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I'm redesigning our company email template. At the moment links are grey, bold and not underlined. I don't think this makes it very clear that it is a link. My gut instinct tells me that I should make them the default blue/underlined. Design wise I could make them look better but at the end of the day I want people to click them not appreciate their aesthetic beauty. Also our client base isn't particularly web savvy, they're not clueless but their not exactly the facebook generation either.

I will be presenting my thoughts to my boss tomorrow and I was wondering if anyone knew of any research in this area? If you don't know of any research I would love to hear your opinions.

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Hiding things usually reduces people being able to find them. Graphic Designers like to hide the links because they clutter the text flow. But the objective of the email is to get people to click, so, alas, the designers let an aesthetic decision trump a business requirement decision. –  DA01 Nov 10 '11 at 19:20
    
My thoughts exactly. I'm a graphic designer myself so I do understand the temptation but the business requirements need to take precedence over aesthetics. –  MrMisterMan Nov 10 '11 at 19:57
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@DA01 Designers also seem to too often forget you can keep links blue without using the admittedly loud HTML default colors. There's lots of nice blues out there for most any sane color scheme. –  Ben Brocka Nov 10 '11 at 19:58
    
I agree. There's always room for compromise. Many UXers adhere to rules-of-thumb at the expense of aesthetics. Many designers adhere to aesthetics and the expense of usability. –  DA01 Nov 10 '11 at 20:12
    
@DA01 the issue there is you can improve the whole UX by reducing the aesthetics (arguably marginally) the user enjoys the system more. Sacrificing usability the user may hate it regardless of how good it looks. –  Ben Brocka Nov 11 '11 at 15:48
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

People click blue links more, as Google's research has shown. Blue links are the standard, even if you don't use the default HTML shade of blue for them. Here's some more hard data about link usage; despite the ability to style links, most sites keep their links blue and most sites keep an underline on them to maintain emphasis and familiarity.

Bottom line, it's a convention, even if it's not necessary. Jakob Neilson's Visualizing Links article is a great high-level explanation of how and why to use links, and he also emphasizes the issue of the color blue and the default assumption that blue == link.

If you just want nice, subtle links that maintain the appearance of links, look no further than this site (or this answer!). UX.SE keeps a moderate contrast (not too high) shade of blue that fits in well with the text, and on hover the familiar underline effect appears to drive home the point that it's a link.

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Guidelines for Visualizing Links by Jakob Nielsen came to mind immediately when I read your question. Go from there, but if I remember correctly most of Jakob's recent research is available only from NNGroup for somewhat hefty price.

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Thanks, that was an excellent link :) –  MrMisterMan Nov 10 '11 at 16:14
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I recall reading that blue underline links garner more clicks because they are the most obviously clickable. But they're not the prettiest, hence designers' attraction to gray, bold, not underlined, or some other fancy but not necessarily recognizable link styling.

The further you veer from blue underlined, the more you reduce potential clickthroughs. At the same time, the aesthetics can help with readability and just a "pleasing" time with the email, which can increase your open rates over time. So, balance the two.

For more intelligence on the subject, sign up for Marketing Sherpa's newsletter; it gives you free access to their latest premium content for a couple weeks at a time. It's worth reading for a couple months to get up to speed with the latest research on best practices.

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