Links are one easy-to-overlook aspect of digital accessibility. Just like the other elements of a website, links must be accessible. The wording of link text is very important to ensure screen reader compatibility, but the best practices for writing accessible links are not necessarily common knowledge.
There are several rules to creating accessible links. Let’s dive into them so that you’ll be fully prepared when adding them to your website.
Step one: text
The text you use for your links should be concise and meaningful. What does that mean? Ultimately, it means that the words you use for your link should be informative and relevant to where the link leads. Words like “click here” or “click for details” are uninformative and do not provide enough context to be accessible.
Instead, use phrases that communicate the link’s purpose. For example, for links leading to different selections of products on an e-commerce site, links like “shop sale items” or “shop latest fashions” are descriptive, meaningful, and concise.
You also need to limit the length of your text. Many people utilizing assistive devices like screen readers can get frustrated if they are forced to sit through unnecessarily long links, and may skip over them. And links that are too short can be easy to miss. So keeping your links just long enough to be meaningful and just short enough to be concise can help prevent both issues
Avoid using all caps for non-acronyms, as screen readers read these out letter by letter, and they can be another source of frustration and confusion. And, finally, avoid using the word “link.” Screen readers describe if content is a link before reading out the text, so including the word is redundant and unnecessary.
Step two: avoid URLs
Screen readers read URLs one character at a time, so it’s usually better to hyperlink these to make them more readable. The exceptions are very short or descriptive URLs, such as Accessibility.com.
Use readable, descriptive phrases like “visit our homepage” or “view our specials” instead of lengthy URLs. Or, you can simply link to the title of the website or the page.
Step three: email addresses
Emails embedded in hyperlinks can be inaccessible because they often launch a user’s preloaded email client, which may not be what they use, instead of allowing them to copy and paste. It also may not be obvious what someone’s email is when a user is looking for it.
It is better to use the full email address as the link text itself. This allows users to see exactly what the email address is and copy and paste it into the email service of their choice. Giving the user that agency is more accessible than concealing it behind readable text such as “email us.”
Step four: repetitions
Avoid unnecessary repetition. Duplicate links increase the number of links on a page, which can be frustrating to wade through, especially with assistive devices. For people who don’t use assistive devices, it’s easy to gloss over links, but people using screen readers have to listen to or skip every single one.
So, unless necessary, try to only include a link once — when the information first appears — and keep links overall to a minimum.
Accessible links are an important part of digital accessibility. As you add links to your page, refer to these guidelines to keep links accessible and maintain your site’s overall accessibility.