NATHAN ASHBY-KUHLMAN > Blog Entry

Unclickable headlines

I can’t believe there are still large news sites where headlines do not link into stories:

  • nypost.com: The top headline, for the print edition’s cover story and the only headline in the first screenful, is not a link. You use a little “Full Story” link below the large tease instead. Most other headlines on the page, however, are links — except you wouldn’t know it since they’re just plain black Times New Roman text, not a different color, not bolded and most importantly not underlined. The only way for first-time visitors to realize those headlines are links is to wave the mouse pointer over them.
  • tampatrib.com: The “Full Story” links are preceded by relatively attractive blue triangle dingbats. Not only are the headlines not clickable, but pictures associated with each story are not either.
  • denverpost.com: There are large bold headlines, and they even have different headline sizes. But none of those headlines are links. Instead, following the tease there are “new story” links. As opposed to what? When’s the last time you saw a newspaper run an “old” story? Pictures aren’t linked here either.
  • sptimes.com: There are just simple bold “Story” links following each tease.
  • abqjournal.com: There are “Full Story” links immediately following each headline, which are just plain wasted words. Furthermore, since they’re colored blue like most links, they attract your eye and the black headlines themselves don’t. Their inside section fronts are designed differently, though, with clickable headlines and summaries for each story. I wonder why?
  • Journal Newspapers (Maryland and Virginia): Headlines are colored red, but are not links. Blue (but not underlined) links at the bottom of each story summary read “Click Here For Whole Story.” Pictures load larger versions of the picture, rather than the associated story page.

There are two main reasons to make news site headlines into links to their story.

First, almost all major news sites do it. Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen says, “If 90% or more of the big sites do things in a single way, then this is the de-facto standard and you have to comply. Only deviate from a design standard if your alternative design has at least 100% higher measured usability.” In other words, online readers expect to be able to click on your headlines because they can click on everyone else’s. Print readers expect the most important news on A1, and English readers expect type to be laid out for left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading. Following established conventions improves your usability remarkably.

Second, it provides more pixels for the user to click. It should be common sense that a larger area (the headline) is easier to click with the mouse than a smaller area (a little “full story”) link. If you want to prove it to yourself, test your speed in this interactive demonstration of Fitts’ Law of interface design, which says that larger and closer on-screen objects are easier for users to click.

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This page last modified on Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 7:01 pm