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Must links be blue for best usability?

     
6:20 pm on May 2, 2003 (gmt 0)

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A year ago, this was the discussion on the topic.

[webmasterworld.com...]

Conclusion was that links must be underlined, but not necessarily blue.

Thoughts from more recent user observation?

And what about CSS-driven links like here on WW? Will many browsers fail to show them properly? On a site catering to other than webmasters, would you use something similar, or keep it more standard?

Thanks for the ideas on this.

btw, WebProNews just ran an article pushing the idea that blue underlining was essential.

2:17 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I think it depends upon the audience. If I'm writing for a library or a school or folks who rarely use the Inet then I'm more inclined to use standard blue underlined links (booaaaarrring). If, however, the audience is likely to be more experienced then I'll play with them.

In either case, I'd argue that the link needs to be very easy to identify as a link. Visual cues are a necessity - color difference, font weight, underlines - what have you but make it obvious enough for the intended audience.

My 2 cents.

5:05 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I rarely use pure #0000ff for links any more, but I still tend towards some variant of blue in many cases. Even so, as long as the link is underlined with at least one more visual clue (color, font-weight, etc.) I haven't seen any results that point to a problem, even when the link text color is far from blue and styled to work with the page's palette.

That being said, I always use a hover behavior that is big, obvious and unmistakable - like changing the background color dramatically and reversing out the text. Hover behavior is not the right area to go and get subtle.

I think the wide browser support we now have for a:hover has been a very welcome boon to usability. I was impressed by watching an 8 year old explore a web page. He began by mousing over everything in sighting. And he had great fun seeing the hover behavior kick in and out - it's interactive in a helpful way instead of being static, and it actually is fun.

So I'd say that a strong hover behavior helps reduce the need for standard looking links on the first rendering of the page. I did some comparative studies - nothing huge but decent numbers. Introducing hover behavior to 2 sites that didn't have it before increased page views per unique by 7% and 10%.

9:11 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Bolderdash to the Underlining! All underlining succeeds in doing is cluttering the link itself.

Pendanticist.

9:25 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I wholeheartedly agree with tedster on the 'rarely 00F but some varient of blue' bit. And as for underlining, well it depends on the context.

Links in body text or very plain menus IMO should always be underlined and blue. I find even I, an experienced web user miss links that do not at least partially conform to this. So how would that effect less experienced users? - Badly I suspect.

As for hover, font-weight: Yes, Redundancy is a big Factor [webmasterworld.com] in usability.

But, if your text-links look like buttons, and are placed in an area you would expect to find buttons (left hand coluum/top under logo) then there's hardly any point. Especially if those buttons 'roll-over' providing another visuall clue as to their meaning.

I also like titles on button links, (providing 'tool tips') "this link goes here' kind of thing....

Nick

Woz

9:41 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I still invariably keep links blue and underlined simply because that is what people expect as the standard. Remember the book "don't Make Me Think".

But then I am also a little creative in that I use normal blue underlined for links I want people to click on immediately, and a lighter blur with no underline for secondary links such as privacy, legal etc, which I find very effective.

Like Tedster, I am not subtle with hovers!

Onya
Woz

10:31 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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As I recall, underlining links became 'standardized' during the Internet's infancy, as a navigational tool. Underlined and blue was the standard redundant way to 'teach' the fledgling Internet users on how to 'get around' the site/Internet.

Since the infancy stage seems to be over, I see no relevant need to have them underlined...generally speaking.

Look at things like newsletters, they don't use underlining.

Most pages that are 'read' like books, which have supportive descriptions behind links don't use underlining either. The list goes on and on.

As for not making people think. Wow. Would you feel better if everyone in the World was incapable of exercising Critical Thinking Skills? Speaking to "The Dumming of the Internet User." here.

I guess if you want to keep your visitors ignorant, then make all the links blue and underline everything.

Pendanticist.

10:36 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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>>Since the infancy stage seems to be over

I disagree. I think we could probably say that the internet has 5-10yrs left to run in it's infancy.

But that's another thread ;)

It's all about usability and visual clues. If I want to sell someone somthing on a website I need them to be in absolutely no doubt as to where the links are and what they look like. Blue, underlined, possibly bolded and with hover for me all the way.

