Why you shouldn’t “click here”

I collect examples of “click here” and similar word as hyperlinks on web and intranet pages. You’ll find them in the Click here gallery.  “Go there”, “more info”, “can be found” or “this link” are all common words that people use when adding hyperlinks to web and intranet pages. There are many reasons not to do this.

Links have no scent

People scan pages for things to click. Buttons, underlined and coloured text, icons and menus. The words or imagery that you use on anything that is clickable need to give a clear and quick signal of what will happen when clicked. People know that a  blue, underlined bit of text is a link. An envelope icon means that you’ll send an email. A text link using the words “Annual report 2014 PDF” might link you to a PDF document of the annual report. A text link called “click here” doesn’t tell you anything.

Extra mental workload

A link with no scent forces you to read the text around the link to make sense of it. If you are blind and using a screenreader to read out links on the page, it’s difficult to make the screenreader read out the text around the link. This extra workload and inconvenience gets a mental thumbs-down from your reader.

Hyperlinks and SEO

Google and other search engines use hyperlinks to discover pages on your site. And they also index the words that you use as hyperlinks. The words help to give the search engines further information about the target page. And although the search engines will use clever algorithms to ignore certain words, I have seen “Click here” as a heading in Google results.

They encourage passive voice

Not only are link words meaningless, they bloat the page with extra unhelpful words. “The information can be found here“, “the document can be downloaded here.”

How to improve your hyperlinks

Make your hyperlinks scannable.  Don’t expect people to read your web page from top to bottom. People don’t read on the web; they scan. When they read the text in your hyperlink, it needs to be meaningful.

Say what it is.  You can often use the title of the page or document that you are linking to. For example “For detailed guidance read the employee conduct policy“.

Add additional code to links. You can add  HTML and CSS code to repetitive links such as “Read more” on your listing pages that screen-readers can use but will not show up on the front-end. See the W3C guidance on hiding link text

 

Content Migration Guide

A move to a new CMS is an ideal opportunity to tidy the intranet, remove the clutter and possibly present things in a better way. You can choose to use your existing content as a basis for the new CMS, or wipe the slate clean and create new content. This guide covers moving content to a new CMS.

Methods of migration

There are several ways of moving content. It usually boils down to a combination of automated scrapes, exports and imports, and manual copy and pasting.

Using the bulk methods of scrapes and imports you end up with your existing content in the new CMS, and this means that you can do any content rewriting, culling and reorganising within the new CMS.

If you can’t use any automation then you’ll need to manually migrate content. This gives you the chance to rewrite and reorganise the content before it hits the new CMS, or you can still migrate everything over as is, and then do the rewrite work in the new CMS.

Inventory

Whichever method you choose to move content over, it will help to know what you’re dealing with. A content inventory gives you a detailed account of your intranet pages, documents and images.

I’ve written about my content migration spreadsheet before. It’s a combination of the content inventory and a migration dashboard, showing the live rate of migration and projected finished date. It’s a great tool for keeping an eye on migration progress, for keeping migrators motivated, and because it’s in Google Docs it means that you can work in realtime with other content migrators. I’ve shared this spreadsheet:

Duplicate the content migration spreadsheet from Google docs

Creating the inventory involves similar choices to the migration method. It may be possible to get an export of your site structure and assets from your old CMS that you can use as a basis for the inventory spreadsheet. Or you could produce a folder listing from your intranet server or from a scrape of the intranet. Or you can manually create rows in the spreadsheet.

Watch out for automated content inventory listings that may miss sections of the old site due to access restrictions, Javascript links or a single page on the old intranet that you plan to turn into several pages on the new intranet.

Audit

Once you have the content inventory spreadsheet complete, you can start to sift through deciding if the content is still required or not, whether it needs to be rewritten or combined with other pages. This is also an opportunity to move content around and to categorise and tag pages.

The finished audit will give you a spreadsheet that you can use for migration and ongoing content maintenance. It could also be adapted for an automated import.

Migration planning and practicalities

For manual migration, the order that you move things across can help to speed up the process. I have found it best to migrate documents and images first so that these are in place for linking up to pages.

You will generally need to do two passes through the migration spreadsheet. The first round will get all the content in place. The second round is for linking up the content. Attempting to get it all done in one go can be difficult because you may come to a page containing links to other pages that don’t exist yet. Keep a note of these pages during the first round of migration. And then whizz through them in the second round to link them.

Think too about your different types of content. For example, if you have a news section containing news stories that mainly link to your publications section, then it makes sense to migrate your publications section first. You save time when you come to the news stories because you can already link to the publications in the first round of the spreadsheet.

If you are pressed for time, you can leave older content such as news stories until after launch.

