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University Web Developers

New York state has developed it's own set of Web Accessibility Standards that all state agencies are required to follow. (See http://www.oft.state.ny.us/policy/s04-001/index.htm

One if the standards is "All text links will indicate the destination or purpose."

A common way that many UB sites link to additional information is with a "Learn More" link. See the following paragraph as an example:

Academic Opportunities

UB offers students an abundance of learning choices. With close to 300 bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and professional degree programs, and myriad continuing education options, there are more academic opportunities than any other public institution in New York or New England. Our study abroad programs, internship opportunities, and special major programs (which can be individually customized) allow UB students to develop the education they want. | Learn More

IMHO, a "learn more" link does not indicate the destination or purpose. Two question for the group:

1. Do you agree that "learn more" does not provide context?

2. What are the best alternatives to avoid using a "learn more" link?

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Replies to This Discussion

Purpose: to learn more. Seems pretty clear to me? What I see this impacting are links like "click here," and such. But you cannot possibly keep all text links in context, no way. Think about systems, like blogs, that automate some of those features with links like your "learn more" or "read more" or "continue." It's just not feasible to do away with all that. Not that text links as they describe them are bad. Links that have context are very, very good. But there are just a lot of times you can't do it.

This annoys me, even though I'm not in New York. I think the idea that a website has to be universally, perfectly accessible is unrealistic, no matter how much is mandated. There are other routes, like phones and print, which can adequately meet accessible needs, but for some reason people seem to think that the web trumps all that. Using Target as an example, shopping on the web is an additional convenience. If you can't do it, you can go to their real store. There is an alternative. Just because you don't like the option doesn't mean that they are in the wrong by not catering to every need. And that is my rant for this morning.
This is a great topic, one that I've grappled with and am still trying to find the best approach for.

1. In my mind, "learn more" can provide context depending on where/how it's placed within the broader information space in which it appears. If it appears on a fairly consistent basis following a recurring pattern on a page, e.g.:

Section Title / Header
Blurb
Learn More

Section Title / Header
Blurb
Learn More

Section Title / Header
Blurb
Learn More

...then I think it serves its purpose well. The link on its own may not provide context, but the pattern of title/blurb/link does (assuming that the section title has a relevant label and the blurbs have relevant content).

2. One alternative is to provide some action-oriented phrase that helps describe what information the link is connecting to. In this particular example, one alternative to "learn more" could be, "View a Complete List of Academic Programs".

The issue I sometimes have with this, though is that depending on where the link is going and what the context surrounding the link is, it can take some real finesse to craft the wording. If you operate in an environment where the content providers are very distributed, you may end up with all sorts of different variances in the phrases used (this is particularly true when the content providers aren't full-fledged web copy writers or editors). All of which, when taken together, can make for some sloppy web copy.

With "Learn More", you at least help establish some greater consistency and recognizable patterns that your visitors can start to expect and predict. It also makes life easier for the content contributors to write their content as they have one less decision to make.
Keep in mind how people with visual disabilities use screen readers. They often navigate from link to link, skipping the text in between which gives them a way to skim the site. Screen readers also allow users to extract the links into an alphabetically-organized list, using a keyboard shortcut within their screen reader software for that purpose. Providing context is the scenario with "Learn More" isn't possible.

See the following for more details:

http://www.webaim.org/techniques/hypertext/link_text.php

http://www.webaim.org/techniques/hypertext/
Then why not just retain the "learn more" convention for consistency but append the subject to it. So, in the example above, the link could be changed to "Learn more about Academic Opportunities". If it's a news or events article it could be "Learn more about the event 'New Growth Theory'".

However, this would be problematic if one is using a CMS, blog or other application that renders these links, unless it is open source and you can change the logic to suit this new syntax.

The downside to this, though, is that you no longer have a brief link next to your article and for users that are not visiting the site with a screen reader but are actually viewing the entire HTML as-is, this could look repetitive and/or cluttered.
I think it's important to begin to head in this direction. And the reasons are so many. Readers have gotten to the point where they don't need a "click here" to know if something is a link or not. It's good SEO practice to use keywords in the link title. This Call to Action article is a great read from last week. Your definitely on the correct path here and its a good conscious path to begin. I've been encouraging our content editors to do more of that, but it's definitely not a change that is going to happen overnight.
The "More" links are just lazy. While it is an accessibility issue, it easily can be broadened to general communication and usability. Here is the phrase I like to emphasize for content developers: Links are literally highlighted text; make it valuable and informative rather than something generic. If I recall correctly, Jakob Nielsen suggests 70 percent of all Web users skim -- they look for only links, headers, lists. It is much more likely that people will read that highlighted text than anything around it. Why waste that resource and make the users work harder.

To answer specifically:
Learn more does not provide context. The second half of the descriptive links issues often includes that you should not have two links with the same anchor text going to two different places

The best alternative is to describe where you are pointing the person. If it is a link to a news story "More about Dr. Blah's Research." If it is a form, say "Student financial aid forms" rather than "Click Here." The added benefit of thinking descriptively it is better search engine friendliness.
Learn more and other shorthand links to the main article do not provide context. Building for 508 compliance is just good web design and can benefit all users (not just the differently abled). As mentioned by others, contextually accurate link text (or at the very least title tagged if your CMS is some how crippled, or auto created these short cut links) is good for SEO, good for 508 users, and good for those users who skim articles (me included).

