Useful links are an essential part of an optimised digital user experience. This includes making your links easy to understand and making them accessible.
There are two rules in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 regarding link text, also called anchor text. They deal with links in context and links on their own, respectively. This post outlines these two concepts, and what you can do to meet the WCAG.
Link text is especially important for users who rely on screen readers and those who browse your website highly magnified. Both of these types of user often miss context around links that others can use to help understand where the link goes.
If you are familiar with the WCAG, you will know that it is split into three levels of standards (A, AA and AAA). The guidelines about link text are situated at the lowest (A) and the highest (AAA) tiers.
1. Links in context
At level A, you will find Guideline 2.4.4 -Link Purpose (In Context). To pass this guideline, you need to make sure that the purpose of the link is either:
- clear from the link text itself; or
- clear from the surrounding context (the sentence or paragraph around it).
So, I could link to Wikipedia and it would be clear from the link text where the link leads the visitor.
Or, I could link to Wikipedia from here and it’s clear from the surrounding context where the link leads the visitor.
2. Links on their own
At level AAA of the WCAG, a link must be clear from only the link text itself to pass Guideline 2.4.9 -Link Purpose (Link Only).
What you can do
Both from an accessibility perspective and with regards to the user experience in general, you should aim for making sure your users can understand links from their link text alone as outlined in the AAA criteria above. This helps everyone use your website as intended. There is always a way to write your link text so that it tells a user where the link goes. To test your links, isolate the link text and see if you can understand what the link does.
Note however, that there is one useful exception to both guidelines to remember. The link purpose does not have to be clear from the text if the purpose is ambiguous to all users. So, I might link this word and no-one would know where the link goes until they click it.
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