Links: Make links clear, convenient and reliable

Links that are descriptive and useful build trust. As Kara Pernice of the Nielsen Norman Group observes, "A link is a promise."

Links are made up of the text visitors click (the link text) and a destination (the URL where they are taken). The link text should give visitors a good sense of the destination.

When to use links:

  • To drive traffic to important pages on your website (but only when those pages are relevant to the topic at hand).
  • As a courtesy to your visitors. Link to pages (on your site or others) that expand upon a topic or reference. If linking to another website, link directly to the relevant page, rather than the site’s homepage.
  • To avoid redundant pages. Rather than repeating the same information on multiple pages, use links to send visitors to a single source of truth.

Links to commercial websites should be approved by the Office of Public Affairs, per the university’s domain policy.

Writing effective link text

  • Be descriptive: Make the link text itself descriptive of the destination. Don’t create links that say “click here” or use a web address / URL as a link; these links decrease usability and harm accessibility for visitors using screen readers.
  • Be concise: Links can span several words, but keep them to the most relevant words or phrase.
  • Try the skim test: A visitor should be able to skim the links on a page and understand what they link to without reading the context.
  • Avoid repeating the same link: When two links on a page go to the same destination, you create more work for your site’s visitors who have to figure out if and how the links are different. (Read more about avoiding duplicate links.)

Find more tips for writing effective link text on the Nielsen Norman Group website.


Types of links

Jump to tips and example of the following types of links:


Standalone links

Typically links appear as in-line text, but standalone links – which appear on a line of their own instead of within a paragraph – can be used to call attention to important links and actions. Standalone links may be used more generously than buttons, which should be used sparingly.

  • Start with a verb that invites visitors to do something.
  • End with a double chevron / guillemet (»). Do not substitute with two greater than symbols (>>). To create the symbol:
    • PC: Alt + 175
    • Mac: Shift + Option + \
  • If three or more standalone links appear in a row, consider making the links bullet points and removing the chevrons (»).

Example standalone link:

Join our community of physicians and scientists, and we’ll encourage you to dream big – and support you in making those dreams a reality.

Explore degree programs »

Example of 3 or more links (bulleted list with no guillemets):

Learn more about student research:

Links to files/documents (pdf, xls, ppt, etc.)

Links to files can be in-text or standalone. (See the WashU Web Theme tutorial for linking to documents.)

  • Open link in a new window/tab.
  • Include the file type as part of the link in parentheses at the end.

Example links to documents:

Email addresses as links

An email address link automatically opens a draft addressed to that email – but only if the user’s computer/device has a default email application.

Make all email addresses on your site into links, and use the email address itself as the link text. This allows users to click on or copy the address, based on their preferences and settings, while also making the expected link behavior clear. (See the tutorial for adding links.)

  • Use the email address – rather than the person’s or office’s name – as link text
  • Link may be in-line (within a sentence) or standalone
  • If paired with other contact information, use soft returns to group into logical, scannable chunks (e.g., mailing address as one chunk, phone number and email as another)

Example email links:

  • Contact us at office@wustl.edu to submit a request.
  • Office for International Students and Scholars
    Washington University in St. Louis
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    314-555-5555
    office@wustl.edu

URLs as link text

Like letting your underwear show: Do it on purpose, not by accident.

A URL / web address (e.g., https://sites.wustl.edu) should be included in web-based text only if promoting the URL itself is the goal of a marketing strategy. It is preferable to use descriptive words for link text, as described in Linking Basics.

If you have reason to use a URL as link text, the URL should be straightforward and concise, following these guidelines:

  • 40 characters maximum
  • No repetitive or meaningless words, numbers or other characters (instead, contact the office of public affairs or medical public affairs to request a vanity URL)
  • No http://www, trailing slashes, or file extensions like .aspx or .html (Ex: http://brownschool.wustl.edu/Pages/Home.aspx)

Examples of acceptable URL link text:

Avoid: