Links and the Visited State

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”.

Google search utilize the “visited” state, allowing for the link to Jakob Nielsen’s website to be distinctly styled.

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.

Authored by Jamie Holst on January 12, 2010

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