People Now Need To Be Told Where Links Are

This is a seriously disturbing thing and I hope it’s not a trend.

I was reading a post and saw this:

Red highlighting added by me.

And it went on like that throughout the post.

Just this week I’ve had encounters here — and I won’t point out the people, because the individuals are not the point — where two people could not find links in my posts even though the links were the first things in those posts.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, either.

What’s going on here? Do people think links are just decorative and aren’t meant to be clicked on?

Maybe this explains why I can have a post with monster traffic yet no one bothers to click on the links inside that post to view the original material I’ve quoted or to investigate what I’m pointing them to.

How many others out there have come across this phenomenon?

Is the future of the Internet the kind of text I’ve shown above, where links have to be called links and set off from text?

What’s next? Will buttons on touchscreens need to have Press This on them otherwise people will think those are just decorations too?

This has very serious UI/UX repercussions. For example, the (more…) prompt that interrupts this post (and others) when viewed from this blog’s home page, should I change that to Click Here To Read More Of This Post?

I’d like to hear from others about this.

And if you’ve seen this on your site, do a post so I’m not standing here alone with this!



Filed under Blog Notes

42 responses to “People Now Need To Be Told Where Links Are

  1. Way back you’d say “click here to read more about [whatever]” or “Click here to check out the source for my blog” That kinda thing. But then perceived wisdom said make words and phrases hyperlinks. Probably Google said that pushing the idea that “click here” was spammy.

    The bottom line is this: Newspaper journalists – on rags like the local Basingstoke Gossip or New Jersey Muckraker – are instructed to write for 8-year-olds, or maybe it’s younger, I forget.

    Therefore… why should it be any different on the internet?

    Also, look at Britain’s Sun newspaper (UK’s biggest tabloid). It is brilliantly written. Immaculately simple.

    They key is, you want someone to do something – tell ’em! If you don’t do that explicit, they very likely won’t take the action.

    Second bottom line: Like it or not links are a call for action.

    Also the internet took the diabolical liberty of making underlining a no, no… If I do the here it ain’t gonna have it.

    So yeah, state explicit what you want clicked – and bring back the art of underlining – defy Google, Apple, Microsoft and all those dogs.

    • mikecane

      No, I don’t like that. Just look at what I’ve posted here:

      The first line there is a damn link. You expect me to tell people THAT IS A LINK, CLICK IT. I don’t think so. Many posts on the Net are like that, beginning with a link that goes elsewhere, then discussing the source.

      • You’re right, doing it that way has become a convention…BUT it doesn’t mean that the masses get it.

        There’s only one criteria: You want someone to do something, tell ’em explicitly.

        It’s not necessarily about intelligence. Some are new to the web, others are busy, and some don’t notice links because computers and the web are distracting places. Too busy.

        The web is a very primitive place. It’s like a Model T. Ford. Very basic, double-de-clutch, no auto-transmission. Hobbles along not much faster than a horse and cart. It’s sign-posting is terrible (links and navigation) and its highways are full of pot-holes.

        It’s no wonder people don’t know what is a link and what isn’t. This is primitive stuff, just like those iPads and iPhones, no way they fit to gun down a highway.

        Like I say, primitive.

      • Jonathan

        I think, if the link in that post was underlined and that the whole thing wasn’t a link, it would get more clicks. Right now it looks like a preview paragraph that is being set off from the rest of the post because you are summarizing your main topic.

        Nothing about the text denotes that it’s a link or that it’s going to take the user somewhere else. Maybe if it read something like below (anchor text in brackets):

        A paper I read recently on, entitled [Quantum physics first: Researchers observe single photons in two-slit interferometer experiment], makes observing photon trajectories sound likes it’s really more math and not a physical observation.

      • Adam

        Your link style is simply too subtle. If it were less subtle in some way, you would have no problem. As it is, the text style is identical (no bold, underline, or other differences from the main text). The only difference is color, and that’s pretty easily washed out in the chocolate sea that is your site.

      • mikecane

        Free WordPress template. But I’ve seen poor clickthroughs with other templates I’ve used too. What explains the (link) use I show in the snap? You can clearly see he uses a different color, yet he calls out the link explicitly.

