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Should we avoid within-page links?

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#1 Webnauts


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 11:27 AM

I would like to ask, if you agree with Jakob Nielsen, that we should avoid within-pages links.

More about here: http://www.useit.com...page_links.html

#2 ccera


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 11:51 AM

I agree that it is wise to limit the use of in-page links as much as possible. However, they do have their uses. Having a "return to top" link on long pages is one which immediately springs to mind, and it's not likely to confuse anyone.

I disagree with him about opening links in the same window, though. I don't think it is necessarily "expected" (in 2006) for links to open in the same window, as a webmaster I think it's insane to send visitors away (unless it's a paid ad or something), and as a user I get frustrated if off-site links open in the same window.
Maybe I'm not typical, but at any given time I usually have several windows open at once, and I like it that way. ;)

#3 Adrian


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 12:25 PM

*sigh* more nonsense from the guy I think.

if you absolutely must use within-page links, say so. For example, add a short statement that says something like: "Clicking a link will scroll the page to the relevant section."

One of his 2 'exceptions' to the rule. Personally I think that's rubbish, I'm never going to say a link scrolls to a different point on the page.

And what about skip nav type links, a great boon for accessibility in screen readers, and on small screen devices. No acknowledgment of that at all.

Misguided link bait ramblings again I feel.

#4 cre8pc


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 12:53 PM

I was jumping up and down on this one...looking for where he was going to freak me out. Alas, in a nutshell, he's got the catchy title but what he's suggesting, is absolutely appropriate for usability:

Warn folks. Tell them what will happen.

If a link opens a new window, tell them. If it brings up a PDF, tell them. If it throws a pop up window, warn them and offer a workaround (do that for PDF's too). If links go up and down a page, a little user instruction is great. A dead give away clue that in-line links are in use is the handy dandy "Back to Top" or "Top" or "Top of Page" link.

Screen readers can react with title attribute descriptions and user instructions too.

I never walk around telling folks "users are stupid". That's wrong. They get stuck in routines, yes. They look for familiar things, yes. They CAN be educated, and the best usability practices are those that treat end users with courtesy. The hardest part of user centered design is meeting user needs. It means going to the trouble of adding alternatives or directions or instructions or options.

Not saying it's easy. But to me, it's not what we should not do, for usability. It's all about what we can do to make something more "usable". That could mean a pop up, dang it. ;)

#5 TheManBehindTheCurtain


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 01:33 PM

I never walk around telling folks "users are stupid".

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So, that must mean you only say it by email or chat ... just not when you're on your feet? ;)

And what's the emoticon for "tongue in cheek"? Because this thread makes me want to paraphrase a favorite quote from Oscar Wild or George Orwell or one of early 20th-century curmudgeons, who wrote "It may be a sin to think ill of others. But it is rarely a mistake."

And so when it comes to usability:

"It may feel demeaning to design as if users are stupid. But it is rarely a mistake."

And no, I don't mean it literally. One can take anything too far. Even moderation.

#6 cre8pc


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 02:12 PM

So, that must mean you only say it by email or chat ... just not when you're on your feet?

I don't know why that saying "Users are stupid" always riles me up. I've heard some respected folks say it and I totally disagree. There's a difference between stupid and not understanding something.

I now you're kidding around and yes, there's some truth to the statement. My kids would re-state it in their language as:

"Users are retarded." They use "retarded" as a term of endearment, for heavens sake ;)

If I could pick out just one thing that I've learned in all my involvement with usability work, it would be that all anyone needs is understanding. It's also the hardest thing to do from a code, information architecture, and user interface perspective. Trying to make something so that EVERYBODY who comes into contact with it will immediately understand how to use it, or know what it is for, or know what it will do, is difficult.

Just ask Microsoft. ha ha

Anyway, I blogged on this. Am supposed to be working but its so hard to resist these Alertbox things sometimes :)

#7 Ron Carnell

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Posted 21 February 2006 - 02:49 PM

Kim, while I agree that calling people stupid is counterproductive, I think treating people like they're stupid is even worse.

Good fiction writers know that powerful description is vital to any well crafted scene. You have to tell people what they need to know if they are going to experience anything meaningful. Good fiction writers, however, do NOT describe every book sitting on a coffee table or enumerate the number of dust motes floating in the afternoon sun. A good user experience, after all, is rarely enhanced by tedium, and powerful description isn't defined by depth but by choice. What a writer chooses to describe is far more important than how much he describes.

By all means, tell the user what they need to know. Try to tell them everything, however, and I think you'll quickly discover that too much detail is just as dangerous as too little. Quality, as in all things, is defined by the choices made.

#8 dwm


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 02:51 PM

Just on the subject of Mr. Nielsen. I've been following his column for a while now. I found it refreshing to be given a clear set of reality based rules for designing websites. It actually makes the job easier if you don't have to guess what will work well, but that their might be such a thing as a 'best practice'.

Now, I've seen his opinions being diagreed on this and other forums and by friends of mine who've read his site.

Knowing that it's good to wary of blindly following a well spoken opinion, I set off trying to find evidence to refute his opinions (such as the top 10 design mistakes). The reason I trust his opinions is that they are backed up by user studies. In fact, they seem to be formulated by taking evidence from user studies.

