Navigation Links: Introduction

One might think: “How difficult can it be to use navigation links in technical documentation? I know where they are in my application, so I just use them.” Well, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to screw things up with navigation links and make your readers frustrated and helpless. This article will explain what a navigation link is, its purpose, correct usage, and much more.

Purpose of navigation links

So, why do we use navigation links in our content and why are they so important?

To keep it simple, navigation links help make your content more concise, accurate, and easier to find for your readers. A navigation link is a reference to additional source of information in a specific place in the other topic, file, or page.

Here are some basic advantages of using navigation links:

  • Help users scan content for relevant information.
  • Provide details on subjects that interest users.
  • Help users navigate the content the way they want.
  • Improve the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for online content.

Incorrect usage of navigation links

Let’s have a look at typical mistakes that we make when creating navigation links:

  • Indistinct or ambiguous names of links
    E.g. For more information, click here
    Readers have absolutely no idea where such link would take them. So, try using keywords in the names of links to make links more action-oriented.
  • Address/URL in names of links
    E.g. For more information, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlink
    Such links take a lot of space and make the content look unprofessional.
  • Wrong words for names of links
    E.g. For details, download information here
    When you link the wrong word (“here” instead of “download”), users may misunderstand the purpose of a link. Also, try providing additional information about a format and size of the file.
  • General words in names of links
    E.g. For more information about links, their purpose, and usage… More >
    While scanning the text, readers won’t get any information from the names of these links.
  • Long names of links
    E.g. For more information about navigation links, their purpose, types, and usage
    If you use a couple of different links in a row, users will see them as one endless link.
  • Incorrect underlining
    E.g. For more information about links, their purpose, and usage, see information about links.
    Underlined words look like navigation links, and readers will try to click them. Do not underline the content that is not supposed to be a link.
  • Very short names of links
    E.g. For more information about it, see…
    Do not use a very short word as a name of a link because users might not notice it. Not to mention that clicking such link is a real challenge.

Correct usage of navigation links

“Everyone knows how to use navigation links. There is no need for an explanation,” you’ll say. Well, I disagree. We are so used to throwing links all over the topic in great amounts that, inevitably, we force our readers to leave our page as soon as possible. This is when the rule “The more, the better” does not justify itself.

Try to follow these guidelines on how to use navigation links, and you’ll make your content accurate and scannable for your readers.

  • Use keywords in the names of links.
  • Limit a link text to two-three words, if possible. Shorter links are easier to scan.
  • Provide links for more detailed information only when necessary. If you can omit using links without the loss of the important information, then do.
  • Write the name of a link that is meaningful and brief.
  • Try not to use links circularly (don’t link back to the original content).
  • Make link text distinct. Never rely on color by itself to indicate a link. Use both the color and underlining, so that color-blind readers could identify the link text.

Summary

The proper usage of navigation links will make your content more concise, accurate, and easier to scan. Give your readers freedom to decide which content to read and which to omit.

In the next article “Navigation Links: Types and Usage”, you will learn about the most common types of navigation links, pros and cons of each type, and much more.

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6 thoughts on “Navigation Links: Introduction

  1. Kate Sasnyk says:

    I’d also give one more recommendation for links: don’t format the punctuation marks (if they don’t belong to the link itself) next to the link with the same style – this looks untidy

    Like

  2. Thanks, Halyna. You’ve provided helpful information about a topic that — as you say — many people fail to consider.

    One more tip: In a web-based application, I usually set each link to open in a new tab. That way the original page is still there, easy to return to (without having to rely on the Back button) and available for reading in parallel. What are your thoughts?

    Like

    • Halyna Iakymchuk says:

      Thanks for the question, Larry.
      Well, I totally agree with you that setting links to open in new tabs helps keep our readers focused on the original topic and eases the navigation.

      Another tip: when I want to provide just a short explanation of the matter discussed, I usually use expanding text, drop-down text, or popups. But, when I plan to dig deeper into the subject, I provide cross-references or hyperlinks. This way, readers can decide for themselves whether to follow the link or not. What do you think?

      By the way, I’m planning to discuss nuances of usage, best practices, tips and tricks in my next post “Navigation Links: Types and Usage”.

      Liked by 1 person

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