Hyperlinks enable people to jump instantly from page to page, or site to site. Such power can create
To help users browse with confidence, links should be absolutely clear and explicit.
Text hyperlinks should be clearly distinguishable from normal text.
Any mouseover behaviour should have a highlighting effect. (see
Hyperlink content should be as short as possible, yet long enough to identify either:
Where you'll go
What you'll get
What you want to happen
Hyperlinks with different targets should be clearly distinguishable.
Hyperlinks should give an indication of any unanticipated consequences, e.g.:
Links to files
Links that open or close windows
What do you make a link?
Hyperlink content example: Amapproved.com
A site for locating approved Aston Martins, and it's good on the whole. This is the search results
screen. Guess how you get from search results to see the details on a particular vehicle? The only
link is the vehicle model (in the Vehicle summary column).
The first, and biggest problem, is that you can't distinguish the hyperlinks, breaking Principle 1.
You don't know where to click to get more information: you have to guess.
Click to enlarge
The second problem is: The links look the same although they point to completely different targets
(each one is a different used Aston Martin). This breaks Principle 4. Because all the links on this
page have the same content (the vehicle model), it's even less obvious that they might be the link.
If I click on "Aston Martin DB7 GT", I would expect to get general information about the Aston Martin
DB7 GT car. This breaks Principle 3, because the link is not accurately describing what I'll get if
I click it.
What should they do?
The "thing you get" is the information about a particular car. The thing that represents the particular
car is the entire table row. There is no other unique identifier for the car (mileage, price etc.
aren't necessarily unique). Therefore, the whole row should be the clickable hyperlink. (It would
also be helpful if the row changed colour/tone on mouseover).
Expressing size in hyperlinks
It's quite common to find computers putting out this kind of information to set user's expectations
when linking to a file:
PDF (46,764 bytes)
Thinking about the user's goals, what they need is to know roughly how long the download will take:
will it be a few seconds, or minutes? That's generally as accurate as it needs to be.
What should it be?
There's no benefit at all in showing more than two significant figures in file sizes. Above should
be 47KB. Also, only ever use kilobytes or megabytes for file sizes online. (Good, useful file sizes
to 2 significant figures run: 4.7KB, 47KB, 470KB, 4.7MB etc.)
If we have to differentiate text hyperlinks from other text, should this be done with colour or formatting
such as underlining/emboldening?
The de facto convention has been that hyperlinks are rendered in blue with underlines, that they turn
red when clicked, and that visited links are purple.
The most readable way to render most text is black on a white background, and making
text hyperlinks blue (#00f)
works very well on white. It is clearly distinguishable from regular black text, while still providing
enough visual contrast to be readable.
Blue hyperlink in greyscale: with and without underline.
It's appropriate to ask if differentiating by colour alone will work for people who are colourblind.
The image above is a screen capture of this page, totally desaturated. It shows that, even without
colour, there is sufficient tonal difference between black and blue to make the hyperlink clear. The
underlined version is a little bit clearer, but showing underline on hover would serve a similar purpose.
Should hypelinks be underlined?
Underlining works okay for occasional inline links.
It makes the link stand out a little more than colour alone.
In this example, the underlining works well to distinguish article titles from the sub-title.
I think underlining becomes unhelpful when there are numerous inline links in paragraphs, in lists
of links, and when there are lots of sets of links on a page.
Here are a couple of examples of collections of hyperlinks, showing the original (underlined) and
the same with underlines removed.
Notice how it's quicker and easier to read the non-underlined blocks of text.
In this second example, I have also adjusted the line spacing to make the related words clearer.
It is important that hyperlink formats behave consistently across pages.
Obviously, where some text links are on different backgrounds, such as in navigation bars, they may
need to use special colours or treatments.
The above snippets are taken from the Guardian Online homepage
While most links look similar (#036, mainly not underlined, there are several very different styles
applied on the hover, when the mouse pointer moves over the active link.
The psychological effect is disconcerting: you are left doubting whether all links will do similar
things (i.e. go to another page on this site), or whether you might be taken unexpectedly somewhere
else. I think that this schizophrenic behaviour weakens the brand experience, as well as diminishing
There is no good reason to treat all the hyperlinks differently. The third example also breaks the
second principle, because its colour change makes it weaker, less noticeable, which is not 'highlighting'.
On balance, it seems that the predominant convention in the industry is to keep #00f or #00c (slightly
darker) blue for links, and to make links red and (optionally) underlined on hover.
I think that this provides the best balance of functionality when applied consistently to inline hyperlinks
and grouped hyperlinks.