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Updated October 22, 2001

Usability Tip:
Use Standard Link Colors

by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
NetMechanic, Inc.

  
June 2000
Vol. 3, No. 6
 • HTML Tip
 • Usability Tip
 • Load Time Tip
  

Visitors to your Web page see this underlined text. It's a link, right?

Visitors to your Web page see this color link. They've visited that page already, right?

Visitors to your Web page see that Tony Blair is mentioned. The link will give them information about him, right?

If the answer to any of these questions is "Wrong", your site may have some usability problems.

Links Facilitate Navigation

Imagine having to enter the HTTP address for every Web page (not just the home page!) you want to visit. It would be confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating. Nobody could "surf" the Web; instead we'd be like trapped insects waiting for the spider.

Hypertext links facilitate movement throughout the Web and allow users to surf. Links support different types of navigation:

  • Internal navigation on a page
  • Navigation inside a Web site
  • Links to external Web sites

Links should make site navigation quick and easy.

Basic Link Syntax

Adding links is simple in HTML using the <A> Anchor element. This element defines both the source and destination of a link.

The basic syntax for links is simple:
  • Internal Page Navigation:
    <A HREF="#top">Top of Page</A>
    This also requires you to have a named area somewhere at the top of the page: <A NAME="top">Introduction</A>
  • Site Navigation:
    <A HREF="home.htm">Home</A>
  • External Sites:
    Visit <A HREF="http://SiteName.com">here</A> to see more information.

Remember, anything you include between <A> and </A> becomes active. Be careful when you use it or you could accidentally end up with an entire paragraph hyper linked instead of a short phrase.

What Do Visitors Expect?

Imagine the traffic chaos if a town decided to use blue triangles instead of red octagons for their stop signs. Confused out-of-town drivers would probably leave as rapidly as possible. Frustrated Web visitors will exit your site even more quickly.

Links are your Web sites' signposts. They should give visitors easy visual clues to the site's navigation paths. Most visitors have certain set expectations about links' look and function. They may have problems with sites that don't conform to those expectations.

Visitors expect links to be underlined. Never, ever use underlined text on your Web page. Underlining is an important visual cue of a hyperlink. If you need to emphasize text, use different text colors, bold, or italics - never underline it.

Visitors expect consistent link colors. Unvisited links should be blue. Visited links should be purple. If you deviate from this method, use consistent colors on every page AND use Web safe colors. Visitors must be able to quickly and clearly understand your color scheme.

Visitors expect visited and unvisited links to be different colors. Visitors need to clearly understand where they've been so they don't waste time repeatedly visiting the same page. Different link colors provide clear navigational clues to your visitors.

Visitors assume a link will give them additional information. However, many Web developers will link proper names to email addresses using the form mailto action. Visitors who expect a link on Tony Blair to be a biography, may be irritated if they have to wait while an email program opens. When you link an email address, make sure your visitors understand that before they click on the link.

Increase Clarity With Link Titles

While a link may provide more information about a subject, you can use link titles to provide information about the link itself. For instance, a link on Tony Blair might have a link title called "Tony Blair political biography" that displays when the mouse is moved over the link.

Link titles are supported by Microsoft Internet Explorer Version 4.0 and higher. Netscape 4.x doesn't support titles, but Netscape 6.x versions do.

Easy Navigation Helps Visitors Explore Your Site

Everyone can easily navigate through a printed book, newspaper, or magazine because they're already familiar with those formats. The Internet is a much more recent development, with few consistent design rules. Since visitors have less experience with it, they're much more likely to have trouble with navigation.

Links are your most important navigational tool and should be instantly recognizable and unambiguous. Use them wisely and consistently; if someone gets lost inside your site, they'll never come back.



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