Pitfalls

The main pitfalls to watch out for are all caused by copying and pasting.  The first problem is that whether you copy from a Word document or live from an intranet page, you sometimes copy more than you bargained for. Hard-coded styles, font sizes, colours and tables may all be lurking behind your page and need to be tidied up. If this is a constant problem you may have better luck by pasting into a simple text editor first and then copying again before pasting into the CMS.

As well as hidden styles, you may also copy over HTML including embedded images and links to documents. Pages will display the image because they are still pulling it through from the old site. When the old site disappears the image will no longer display. In this case you need to link up the new page to the new image. The same can happen with documents; you copy over a link to a document on the old site, it still works when you test it, but it will break when the old site disappears.

Final checks

Once all the new content is migrated, a final broken links check will make sure that everything is linked up okay.

You can also setup some rules for redirections so that people with bookmarks or following links to the old site will be pointed to the new site, and preferably the relevant page in the new site.

How to use the migration spreadsheet

The spreadsheet is setup with 2 tabs. The Dashboard tab shows the high-level migration progress. The Main tab is for the content inventory.

On the dashboard, set your start date and target finish date. The rest of the information will update automatically using formulas in the cells. Key points are the projected finish date, which is calculated on the start date and the rate of migration. The dial shows percentage complete and the graph at the bottom shows where the projected finish date lies in relation to the target finish date. The dashboard does not count documents and images.

On the main tab, enter each new page, document or image to be migrated on a new line. During migration, enter your initials in the first column as each item is completed. This will feed into the dashboard to show progress.

Note: Columns D and E are used for the dashboard calculations. When inserting new rows, copy cells D and E from a completed row to the new rows. If you mark rows as completed and the dashboard doesn’t change, the likely cause is blank cells in columns D and E.

 

Do intranets need an archive machine?

We’ve all used the UK Government Web Archive by The National Archives. It’s a great way of viewing a snapshot of a website at a particular moment in time. I’ve used it myself for compiling screenshots of a site’s redesign history.

Do we need something similar on our intranets? Is there a case for going back to a snapshot of the intranet at a particular date? I think there is. And it usually boils down to legal reasons where evidence is required to settle a dispute or clarify information.

Take the example, where a Trade Union rep asks to see a copy of the conduct and behaviour policy from 2 years ago for use in an Employment Tribunal case, operating under the rules in place at that time. You updated the policy on the intranet 6 months ago with a new document from HR, overwriting the existing policy so as not to clog up the intranet with numerous variations of documents. After all, the intranet is not an electronic document management system. There are other platforms outside the intranet to store documents, such as the fabulous TRIM.

Your efficient HR department haven’t bothered to keep the documentation up to date in TRIM. They think the intranet is the place to store endless versions of their documents. So they are up in arms when they discover that you haven’t done their work for them.

You end up having to go to your IT department to restore a backup of the intranet from 2 years ago and you manage to extract the PDF document in question.

Now compare that with being able to point your HR people to your intranet archive where they can navigate back 2 years and get a copy of the document in minutes.

Tags vs Keywords

Many of our clients use WordPress-driven websites and intranets. Tags are a core feature of WordPress. Keywords are not. But we do use them on intranets.

Keywords on the web

Keywords don’t really pack much punch on the web. They were initially designed to aid search engines in indexing content but due to abuse, search engines have long since ignored them.

Keywords on the intranet

Keywords on the intranet are a great way for the intranet search engine to index words that wouldn’t otherwise appear on a page. Employee restaurant, staff canteen, lunch menu, food and drink are all words that people might use to search for the lunch menu. Not all of these words will appear on that page. So we use keywords to help people that search using words that do not appear in the main content of a page. And although the search engine will read and index the keywords, these keywords will not appear on the front end pages.

You don’t need to repeat words that already exist in the page title or body content again in keywords. Keywords are not obligatory. It’s fine to leave them blank. And I stress this because some publishers will enter any words they can if they feel they have to and this can damage search results.

Don’t include your company name as a keyword. It’s really not necessary. Unless the page is specifically about your company and this is the page that should appear in search results if someone, on your company intranet, searches for your company name.

When you add a keyword, think of it as an instruction to the search engine to include the page as a possible entry in search results when anyone uses the word in a search query. Be very specific.

Keywords are also a good way of promoting internal campaigns. Include the message Search for “funderpants” in an offline poster and make sure that you have the obscure/unique word as a keyword in one intranet page only.  Then it will appear all alone at the top of the search results pages, if staff search.

Tags on the intranet

Tags are not an alternative to keywords. Tags are for grouping  content. They are not designed solely for the search engine to index. And they are visible in the front end.

Ideally, you should apply a single tag to more than one page. For example, you can apply the tag “meeting” to pages for booking a meeting room, ordering catering for a meeting, collecting guests for a meeting and how to operate the projector.

When adding tags to a page, check that a similar tag doesn’t already exist to avoid creating different variations. If you create a new tag, check which other pages might also benefit from the same tag.

