link usability

When designers don’t use a consistent method to distinguish links from other content, the site becomes very hard to use. For some reason I’ve been seeing a lot of this recently, with the worst offender not only using black links with black text (a definite no-no) but a style sheet mouse over that doesn’t work in Opera. The mouse pointer doesn’t change into the little hand. That means that even when I put my mouse over the link, there is absolutely no indication that it’s a link. I have to make a leap of faith, hoping that there is a link.

Finding links on a page should not be hard. Inexperienced users of the web should be able to recognize links with very little effort and yet for some reason, links can be harder to find than an easter egg. Relying on the location of a link to identify it as such is usually a bad idea since there is no standard location for navigation on a web site. When a new visitor arrives to your site, they don’t know whether you have links on the top, side or bottom so consistency of colors is the easiest way to find links.

You should never use the same color for a link as you do for normal content within the same background color. You’re almost guaranteed to cause confusion by doing it. I’ve been enjoying the usability discussion over at dive into mark but when I tried to find where his permanent link was I scrolled up and down the page with no success. On a whim, I tried putting the mouse over the title of the entry and lo and behold it was a link. I put my mouse over a heading within the content that had the exact same size and color but it wasn’t a link. There is no way to tell it was a link without putting your mouse over the text.

In summary, make it easy for users to find links and they’ll thank you for it. If not, you’ll be getting an email from me (similar to the one I sent Mark) suggesting you reconsider your link color choice.

Update: Mark just responded to my email and has taken my suggestion. He’s added both an underline to the date as well as a single character image with descriptive alt text. It’s much easier to find the permanent links now and I’m encouraged by his willingness to accept suggestions. Kudos.


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  1. I have seen the same thing that you are talking about.It’s really crazy what some people do.I think they do it as a joke or they are just so stupid that they don’t know.

    Comment by Tammie on July 3, 2002 @ 12:51 am
  2. Oh good ! It’s about time

    Comment by Tammie on July 3, 2002 @ 2:59 pm
  3. I am totally agree with you. But what is making me absolutly crazy it is flash pages with navigation menu with unreadable blury small fonts, I can kill these idiots.

    Comment by Sandra on July 4, 2002 @ 9:30 am
  4. Sandra,

    Indeed, Flash should not be used for site navigation, in fact I have discussed my feelings on the subject in the past.

    Comment by dan on July 4, 2002 @ 3:16 pm
  5. Hi,

    could you tell me where you see those broken links? In news items? In the site navigation?

    The CSS was tested on Mozilla and IE. I’ll have to install Opera and see if I can work around it’s buggy support for CSS…

    Comment by Mike Krus on July 5, 2002 @ 6:12 am
  6. Mike,

    It’s in the site navigation (Top News,Browse News,Site Status,Random News). Even in Mozilla and IE it would help to have the link color something other than black.

    Comment by dan on July 5, 2002 @ 9:49 am

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