Our designers and developers do incredible work on our websites. They make them lovely to look at and delightful to use, so why don’t our clients like links that are blue? (Sorry, it’s Monday morning as I write this, and I couldn’t resist trying to tie in a rhyming cliché.)
But it’s true. Our sites are beautiful, and some clients insist that links be hidden in the text without any color or underlining that would identify them as links. They feel that the look of the page is diminished by the change in text style.
When my children were small, the Where’s Waldo? books were popular. They loved to try to find Waldo among all the colors and shapes on the pages. But visitors to your website are most likely not looking for Waldo; they’re looking for specific information. So why do we make them search for links in the name of aesthetics?
Which is more important? Looks or findability?
We in Marketing Communications (fka AgencyND) know in our guts that it’s wrong to hide links, but what do others say about it? To find out, I did a little research. And the experts (Nielsen, et al.) say
If you actually want people to click on your links, then you have to make it obvious that they can and should be clicked.
We know that visitors to websites don’t read the entire page on first site; they scan the page, looking for information of interest. We encourage lots of headers and bulleted lists in order to make the page easier to scan. Why wouldn’t we point out relevant information that is linked to by making it stand out?
What do the experts say about link formatting?
Experts don’t always agree on how to make the links stand out.
- Some say the links must be blue, with different shadings indicating status (unclicked, clicked, active).
- Others say color doesn’t matter at all—that underlining is the way to indicate links.
- Some say that either way is okay, as long as the method of showing links is consistent within the site.
- Still others call for a standard among all websites for usability purposes:
Users get confused if link colors are [non-standard]. Result: Users waste their time figuring out where to click, while spending less time reading and interacting with the sites. Even worse: Users may give up finding they content they are looking for.
Thus, the research and general opinion of usability experts seem to recommend we:
- Underscore all links, no matter the color of the text.
…Only 27% of the sites [100 top American eRetail sites] still use the ‘standard’ blue color for unvisited links….We can therefore conclude that blue/purpose ‘standard’ no longer exists…the main way of characterizing a link is not by using a particular color, but by underlining the text itself.
- Make links easy to spot and distinguish as links.
Text link wording should also be emphasized to make it easy to read. Formatting can be used to make links bold or underlined and stand out more so they are not hard to find, allowing visitors to easily find web page links. Good wording and formatting of navigation links give websites better usability.
- Indicate status of links (unvisited vs. visited vs. active) by saturation of color in order to help visitors keep from clicking repeatedly links they’ve already visited.
…Knowing which pages they’ve already visited frees users from unintentionally revisiting the same pages over and over again….When visited links don’t change color, users exhibit more navigational disorientation in usability testing and unintentionally revisit the same pages repeatedly.
Changing the color of visited links has been part of Web browsing since … 1993, so it’s completely standard; almost all users understand it….Further, empirical observations from user testing have identified several severe usability problems on sites that violate this convention.
- Blue is (probably) the best color to use for links.
Since the inception of the Internet, the color of the hyperlink had been blue. Because of this, Internet users had been “trained” to think all blue colored words on a webpage as hyperlinks. Because of this, the blue-colored hyperlink has a higher probability of being clicked than other hyperlinks of other color.
In other words, make it easy for visitors to quickly scan the page and locate links in which they have an interest and be able to tell which links they visited already so they don’t go in circles. As anyone who has taken training from me will know, one important key to a successful website is
Keep your visitors happy!
So how do you keep your visitors happy with regards to links? Share your ideas and results!
I say “probably” because you can find experts who say that red is clicked on more often than blue. There may be some accessibility issues associated with red, though, especially if the link is indicated by color only and not underlined. (But that gets back to the mantra of “never depend on color alone” for the Web since many users have difficulty distinguishing certain colors.)