This could be a reason why they appear:
a. counter intuitive
b. unappealling to web designers (who are a small percentage of the population with a hugely differring set of web skills from the rest of the population)

I would not like to be blindly following wrong advice. So my question is:

Does anyone know of sources of alternative user based studies that contradict his claims?

He may be a link baiting media manipulator, but if he's right I don't care. All the criticism I have read of him has not been backed up by any evidence.

#9 BillSlawski


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 03:29 PM


Does anyone know of sources of alternative user based studies that contradict his claims?

There are a lot of good usability articles at http://www.uie.com/articles/ - many of which are based upon user studies. You will come across scientific based research on those pages which contradict positions that Dr. Nielsen has taken.

Here's an example:

Dr. Nielsen's Search: Visible and Simple

When I changed the useit.com home page to include a search box instead of a link, search engine use increased by 91%. Small change, big effect (as is often the outcome when implementing usability guidelines).

Jared Spool's Evolution Trumps Usability Guidelines

What's most interesting is that the guideline's publishers never present any evidence that following it will actually improve the site. The best we've seen is one publisher who stated that on *their* site, when they changed the link to a type-in box, the use of Search increased 91%.

While 91% seems like a lot, if only 1.5% of the site's total visitors originally used Search, a 91% increase would only bring it up to 2.9% -- still unused by 97.1% of the folks visiting the site. In addition, that publisher states that they don't know if people actually found the information they were seeking because of the change. Given this, is the guideline worth following?

There are also some very nice articles about usability tests here, that you may find worth a look:


My biggest gripe with Dr. Neilsen's approach is that he makes pronouncements instead of suggestions. He proposes rules instead of guidelines. He ignores the concept of context, and pushes forth the proposition that every website should be like every other website, because that's what people are used to.

And most of the "rules" that he posts in his articles seem to be more opinion than tested conclusion.

I am surprised to see the Within-Page Links for AJAX, "Return to Top", Skip-Links sidebar responses to this article by Dr. Nielsen, but I think his responses there, like most of his article, are his opinions rather than tested conclusions.

#10 dwm


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 03:57 PM

Thanks bragadocchio, that's exactly what I was looking for. Just had a scan, going back for some more indepth reading.

I suppose, what it keeps coming down to is that guidelines and personal preferences will only take you so far with a site. After a certain, testing and analytics is the way to go.

Although, if I was desiging a site now, I'd start off with no within-page links. If I felt they were of advantage somewhere (ie FAQ, Glossary) I'd put them in then, and test them to see if it made a task easier to accomplish.

#11 Adrian


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 04:17 PM

If it brings up a PDF, tell them

I certainly agree with that, if the page isn't a HTML page, say what it is, PDF, Word Doc, Wav file, whatever.

I don't think you need to be saying things like "this link will scroll down the page a bit". For one, it's probably 3 times the length of the actual link itself, and probably won't get read anyway.

Wiki's often make good use of a similar idea, whereby all outbound links to other wev sites are highlighted in some manner. But to be honest, I've worked with people who didn't realise that anyway.

"Skip Nav" may suggest that the link goes to another place on the same page, but it isn't very explicit. Making it longer seems to defeat part of the object of it being a quick short link to somewhere else in the page.

Littering a page with "this will open in a new window" type message will jsut make it harder to read IMHO.

The context of the link should already make it obvious where you're going in my opinion. I can't say I've ever mistakenly thought I'd gone to a new page when I've clicked an anchor link within the same page.

#12 cre8pc


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 08:28 PM

I think treating people like they're stupid is even worse.

Yes. This is really, despite my joking around, a serious thing. No web site visitor wants to be treated like they are stupid, but when writing content and deciding link labels, it probably looks like we think they are.

We've always known what "learn more" and "click here" mean. But now you'll hear usability proponents insist that this is wrong because it's unclear what will happen if they click there and unknown what they will learn. We're instructed to be exact, to help create confidence. Offer that "scent of information".

For dramatic effect in writing, the less one knows may work better, but for web sites, there's a fear that somebody will do something they don't want to do, and we must be anchor link keyword control freaks.

For shopping carts, I look for every possible piece of user instructions you've ever dreamed possible when I test them because not understanding them, or not knowing what to do, or not trusting what will happen next is so horrible for some people that they will abandon the cart. The instructions aren't there to make people feel dumb. They are a courtesy because we're not physically there to guide them. Instead of answering somebody's one question when they get confused, we answer everybody's 25 questions - just in case.

Who would have thought in-line links could be treacherous to humans? Jakob got 2 letters from folks who are confused about them.

It boils down to knowing intimately one's target audience, buyer or reader. This information should guide content and user instructions, or whether to not have any guidance at all.

#13 cre8pc


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Posted 21 February 2006 - 08:43 PM

Does anyone know of sources of alternative user based studies that contradict his claims?

Not specifically no. He does do user testing and then writes up conclusions in what I would call a generic form, in an effort to educate some basics. But, since he comes across sounding like a guru, his words are often taken as gospel.

I test sites too, but his studies are more precise because of the labs, eye tracking studies and different methodology performed. Still, after awhile, I see the same behaviors repeated, or the same omissions repeated, or the same points of confusion and can draw conclusions from that.

Jared Spool and his people, as well as Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg and their team also test sites and do user testing. They specialize in their niches, but again, they eventually draw conclusions and write about them.

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