There’s probably not a website you’ve visited, social media post you’ve commented on, or online document you’ve read recently that hasn’t contained at least one or more hyperlinks. On websites, links serve several purposes. They help you navigate as you move from top to bottom, from page to page, and from topic to topic. Links also direct you to information you can download or a resource on another website. But, assuming a link isn’t broken and it leads to informative content, it’s only as useful as the text used to describe it.
Badly written or vague link text can derail the user experience. Unclear link text can also make it difficult, if not impossible, for people with different types of disabilities—visual or intellectual for example—to find the information they’re seeking. Using clear, effective link text is critical to maintaining the accessibility of your website and other digital assets. It also helps you meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) success criteria 2.4.4: Link Purpose (In Context).
Where is this link taking me?
Most of us scan web pages to quickly find the information we’re seeking. When we come across links, we expect them to act as a guide. Vague link text is one of the biggest barriers to accessibility and a positive user experience. Link text such as “click here” or “Visit this link for more information” convey nothing but confusion. A key element in writing effective link text is letting your users know where a link will take them or what they will find once they click on it.
Here are a couple of examples of good link text:
- “Using Meaningful Link Text” from the University of Washington is a good resource.
- How to add accessible links to content is also described in BCcampus’ Accessibility Toolkit.
The examples above offer meaningful text about what you’re going to find when you click on them. They also provide helpful context in terms of who’s offering the resources. In addition, the most pertinent information and the linked text appears at the beginning of the sentence, which improves readability. Contrast the links above with these:
- “Get more information here.”
- Visit https://www.washington.edu/accessibility/checklist/links/ to learn more.
These links have no stand-alone value and provide no clear information about where you’re going to end up when you click on them. When writing link text, you should imagine that there’s no text before or after it, and ask yourself if the meaning of the link text is still clear.
“Avoid the ubiquitous ‘Read More!’ People who use a screen reader to visit websites will often tab from link to link—it’s a quick way to scan the page and get a sense of what the options are. ‘Click here’ (or ‘read more’) is purely mystifying, especially when heard over and over again on the same page.”American Federation for the Blind
Who benefits from accessible link text?
The short answer to that question, as with most accessibility best practices, is everyone. Links that clearly convey their purpose or function, even out of context, are easier to understand. They offer enough information so you can decide whether you want to click on them. This can be particularly important for users with intellectual or learning disabilities who may have difficulty understanding vague or complex language. Clearly written links with a specific “call to action” are also helpful to people who navigate websites just using the keyboard. When the user hits “Tab,” they move from link to link and down the page. If the link text isn’t immediately clear about where it goes, a keyboard user will have to backtrack with the arrow keys to try and get some context that better explains the meaning of the link.
Consider also people who are blind and use assistive technology such as a screen reader. If the screen reader is reading all the links on your web page out loud, and all the user is hearing is “click here,” or “visit this link,” they have no idea what type of information they will find when they click on it. Also, screen readers can generate an alphabetical list of links on a web page for ease of finding desired information. If the key word being linked isn’t at the beginning of the linked phrase or sentence, the user may have trouble finding it. For example, “cart” is a commonly linked word. If instead of linking to the single word “cart” the link is written, “your shopping cart,” people who use screen readers that comb through a list of links in alpha order will have a difficult time tracking down their shopping cart because the key word, “cart,” doesn’t appear first in the link text. This prevents them from efficiently navigating your website.
Some tips for effective link writing
- Don’t include verbs in the link text. For example, write, “Read more about writing meaningful link text,” not “Read more about writing meaningful link text.” After all, the focus here isn’t about the action of reading, it’s the information about link text.
- When linking to a document, include the type of document and, if possible, its size. For example, “Download the link accessibility training (PPTX,3.3MB) for more information.”
- Don’t use words like “link to.” Screen readers most often say the word “link” before reading links, and users of this assistive technology don’t need to hear “link, link to shopping cart,” which is what happens when you include the word in your link text.
- There’s no hard and fast rule about how long link text should or shouldn’t be. It should, however, use as few words as possible to clearly convey what the link is about.
- Within one piece of content, never use the same link text to go to two different destinations.
- Never use a url as link text. A url, consisting of its protocol, domain, and path, is far from anything resembling meaningful words!
Writing clear, meaningful link text helps your digital assets meet the principles of the WCAG, which are the gold standard for accessible, user-friendly content. Effective link text can also improve your site’s search engine optimization—a bonus for your audience share! And in the long term, using clearer, more accessible link text means more users will benefit from the information, products, and services your digital assets offer.
Additional resources on writing effective text for links
- Writing Effective Link Text (Plainlanguage.gov)
- Writing Link Text (Harvard University – Digital Accessibility)
- Links and Hypertext (WebAIM)
- About the Link Component (U.S. Web Design System)
- Accessible Hyperlinks (NC State University)