WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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Re: External Link Icons


From: Cliff Tyllick
Date: Oct 2, 2007 4:00PM

*Sent this reply to Karl only, rather than to the list, last week. I
hope it's still relevant:*

Karl, thanks for sharing your experience and insight. Based on user
studies, I've been won over to the idea that we need "Exit" markers on
our site. Many of our users *want* to stay on our site because we're a
regulatory agency, and they want to know they're getting the information
straight from us. When the relevant information is not ours to maintain,
they appreciate knowing in advance that they are leaving our site.

We first started this because attorneys and managers were concerned
that folks would think we endorsed the full content of any site we link
to. To appease that concern, we added a small gif saying "Exit" after
each off-site link. (If all links on a page exit our site, there might
be just one "Exit" gif at the top of the page.) The "Exit" gif has an
appropriate alt tag and links to a disclaimer
(http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/help/policies/linking_policy.html). We
thought about using a transition page instead, but decided against it.
In our judgment, it would be a speedbump between the user and the
information they need.

The attorneys and managers are comfortable with the arrangement we
adopted, and, as we have done more usability studies, we have found that
even novices understand and appreciate the "Exit" gifs. In fact, the
only complaint we now get is from people who are upset that they *have*
to leave our site to get information *from another agency*---"Why don't
you have it, too?" Go figure.

Jukka, I'm not sure how these gifs could be construed as an effort to
keep people on our site. Much like signs on a highway, they simply let
folks know when the environment is about to change. Whether they take
this exit is purely up to them.

By the way, I am not holding our site up as a paragon of either
accessibility or usability. We are working to improve it, and I would
appreciate constructuve criticism. But as for the "Exit" gifs, the
people who use our site most tell us that they are helpful and
appreciated. If you're like us, think about whether they would make
sense on your site, too.