      • Travis

        You say it is a link but your site does nothing to show that it is indeed a link. True, the headline and subhead are different colors (as are other links) than normal copy but that in no way defines it as a link just by looking at it. The only way to know for sure it is a link is to hover the cursor over it. If people are forced to explore the page with their mouse to discover links then they’ll most likely never click on them. You cannot assume that someone will see the alternate color and understand it is a link. Traditionally changing words to an alternate color is to emphasize those words from the rest of the copy. Tradition on the Internet specifies that a link is underlined.

        A link in a menu system doesn’t necessarily need to be underlined to be understood as click-able. But links mixed in with normal copy should be underlined if you want people to immediately know what it is. I would suggest changing that and see if you get an increase in click rates.

        Also, I see no problem with having a link to external sources shown as (link) in the copy as opposed to huge amount of underlined or, in your case, alternate colored text. I don’t understand what your issue is with this, it’s not an UI problem at all to do so.

      • mikecane

        So far the consensus has been against the free template and color scheme it has. Yet what’s weird is that I have no problem seeing links at other sites — unless the text has all been turned to light gray. And underlining for links? For real? I haven’t seen that done since the early days of the Net and I never come across it these days anywhere.

      • Joel

        You raise some interesting points, but I’d argue that your solution isn’t working; to me, the link just looks like a sub-title because it is the same color as the title of the post (which, as I was surprised to discover, is also a link). Upon looking more closely, I see that the other links on the site are the same color, with one exception: your blog title at the top of the page is neither the same color, nor does it become underlined when you mouse over it. The other indicator is that the mouse arrow turns to a pointing finger, and that’s all well and good, but I don’t think that people are likely to wave their mouse all over the page in the hopes of finding links. So in your case, I suspect that it simply that the links are too subtle, which is unfortunate because I like the way your page looks the way it is, and now that I know that’s what links look like I feel fairly confident that I will be able to find them in the future (though the color shift is hard enough for me to detect that I might still miss a link if it was only a word or two long).

        On the other hand, if you had left them underlined all the time and they were the only thing that was underlined on your site, I would have had absolutely no trouble knowing exactly what they were (at an arguably slight cost to the aesthetic appeal of the layout).

        TL;DR: Link text must be differentiated from non-link text. One way is with blue text and an underline. Another way is by labeling them as such. Doing both seems like overkill to me. Making the differentiation too subtle (e.g. only slight color change, or using a convention that is also used for other purposes) will decrease the number of people who suspect that it might be clickable. I hope that most sites will continue to strive to find a middle ground that works for lots of people without being too ugly.

      • mikecane

        This is the way this free template works. I choose templates based on a variety of factors, an important one is how they handle Blockquoting. I won’t use a template that turns a Blockquote into all-italics text, destroying whatever emphasis has been in the original text.

        And I still don’t understand the confusion. Post titles are links. Anything that color is going to be a link. When text is in another color inside a post, I explicitly state that I have added that color for emphasis.

  2. Anon

    Actually, the one generating serious UI/UX repercussions is you. Looking at a couple of your other blog postings where you did actually include links, you have set the styling such that it is almost impossible to tell what is a link and what is not a link (until one hovers ones mouse cursor over the link).

    Even a tiny smidgen of color blindness (such as almost every male human already has) and your link styling looks identical to the rest of your paragraph text. Which means that the only way for folks to find your links is to hover their mouse over every single word in every line of text in your postings. No one is going to go “link searching” to that extent. They will just read the post, close the browser tab, and move on.

    There is a reason why the default browser link style is blue for unclicked, red for clicked, and underline all the time. It provides visual feedback that “something different exists here…”. Playing “hide the link” by styling it to look identical(*) to the surrounding text is not a way to get people to realize there is a link in the text.

    (*) (or in your case, so close to identical that to anyone without 20/10 vision & perfect color perception the link text looks identical to the paragraph text)

    • mikecane

      Free WordPress template. Blame the designer.

      • anon

        Free WordPress template. Blame the designer.

        Nope, you don’t get that “get out of jail free” pass. You choose to use the template. You are 100% at fault for the results of that choice.

        Not only that, but instead of getting all high and mighty, you might try studying word press templates and CSS just enough that you could tweak the template and fix the issue once and for all.

