I’m currently working on a new skin for our company’s website. We’ve got a blog, a portfolio section, some static pages - the usual.
We’re using Wordpress and someone suggested we use a plugin that enables to visually differenciate external links from internal ones.
I’m not sure what I think about this. My argument against the plugin would be that users (particularly our web-savvy audience) know how to use their back button or open in a new tab, plus it’s usually understandable from the context of an article whether it’s an internal or external link. Why add some visual noise then?
I must highlight that I’m not talking about styling links that open in a new window (we don’t do that at all) - I’m only talking about links that will take you to a different website within the same window.
What do you guys think?
If any of you think it’s relevant to make a distinction, what do you think it should be? Different colour? An icon?
That’s one step too far IMO, buttons should be reserved for functional links (such as the submission of data), not as a cross-linking method, it’s unsemantic to use an input button in place of an anchor reference for stylistic reasons. Plus visitors might be scared clicking a button will signify something more than just “go here”.
This has always seemed to me like it was thought up as a really misguided SEO-type thing. Like your visitor really cares about staying on your website vs. following the information they need so you give them this little warning that says “Wait! You’re about to leave the one you love! Stay!!” rolling eyes Seriously, who among your visitors is that thoughtful of your webpage’s feelings.
I do distinguish between internal and external links on my site but in a fairly simple way - they are both the same colour but internal links do not have the underline that the external links have. That makes the links close enough in appearance for those who don’t care whether a link is internal or external while providing a visual clue for those who do.
I’d say most websites don’t need it and adding different colors for different types of links would just be a horrible idea, but using an icon to indicate different kinds of links could be a usability enhancement on a web site/application that actually needs it. (I can’t think of one at the moment but I’m sure it could be useful.)
Raphaelle, in your case I can’t see why you would need to bother with something like this.
Assuming you use relative links within your site, targetting http links will only hit external links - it takes the link destination from the source code, not the parsed actual destination.
To add my voice - using CSS selectors to add an icon might be worthwhile. I wouldn’t bother with different link colours because it’s unlikely that more than three people in the whole world would realise why some links were one colour and some were another. Given the number of people who don’t twig that about :link and :visited, it’s one of those ideas that sounds great in theory, but the actual benefits are minimal and the scope for confusion is much bigger!
Might be slightly unrelated but I just came across http://www.html5rocks.com/ in which the “Presentation” navigation item takes you not only to a different website, but it opens in a new window. That pisses me off.
My conclusion so far is that differenciating external links from internal ones can be a bit useful in some contexts such as the Wikipedia site, but for “regular” websites it probably doesn’t add any useful info, it’s just unnecessary visual noise to me.
I do think context is very important here. I used to think “consistency” was the single most important thing in interface design, now I think “context” is just as important.
I treat all links the same when I browse anywhere. The only distinction I appreciate is that between links I have and haven’t visited already. Distinction for external links doesn’t really do anything for me.
I make extensive use of Operas “Open in new Background Tab” and “Open in new Tab” context menu options.
You might be far from their model but that approach does clearly define what what for the visitor.
For web savvy people isn’t identifying external links teaching people to suck eggs?
Me neither, though external links on the BBC news site sometimes get passed through a “We are not responsible for external content” page - that’s just plain annoying! I know it’s an external link so why tell me something i already know?
I’m getting the feeling that this plugin has be written just because they could, I can’t see any benefit whatsoever!