Text Links, Contextual Meaning and Your Users

I did not expect this to be so interesting a discussion when I penned the my post “What does SEO and clicking links got in common?” based on Phil’s “Click Here – It’s Not About SEO!” post. But for sure, it is a fascinating topic at several levels.

Indeed, the Web has moved on from the early days where “clicking” and “double-click” were terms that could get you kicked into the Geek Room. Like Yucca Korpela stated in his article – “Why “Click here” is bad linking practice“, assuming that users did not know what to do when encountering a link is no longer a valid argument. He went on to illustrate the useless-ness of “click here” with examples of browsers that automatically generates a list of links. Frankly, I have no idea why anyone would want to do that, but then again, some people actually eat their greens; so…

Referencing Yucca’s article might not be very relevant in 2007 as it was written in 2002. Five years is eternity in Internet time. I believe that today, “click here” is no more or no less a phrase that can be used by anyone. Just like “take this” or “take that”.

Somehow, I still get the feeling that we are all approaching this from an extremely mechanical, technical point of view. After all, we do not communicate with each other in keywords. Nor do normal people talk in sound bites. So, if “click here” taken out of context means nothing, so what? I can think of a million words taken out of context to mean nothing… or a lot.

“Take this.” – what? a punch? present? $100?
“Oh, lovely.” – what? someone left pooh on the floor? your neighbour’s dog? new dress?
“Grab it!” – ok, I will not go there…

But I hope that I made my point. Any phrase, no matter how meaningful in context, means nothing out of it. “Click here” is not the problem. Taking things out of context is. Some claim that “click here” looks silly on paper. Well, it certainly should. Grab a newspaper, oh ancient one!

If I were to be asked to write an article, I think one of the first things that I would need to know is – who is asking me to write it. If the Wall Street Journal asked me to write a piece for their front page, I certainly won’t say “click here”. But if MSN featured my article on their web site, I will send an email to the whole world and scream “CLICK HERE!!!”

In the end, it is the communications that has to take place. Whether or not you choose to use “click here” or some other anchor text, it should be within reasonable flow of your piece. Many times, there will be better alternatives. But there will be times when you just want to tell people “Now that you know – CLICK HERE!”

What do you think?

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[tags]SEO, contextual links, user interface[/tags]

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