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Visited links: does size matter?

How big does a website need to be for visited links to be worthwhile?

     
11:49 am on Sep 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Hi there,

This is my first post - about an issue I've been pondering for a while now.

I'm wondering how big a website needs to be for visited links to be worthwhile. My question comes from working on a website with approximately 150 pages. The main (i.e. most important) target group is new users, but a large proportion of users will be occassional or regular returners.

My thinking is that for the occassional or regular user, after a while, most and eventually all of the links will appear as visited links, in which case they become redundant. These users will also, over a period of time, notice a change in the links colour. Perhaps it's just case of accepting that these users will only see purple links rather than blue (the colours I tend to use)? And maybe, in this case, it's a case of accepting that the needs of the main target group outweigh those of the others?

Another possibility could be, and I'm not sure how to do this so please say if you know how, after a while I could reset the user's settings to make all links appear unvisited again. A risky approach I realise, as not all users become regular users at the same time. What would be the value or implications of this?

I'm assuming here that there is an minimum website size for which visited links are worthwhile. If you think it's worth using visited links for a website with 7 pages, I'd be interested to know why :O)

Thanks in advance,
lorry108

PS If anyone knows of another forum where this question might be better placed, please let me know. Thanks!

12:07 pm on Sept 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I think some information is better, generally, than none at all, so I would recommend marking visited links. If colour differences are bugging you then make the colours fairly similar (but far apart enough to notice of course!)

My general rule in these things is to ask myself whether Amazon/BBC/Google/eBay would do it, since they invest more money in usability (particularly Amazon) than any other site on the Internet. Since all of them are using visited links I'd go with that.

By the way, welcome to WebmasterWorld :-)

12:27 pm on Sept 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Thanks James - I think your suggestion about colour is helpful.

I'd agree with your view on the big sites - their example is usually a good one to follow. The thing is, most websites will never be as big as Amazon etc. So although they have done a load of research, their research is to some extent not relevant to most websites - their users will never reach a point when they've read all the content, because they are constantly adding new content. But with a website that will only occassionally add new content, there will come a time when all links are visited. So my question is "How does this implicate the use of visited links?"

Maybe I'm making this into more of a big deal than I should?

PS It seems this is my second post. I made another about 18 months ago - bad memory, sorry!
:O)

1:06 pm on Sept 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I totally agree with you Lorry... sites as large as Amazon need visited link declarations because of their size and frequency of updates... it's so easy to forget where you've gone on those sites that the visited link is needed to say "hey, FYI, you've clicked this thing before". It serves to make a large site less daunting for the invididual user.

But a small site- say, an 8 page artist's site with random updates, can have its design and overall aesthetic tainted by useless visited links. Most people know where they've been on a site that small... and pages like "news" or "tour dates" are meant to be visited repeatedly; to say "you've been here before" is trivial at best.

Bottom line to me:
Big site, lots of new pages all the time, lots of pages that get lost in the sauce: Use visited links

Small site, or a site that adds/removes CONTENT rather than PAGES: No need for visited links

1:34 pm on Sept 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Isn't it good for users to know they've already visited a page when they return to your site? Let them see the purple. In time they will see blue again depending on how long they choose to keep pages in their history folder (IE6).

I would cater to the new visitors more than the repeat because they will more likely be the ones to click on ads, they aren't familiar with the site, and, as you say, there are more of them.

On a 150 page site I would use visited links; on a 7 page site, doesn't matter.

Also, you could make the links to pages that you want visitors to keep visiting stay blue and the others go purple.

2:22 pm on Sept 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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So, Don, the question is "What constitutes a small site?"

guitaristinus, I agree with your suggestion about focusing on new users. About your other suggestions:

In time they will see blue again depending on how long they choose to keep pages in their history folder

I'm not sure we can assume users will delete their history - anyone know of how many users use or even know about this feature?

Also, you could make the links to pages that you want visitors to keep visiting stay blue and the others go purple.

I'm not sure I'd go down this road. I can forsee a situation where the meaning of the visited links is lost - the user might think there's something wrong or doubt their understanding of the meaning of the link colours.

2:48 pm on Sept 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I'm not sure we can assume users will delete their history - anyone know of how many users use or even know about this feature?

Most browsers clear out the history/cache when it gets older than nine days.

I think you're right in saying that this comes down to what constitutes a "small" site. Certainly, for very small sites (fewer than 10 pages) I'd definitely lose visited links in favour of something more aesthetically pleasing.

So, what's "small"? IMHO I think small is one that a user is likely to browse the majority of in one visit. How many pages of your 150 page site will a visitor browse at once? I guess that depends on your pages, whether there are lots of little pages all linked together in order to be clicked through or whether each page is a 10,000 word essay(!)

Honestly I don't think it matters that much. If you think it would look better without then no-one's going to tell you off (except maybe Jacob Nielsen ;-)

I guess just ask yourself, if you were a user on your site, which would you rather?

J.

3:28 pm on Sept 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Most browsers clear out the history/cache when it gets older than nine days.

Well that just about settles it for me! Thanks j4mes.