Descriptive Links

Student works on experiment at UNH

Links are very commonly used in communication and documents. They are a quick and easy way to direct people to the right place, to a resource, or a specific citation. Not all links are equally accessible. Descriptive links are necessary to ensure accessibility. These are links that are created in a way that provides specific information that will help the reader understand what the link is and where it might take them.  

When links do not provide helpful identifying information, it can be very challenging for someone using a screen reader to effectively access the links. For example, the following links would be considered inaccessible:  

  • Inaccessible link example 1: The link is inaccessible because a screen reader would not recognize that as a word so it would read it character by character. This link would not only be difficult to listen to, but it would take a long time to process. 
  • Inaccessible link example 2: Click here - A screen reader would read the two words, but there is no good way to know what the person is clicking on and why they should click on it. Many times, people quickly scan a document for links, and when all the links say things like “click here”, it can be impossible for someone using a screen reader to know what each link means. 

While both links are technically functional (you can click on them and it takes you to a page), each example would be considered inaccessible.  

  • Carefully consider the context and purpose of the link – It is important to think about the context and purpose of the link itself. Why is it included in the material? What is the purpose of having it there? Is it referring someone to learn more information about something mentioned in the text? Is it providing a reference to a specific source? A descriptive link should reflect the context and purpose.  
  • Provide context and/or action – Many times the information you need for a descriptive link is right within the text you have written. A link is often a call for action or a suggestion of what the person should do. This is exactly what should be included within a descriptive link.  
  • Don’t include “link” or “link to” in a descriptive link – Some people think that you need to include the term “link” when creating a descriptive link. While the intent is to be helpful, this unfortunately is not helpful for someone using a screen reader. A screen reader will already identify it as a link, so there is no need for duplication.  
  • Only include essential information in the link – Providing context and action is important, but it is equally important not to include too much information. For example, making an entire sentence a link would not be appropriate as it would be difficult for a screen reader to quickly scan.  
  • If the link must be written out, shorten the link as much as possible – There are some unique circumstances when you might need to write out a link. For example, you might need to do this when printing a document. When you need to write out the full link, shorten the link to ensure it is easy to read and copy.