It is a fact that links have always been a vital part in the internet navigational process. Depending on the links and also on the content of the site that the link leads to, internet users decide on the worthiness of coming back to that site or not.
One cannot fail to notice the latest trends imposed by web 2.0 — the emergence of a new writing genre designed to cater for the new needs and tastes of internet users and also the transformation process that search engines undergo.
Broadly speaking, users go from page to page selecting only the most important information or just the information that is easier to spot; they need to be able to make a quick assessment of the page content, get the information they are seeking and go to another page.
Usually, web authors employ hypertext links to create or reinforce concepts: a list of related links can serve as the focus of a site. The problem posed by links has little to do with the web but is rather related to the concept of hypertext. A collection of links does not have the same effect on the reader and is not as legible as conventional linear text.
In the case of linear text, readers have to work harder in seek of needed information. Links also become a technical problem, because most web pages have a certain rank on search engines due to links. Links are to be used as a reinforcement of, not a substitute for content.
What is worth mentioning when tackling the link issue is that designers are supposed to use relevant link labels, give consistent clickability cues and also differentiate links that have been clicked from those that haven’t.
1. Use relevant link description
Users’ confusion must be avoided at all costs. In this respect, they should be able to look at every link and be able to predict to some extent the destination or the website they are about to visit. A negative example in this case is using the label – Click here-, which is rather confusing and does not provide any kind of information about the link destination.
Another relevant case is that of embedded links — when employing embedded links, the link text should accurately designate the link’s direction. Users have a certain tendency towards ignoring the text surrounding embedded links; consequently, it is recommended that you should not create embedded links that use the surrounding text in order to provide hints about the link’s destination.
2. Be aware that textual links do have certain main characteristics like: underlining and color.
The second trait is not as important as the first one, i.e. underline can be eliminated in some cases like the one when an area functionality is absolutely obvious – for instance, we could think of a site menu where everybody expects a content summary as a presentation.
Thus, you should provide users with sufficient clickability cues. Trying to put the cursor over different parts of the page is time consuming and not quite “affordable” with a view to gain more traffic. At the same time, it’s worth keeping in mind that there area certain clickability expectancies regarding different regions of a web page; for instance, items on the center, left, right side have a high probability of being links.
3. Use different colors for visited and unvisited links
Links that were clicked must differentiate one way or another from the ones that were not; the best way of doing that is the color contrast; links are supposed to stand out on the computer screen as much as possible; in this respect, bright, vivid colors are preferable – links should differentiate from linear text in any case.
Conversely, links that were already clicked should employ a rather pale and “washed” color. The effect of using different colors but both at the same level of chromatic intensity might result in a failure to establish a concrete content relationship between those links, users won’t be able to tell visited from non-visited links.
Even though some compromises would be acceptable (like using other colors), using blue for text is an exception. Blue is a color with the most notable perceived affordance of clickability.
4. Colors for text are to be avoided
It is recommended that colors should be used for hyperlinks only. Nevertheless, there are generally recognized and allowed colors for certain words such as red for “error” or green for “ok”. Technically speaking, when referring to document colors, it is advisable that you specify all of the colors (BGCOLOR, TEXT, LINK, VLINK, ALINK), to ensure an enjoyable and legible composition. Find out more about choosing the right colors for your web site.
The main reason reinforcing this idea is that some users may have certain colors set as default, so if you don’t specify all the colors of a document, they may end up with an illegible document. In addition, even when using a background image, you should still specify BGCOLOR, because the user may not have the image loading on.
5. Don’t use “special effects” when the cursor hovers over a link
As previously clarified, underlined text is the most obvious hint that the user deals with a hyperlink. Still, there are some particular cases when you might not employ underlined text for hyperlinks without major loss in usability. For instance, you could indicate clickability only when the user hovers over a link – let’s say that a text gets underlined only after being hovered, as a sign of clickability.
Nevertheless, using bold effects is not advisable due to the prospect that the text might realign. On the contrary, other effects like link titles could prove quite successful in creating a useful website (in terms of navigational usability). Not until recently, users had a lot of trouble because they weren’t aware of the direction of certain links. In order to respond to the users’ needs, some browsers included in their features a slight preview of the link direction. The effect of this inclusion was a notable reduction in users’ disorientation. Therefore, you shouldn’t miss them when providing a hyperlink; also, they are quite easy to add.
6. Ensure that the text is big enough and that the links are not too close together
Internet users should reach a certain destination voluntarily, not because of the fact that due to link size they missed to click on the link they wanted. This rule might be skipped in the case of legal information in which people are not so interested. At the same time, this advice should be given due consideration in case some of the people targeted belong to the third age.
7. Be sure to make important content accessible from more than one link.
Setting several ways to access the same information will certainly help users to find what they need. Different users might attempt different ways to find information, depending on their own interpretations of a problem and on the layout of a page. Some users find important links easily when they have a certain label, while others may recognize the link best with an alternative name. Read more about how can you gain site accessibility.
8. Employ text links rather than image links
By and large and as mentioned before, text links do have a greater perceived affordance of clickability. Text links usually have a faster download speed, are preferred by users, and should change colors after being selected.
Even judging from a technical point of view, it is usually easier to place a link’s destination in text, rather than using an image. In many situations, users demonstrated considerable confusion concerning whether or not certain images were clickable.
9. Employ sensible link lengths
Hyperlinks should be long enough to be understood by users and short enough to minimize wrapping. Generally speaking, it is advisable that links do not have a grater length than one line. As far as this issue is concerned, studies showed that when users scan prose text, links of nine to ten words do have best performance.
10. Try to warn visitors in case they leave the page
It is best for internet users to be able to realize when they are going to leave the site and head for another. Generally, users expect, when given a link, to head for a new page that belongs to the same site. In case this does not happen, they will become confused. So, the bottom line is that, when building a site, people should take into consideration the prospect of giving visitors warnings when they would leave a certain site.
11. Provide links on your website to helpful information
It would improve navigation on your web site, if you were to give hyperlinks to further definitions, explanations or descriptions. So the main purpose of these links would be to clarify certain concepts so that less experienced users can successfully use the web site.
12. The problem posed by reserved characters
This is a rather technical problem: certain characters are reserved and need encoding in a hexadecimal format in order to be used as URLs. Some browsers may show these characters properly anyway, but this is not indicative of the fact that these characters should be used without encoding in any browser.
For instance, spaces are seen as special characters and consequently, they should be encoded. By and large, it is recommended that you should avoid the use of characters that may require encoding. At the same time, another problem that might cause some trouble is that of URL case sensitivity. It is recommended that you make them case sensitive from the beginning to avoid changing them when you move from one server to another.
13. Create a logical link order
Don’t forget that this could turn into a major downside for your site if this rule is missed. You should keep in mind that grouping related links in a certain section is of vital importance.
It seems that when visiting a web page, most screen reader users expect at least the main site navigation menu presenting the main sections of the web page before the content of the page.
There is little evidence to support the idea that screen reader users would rather have the content presented first. It is highly desirable however, to present the content of the page before extraneous information, such as advertisements and related links, as well as the page footer.
About this author
Copyright (c) 2007 Avangate all rights reserved. This article was written by Bogdan Popescu, member of Avangate WebMarketing Team.
Avangate is a complete ecommerce provider for shareware sales incorporating an easy to use and secure online payment system plus additional software marketing services and sales tools.