Mystery meat is still a problem

Nineteen years ago the term "Mystery meat navigation" was coined. Today in the growing age of the internet, the problem is worse than ever.

What's the mystery?

"Click here". Where will the link take you? To my website? A video with fluffy kittens? To unsubscribe you from a newsletter? All of these, and none of these. "Read more". Read more what, books? "Next". Excuse me?

These are all forms of navigation known as mystery meat[1]. This term simply means that the destination is a complete mystery, you have no idea where the link will go. "But I have text surrounding it" you say, "Click here to see my site". Well that's all fine and dandy, but it's terrible for search engines who will see the link and think that your site must be called "click here". It's also terrible for accessibility; anyone using the tab key to navigate around your website with a screen reader on will just here "Tab, click here. Tab, click here. Tab, click here." Completely meaningless.

So they're bad for SEO, usability, and accessibility. But worse than that; they exacerbate your mistakes. I once received an email and the only content was "click here". It was from a shop I'd ordered from in the past, and I was intrigued by this link. I clicked it. Turns out, a blank template had been sent accidentally by the shop, and the only email content was a mystery meat unsubscribe link. How many customers did they lose that day?

Why is it still a problem?

Even though everything I've said is common knowledge and obvious once you think about it, these links still exist and get created every second. I'm not sure if this is due to general ignorance from marketing team members who haven't received adequate guidance, or those marketers who are just terrible at their job instead.

But we have a new problem now. Hamburgers. If you work in the internet industry, you'll know what I mean. A hamburger is a menu icon formed of three horizontal lines. This is a form of mystery meat navigation; if you've never seen one before, you have no idea what it is. You may ask yourself: "who hasn't seen one before?" but let me tell you that older generations are much less likely to be using a smartphone, the main place where these menus grew out of necessity.

Half of the web traffic in the UK is still solely desktop traffic, and the unlabelled mystery meat hamburger is making its way into websites, which web developers are cockily calling web apps now. That's a topic for another blog post, but throwing in several JavaScript frameworks does not turn a website into an ‘app'. Anyway, hamburger menus on desktop are largely horrific. They're bad for SEO[2], usability[3][4], and accessibility[5], just like any other mystery meat navigation. The tested consensus clearly shows that menu items hidden in a hamburger will be much less frequently used than a navigation where all items are visible. This is fine for things like terms and conditions and your privacy policy, but it's very bad for your main site pages. On desktop this issue is heavily compounded where a significant proportion of users don't even know what it is. I've seen websites where the only thing on the landing page was a full screen image, a logo, and a hamburger. I can only imagine how high the bounce rate is.

Think I'm wrong? Great, then I'm sure you'll get on great with a kebab, doner, bento, and meatballs icons too.


[1] Mystery meat navigation

[2] 5 techniques that may be killing your website and seo

[3] Why and how to avoid hamburger menus

[4] Mobile menu ab test

[5] Takeaways from mobile accessibility 101

Just search Google for hamburger menu, hamburger menu usability, hamburger menu seo, hamburger menu accessibility, and you'll see that most of the results are negative.

Mystery meat in any form will always be bad.