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WCAG 2.4.4: Link Purpose (In Context)

Link-Purpose

In our article on WCAG 2.4.2, we discussed the importance of descriptive page titles. If you're anything like us, you spend your days deep in thought, pondering new ways to make your website more accessible and enjoyable for all. Thankfully, we did most of the hard work for you! In this post, we'll talk about why it's a good idea to provide adequate descriptions for links on your site.

Those using assistive technologies such as screen readers to navigate a site are able to detect all the links on a given page as soon as they land on it. That's because they may not possess the ability to visually locate all the links on a page like a sighted user would. Accordingly, it's a good practice when you include a link on your site to write link text—or link text in conjunction with the programmatically determined link context—that indicates the purpose of that link. This will allow those using assistive technologies to ascertain what a given link is used for without having to search through the rest of the page for context clues.

Link Text in Practice

I know what you're thinking: "All these rules are really starting to cramp my style." You may also be thinking that both the author and editor of this WCAG series are probably exceptionally handsome. While we appreciate the sentiment, we would like to respectfully ask that you keep your mind on the task at hand.

Now that you're focused again, let's talk link text. It might seem like a difficult task to adequately describe a link's purpose within the confines of the link text alone. In some cases, it may seem more natural to provide part of the link's description in the text surrounding the link. In situations like these, it's possible to identify the link's purpose without shifting the user's focus away from the link itself.

As an example, let's take a look at a link we provided in a previous post on this blog.

[Link: https://mondaylovesyou.com/blog/1-3-1-info-and-relationships]

You can see that the link text at the end of the sentence beneath the header simply reads, "favorite Simpsons episode ever!" That already goes a long way towards describing the link's purpose. Ostensibly, it will bring us to some media or information related to a Simpsons episode. Additionally, the words preceding the link in that parenthetical clause help explain the link as part of a reference the author is making.

You can provide adequate context for a link by including its description in the same sentence, paragraph, table cell, or list item, since the description would still be logically associated with the link itself. This practice proves most useful if the descriptive language precedes the link, as we saw in the example above. That way the screen reader can read the paragraph in order, and the user can arrive at the link after hearing what it's for.

A Couple of Miscellaneous Items to Note

Here are a couple final points worth mentioning. First, if you are linking to another page on your site, it's generally a good practice to include the page's title as the link text (recall our post on WCAG 2.4.2 Page Titled).

Second, there may be a case where a link's purpose is intentionally ambiguous or obscure. Say, for instance, you've created a game where users have to click on one of three doors—labeled only Door #1, Door #2, and Door #3—to win a given prize. In this situation, it's okay that the link text does not describe what the link leads to, since doing so would invalidate the game.