  3. ratufa

    That first line in the “photons” post is a stand-alone sentence, not underlined, with a color that is subtly different from the rest of your text (especially if your monitor isn’t well-calibrated or you are viewing it from a bit of an angle). It’s not obvious at all that it’s a link. That it’s the first sentence doesn’t help — in fact it makes it less obvious it’s link, because some sites use color for highlighting or headings or to otherwise put emphasis on text.

    The problem is that much of the web has gotten away from using blue, underlined text to denote links (understandable, for various aesthetic reasons), so in many cases people have to guess what is a link or not. It’s crappy web design to make people guess what your UI choices are. At least having underlined “link” bits strewn throughout your text doesn’t do that.

  4. I’m with Mike here. There wasn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that that first sentence was a link. I use color shifts all the time to mark links on my sites. I figure if people aren’t smart enough to hover over them and click, to hell with them.

    Nothing in this universe demands I design for the lowest common denominator. You can bleat “accessibility” and “but what about the TRAFFIC” all you want, but I know what I like. There’s more than one way to do these things, and you UI control freaks can just get a life.

    • mikecane

      I’ve wasted more time thinking about this since the Comments. I think the Commenters are, to be gentle, all wrong. They’d have me believe that people coming here would see the sidebar material — like Pages or Top Posts — and would look at those and go, “Um, how do I see those?” FFS, they’re LINKS! They don’t need underlining.

  5. You’re also assuming that people know what a link is. It’s not even the correct term is it ? Hyperlink is the correct nomenclature. Then you’ve got the problem that someone might have printed the page out and now all they have is blue ink and the important part of the information is lost.

    For general audiences perhaps one should actually put : for more information see Or link as normal and have a references section with explicit URIs.

    • mikecane

      I’m sticking with what I’ve got. I’m now considering this a sort of IQ Test. If they can’t figure out WTF a link is, they shouldn’t be reading this blog at all.

      Printing is not even an issue here. What, do people expect to press on a piece of paper and have new writing appear?

      • Anon

        “I’m now considering this a sort of IQ Test.”

        That is just sad. YOU make your webpage less usable, breaking web usability standards, and then call people morons if they don’t see the links?

        Just apply a little style to make the links stand out a little, and don’t be a jerk.

        It really sounds like you do not want people going to the source sites, so you make the links ‘slightly difficult’ to see easily. I’m sure the people that you link to really appreciate the camouflaged links. And all the while you can say “I don’t know WHY people are not clicking thru to your site? They must be stupid or something.” to those you link to.

      • mikecane

        Well, my reply might have been snarky, but I really do not see the problem! Everything that’s colored is a link. It’s not like everything is on light gray text (which I can’t stand). This is a free WordPress template — NOT MY DESIGN (in fact, it was the less bad of the rest without re-using one I’d used for a previous blog) — and I’m not willing to pay for CSS or a template because some people can’t figure out what’s a link. If they’re having trouble distinguishing what’s a link *here*, they must have it worse on other sites.

        EDIT to add: Why don’t you show me some sites *you* think have proper link UIs?

  6. You could pump up the link action by buying the CSS add-on at They’ve got paid-for templates now which are excellent.

    I use as I sell stuff. But I keep some sites hidden in the wings for the future. And you can’t beat that CSS addon for control of design.

    In the end, it’s obvious to most of us what are links and what aren’t. But you just work out who your readers are and target your approach to them. Like the magazines do. Give them what they need.

    Your readers would be intelligent and well-read. So they know what is a link and what isn’t.

  7. anon

    And I still don’t understand the confusion. Post titles are links. Anything that color is going to be a link. When text is in another color inside a post, I explicitly state that I have added that color for emphasis.

    You don’t understand because to you, from your limited world view frame of reference, you see the color differentiation and think, what’s wrong.

    But to me, your links look identically colored to the rest of your body text. And I would bet that most males who suffer from male pattern color blindness would see the same thing.

    Your color difference is so slight that unless someone has both perfect color perception (and not everyone does) and as well also has their monitor color calibrated (most do not), the net end result is that your links look identical in every way to the rest of your blog post text.

