear way. No harm in that. And why does it even matter if it clutters something like search results?

Seriously, people, come on. For me to stop using it, I’ll need a better reason than that.

“So, anyone still relying on that info in the status bar is now backward and (dare I say it) retarded?”

Is this a blog about good practices in the real world, or one about where computer programmers expect everybody to have the same purposes with the same clients running the same machines? I mean, get a clue already! Enough with the nerd fascism!


The w3c disagrees.

In a column a while back in SD Times (want a link?), I suggested that an improvement we really need to make soon in our articles is that hovering over a link causes an alt-text box to pop up and tell us what the link’s heading is. This permits us to have some idea of what we’ll see before we click. I especially want to see this enhancement in blogs, where, as you say, there are far too many links.

Jeff, you may be interested to find out that Vannevar Bush was scooped by one Paul Otlet by 11 years:

“Click here” may improve the findability of your links, but you may be confusing the reason why (if it really truly does, which we’ve only seen anecdotal evidence to support so far). It will take a hell of lot more to sway me to go against usability advice from Nielsen and others.

For example:

“Download Report” vs. “Click Here to Download Report”

By adding “Click here” you’ve increased the size of the link and the % of screen space in contrasting colour (assuming link colour is different than text colour) by over 100%. The perceptual variables of size and colour have increased which are the likely causes for increased findability, and the word “Click here” may not mean anything at all.

“Download 2007 Financial Report” for example would be even more useful.

“But as software developers, we can go farther when writing code – we can control the text of the links we generate, too.”

I think you mean ‘further’.


One other possible rule… Don’t have “hidden” click behavior in your website outside of using hyperlinks.

E.g., the New York Times website has great content, but an infuriating design: if you double-click anywhere on a webpage, it will pop up a new “reference” window that shows dictionary and thesaurus information for the word you clicked on (even though the word was not hyperlinked). This is wrong on so many levels:

  1. I didn’t want or ask for “reference” information. If I did, I would know where to find it.

  2. The word is not hyperlinked, so there’s no indication that clicking on it will generate a popup.

  3. It does this for each and every word, no matter how inane. Need a dictionary definition of “a”? Here it is!

  4. It is maddeningly inaccurate. If you click in whitespace, such as around the page border, it will open up a “reference” popup for an essentially random word or concept.

A related problem is with websites that block default right-click context menus in a vain attempt to prevent you from copying-and-pasting content (usually with an angry message “Right Click Prohibited!”), but that’s another story.

For #11, try

what about applying CSS on links ?
some links look more like buttons or underlined text

Spend enough time on social bookmarking sites and you’ll quickly realize that most sites can’t correctly handle how to save URLs. What to do with named anchors, query parameters, long urls… lots of very popular sites break in interesting ways.

#4 makes using a pain:

if you try to browse and click feedback, the preview overlaps the link and makes following the link a daunting task.

I was going to complain about the horrors of the Times website, but I see Robert beat me to it.

And I heartily second it, Iand/i stupid right-click-disable scripts.

(Dear website author: Your script keeps me from opening links in a new window, thus keeping Iyours open and on screen being read/i, and also Idoes not stop me downloading your precious images/i. Thank you.)

Jeff, that is a useful article… in reference to the first section have you seen Douglas Adams’ Hyperland? : it is such a good visualisation of a future web and what it might become. A vision we are barely scraping at the moment. Even with all the web 2.0 back slapping. (which I whine about here : )

“it’s important to provide the context necessary to make your content understandable without the need to visit whatever is behind those hyperlinks”

I agree; in #1, I should not have had to click on “Fitt’s Law” to find out what that was. :wink:

Seriously, if you don’t write “Click Here” you will always get complaints from people saying they don’t find the link.

I’m sorry to say that some users are in fact stupid (or just dont care to look) so the “Click here” is needed in a lot of places.

The w3c tips are classic examples of what not to do if you in fact want the users to find the links.