anti-Alertbox: Jakob says ‘Anchor links are evil’. Discuss.

Jakob says:

On the Web, users have a clear mental model for a hypertext link: it should bring up a new page. Within-page links violate this model and thus cause confusion.

What is wrong with this assertion?

Anchor links have conventions and mental models that are independent of other types of hyperlinks.

There’s nothing new about anchor links. They’ve been around almost as long as hyperlinks themselves.As Jeff Chausse points out in his recent post , anchor links have been around longer than image tags (since at least 1992). In the hotch potch that has been web design over the years, anchor links are probably one of the interaction design elements that have been applied with most consistency over the years. There are strong conventions around the use of anchor links. The mental models is pretty darn simple too.

Not only that, but these days, clicking a link can do so many things – anchor links and bringing up new pages are just a few of them (think RIA design… now, some of those uses violate mental models!)

My opinion: provided you use anchor links where appropriate (being where pages are necessarily long and broken into easily identifiable sections) and providing you utilise appropriate conventions for anchor links in the page (including ‘back to top’ buttons), then anchor links can enhance the usability of your website. (The obvious disclaimer being that you should, where possible, minimise the length of your pages).

So. Where do you stand? Are you with Jakob or against him on this one?

1 Comment

  1. Mark May 4, 2006 at 12:27 am

    Interesting little article. You don’t actually seem to be really disagreeing with Jakob though – he goes on to say that within page links are acceptable where the page is long and there is a summary at the top that links to points in the page (e.g. An FAQ page).

    I hadn’t really given much thought to this before. When I read the quote on your page, I thought I disagreed with Jakob, but after reading his whole article I now mostly agree with his view.