    When the links look identical to the body text, no one is going to think “hmm, you know, there might just be hidden links here, maybe I should play ‘hunt the link’ with my mouse.”

    With no perceptible highlighting, there appear to be no links.

    • mikecane

      Well, look, I can’t account for your color blindness. I have a crap flatscreen monitor on its last legs and in order for me to read posts on sites that use light gray text, I have to select the text and copy it in WordPad to make it dark black, otherwise the text is near-invisible on this screen. But I’m not whining to those blog owners to change the color of their text to suit only me.

      EDIT to add: And you STILL haven’t pointed me to sites you think “do it right.”

      • anon

        EDIT to add: And you STILL haven’t pointed me to sites you think “do it right.”

        Take a look at:

        Links are blue, surrounding non-link text is black. Links stand out from surrounding text. Additionally, as the traditional default browser link highlight color is blue, the site matches ingrained habits (blue == link).

        After clicking a link, as long as your browser remember, the links become red, again in keeping with the standard browser defaults.

        In any case, the basic premise of your post is wholly incorrect. People have always needed to be “told” or “shown” where links are. If you style a page as white background, times roman 12point text, all text black (link or otherwise), then everything looks identical. If everything looks identical, then the page looks like there are no links on it.

        The age old browser defaults of black text, with blue text for unvisited link and red text for visited link are there to “tell people where the links are”. I.e., a “link” is something that is “different” within a block of surrounding text. Therefore, there needs to be some visual “difference” to inform a reader that there is something “different” at that spot. With black, blue, red, the “difference” is significant enough that all but the fully color blind can see the differences. And the old default of underline for links took care of fully colorblind individuals, because again, there was a visible “difference”.

        In the case of your styling here, the difference is small enough that your pages are falling into the trap of not having “sufficient” difference to be discernible to a large number of your readers. Or in order words, you don’t have enough difference in your link styling.

        Why don’t you try an experiment? Learn enough CSS to edit your wordpress theme you are using to change the link styling to something very discernible. Either add underlining to links or make links bold and blue. Just do anything that make the embedded text links clearly stand out. Then see if your rate of clicking on your links increases. I would bet you will find that if you make the link text clearly visible, you will see a huge increase in clicking on those same links.

      • mikecane

        OK, let’s start here: What colors are you seeing when you look at a post in this site? Are you telling me the black text is indistinguishable from the red-brown link text? Does the (more…) prompt appear the same color to you as all other text?

        Here’s a site that does not use blue for links, nor do the links change color after clicking on them:

        You do know that some browsers have settings to override template defaults, right? In Firefox, Options->Content and uncheck the bit about letting sites choose their own colors and you can make links whatever colors are best for your own eyes. In fact, I just tried this and in the site above, I made the red links purple using Firefox’s options.

  8. I read somewhere (forgot the link, hehe) that this is a general problem – or feature– of online reading: people just don’t interact that much with online texts, at least not anymore. Clicking a link that might take you anywhere is simply a potentially wasted cognitive effort. Most people skim blog posts very briefly, they open the page and leave again pretty fast.

    • mikecane

      Still, some people here have pointed out UI things that never seemed a problem to me, so I’d like to learn what problems they’re having — even if I have been rather cranky about it.

  9. anon

    OK, let’s start here: What colors are you seeing when you look at a post in this site?

    In this very post, your title block “People Now Need To Be Told Where Links Are” (which is itself a link) appears to be the exact same color as the first paragraph of the post. The only visual difference is that the title block is larger font, and italics. But as title blocks are often larger fonts, and sometimes italicized (both of which are done in typesetting to give the title a visual distinction from the body text) there is no hint that it is actually a link (until I hover over it and discover that it underlines and the mouse pointer becomes a pointing finger).

    Are you telling me the black text is indistinguishable from the red-brown link text?

    Yep. The title block and (more) prompt look identical in color to the surrounding text. And you’ve just accidentally explained the reason. The most common colorblindness for males, which almost every male has to some extent, is red-green color blindness. So what would appear to be happening is that there is just not enough red in the red-brown to make it “red enough” to trigger as a different color for me. So all that is left is the brown, which when mixed with an invisible amount of red, appears identical to the black text.