Tags on the web

The only benefit of this shotgun approach of adding lots of tags is that the visible, front-end content will get indexed. On the web, this is a benefit as keywords are generally ignored.

Managing tags

I find, in practice, that publishers fall into two categories. Those who organise and manage their tags, and those who treat tags as keywords.

Those who manage their tags will build a controlled vocabulary of words and terms that can be used. On the DCMS intranet there are just 65 tags to cover all the content. You click a tag; you get a nice bunch of pages relating to that tag.

Those who treat tags as keywords add them in a less controlled manner. This can result in having hundreds of tags, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It produces pages with lots of tags. But it also produces lots of single tags that apply to only one page. Groupings happen by chance.  Variations on words start to appear, on the frontend too.  Tag clouds become very flat, as all the singleton tags appear at the same size and colour.  You click a tag; you get one page, or a few if you’re lucky.

On the intranet, it’s best to use tags to group content, and keywords to aid the search engine.

Relevanssi WordPress plugin: intranet search comparisons

As part of the forthcoming iteration of the GovIntranet WordPress theme, I’ve been testing search results. I compared search results on 2 client intranets, each using their own content, but different search implementations:

Both intranets use bespoke WordPress themes with the Relevanssi search plugin. Intranet A has some custom code to integrate documents into search results.

So, fasten your seatbelts for a bumper ride through 21 of my top intranet search queries, typical of any government departmental intranet. Screenshots show page 1 of the search results for the two different intranets. I’ve anonymised the results where appropriate.

1. Book a meeting room

Grab that room while it’s still vacant. The room booking facility is a top ranker for office-based staff. Or is it?

Intranet A: book a meeting room
Intranet A: book a meeting room
Intranet B: book a meeting room
Intranet B: book a meeting room
2. Eye test

One of my personal favourites. You fill out a form, send it to HR. They send you a voucher. You take it to the optician when you get your annual eye test. All paid for by Her Majesty’s ever-so generous Government.

Intranet A: eye test
Intranet A: eye test
Intranet B: eye test - goes direct to required page
Intranet B: eye test – goes direct to required page

3. Maternity leave

You’re pregnant. You’ve got a lot to think about and plan for. Wouldn’t it be nice if your intranet gave you the facts straight?

Intranet A: maternity leave
Intranet A: maternity leave
Intranet B: maternity leave
Intranet B: maternity leave

4. Guidelines on blogging

For review, before you boldy put finger to keyboard.
Intranet A: guidelines on blogging
Intranet A: guidelines on blogging
Intranet B: guidelines on blogging
Intranet B: guidelines on blogging

5. Replace my building pass

You went for that *just one drink* after work and you arrive at the office the next day knowing you’re in the shit.

Intranet A: replace my building pass
Intranet A: replace my building pass
Intranet B: replace my building pass
Intranet B: replace my building pass

6. Claim expenses

You’ve been for that glorious, 3-night stay in Sunningdale.
Intranet A: claim expenses
Intranet A: claim expenses
Intranet B: claim expenses
Intranet B: claim expenses

7. GPC

For those of you who don’t work in government or who don’t speak acronym, this is the Government Procurement Card. A credit card for the responsible people with a grand spending power. To be fair, it’s an acronym that is commonly used.
Intranet A: gpc
Intranet A: gpc
Intranet B: gpc
Intranet B: gpc

8. Rail tickets

Online booking please; it’s digital by default!
Intranet A: rail tickets
Intranet A: rail tickets
Intranet B: rail tickets
Intranet B: rail tickets

9. Induction for new staff

A must-have for every intranet. How do you welcome your new joiners?
Intranet A: induction for new staff
Intranet A: induction for new staff
Intranet B: induction for new staff
Intranet B: induction for new staff

10. Gifts and hospitality

Yup, even that bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream you got at Christmas from the agency you worked with, you gotta declare it.

Intranet A: gifts and hospitality
Intranet A: gifts and hospitality
Intranet B: gifts and hospitality
Intranet B: gifts and hospitality

11. Voicemail

How to setup your friendly recording to play to your beloved colleagues when you can’t be arsed to pick up.
Intranet A: voicemail
Intranet A: voicemail
Intranet B: voicemail
Intranet B: voicemail

12. Box times

Is this something to do with the diet coke advert? No, it’s the deadline for submitting something to a minister before they slope off for a nice Sancerre.
Intranet A: box times
Intranet A: box times
Intranet B: box times
Intranet B: box times

13. Wisleblowing

How good does your search engine deal with typos?
Intranet A: wisleblowing
Intranet A: wisleblowing
Intranet B: wisleblowing
Intranet B: wisleblowing

14. Written Ministerial Statements

Terribly exciting stuff, I know. Such is the life of a Civil Servant.
Intranet A: written ministerial statements
Intranet A: written ministerial statements
Intranet B: written ministerial statements
Intranet B: written ministerial statements