It's not about education, it's about making money ;-)

Nick

11:36 am on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the good discussion on this.

dwilson

12:09 pm on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Since the infancy stage seems to be over, I see no relevant need to have them underlined...generally speaking.

It's not about the infancy stage of the internet, it's about the experience of users. And even for very experienced users it's easier to find a link without having to scan the complete page for text that could possibly be a link.

I guess if you want to keep your visitors ignorant, then make all the links blue and underline everything.

I prefer people to think about the contents of my site, not about the way they have to navigate it.

Not all websites on the Internet, nor the webmasters of those sites who come here for guidance, are geared towards profit.

ACK. But any technique that works for making a site sell will also work for serving the information to the users. It's not about money, it's about giving my visitors what they are looking for.
12:19 pm on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I don't do blue. Not as a rule anyway.
But underline? Yes, always. At least if I want the user to click that link, hehe.
As a user I prfer clear and organised pages. I hate it when I have to wade through lots and lots of conflicting visual signals before I find what I'm looking for.

And I think that is especially true for informational pages.
I think it's for a reason that the art of print has developed some standard formats you find everywhere repeated.

12:52 pm on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I always underline/bold links in the main content. I pretty much stay away from the standard blue, as it's fairly unattractive unless your site's color scheme draws on that shade of blue.

I do, however, use a color that "sticks out" from the rest. I believe many people, including myself, don't want to read everything on the site. When I get to a large page of text, I want to scan it quickly and see what links are there. Then I may jump to a specific paragraph and read more closely if it has a link in it that interests me.

I also agree with everyone about strong hover properties. I don't usually use the background-color/text-color swap type thing, but I will use another high contrast color that "sticks out". I also have used "underline overline", which give a pretty neat appearance.

The newest site I'm working on doesn't use underline at all. It uses "border: dotted". When inactive, I use the background color of the page for top, left and right border and then use the link color for the bottom. It still looks underlined, but is dotted. On hover, I change the whole border to the color of the hovered text link, still dotted. I think it looks neat but the point is IT'S NOTICEABLE.

Well, my short answer to the question is:

No, they don't have to be the default blue, underline. They do, however need to stand out from the crowd. This goes for the newbies and the savvy users.

Birdman

6:12 pm on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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One standard way to describe what a page should communicate on a first scan is:

1. Where am I?
2. What can I do here?

Having very obvious links goes a long way to answering #2. Today, with the SE algos emphasizing incoming links, visitors from search engines can land one click away from the "real" page they need. They may never find it if the links don't clearly pop.

Any designer I work with better look out -- I don't care about the aesthetic nearly so much as the usability. I will usually demand underlines for links on any site where I have bottom line responsibility, and I strongly encourage underlines if I'm a consultant.

Even in an obvious menu section, the underline still helps unless the audience is quite web-savvy. I say this from server log analysis, it's not just my opinion. I'd suggest that anyone who wonders about this do a test, rather than resort to their own subjective ideas.

I've said this before in other threads -- graphic designers should NOT drive web development teams. But too often their's is the first concrete contribution and it never gets challenged. So, de facto if not de jure, designers DO end up with a lot of influence that should rightly go to the marketing minds. Designers tend to put aesthetics above usability, and therefore, above results. They want "it looks good" not "it works".

7:06 pm on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Ow... my head hurts from you guys beating on it. ;)

I think it's only a matter of time before folks step outside of the blue underline link standard. Consider that we have thousands of font faces available to us. We don't use them all for blocks of copy and for good reason. Nor should we use black as a link color among black copy text. But if we use something that stands out against the crowd we accomplish the same goal. It's the same theory as why we use bold or italics within the body of the copy - to get the reader's attention on a particular word or phrase.

Web surfers are getting smarter all the time. I watched my father (78 years young) sit down in front of his first PC and navigate just fine on a website with non-standard links - once he got the concept of hyperlinks. Sure, if you want to play it safe then stick with the standard. All I'm saying is that I think there's a bit more leeway than sticking with a plain blueberry link. And yes, sometimes even I like blueberry.

>> I'd suggest that anyone who wonders about this do a test, rather than resort to their own subjective ideas.

What would a fair test be. 1 month with underlines and 1 month without?

 

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