Having usable web site links is an essential consideration for anyone who is developing or owns a web site. Links are a means for the user to navigate to other pages within the same web site or view related documents and external sites. Having usable links effectively means that users are more likely to achieve the objective of why they are in your web site (be it for information searching purposes or purchasing of products or services). This goal achievement will positively affect their experience, thus increasing the likelihood that they will re-visit your site and/or recommend it to their peers.
In the list below, I have compiled what I think are the 15 most important guidelines for making your web site links more usable. Most of the guidelines have been retrieved from Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox and Usability.gov. Please note that this is a checklist and hence the guidelines are being presented in no order of importance, meaning that all of the 15 guidelines are important in order to ensure that your web site links are usable.
For your web site links to be usable, they should:
- Be blue: This acts as a strong visual cue to the user that the text is a link. If all the text is of the same colour, it is very difficult for the user to locate links.
- Be underlined: Underlining links is a standard paradigm that acts as a strong visual cue to infer clickability.
- Not be in all uppercase or lowercase characters: Mixed case links are more scannable and users are more accustomed to them.
- Not consist of generic instructions: Generic instructions such as “more”, “read more”, “click here” and “learn more” do not provide any information to users about the content they will find when they click that link. Users identify and understand links and therefore it is not necessary to tell users to click them
- Not start with “e-“or “internet”: Users already know that they are on a web site and hence such words add unnecessary verbiage to links and make them look similar. All of this makes it difficult for users to scan them.
- Not look like buttons if they are not clickable: Users perceive conventional button shapes as clickable; hence they will try to click any image that looks like a button. When users see that nothing happens, they may become confused.
- Not contain made up words: Such words do not elicit curiosity but rather irritate users and in some cases cause them to leave a web site. At the very least, these words lead users to try and understand what they mean. This is coupled by the fact that such words affect adversely the search engine visibility.
- Not have the same name: Having links with the same name confuses users, leads to unnecessary complications and clutters the interface.
- Open in the same window if they link to other HTML pages: Users make use of the browser’s back button to go back to where they were. When a new window opens, there is no previous page that they can go to. This causes frustration and disorientation for most users and may cause them to close the window.
- Not open in the same window if they link to non-web documents: Users typically press the browser’s close button when they are finished using a non-web document such as a PDF file, thus exiting the web site.
- Become highlighted or change colour on mouseover: This provides a good visual cue for clickability, although it should not be used on its own.
- Indicate whether they will take the users to a different web site: Users assume that any link will take them to a different page on the same web site. When this is not the case and they are not forewarned, users become confused and as a result, can end up leaving the web site
- Not contain the company name: The name of the company adds unnecessary complexity to the link text as it can make links appear similar to each other. This makes users waste time in trying to identify the difference between links.
- Be long enough to be understood but short enough to avoid wrapping: Short links are barely descriptive enough to provide an indication of the content that they link to. It is advised that links should be no longer than 10 words for best performance.
- Start with keywords: Adhering to this guideline makes link text more concise. Additionally, it is recommended that link text is similar to the page title or headings where it leads to. Such conventions make pages more identifiable.