While the 508 specs do allow for directing user to alternate sources (phone, braille printed materials, help desks, etc.) this should not be used as an excuse to allow for lazy web page development or not building web site style and content guides for pages editors to maintain section 508 page compliance. These 'escape clauses' in the 508 standards should only be used for those times that content may be technically difficult or expensive to develop or deploy, especially if existing 508 enabled alternatives do exist.

'Learn more', 'read more', and 'click here' just don't qualify for the exception in my book.
While I agree in principle, I still disagree in practice. We have 70+ web editors, and easily 60+ will forget/ignore anything I tell them about 508 compliancy. The rest will care, but still can't be relied upon to actually practice it. And it isn't in any of our job descriptions (nor room in our schedules) to police content to ensure they do it right.

So, the catch is, how do you cross that river? That's why the devil's advocate in me says "click here? Better than nothing." Let's be realistic, using a click here or learn more link once in a while will never, ever, cripple the SEO on our sites. Even using it frequently isn't likely to. In fact, good SEO practices should allow you to use them everywhere, but they'll be heavily offset by the other things you are doing.

I do agree with pretty much everything you said. But the key is, we aren't necessarily the ones guilty of "lazy web page development." In fact, it's a terribly difficult task getting users to understand why they shouldn't say "learn more" in a link. I can do crazy awesome things in our CMS to make sure links have context, but I can't teach our users to jump through those same hoops. Lead a horse to water, and all that jazz.

So, if we accept that we shouldn't let people use that verbiage in a link, how do we stop it? I think that's the best question.
I'm of a similar mindset - agree to pretty much everything mentioned here so far in principle but would certainly be open to suggestions on how to reinforce the practice.

As far as alternatives go, I think Renita cut straight to the chase above - we can try to reinforce the use of phrases such as "Learn more about Academic Opportunities".

But as Michael's asking - how do we really actually get web writers / content providers to follow this sort of example in their day to day work?

Part of the challenge we face here is that quite often the people writing web copy are either excellent writers in their own right but with more experience writing for print, or are folks who have been tasked with writing web content as that 5% more work on top of their 110% workload.

It takes a pretty fundamental shift in thinking for many people to learn how to change their writing style, and more and more I think this sort of shift happens gradually over time. I don't have any real evidence to base this on, but I suspect that many people, whether they realize it or not, are probably learning to write for the web by judging the web content they are reading day to day (both the good and bad). Provided we continue to have these sorts of discussions and find some alternatives that help us promote better practices, we can hope that the same happens in other circles and gradually the balance will tilt where there's more well-written web copy than bad.

The other factor that is playing into our hands along this "wait and see over time" approach is that a growing number of people (young and old alike) are dabbling with blogs and various online media on their own personal time. As they enter fields where they get a hand in writing content for the web, I think we'll slowly start to see their influence and web copy will gradually improve on its own.

Another angle is the recognition of web writing as a valued skill. There is growing recognition by hiring managers that writing for the web is a skill unto itself, and hopefully greater emphasis will continued to be placed on this skill as new people are brought in to fill communications or writing/editing roles.

All that being said, what else can we do? Anyone have suggestions on what can expedite this process? Or stories and experiences to share on what has worked well?
Mark this is a frustrating topic. I see a lot of this behavior as a carry over from the early days of development where 'click here' was king. As if we needed 'click here' AND an underline to help us see a hyperlink.

Answers.
1. I agree

2. I am of the opinion that the topic of the page, or paragraph, should be spelled out in the intial spot. And that should be then the link. In your example above, "Academic Opportunities" should be what you click on to learn more. The paragraph displayed would either exist in whole on the next page, or the important parts of the destination lead paragraph gets summarized here in the 'teaser' page.
First let me say that it is much better than "Click here" for People First language reasons; I think "Click here" alienates people who do not use a mouse to navigate.

Mark mentioned that the New York State standard that is not being met is, "All text links will indicate the destination or purpose." Part B of that rule states, "All Anchor elements are required not to use the same link text to refer to different resources" It is also WCAG 13.1 (Priority 2)

A page with a bunch of news summaries would have multiple "Learn more," "Read more," "Continued" type links. This is pretty awful for a screen reader rendering ONLY the links on the page: Link: Read More, Link: Read More, Link: Read More.

I thought the title attribute solved this - it's what I've been using when I have two links with the same text targeting different pages:

Ex:
Admissions
Academic Programs

Then I read this Jim Thatcher article, and now I don't think that makes a bit of difference to a screen reader.
http://www.jimthatcher.com/news-061607.htm

It looks like WCAG 2.0 is going to recommend the CSS Hide link text method: http://www.w3.org/TR/2008/WD-WCAG20-TECHS-20080430/C7.html
Okay, those are two great articles. I'm a little disappointed I never thought of using the span to hide the descriptive content that way.

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