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Links and the Visited State

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The visited state on links is one of the biggest opportunities in web design – it’s basically personalized history for each of your visitors, enabled by default! Yet, many web designers remove this feature from their website because “it looks ugly”.

The link to Jakob Nielsen's website is marked as visited in this Google search.

Every single link on a webpage is given a “visited” state if you’ve already been on the page it’s leading to. It’s a way to visually distinguish links to pages you’ve already visited from links to new pages you have yet to read.

This is a big opportunity as it gives your visitors information about what page’s they have (and haven’t) visited so far. In fact, this feature adds an entire dimension to your website – history. The visited state represents personalized history for each of your visitors.

This token of history can help your visitors identify where they’ve been, making it easier for them to figure out where they are now and – perhaps more importantly – where to go next. It gives them a stronger sense of control over your website, increasing their confidence in your and their own abilities.

On the contrary, removing this history will cause your visitors to get lost more frequently, revisiting the same pages over and over again (until they leave your site in frustration). So why do so many web designers still remove this state? Because “it looks ugly”. Cut the vanity, my friends!

Removing an entire dimension from your website is unacceptable unless you have very good reasons for doing so (it do make sense for some web application for example). Keeping the history dimension is a core usability guideline which should always be prioritized above style.

You should take advantage of this feature and help your visitors find their way around your website with greater ease and more confidence.

Let me know your thoughts on links and their visited state by posting a comment.

Leon January 15, 2010 Reply to this comment

It’s the sort of thing that if it didn’t exist you’d invent javascript for.

Google doesn’t restyle links at all in its search results, and it’s immediately obvious which links you’ve visited/not visited (they’re purple/blue). I generally go for a strong colour for unvisited links and a lighter variant (or grey) for visited, but Google’s continued usage of blue/purple has created a really strong convention.

I agree, by the way, but I think most text–heavy sites do still differentiate.

Jamie, Baymard Institute January 16, 2010 Reply to this comment

Exactly. It’s such a huge help for users and as you mention google has almost made blue/purple a convention.

I think as long as you make a distinction you’re well on your way, and if you can then also follow the standards it’s even better.

You’re probably right about people inventing it if it didn’t exist, which is why it baffles me even more that some designers remove this remarkbly helpful feature from their site instead of leveraging it.

Thanks for your input, it’s always interesting to get other people’s input on these things.

January 17, 2010 Reply to this comment

I’m going to have to disagree with it being essential to have the visited link show. Just have some breadcrumbs. If a user doesnt know where they’ve been, then your site stinks, besides it is totally ugly to have the visited links showing, lol!

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