I'd like to use different colors for internal and external text links. Please tell me if you think this is a good or bad idea.

I'm considering CSS choices on a new site/web app which will contain article pages that have a lot of internal (same site) and external (another website) linking. By providing a colour identifier the visitor will then know if the link keeps them on site or about to head off to another site.

I've considered box arrow icons but they look unsightly when an article has a lot of external links.

Please if you have any examples of sites/studies which demonstrate this working or failing, it would be great to hear.

Thank you


  • It doesn't matter as much on clearnet websites, but I presume that onion services should definitely do that. Users of these use Tor, and Tor users love transparency of websites. Although colouring might be unobvious. Instead keep them same with a basic question popup that asks user if they want to leave your site when they do click it. With optional "stop asking me!" checkbox, of course :)
    – Sahsahae
    Nov 25, 2019 at 14:21

1 Answer 1


In principle, there's nothing wrong with using color to indicate certain statuses. UIs do that all the time, e.g., with red and green to indicate errors and successes, etc.

However, using color — and any other signifiers, for that matter — requires that the users either already know what the colors mean, or have a chance to learn this, and do so in the context that they are in.

E.g., the meanings of green and red, as mentioned above, are near-universal (at least in the locales that I've designed for so far ;) ) as are, say, blue for cold temperatures, and red for hot.

So, if you'd apply different colors to the links, how would users know what colors means what, unless you provide them with a legend? Further, your users would still need to learn and memorize the links' colors' meanings to develop the correct expectations about what happens when clicking either type.

In other words, this sounds like a novel approach, and I've never seen it used anywhere, so the additional info might not quite justify the learning curve that this approach will require.

If you consider it important enough to present the link differences to your users, I'd suggest you stick with "external link" icons, instead, because that pattern has been around for a while, and your users might already be familiar with it.

  • JochenW, Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your concerns on how it could cause confusion. I'm thinking there are ways we can probably manage & educate to minimise any concern or confusion. I'll play around with the idea a little further as I'd prefer to not have lots of icons mid article. We'll see. All the best, Matt
    – Matt
    Nov 24, 2019 at 19:02

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