Let your links look like links

One of the strongest conventions on the Web is that links should be underlined and that underlined text is linked. I don’t think you have to follow that convention slavishly at all times – there are other ways of making links obvious.

But I cannot understand why some sites insist on hiding links from their users by removing their underline and making them the same colour as the surrounding text. I’m not thinking of navigation areas or other parts of the interface where the context tells the user that the text is linked, but links in body copy.

If you really can’t stand the look of underlined links, consider for example using border-bottom, making links bold and a different colour, or giving links a different background colour. Whichever method you choose, you really do need to make the links visually distinct from the rest of the text by changing something more than just the colour.

My personal preference, both as a user and as a developer, is to just let links in body copy be underlined. Making them a different colour than the blue default most browsers use is fine, though choosing the same colour as the surrounding text is probably not such a good idea even if the links are underlined.

From Jakob Nielsen’s Guidelines for Visualizing Links:

To maximize the perceived affordance of clickability, color and underline the link text. Users shouldn’t have to guess or scrub the page to find out where they can click.

I find myself doing a lot of unnecessary scrubbing and hunting for links on many sites. It makes me wonder why some sites even have links if they’re so afraid that their users might discover them.

This post is a Quick Tip. Background info is available in Quick Tips for web developers and web designers.

Posted on April 22, 2009 in Usability, Accessibility