Good Links: Seven Guidelines to Enhance Usability

How you write and design your links is crucial to whether or not your visitors will click on them. Write poorly and they will leave; write well and they will remain. Who knows, they may even do precisely what you designed your website for.

Following are seven guidelines for writing links to improve the usability of your website.

Maintain consistency

Visitors learn, for instance, how a website marks links or where to find the “related-content box.” Adherence to these established “codes” will make the website easy to navigate and read.

If these conventions are violated, the flow will be disrupted. Such disruptions may prompt the user to leave the site. When creating a website, it is essential to define all applicable conventions and rules. Consistently adhering to them is essential for facilitating the user’s visit.

Do not deceive the visitor.

Although link appearance is determined by the screen-designer, certain standards have developed and are widely used. For instance, highlighting text is a common indicator.

If the text is not a link, it is best practice not to underline it, color it blue, or place an arrow in front of it. Visitors may interpret them as clickable.

The same holds true for images. Many users will attempt to click on an image or graphic. Infrequently, they will discover an active link, which is a minor but nonetheless negative experience. Captions have proven to be an effective way to provide users with the small amount of information they need to avoid clicking on an image. And if there is a link, it can be included within the caption itself.

Display used links

Noting which links have been visited is extremely beneficial. It helps to quickly “tick off” information when navigating a website or to locate information from a previous visit. Unfortunately, a large number of websites do not employ this fundamental feature.

It is debatable whether the “visited” feature should extend to the navigation as well. On very deep sites it might be useful. Alternatively, it may confuse the visitor. The navigation should be consistent and minimally variable.

Align the target with the link

Clicking on a link is comparable to following road signs in an unfamiliar city – you are ecstatic if you receive confirmation that the selection you just made was the intended one.

The same rule applies to links; if a link reads “learn more about our services,” the corresponding page’s title should prominently feature the phrase “Our Services.” It verifies the completed action.

Titles that are well-written convey the main topic of the page. This is extremely useful, especially considering the fact that a great deal of traffic directly scrolls down the page.

Embedded links utilized to their maximum potential

Links stand out visually from surrounding text. A link is indicated by color, markup, or other cues. Perhaps even before the user clicks, there are mouse-over effects or an overlay displaying the title.

Everything is intended to distract you from the surrounding text. If you embed links within a sentence, readers will likely notice the link before your content. On the surface, this is unfortunate, but it can be utilized to one’s advantage.

Since online reading involves extensive scanning, the eye is constantly searching for visual cues. They can be provided through the use of subtitles or, in this instance, descriptive links. Creating a meaningful link makes it easier to locate relevant information on a page. “Click here” is less effective than “View a list of usability-related articles.”

How to reference files

When linking to a file, the visitor is likely to be redirected to another application and away from the site. Not something to be undertaken lightly.

Frequently, websites link to related documents, most frequently PDF files. The visitor must determine what the file contains by inspecting the link itself. To create a good link to a document, you must first summarize its content. This provides the visitor with direction on how to proceed.

The second step is more fundamental and entails determining why the document cannot be created as a web page. If something merits inclusion on a website, it is certainly worth the effort to make it searchable, fully integrated, and user-friendly. Using PDF files, for instance, can make sense. Frequently, however, it is easier for the developer to implement the feature, but not for the visitor to use.

Highlight the external links

An internal link refers to a page or file within the current domain, whereas an external link typically points to a remote domain.
Although technically there is no difference in how the code for links is written, it is standard practice and even a w3.org recommendation to inform the user when a link leads to an external site.

This is done so as not to confuse site visitors who are becoming accustomed to its layout, navigation, and architecture. An external link can be declared in the text, by a specific icon (such as the one used by Wikipedia), or by using the “title” tag of a link.

Whether the new site opens in a new browser window or replaces the existing content depends on the type of information the visitor will find. It could be argued that sites with related or supplementary content should be opened in a new browser window. The visitor is able to more readily return to the original website. In this case, the link should include not only the external URL but also the fact that a new window will open.

Creating quality links is essential for a successful website. A link is the only way an online store can convince users to add items to their shopping basket. If this link were poorly written or placed, many users would abandon their purchases. That would be equivalent to refusing to accept payment from a client who was physically present.

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