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Re: External Link Icons


From: Karl Groves
Date: Sep 28, 2007 8:30AM

> Karl Groves wrote:
> > 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.
> Such things do happen, though we cannot really know how often
> - we can observe such situations but we don't know how
> representative they are.

We can assume with relative certainty that, provided a properly created set
of user personas that, if participants fitting those personas have problems
knowing they've left the site, others in that user population will have
similar problems. This is entirely the point of qualitative usability
studies! So your point that "we don't know how representative they are" is
wrong. We do know because the participants themselves are representative
samples of that site's user population.

And what's more, these observations I refer to were during tests of
different sites with different users doing different tasks. In other words,
it doesn't appear to matter who they are, most people have trouble
understanding when they've left a site. Does that mean *everyone* will
have a problem? Of course not. But enough people are likely to have this
problem that it is a very real concern.

> Before asking whether external link icons would help in this
> problem, we should ask whether it is a problem and whose
> problem it is. If the site owner's purpose is to keep people
> in his site, then it's _his_ problem but users - who may find
> answers to their problems in other sites via the links - have
> no problem with this phenomenon as such.

As I said in my last response, I agree with you on the premise that the site
owner being concerned about "losing visitors" is a silly concern. But I'm
coming from the view that the user themselves may not want to leave and may
inadvertently do so. This can lead to disorientation and may mean the user
will fail to perform the task they came to the site to perform in the first

> If it _really_ matters that some links are external, you
> normally can and should _say_ that they are external and why
> that matters.

Placing this notice within the text is not reliable for links which appear
inline with other text. Now, on a links page or some other section clearly
delineated as a section of external resources? Absolutely.

It is important to keep in mind that those of us discussing this matter are
absolutely not representative of the "average user". Things that seem very
obvious to us simply aren't as obvious to most users. I have seen users
clicking links indiscriminately when lost on a site. It sometimes appears
that they're willing to click anything when they come to the conclusion that
the page they're on doesn't have the content they're after. And the more
they're lost, the more indiscriminately they click any blue, underlined
text. All the while, I'm thinking to myself "What the heck is this person
doing? That link won't take them anywhere near what they're looking for!"
but they do it anyway, which is why it is insufficient to merely state that
the link goes to an external resource.