Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

To Underline or Not Underline Links

As visually entertaining the latest trends in web design may be, there are a few usability walls we run into while reading. One is the appearance of a hyperlink.

Should you underline a text link? These days it’s not the only way to signal a place to click. Other clues may be a different text color, font size or hover color. Your best choice is to pick one style and be consistent through out your web pages.

Does underlining words that don’t link anywhere matter?

On the Web, yes. The first reason is convention. Or, another way to say it – conditioned behavior. We know that since the beginning of Internet time, a procedure was invented to signal a way to get from point A to point B. Most probably that direction is an underlined word that when clicked, changes color or the underline disappears in response to the click action. The easiest links to find in a body of text are the underlined words. If you decide to not use underlining and replace that with a different color instead, be very sure the color contrasts well against your page background color.

Another user behavior we’re aware of is the placement of navigation elements. The majority of web sites follow the same map depending on the type of site. Ecommerce sites have certain navigation patterns that we’re used to, whereas blogs have a different set of layout patterns. After a time we learn that links are often found in certain areas of a page.

In today’s web design, color as a link indicator is no longer a valid, confident clue. For starters, screen readers don’t note color changes. In addition, web designers have wanted creative freedom, and this has meant color changes that occur only when a word is moused over. Or not. I’ve seen black text links with no form of link identification used along with black content text. Sometimes headings and sub-headings are the same color as colored hyperlinks, making it impossible for users to understand what is clickable or just standard text.

Credibility and authenticity are vital elements in user centered design. Sometimes it seems as though creativity interferes with this. That’s a shame. If the purpose of a site is to sell products or services, trust is important.

Proof of good honest service starts with usable and readable web pages.

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