"Click here": a simple usability metric

“Click here”: what to measure

We’re always looking for simple, cost-effective ways for our clients to highlight and communicate ways to improve their websites. Here’s one very, very simple metric that you might find useful and persuasive in your next presentation.

In your organization’s site search engine, type in “click here”
(in quotes, so it searches for the phrase), and see how many results you get.

What does the “click here” metric measure?

Typically, links labelled “click here” are neither usable nor accessible. Ask yourself why “click here” links appear only in text on a page: why don’t your main site navigation links all say “Click here to…”? There are good reasons – it’s not just space limitations!

“Click here” links are not usable

People come to your website with a goal in mind – they’re trying to do something, looking for information that helps them do it, and with particular words or phrases in their thoughts – Customer Carewords – that they look for as they scan your web pages.

Notice we said scan, not read. Our experience from thousands of usability tests is that people do not read on web pages until they reach what they believe is their destination. Until then, they are in ‘get there’ mode. So they scan, looking for evidence, looking for their carewords. While in ‘get there’ mode, people scan the overall page layout, they scan headings, but mostly they scan links. Until they reach a destination page, people know that they’re going to have to click on a link, so links are the obvious things to scan.

Quickly scanning a paragraph and seeing “click here” jolts them out of scanning mode, and into reading mode. They have to read around the link to find meaningful words. These might follow the “click here” link (for example, “Click here to download the form”), or might come before the link (for example, “To download the form, click here“). Links need to be easily scan-able and meaningful without having to read the surrounding context, especially links embedded in page content (see some guidelines below).

“Click here” links are not accessible

Screen-readers have a number of useful features built into them to help people with visual impairments navigate websites. One that we see used frequently is the feature to read out just the links on a page. But this is of no value if all that is read out is “click here”, “click here”, “click here”…

“Click here” links don’t help your search engine ranking

Just to add insult to injury, “click here” links lower your search engine ranking. Google regards the words in links as key indicators of the content on your website. So those words get a high weighting in their ranking. Any link that says “click here” is a lost opportunity to communicate to Google what your site is really about.

Benchmark your “click here” metric

But when you’ve got your “click here” count, how do you know if you should worry about it or not? After all, there’s a lot of these darn things about:

A search on Google for “click here” returns 1.27 billion results!

So what if your site has 10 “click here” links, or 100, or 10,000? This metric on its own might be powerful enough to persuade managers that something needs fixing. But it might gain more power if you benchmark it against competitors or comparable websites. Go to those websites and try the same search. See where you are in the league table. Here’s the results for some of the top universities in Canada, as an example:

Number of “click here” links on some Canadian University websites
University of Toronto 17
University of Waterloo 64
University of Regina 413
Memorial University 436
Carleton University 635
University of Guelph 720
Simon Fraser University 836
York University 848
University of New Brunswick 6,010
University of Windsor 12,100

What should we do about this?

Now, results like this need to be thought about a bit – especially if you’re in the middle ranking. If you’re at the low end you might cheer and look to focus your management attention elsewhere. In the middle ranks, you should probably take a closer look at the results pages to see what’s actually going on.

But if you’re at the University of New Brunswick or the University of Windsor, or any other university with more than, say, 1,000 “click here” links, or an order of magnitude greater than the industry average, then there’s certainly some systemic problem that needs to be addressed. What’s the best way to address the possible causes? The answer depends: what works well will differ from one organization to another.

Provide guidelines and standards
Maybe it’s a simple matter of including a few guidelines in your internal web design or content standards:

  • Never have a link label that says “click here”.

Or you might want to be more constructive, and add a second guideline:

  • Link labels should be between 4 and 7 words; should use the customers’ carewords (See our definition of Customer Carewords), and should have the most specific words at the start of the label.

Train authors in task-oriented content production
But maybe there’s a lack of understanding amongst content authors about basic usability and accessibility. Training in task-oriented content production (with less of a focus on ‘writing’, or ‘copy’) might bring those authors up to an acceptable level. You then might start to plan how your organization will advance from baseline performance, to delivering excellent performance.

Delegate responsibility for quality control to project managers
Perhaps it’s a process and organizational issue. Detailed quality issues like this should be prevented, rather than trapped and corrected. And they should be prevented locally, not centrally. Quality control and prevention at this level should be owned by your local managers, the people to whom content authors report. Highlight a number of these issues and metrics (especially customer task performance) and monitor them in annual performance reviews. Then train and mentor your project managers as needed. It will be cheaper and more effective than trying to train all your authors centrally, especially if you’re aiming to build a more open authoring system.

Focus your effort on root causes that give the biggest paybacks
Investigate the “click here” metric’s results in more depth. Maybe the problem is localized in specific areas of your website, or in particular types of content. Compare specific areas of a website by constraining the Google search like this: ‘site:*.yoursiteURL/yourwebdirectory’. Perhaps many of the link labels are automatically generated by an application. Or maybe one department or part of the organization is producing more than its fair share of “click here” links. Either way, there may be ways to focus on cost-effective solutions that tackle root causes and give big wins, rather than tackling everything at once.

Related articles and information

If you try this simple “click here” measure and think it uncovers a serious underlying organizational issue, give us a call (613 271-3001), and ask us about Customer Carewords, or our Search Performance Indicator techniques, and other techniques to tackle this problem and to improve your customer experience.

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