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HomeGuidelines > 3. Cook up hot links. > 3g. Write URLs that humans can read.




Audience Fit


Bonus! Hot Text chapter (95K, PDF, 2 minutes at 56K)

3g. Write URLs that humans can read.

  • Make the URL human-readable. If that’s not possible, put a simple URL on the page, and redirect to the machine-readable URL
  • Keep the URL short.
  • Use whole words, where possible.
  • String words together without hyphens or underscores. Use dots to separate the company, the department, and the country. For instance: IBM.pc.us.com
  • Avoid variations in capitalization. Who can remember SiLiCON VaLLeY capitalization?
  • If you use the year, use all four digits.
  • Avoid zero, because people will type the letter O.
  • Avoid all special characters, because people may not have them on their keyboards.
  • If you include the year or date in your URL, write that out in full. For instance, 200210.

Other ways to make links hot

3a. Make clear what the user will get from the link.



3b. Within a sentence, make the link the emphatic element.

3c. Shift focus from the links or linked-to documents to the subject.

3d. Provide depth and breadth through plentiful links to related information within your site.

3e. Establish credibility by offering outbound links.









Obtain URLs that will enable users to find your site easily. —IBM (1999)

If users can remember your domain name, they can at least get to your home page, from which navigation and search are hopefully sufficient to allow them to find the page they need even if they don’t have the rest of the URL. …Good domain names that are easy to remember and easy to spell are the Internet’s equivalent of a Fifth Avenue real estate location in the physical world.

Our usability studies have shown that users rely on reading URLs when they try to decipher the structure of a site or the possible results of following a hyperlink…. Because we know that users try to understand URLs we have an obligation to make them understandable.—Nielsen (1999f)

See: IBM (1999), Nielsen (1999f)

3f. Make meta information public.

3h. Make links accessible.

3i. Tell people about a media object before they download.

3j. Announce the new with special links.

3k. Write meta-tags to have your pages found.

Resources on writing links

Taking a Position on Links

Heuristic Online Text (HOT) Evaluation for Links



Audience Fit
If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun Why confuse them?
To learn May not matter.  Depends on how suspicious or technically savvy your students are.
To act Keep it simple, if you really want people to go where you point them and do what you suggest. Never ask them to type a long URL.
To be aware Why not?
To get close to people Make it look as if your site was created by a human being.

Ready for some challenges?



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