Meaningful Links

6. Provide Clear and Meaningful Links

Users inevitably skim for links. Good links work as clear and specific calls to action, even out of context.

This is especially important for users utilizing assistive devices:

  • Keyboard users' cursors jump directly from link to link when they hit Tab. Since the page jumps down to the link, the clearer the link title alone is, the less likely they have to use their arrow keys to scroll back for more context.
  • Screen reader users can press a hotkey to bring up a list of links on the page. These links are presented completely out of context. In a well structured page, the list might read "Undergraduate program; Graduate program; Courses." In a poorly structured page, the list might read "click here, click here, click here."

Best Practices

  • Place the link on text that clearly and uniquely describes where the link goes.
  • For designers and developers: provide visible indicators (with text alternatives!) for off-site links, email links, and document download links.

Ineffective Links

  1. Click here for a WebAIM article on accessible links.
  2. Read more about accessible link requirements:
    https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/#link-purpose-in-context
  3. Download a printable card with more tips.
  4. Princeton's accessibility website has similar tips for writing good headings.

Why are these ineffective?

  • None of these are informative out of context. The user must read each sentence in full to figure out what each link does.
    • Note that the last example ("Princeton's accessibility website) might seem informative, but it is unclear whether it returns to the homepage as its title implies, or goes to a specific article.
  • None of these are entirely informative even in context. The user would need to click through and read for a bit before they knew if the link destination was what they were looking for.
  • None of these are compelling calls to action. Users who are skimming for relevant content are likely to ignore these links.
    • Note that the least example might seem compelling, but we are already on the accessibility website. A department linking to its own name on its own site is unlikely to get clicks.
  • Ambiguous links ("click here," spelled out URLs or email addresses) are rarely unique on a page. This makes it harder for users to skim, and makes it much harder for them to find the same link a second time if they return to the page.

Effective links

  1. WebAIM has a comprehensive article describing how screen reader users use links.
  2. WCAG-compliant links should explain their purpose from the link alone, or at least the link in a machine-readable context (e.g., its location in the heading structure).
  3. Printable PDF iconchecklist of tips for creating accessible content (.pdf).
  4. Princeton's accessibility website has similar tips for writing good headings.

What makes these links effective?

  • Each link stands alone. A user skimming and only reading the link titles will have a decent sense of the purpose of each link.
  • The links outline the text in the same manner as a page's subheadings. A user skimming by link titles can jump straight to the paragraph they are interested in.
  • The links serve as calls-to-action. A user idly skimming may well stop and click a link if it seems interesting.