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Use Text for Links (Standard)

Document Type: Standard


HHS must not use images alone as links. Links must be text. If an image is clickable, a text description must be used in addition to the image (along with the required alt tag). In that case, both the image and text must be clickable. View the Requirements section below for format.

When providing a list of links, HHS should provide context descriptions with each unless the context description indicates, in one sentence or phrase, what the user will find at the linked page. View the Requirements section below for format.


Text links are more easily recognized as clickable, usually download faster than images, are preferred by users, and change colors after being selected.  In addition, it is easier to convey a link’s destination in text, rather than using an image.  Another benefit to using text links is that users with text-only and deactivated graphical browsers can see the navigation options.  In one study, users showed considerable confusion regarding whether or not certain images were clickable; this was true even for images that contained words. Users could not tell if the images were clickable without placing their cursor over them. 

Adding brief context descriptions to a set of link titles can help users better understand the distinction between their options. Context descriptions should be brief and add value to the link title. 


When providing an image as a link, text must be provided in or alongside the link:

Style examples for presenting context descriptions 


  • Context descriptions are not required on the Home pages of HHS Web sites because they function as menus or quick links.
  • Small thumbnail images that link to larger images (of the thumbnail) are exempt from this standard. 
  • An agency logo does not need text, but it still needs a text link if there is no text option.
  • Graphics that are primarily text (e.g., tabs) are exempt.
  • With tabbed navigation, the navigation bars are exempt.


  • Detweiler and Omanson, 1996; Farkas and Farkas, 2000; Koyani and Nall, 1999; Mobrand and Spyridakis, 2002; Nielsen, 2000; Spool, et al., 1997; Zimmerman, et al., 2002.