Thanks to everyone that replied about links that go to the current page.
Although I didn't get the ideal result of a research paper on the
subject, the responses were very useful.
I should have been a little clearer that I didn't mean internal page
links (that go to another part of the page you are on), but main
navigation items that go to the current page, simply reloading the page.
Although no-one new about specific research being published, it tends to
be an issue that comes up as a by-product rather than something directly
investigated. Client work tends to be private. However, Jeff Johnson has
an excellent write up and examples of the issue here:
My motivation for asking was actually due to a thread on an
accessibility forum, there seemed to be a lack of usability testing
experience in this thread:
Which I re-opened here:
Most responses agreed with my initial statement that links to the
current page can be confusing, although a couple disagreed. I think
perhaps because I hadn't been clear enough initially.
I'd be interested to know if anyone still disagrees after reading Jeff's
write up and the responses below?
I think it's fairly well known in the usability world that links on a
web page to the current page can confuse the user.
What I would like to find out is if there is any published evidence for
this beyond Nielson (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20031110.html number
10). Let's just say I'm getting some push-back on the issue ;)
Does this affect people really? Have you seen it happen?
Two responses didn't see it as an issue:
In my usability and findability testing, I haven't seen users become
confused or frustrated by links to the current page. Personally, I
that information architects and usability professionals spend way too
time worrying about this minor issue. On large web sites, the
cost usually outweighs the minimal benefit. But unfortunately I can't
you to published evidence. At this point, it's just my word against
One example of a link to the current page is the "Top" link that's at
bottom of many pages. Personally I've always found this useless because
I know how to scroll but I guess it's useful for some people, or it's
if the page is really long. Anyway to answer your question I don't
people find this particular link confusing.
Supporting responses were:
I can't point to research, but yes, I've seen it happen. I've even done
it. The scenario is where I've found my way to an internal page (say
through a Google search) that ought to contain what I'm looking for, but
actually doesn't. I spot a link in the nav bar or breadcrumb trail that
seems to point to what I'm looking for, so I try that instead. But in
fact, I'm on the page I "should" be, and the link takes me to the same
page. I was frustrated already -- now I'm mad.
Note that, in this scenario, the problem mostly occurs when your content
doesn't match your categories well. In this scenario, I'm not lost --
the data is lost.
This can also happen when a page is referred to by different names --
say there's a link in the nav with one name, and a Quick Links drop down
with a different, shorter name. If I get to a page through the drop
down, and then see the link in the nav, I may not realize I've already
We JUST completed a 20-subject study of two (related) hospital Web sites
for a major university hospital in Denver, Colorado.
Both sites had these links, and this was definitely a stumbling block
that stymied users. It without question raised the click/action error
rate, and increased the likelihood of task failure. It also can force
you into other no-no's--as you can either make these links look
different than other links, or make them look the same and thus remove
indications of which page you are on in the main navigation.
I can't give you the report that is going to the client, but may be able
to give you more detailed summary information if that would be
helpful--such as comparison data of click/action success rates with and
without these errors included.
I have no published studies, but in usability tests and informal
observations, I've seen much confusion caused by self-links. The
presence of an active link to somewhere suggests to people that the
current page can't be that page, so people are deceived into thinking
the link goes somewhere else. Or people click on self-links and the
page reloads too quickly to see. They wonder what happened -- did
they miss the link? For these reasons, I included "The Circle Game:
Active Link to Here" as a blooper in my book Web Bloopers. I also
discussed it in my website's "Blooper of the Month" column in July
In usability testing I have seen people be confused about "where" they
are in the system because the link to that page/state is still
available. (It is exasperated by designs that fail to use "visited" link
colors or where graphical navigation UI elements for "selected" states
are not discreet enough from their counterparts.)
That is, I have seen instances where a user re-clicks on a link/UI
element because they believe it will take them closer to their goal.
Admittedly this is probably caused more by the poor scent of information
in the page content than the navigation UI state. But, since it is a
simple design pattern (both interaction design and code-wise) to have
links to the current page be disabled on that page - and evidence of
user confusion caused by not following the pattern exists - I usually
recommend following the design pattern within my projects.
Another suggestion was to make the current page link appear
non-clickable, which although clever front-end code wise, seems to be
covering up for a poor of back-end implementation.
Just wanted to point to an alternate technique that can help bridge the
usability / technology gap, which is to use css to make the
self-referrential links appear not to be links.
You can see this in action on my Xbxo mashup... http://xboxradar.com ...
Let me know if you are interested in further info about the technique,
allows me to include a single unchanged file for the header across the
entire site but use child selectors to change the presentation.
A similar idea is demonstrated here:
My take on this has always been it's ok if the link is part of the
overall site navigation and consistently points to the home page. As
Nielson says in the heuristic:
"Homepage links on the homepage typically result from using a
universal navigation bar that includes "home" as an option. Fine. But
when users are on a page that's featured in the navbar, you should
turn off that option's link and highlight it in such as way that
indicates that it's the current location."
Other than that case, it's a good rule to follow. The only exception
I can think of is if you use anchors to link to a different part of a
really long page, but this isn't a "no op" link anymore. Otherwise it
just doesn't make sense to have a link to the same place that you are
at, it's just confusing. If you want to give a "real world" analogy
to the no-op link, tell the "pete and re-pete" joke ("pete and re-
pete are in a boat, pete falls out, who's left?").
Sorry - no lab reports here, just anecdotal evidence....
I have personally been confused by links to other locations on the same
page, and I have seen people confused by it in casual observation (i.e.,
my wife when we were surfing some site together).
I think it can be done well or done poorly. I like it when internal
page links are labeled as such. For example:
"On this page:
- Link 1
- Link 2
Or the "Page contents" box on this page:
I have also found links from one page to anchors in another page to be
confusing. It's jarring to land in the middle of a page.
Run a little non-scientific micro-test of your own.
take 3-5 users of the page in question - preferably folks who your
stakeholders would respect or understand...maybe even test some of them
with a mock up page
Create a scenario and task that get them to click the link and then try
to navigate back.
Capture their levels of confusion, mental models..."explain where you
are now" etc
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