Common Ways Links Fail Users

What if every link that a user clicked led exactly to where they expected? Would that mean that users could not possibly get lost? Would they never feel the pain of not finding something?

What if every link that a user clicked led exactly to where they expected? Would that mean that users could not possibly get lost? Would they never feel the pain of not finding something?

Perhaps. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Just in case it’s true, I’ve thought of a few ways that links can fail users. By preventing these sorts of things (which admittedly, aren’t all that easy to prevent) we can design better links with the hopes of attaining that place where users never get lost.

    Users don’t know they’re links

    Fancy buttons often have this effect when they don’t look clickable. Text links do this when they’re not underlined or not in a contrasting color. Imagemaps are often hiding their clickability.

    The links are broken

    Search your server logs for HTTP 404s and play around on your site regularly to prevent this from happening. You could be breaking incoming links from your favorite search engine.

    They break the Back button

    Some links take you places where you can’t get back from. How painful! Humans always want a way out.

    They’re not real links

    Sometimes you’ll see links that seem to be part of the page your on. They even seem to be relevant. The honest ones will say that they’re ads. These aren’t real links. In my opinion real links are the ones that are truly relevant to the content on the page: they share a common idea. Otherwise, there is no conceptual “link” between the content.

    Users don’t know where links lead

    This is the main issue, of course. The key is description. Does your link describe where it is going clearly? Is there any guesswork for the user? I wonder how much improvement we’d see if every web designer thought twice about each link they write, asking themselves “Does this link accurately reflect it’s destination?”

If written well using descriptive words, links are a great way to help users predict the future. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?

Further Reading:

Tell site visitors what to do by Nick Usborne

Published: April 4th, 2004

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