Link text, style and focus: accessibility for designers

  • Author: Access iQ ®
  • Date: 4 Mar 2015
  • Access: Premium

Quick facts

People who use assistive technologies depend on links and form elements as a navigation method.

  • Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
  • Screen readers voice all content that appear in the page and is made available in the code.
  • Visible focus is helpful to users who depend on keyboard navigation and people with cognitive disabilities find where they are.
  • Link context communicates more to the user with disabilities than "click here" links through better information.

This topic focuses on how link text, text style and retaining and enhancing focus in the browser, affect people with disabilities. The aim is to describe the issues people face, highlight the accessibility requirements based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) and best practice, and offer solutions to increase accessibility in designs for websites.

Assistive technologies read and navigate by links

People who use assistive technologies depend on links and form elements as a navigation method. One common method is to navigate a page by following links, using the tab key. Therefore having clear and distinct link text provides these users with more information to make a decision on without having to consume the content surrounding the link.

People visually scan a page for links for example to jump directly to the site of the product described before returning to read the information in the product review. The same practice should be available to people with disabilities. Meaningful and unique link text helps people with disabilities navigate your webpage.

Link states

A link has various states, depending on what then user is doing. These states are: link, hover, active, visited, and focus. Developers often need styles for all of these states so it is useful for a designer to ensure all these states are covered. It is not enough that links must be obvious in the text but link states should also be obvious from each other, so that the colour contrast of a current link is different from the colours of the other links. It is acceptable that some colours are the same, so long as you apply them consistently, but it is preferable that each state has a distinct colour.

The laziness of 'Click here', 'Read more' and 'Continue'

If a user is navigating a page by links, what they hear when you use this type of link text is repetition of the link text with no meaning attached to each link. "Click here, Click here, Click here" communicates no meaning and is repetitive noise to a screen reader user. This site would not be giving these users much information about the breadth and quality of the information using links of this sort. Far better to ensure each link has unique and meaningful link text. A design can help guide this editorial direction if it avoids this type of repetitive link in preliminary designs

Accessible link text is good for SEO

If you want your content to be indexed by search engines and directories, not only should the content be written in a way that entices people searching for relevant terms, the links themselves also help Google and others find meaning in your links.

A link that says, "Click here for information on all of our services" is not as useful to Google as "Would you like to know about the range of services from Acme Corp?"

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