What color should you use for visited links?

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Here’s another question that came in a few days ago. Someone wanted to know what the best practice is for changing the color or appearance of a text link after it has been clicked.

Our Director Optimization, Jimmy Ellis, wrote up this answer:

We do not have any specific test results I can send over for “proof” but everything we have seen points to keeping it as simple and “standard” as possible. Anyone who has clicked on a link on the internet, even after their first time on a website, knows that a blue link with an underline means “a link.” The same holds true for visited links and other elements of web pages. Simple 90+% of the times means better and more effective. For “visited” links, the most intuitive color is the standard “purple.” We typically recommend using the standard colors or close variations as a rule of thumb. Once again, there is no LAW, but time and time again it produces results.

I think that “underlines” for links no matter what the color are ESSENTIAL unless you are purposely trying to de-emphasize a link. If you want people to click, underline it.

This thinking is basically opposite of almost any fortune 500 or “major” company that needed a website to represent their brick and mortar business and wanted something “professional” like Accenture for example (http://www.accenture.com/). Put your “grandma” or your “mother” on this page and she would not know what to do.

The only thing it has going for itself is that it’s “simple” and you are not “overloaded’ with info. I’m looking at it now and I’m like… what do I do here??? Companies like “Amazon” that test extensively, know better. Just look at their site. (Pure text headlines, blue links, muted visited links, etc)

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We like standard blue or:

#0000CC is a little darker

#000099 is a littler darker than that

Both clearly look like “links”

For visited you can use the same color (standard blue), standard purple or something like:

#666633

#551A8B

The one main benefit of using a different “slightly muted” color for visited links (like standard purple) is to help customers see where they have “already been” before. If you have a LOT of links, it’s helpful. If you only have a few links then it’s pretty much negligible.

If your color scheme does not work with the standard colors then you want to make sure you use underlines and choose an alternate but still visually effective color for visited links.

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3 Comments

  1. Hazel says

    Thanks for this! My website had the default of a muted rusty orange colour for all links (visited and non-visited). I’m sure that has contributed to my high bounce rate. Changed all the unvisited links to blue (standard) but was unsure of what colour to do the visited ones. I tried grey but it blended in too much with the normal text on the page. I went with #551A8B as per your recommendation and it looks great now – many thanks!

  2. Paul Marshall says

    I’m amazed this isn’t a more widely discussed subject. Often designers specify rollovers but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one specify a visited state. We use LESS so I’m always setting the :visited for anchors but just to the same as the default as without guidance, I think you’re very likely to upset the design and the designer. I think some sort of indicator especially on something like a blog would be really helpful in terms of the UX. Thought provoking post!

    1. Paul Cheney says

      Hey Paul,

      Thanks for the comment! These little UX changes are always a lot more important than we typically think.

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