15. Risk register

For your Queen of Prince II or your agile scrum master, who’ll need to be armed with one of these.
Intranet A: risk register
Intranet A: risk register
Intranet B: risk register
Intranet B: risk register

16. Translate into Welsh

Intranet A: translate into welsh
Intranet A: translate into welsh
Intranet B: translate into welsh - goes direct to required page
Intranet B: translate into welsh – goes direct to required page

17. Whistleblowing

For those moments when you just have to do the right thing.
Intranet A: whistleblowing
Intranet A: whistleblowing
Intranet B: whisteblowing - goes direct to required page
Intranet B: whisteblowing – goes direct to required page

18. Payslip

The intranet, filled with topics closest to your heart.
Intranet A: payslip
Intranet A: payslip
Intranet B: payslip
Intranet B: payslip

19. Season ticket loan

Can’t stand queuing for your ticket at the station? Get an annual ticket and pay it off in 10 easy monthly payday deductions.
Intranet A: season ticket loan
Intranet A: season ticket loan
Intranet B: season ticket loan
Intranet B: season ticket loan

20. T&S

Because we all need a little T&S.
Intranet A: t&s
Intranet A: t&s
Intranet B: t&s
Intranet B: t&s

21. Lunch menu

A guy walks into a restaurant and says to the waiter, “Can I see what you had on your menu three weeks ago?”
Intranet A: lunch menu
Intranet A: lunch menu
Intranet B: lunch menu
Intranet B: lunch menu

Analysis

So which intranet performed best and why? And how could we make improvements?

Content quality

There is only so much that a search engine can do. The quality of search results largely depends on the quality of the content. Garbage in, garbage out. The quality of the content on intranet B shines through in the search results. Pages are written in plain English using active language. Page titles are concise.

Documents in search results

In Intranet A, we see a profusion of documents in the results, often containing hyphens and dot docs and brackets and dates. Staff will find these hard to sift through because the sheer number of documents returned tends to cloud the search results.

In 2002, I decided to turn off documents in search results on the London Underground intranet, subscribing to the belief that if a document is important enough then there will be an HTML page that mentions it. Search results improved dramatically.

The number of results returned

A basic usability rule is that less choice improves efficiency. So it follows that fewer entries in the search results page will make it easier and faster for staff to make a choice. Few people will go past page 1.

Intranet A: 548 total results, 6 out of 20 searches with just one page of results

Intranet B: 195 total results, 16 out of 20 searches with just one page of results

Direct hits

Even better than less choice is not having to make a choice at all. For those searches that produce a single result, Intranet B will take staff direct to the page in question, skipping the search results page. Skipping the time taken to scan a search results page, make a choice and click. Intranet A has 18 results for an eye test. Just how many pages do you need on your intranet about getting an eye test? Just one.

Social content

Intranet A includes social content generated by staff in forums and crowdsourcing areas.

Intranet B only includes core intranet pages by default. For social content, staff need to search from within the forums.

While there is no question that social, staff-generated content is good for all sorts of reasons, including it in search results by default can cloud the results. In the examples above, on Intranet A, it would appear that searching for any financial information returns a post about a sports day event, consistently in first position.

I still believe that there is a definite line between corporate, official content and social, staff-generated content. And that each has its uses.

Context and design

Intranet A uses breadcrumbs to give context to the search result title. While this can be useful, it becomes a problem when the page title refers to an item 9 levels down in the structured navigation.

Intranet A shows no clear date information telling you when the page was updated and there is no snippet text to help give you the scent of what you’ll get if you click.

Intranet B shows the type of content, category and contextual information where appropriate. Date information varies upon the type of content, so for example, we’ll show the last modified date for tasks but the first published date for news stories.

Content housekeeping

It’s really up to content publishers to make sure that old information isn’t left lying around. Regular housekeeping and clear procedures can help to keep search results free from useless information. So if you publish a lunch menu each week, why not keep the URL the same so that staff can bookmark the page and always return to it? Why publish multiple versions of the document with different URLs and include them all in search results when they become redundant?

Configuration

While I would say that content is the main area that you can use to improve search results, there is a fair bit that you can do behind the scenes to configure how the search engine works. Do you promote more recent content? Do you provide synonyms for words? What about search suggestions on typos or demoting old news stories? How does using an AND search compare to using an OR search?

Advanced search and filtering

Nice to note that neither intranet uses advanced search or filtering. In my experience of user testing, such options only add confusion. It is rare that you’ll get a member of staff wanting to do complex searches. The majority don’t need it, and including it only serves to provide yet more choice.

Conclusion

A budget search solution combined with tip-top content can produce very good search results, making it faster to find guidance and information and making staff more productive.

How do your top searches perform?

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