Skipping skip links
Today I read this interesting post which proposes a way to standardise skip links. Instead of adding a link to the content, which is then carefully hidden for people that don’t need it, it should be a meta-tag, or a link with a rel attribute in the head. A very interesting idea, since the browser can then decide how to present it to people.
I did some user testing with skip links a while ago. I didn’t intend to do this research per se, but I was observing people who use screen readers. These were people who lost sight at a later age, and you can probably best describe the as common people who use their computer. Not nerds. Definitely not power users.
What does it mean?
To my surprise they didn’t use skip links when they were presented one. When I asked why, they asked me what they are for. They didn’t understand the purpose of these links. And when I tried to figure out why they didn’t understand them, they simply said that they don’t understand the words. They were both Dutch people, but even in Dutch, skip links are often presented with the words skip to content. First of all, they didn’t know what skip means. And then they didn’t know what content means.
This is something I always emphasise to my students: normal people don’t understand our jargon! Use language that people understand!
Why would we need them?
When I explained the purpose of skip links to one of the people I tested with, he still didn’t understand the concept. And when you think about it for a minute he’s right. He explained that when he clicks on a link, for instance to an interesting article about skip links, he expects the first thing he encounters to be the article itself. Of course. He never understood why every page he deliberately visits always starts with links to other webpages! Of course! It doesn’t make any sense. Why did we ever conclude that this is somehow a good idea?
So I would propose to skip skip links. It makes much more sense to start each page with the content people expect on that page. Right? And if you really need navigation (which is terribly overrated if you ask me) you can add it in the footer. Which is the correct place for metadata anyway.