Style visited and unvisited links differently (most of the time)

On some websites visited links look exactly the same as unvisited links. This doesn’t always cause problems, but sometimes it can slow you down. As an example I’ll compare two sites that have lots of outgoing links: Delicious and Twitter.

Let’s say you’re looking for interesting reading about a particular subject like… HTML5. There will be plenty of links tagged with HTML5 on both Delicious and Twitter:

Now visit those pages and follow a few links. Then reload the Delicious and Twitter pages. On Delicious, the links you just followed will have a slightly different colour. It’s not a big difference—the difference could be bigger—but it is there. On Twitter, however, visited links look exactly the same as unvisited links.

What makes this worse is that most links on Twitter are mangled by various URL shorteners, making it much more difficult to remember if you’ve already visited that particular URL. So you can easily end up following the same link again and again.

I think styling visited links differently would really help in cases like this.

My intention here is not to single out Twitter. It just happens to be a good example of why it is often a good idea to make it easier for users to keep track of what links they have already visited.

Browsers give visited links a different colour by default for a reason. Make sure you have a really good reason to make visited and unvisited links look exactly the same. And no, I do not think that “It looks better” is a valid reason.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding: I’m not talking about links in navigation menus, “action items” in web applications and similar types of links here. I’m talking about in-content links, particularly lists of links.

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

Posted on October 20, 2010 in Quick Tips, Usability, Accessibility