    Does the (more…) prompt appear the same color to you as all other text?

    The one at “For example, the (more…) prompt”? Yes. Looks identical in color to the surrounding text.

    • mikecane

      Hmmmm….. let me consider my options about this.

    • mikecane

      I think I’ve found a theme I can switch to. Come back Sunday (6/5) and let me know how it is when I do the switch.

      • anon

        I think I’ve found a theme I can switch to. Come back Sunday (6/5) and let me know how it is when I do the switch.

        The new template makes the links nice and visible for me now. They no longer hide themselves within the text of your postings.

        Now, as to whether this will increase your link clickage rate, only time will tell. “Laura” and “Doctor Snake” may be right in that way too many people may not bother to click through to the “source” material anyway. But at the very least, there is no longer the problem that the links are appearing invisible to some of us out here.

      • mikecane

        Finally! Despite the complaints of others now, this template stays.

  10. Well, I’ve been offline for a few days so I’m late to this party. You’ve already changed your template in part because of this link problem, but for the record from my experience with my own blog and on our website, I agree with Doctor Snake. You can underline and make it whatever color you want, but if you don’t tell people what you want them to do, they just won’t do it. Heck, even if you tell them “CLICK HERE” [resisting enormous temptation to make that a real link], they most likely won’t do it.

    Most people just aren’t interested in the original material, so they don’t click. If 20% of your readers click on your links that’s HUGE. Most people just want to read your article and go on to the next one. That’s it. Oh, and that’s if you’re lucky. Many of them might not even want to read your article to the end.

    Many of those who commented seem to think the problem is your template; my guess is that the template makes only a small difference. On my blog, I use one of those templates you hate that puts block quotes in italics, but links have always been blue and underlined. Last week, clicks on links were 12% of my traffic, and that’s been on the high side due to some of my recent posts.

    I’m not a guy, and I’m not color blind. No, the links in the previous template weren’t screaming “CLICK ME” but seriously, this is the Internet. Do you really believe that people weren’t clicking because they couldn’t tell it was a link? Or rather, I probably should ask, do you really believe people will be more likely to click more if you change the link style? Unless you put a call to action, I seriously doubt it.

    Maybe I’m wrong, and if so I’d like to know. So please let us know if your click rate for links goes up after this change. My prediction is you’ll have an increase of a few percent at most.

    • mikecane

      Well, to him the text and the links were appearing as the same color, so he couldn’t tell. You will get used to this fugliness as you got used to the prior fugliness. 99% of WordPress’s free templates are fugly abominations. The best templates are for when you self-host, which I’m not doing for some time yet.

      • No, I will not get used to that. Especially not the header, no.

      • mikecane

        Yes you will. I’m already used to it. People will quote that banner and forget where they first read those words, who first wrote them. Wait and see.

  11. Laura is right about 20% of people clicking links being HUGE. It’s like the days of direct mail, something like a 7% response was “fuck we can make money here.”

    Your previous template looked neat. It was fine. And the fact is you have a CHARISMA in your writing, which is rare… so you just need a neat template. The old one was fine.

    I’m a bit, I need this, this and this with WordPress and BOOM! I’m rolling. But it’s down to a lot of techie mucking about and experimenting until I had it down to a fine art. And I pay for a great theme on my self-hosted, plug heavy duty backup and mobile theme. Not really mega money compared to the corporate dogs, though.

    Fact is, you’re like that Haran Ellison, you have a massive voice and that shines through. Or in music terms, like Seasick Steve in that video I sent you. Big voice. You just need a basic set up. Neat and straight to it.

    • mikecane

      What I write here is mostly shit. I’m not a non-fiction writer. There are people out there who are. I’m not one of them. Fiction is my thing.

  12. Well, maybe you fixed the problem with some people not being able to see the links in your posts, but let me just say that the header is so strangely formatted that I had to stare at it for several seconds to realize that those words up there in ALL CAPS were links to your PAGES. So where it says HOME, ABOUT or FTC DISCLOSURE, well, that doesn’t look clickable…

    • mikecane

      That’s part of the template that cannot be changed without spending $. I wish there was an option (a free option!) to turn it off because those are duplicated in the sidebar under Pages.

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