Click here, don’t break the back button

Veronica Belmont, geek goddess and co-host of the technology video podcast Tekzilla, started a new website called the Vintage Web. Listed on the site are examples of websites from days gone by, when designers were so excited to use the newest features offered by technologies like DHTML and JavaScript that they weren’t concerned with the implications these techniques had on accessibility and usability.

One of the faux pas that plagued these old sites – and unfortunately many current sites on the web – is the use of improper anchor text. Anchors are the links that are fundamental to HTML. HTML stands for Hyper-Text Markup Language and text that is linked to another page is a hyperlink. While the nomenclature has gone away for the most part, the concept is still fundamental to the workings of the modern web. Unfortunately, one of the bad practices regarding the creation of hyperlinks still remains.

The goal of a designer should be to link the words that describe the destination of the link. Think of this goal as linking the nouns and not the verbs. For example, if you’re linking to the AuctioneerTech website, the link should be as follows.

Visit AuctioneerTech for information about auctions and technology.

Unfortunately, we still see some designers electing to link verbs or, worse, adding extra and unnecessary text to create a hyperlink out of nothing as in the following examples.

Visit AuctioneerTech for information about auctions and technology.

To get information about auctions and technology from AuctioneerTech, click here.

Both of these examples are wrong. While there is little debate that they are more confusing and not congruent with the workings of the modern web, there is no debate that they are absolutely worse for search engines which must now try to ascertain from the surrounding text the meaning of the link rather than having the contents of the linked text to use in making the association between the target and the target’s description. Read more from the W3C regarding proper link creation.

Another common mistake designers make when constructing links is making the links open in a new window or tab. This practice sometimes comes at the behest of the boss, be it the owner or CEO or marketing department, who mistakenly believes that if the links are opened in a new window that it keeps the user on the site.

The modern web makes use of the back button. Navigational history is a fundamental component to browsing, and users know it. When a user follows a link and wants to return to the page from whence he came, he simply clicks the back button or, now more frequently, clicks the back button now included on many mice.

When links are set to open new windows or tabs, this back button functionality is broken, confusing the user and often causing him to close the browser and start anew. Other reasons to never launch new windows with links include problems with pop-up blockers and the fact that modern web standards have actually prohibited the target=”_parent” function that allowed this bad practice in the first place. The only way to launch new windows without breaking modern web standards is to use JavaScript, which is a security risk that more and more users are electing to not enable in their browsers, which means that the links won’t work at all for them, confusing them even more. Read more about the importance of avoiding opening links in new windows from Smashing Magazine.

Don’t make it hard for users to come back to your site by opening links in new windows. Remember to link the target names when you’re building links and never, ever use “click here” as the content of a link. With your help, we can all make the web a better place.

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Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES

twitter.com/traffas | aarontraffas.com | aarontraffasband.com

Aaron Traffas, CAI, AMM, CES, is an auctioneer from Medicine Lodge, Kansas. He is currently community evangelist for Purple Wave in Manhattan, Kansas. Aaron serves as the current president of the Kansas Auctioneers Association and in the past has served on the National Auctioneers Association Education Institute Board of Trustees. He is a past instructor at CAI and co-wrote and instructed the ATS designation course from NAA. He currently instructs the Internet Auction Methods course offered by the NAA. An active contract bid caller, he has competed in multiple state auctioneer contests including placing twice within the top 5 in Kansas. During the summer, Aaron operates a farm in south central Kansas. Aaron is an active singer and songwriter and the Aaron Traffas Band's latest release, Enter: The Wind, can be found at iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
  • Brandon

    There is still a significant portion of internet users that do not understand where to click, unless you tell them “click here”. I know, because I work with several of them.

  • I agree. However, one of the most insightful quotes about this topic I've found came from a talk given by someone at Google who noted that their position was to design for the expert. If you do, the novice will quickly become an expert. That's why there aren't any instructions on the Google home page.

    I don't think that we designers should hurt our sites by catering to the novice users. If someone is interested in the content of the website, and the links are clearly defined by a site's color scheme, he/she won't have a problem and will quickly learn to use the site – and the rest of the Internet.

  • Brandon

    There is still a significant portion of internet users that do not understand where to click, unless you tell them “click here”. I know, because I work with several of them.

  • Brandon

    There is still a significant portion of internet users that do not understand where to click, unless you tell them “click here”. I know, because I work with several of them.

  • Brandon

    There is still a significant portion of internet users that do not understand where to click, unless you tell them “click here”. I know, because I work with several of them.

  • I agree. However, one of the most insightful quotes about this topic I've found came from a talk given by someone at Google who noted that their position was to design for the expert. If you do, the novice will quickly become an expert. That's why there aren't any instructions on the Google home page.

    I don't think that we designers should hurt our sites by catering to the novice users. If someone is interested in the content of the website, and the links are clearly defined by a site's color scheme, he/she won't have a problem and will quickly learn to use the site – and the rest of the Internet.

  • I agree. However, one of the most insightful quotes about this topic I've found came from a talk given by someone at Google who noted that their position was to design for the expert. If you do, the novice will quickly become an expert. That's why there aren't any instructions on the Google home page.

    I don't think that we designers should hurt our sites by catering to the novice users. If someone is interested in the content of the website, and the links are clearly defined by a site's color scheme, he/she won't have a problem and will quickly learn to use the site – and the rest of the Internet.

  • I agree. However, one of the most insightful quotes about this topic I've found came from a talk given by someone at Google who noted that their position was to design for the expert. If you do, the novice will quickly become an expert. That's why there aren't any instructions on the Google home page.

    I don't think that we designers should hurt our sites by catering to the novice users. If someone is interested in the content of the website, and the links are clearly defined by a site's color scheme, he/she won't have a problem and will quickly learn to use the site – and the rest of the Internet.

  • Brandon

    There is still a significant portion of internet users that do not understand where to click, unless you tell them “click here”. I know, because I work with several of them.

  • I agree. However, one of the most insightful quotes about this topic I've found came from a talk given by someone at Google who noted that their position was to design for the expert. If you do, the novice will quickly become an expert. That's why there aren't any instructions on the Google home page.

    I don't think that we designers should hurt our sites by catering to the novice users. If someone is interested in the content of the website, and the links are clearly defined by a site's color scheme, he/she won't have a problem and will quickly learn to use the site – and the rest of the Internet.