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Australian Government Coat of Arms

Style Manual

Links

Links can help users navigate content. Include links when they support user journeys and for search engine optimisation. Write link text that is accurate and accessible.

Link to something only if it helps meet the user’s need

Links (hyperlinks) are words or images that users can click to go to other content.

Links help people navigate digital services or products. But they can also reduce readability and increase cognitive load. For this reason, use them only when they support a user need.

Links are also important for search engine optimisation. Search engines use links to:

  • discover webpages
  • determine how they rank in search results.

Use text for links in most cases. These links are called anchor text.

Use images for links only if they meet a user need. If you do use images, accurately describe the link with alt text. Don’t describe the image itself.

Digital Service Standard requirements

You must understand users and their context for using the service to meet the Digital Service Standard: Criterion 1. Understand user needs.

Do research with users to understand the task they are trying to do and how they navigate through your end-to-end service or product.

Link to a different site only if essential

External links connect pages on a website to those on other domains. Use them only when they are an essential part of the user journey.

Include external links when the user needs:

  • to complete their task on an external website
  • to access original, authoritative information that’s provided by another government agency or external source.

Follow your agency’s external linking policy when linking to non-government websites. Avoid implying endorsement to commercial websites in external links.

Link to sources instead of duplicating them

When planning content, find out if similar information already exists. If it does, link to it rather than duplicating it.

Duplicated content is confusing because it’s not clear to the user which page is the authoritative source. This can cause users to abandon digital services.

Duplicated content also requires resources to maintain, as it can become out of date easily.

Link directly to the specific page that the user needs to go to, not the homepage. This is known as ‘deep linking’.

Write link text that makes the destination clear

Users scan content for links to understand what it is about. People who use assistive technologies often use the tab key to read from link to link. People who use screen readers often generate a list of links for quick navigation.

For these reasons, links need to make sense when read out of the context of surrounding content. Links like ‘click here’ or ‘more information’ don’t give the user any information about the destination.

Write link text that describes the destination in clear language. Match the content on the linked page so the user knows they have reached the right place.

Write this

Find out about our upcoming meetups on our Eventbrite page.

Not this

Click here to find out about our upcoming meetups.

Accessibility requirements

All users must be able to understand the purpose of a link without extra context.

WCAG quick reference:

Include keywords at the start of links

People usually only read the first few words of links. Keep them concise and put the most important words at the start of the link.

Using relevant words at the start of links is called ‘frontloading'. Frontloading makes it easier for people to scan and find what they’re looking for. It also helps them to read and assess the link’s relevance.

Write links that are about a single idea, to help people to decide whether to click. Only link the keywords.

Like this

Attend next month’s Brisbane workshop for developers and writers.

Put most links at the end of sentences

Links reduce readability because they are distracting. They also make it easy for users to click away before they have read all your content.

If it’s important for users to understand all your content, put links at the end of sentences.

If a link makes more sense at the start of a sentence, consider if everything in the sentence is essential. 

Write this

Find out your eligibility for a payment by filling out the application form.

Not this

You need to fill out the application form to find out if you are eligible for a payment.

Write short calls to action that explain what they do

Use concise keywords for call-to-action text or buttons. Accurately describe what will happen next.

The Australian Government Design System has code and guidance for call-to-action buttons.

Link email addresses not names

To link to an email address, use the email address as the link text so it’s not mistaken for a website address. 

Use the mailto: prefix in the URL but not in the link text.

Not this

Open links in the same window

In most cases, set links to open in the same window. This prevents users from becoming disoriented and allows them to use the ‘back’ button if needed.

Open links in new windows for limited reasons only, such as for:

  • logging on to a secure website
  • giving information that would disrupt a multi-step process, such as filling out a form
  • downloading a document.

In these cases, let users know when a link will open in a new window.

Create internal links that support the user’s journey

Internal links connect pages on the same website. They help users and search engine find and navigate your content.

Build internal links to help users move through each stage of the user journey. Use them to help users:

  • orientate themselves when using your digital product or service
  • move sequentially through a step-by-step task
  • find information that’s directly related to a topic.

Use the same homepage links across the site

You must include a homepage link in your main navigation. This helps users when they become lost or want to start a new task.

Also, add homepage links to the agency name or site title and the Commonwealth Coat of Arms image. Place these links in the top left part of the page.

Add in-page links only if they help the user navigate

In-page links (anchor links or bookmark links) connect to content on the same page. Useful in-page links include:

  • tables of contents
  • back-to-top links.

In-page links can be helpful when content is lengthy. But they can also be disorienting if users expect to go to a different page. Test content with users. Shorter content may better meet their needs.

Release notes

The digital edition significantly updates and expands on information about links.

The sixth edition guidance focused on hyperlinks in the context of creating material specifically for on-screen use. It made a distinction between ‘information hyperlinks’ and ‘navigation hyperlinks’ that is not used in the digital edition.

The Content Guide had advice on using hypertext and hyperlinks.

 

About this page

References

Content Design London (2019) ‘Links’, Content Design London readability guidelines, Content Design London website, accessed 7 June 2020.

General Services Administration (n.d.) ‘Avoid duplication’, 18F Content Guide, 18F website, accessed 7 June 2020.

General Services Administration (n.d.) ‘Links and repetitive content’, 18F Accessibility Guide, 18F website, accessed 7 June 2020. 

GOV.UK (2020) ‘Links’, Content design: planning, writing and managing content, GOV.UK, accessed 7 June 2020.

Hendriks M (15 March 2019) ‘Internal linking for SEO: why and how?’, Yoast, accessed 7 June 2020.

Johnson T (6 May 2010) ‘Embedded links and online reading accessibility: Whitney Quesenbery and Caroline Jarrett’ [video], Tom Johnson, YouTube, accessed 7 June 2020.

Loranger H (23 July 2017) ‘Homepage links remain a necessity, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 7 June 2020. 

McGovern G (22 January 2012) ‘Tips for writing great links, New Thinking, gerrymcgovern.com, accessed 7 June 2020.

New Zealand Government (2020) ‘Links’, Content design guidance, Digital.govt.nz, accessed 7 June 2020. 

Nielsen J (2 March 2002) ‘Deep linking is good linking, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 7 June 2020. 

Schade A (7 May 2017) ‘Anchors OK? Re-assessing in-page links, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 7 June 2020. 

Sherwin K (13 December 2015) ‘“Learn more” links: you can do better, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 7 June 2020. 

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2020) ‘Links’, Canada.ca content style guide, Canada.ca, accessed 7 June 2020.

University of Minnesota (2020) ‘Hyperlinks’, Accessible U, University of Minnesota website, accessed 7 June 2020. 

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) (2016) ‘G200: Opening new windows and tabs from a link only when necessary, Techniques for WCAG 2.0, W3C website, accessed 7 June 2020. 

WebAIM (n.d.) Links and hypertext, WebAIM website, accessed 7 June 2020. 

This page was updated Tuesday 22 September 2020.

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