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Re: External Link Icons

for

From: Alastair Campbell
Date: Sep 30, 2007 5:30PM


Karl Groves wrote:
> I've had the opportunity to witness scores of users in usability tests over
> the last three years. I have witnessed, on numerous occasions, participants
> in the lab leave the site we were testing and be completely unaware that
> they had done so.

Me to. Although it varies by site as some link more than others, and
design has an effect as well, it is definitely a significant number of
people. It has never been the main focus of a study, but on sites
which link elsewhere (in what people here would consider a normal
fashion), between 1/3 and 2/3rds of the general public would not
realise (immediately at least) that they had left.

It's not a quantitative measure by any means, but it is so common that
I would put a hefty bet on the outcome of such a study (like a house).
Asking for numbers is also missing the point somewhat, surely you
would want people to be making informed choices? I would put it in the
same category of priority as good design making site's easier to read.

Peter Krantz wrote:
> How can a tiny icon make the user aware of an external link when you
> say that they don't get it even if the site looks completely
> different?

They may not, but it's a balance of annoying people vs informing them
(from interstitials, through not linking in the content area at all,
through icons, to nothing). With the icon approach, adding a title as
another hint can help.

> How will a visually impaired user get the same information?

You could add an alt text (assuming the icon is a foreground image),
but I would be cautious. I tested this briefly in preparation for an
article on the topic
(http://alastairc.ac/2007/08/usability-enhancements-with-javascript/),
and if it's used too much it can really get in the way of reading when
using a screen reader.

Although I obviously favour the technique, it certainly shouldn't be
mandated, it is very much dependant on the style and type of site.

Regarding it possibly being a browser issue, I used to use a client
side script to identify PDF links. (This was due to a few sites I had
to use driving me up the wall with the number of PDFs). However,
having used client-side and site-based scripts, the site-based ones
tend to work better as they are easier to fit to the site design wise,
and it's easier to restrict them to the relevant parts of the page,
such as the content area.

-Alastair