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NC Department of Health and Human Services
Office of Public Affairs

Website Style Guide:
Chapter 4: Linking

4.1 General Linking Guidelines

Links should be clearly labeled, using text rather than graphics when possible.

The words that make up the link should describe what the user would find at the linked page. Software that "reads" the link to a person with visual problems literally reads the words that are underlined.


County listing of departments of social services


For a county listing of departments of social services, click here.

Lists of links should appear in "sentence case" (first letter of first word capitalized and no other capitalization except for proper nouns, acronyms, abbreviations).


Find a child care facility


 Find a Child Care Facility

For lists of links, place them in alphabetical order unless:

  • Links intentionally follow chronological order, or
  • Links intentionally lead the user through a logical sequence, such as,
    • Who are nursing homes for?
    • Finding a licensed nursing home
    • Help paying for a nursing home

Items should not have both a link, and a list beneath.

No items should start with generic words like “information.”

Accessibility requirement! If the wording for a link is NOT entirely descriptive, use the “title” attribute. Remember that text readers often go from link to link and do not always pick up surrounding text.


CODE: The CDC has  <a title=”CDC home page on rabies” href=””> more information available on rabies.</a>

HOW THIS TRANSLATES ON THE PAGE: CDC has more information available on rabies. (A screen reader will also pick up the words: “CDC home page on rabies.”)

Avoid using the same link text on more than one page in the same website if the links do not lead to the same page.

Links to information that is particularly important should be repeated in more than one place on the website. This makes it easier for visitors to find this important information that they might have missed otherwise.

If a link promises certain content, the link should take you exactly to the place that offers that content.

If you are listing 5 to 8 links or more, normally you should break them into groups under sub-headings.

In general links should open in the same window. Opening in a new window breaks the back button, and visually impaired site visitors may get lost. If there is a compelling reason to open a web page in a new window, alert the visitor with "link opens in new window." This wording should be part of the link text.

Check the website for broken or irrelevant links often. Broken links will cause visitors to leave the website and look for information elsewhere. Implement a schedule to check for broken links on a regular basis.

Reduce duplication of content. All content should be published by the website with the greatest expertise in that particular area; if there is a website that would do a better job of explaining the information, link to that website instead of trying to publish the information again.

Avoid “dead-end” pages. All pages within the hierarchy of the website should contain, at minimum, a link back to the homepage, and possibly links to other pages within the site as well.

Make sure that links can be easily told apart from text that is not a link. Avoid using misleading details such as blue coloration of text and underlining that may cause visitors to think something is a link when it is not.


4.2 Link Wording and Placement

Link text should match the title or heading of the destination page, or close enough that there’s no confusion.

Links should use wording that makes it easy for visitors to understand where the link will take them. Links should be descriptive and avoid using terms that are unrelated to the topic, such as “More Info” or “Click Here.”

Avoid using acronyms in links.

Embedded links (that is, links that appears within sentences) should be as descriptive as possible. Visitors should be able to determine the link’s destination by looking at the text of the link itself. Do not rely on the text surrounding the link to give clues about its destination, as many visitors will focus on the link and not read what is written before or after it.

Link text should be made as short as possible.

Use text rather than URLs when linking. For example, use “NC Department of Health and Human Services” instead of Only use URLs to link when the URL is particularly important and you want the user to remember it.

When linking to an email address, include the address itself. Site visitors who are not on their own computers may need to copy the email address into an email client. Include the person’s name if it’s not spelled out in the email address.



Email Jane Doe at

Whenever possible, email addresses should not go to individuals but to groups of individuals, such as or

In general, only one version of any document should appear on the website. If multiple versions of a single document are on the site, ensure that no site visitor would mistake the older version for the current one. In the title tag and in the description of older documents, specify “This document is superseded by Version X, Dated Y.”


4.3 External Links

4.3.1 Appropriate and Inappropriate Links

Departmental policy states:

Linking to the following types of external sites is strongly discouraged. This includes any site that:

  1. Solicits membership in an organization.
  2. Has a solicitation to buy products or services.
  3. Makes requests for contributions.
  4. Advises people to contact an elected representative.

Before a DHHS web page can link to these types of external sites, the link must be approved by the DHHS Office of Public Affairs (OPA). Exceptions may be granted if the website belongs to a nonprofit organization that contracts with DHHS.

When possible, link within the website. Links should be used to reinforce the message of the website, not to distract readers or send them off chasing a minor footnote in some other website.

Links to state rules on the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings website should take the site visitor directly to the subchapter they are interested in. The link wording should incorporate the title of the rule.


Adult Care Homes (Licensing of Homes for the Aged and Infirm). Title 10A Chapter 13, Subchapter 7. Example of icon denoting link to exernal site

All NCDHHS websites should link to the standard disclaimer at This will inform the user that the department is not responsible for content found on external pages.

Pages devoted to lists of links to outside sites are difficult to maintain, and are not a best practice since URLs change so frequently. In general, if a link to an outside site is considered needed, it should be incorporated into the content of the web page.

For external links, make it clear that the reader is being taken outside of the NC DHHS site.


Ready North Carolina: An Emergency Preparedness Guide (NC Department of Crime Control and Public Safety) Link to site outside of N.C. DHHS

(See information about the icon in the subsection below.)

All outside links should be evaluated using the following criteria:

  • Is the website an official government-owned or supported website?
  • Does the website provide official government information or services?
  • Does the website complement existing information, products and services on
  • Is the website accessible and applicable to a wide audience?
  • Is the website's content relevant, useful and authoritative for citizens, businesses and/or government officials?
  • Does the website's information appear to be accurate and current?
  • Is the website's approach to the privacy of personal information consistent with the government's privacy and security policies?
  • Is the website "user-friendly?"
  • Does the website meet one or more of the following "highly desirable" criteria?
    • The website crosses agency or intergovernmental boundaries
    • The website enables citizens, businesses and/or government officials to conduct transactions online (e.g., buying stamps or coins, replacing Medicaid cards, and filing taxes)
    • The website provides citizens, businesses and/or government officials with the information they need to interact directly with government organizations (e.g., clearly available telephone numbers, street addresses, e-mail addresses and instructions)
    • The website provides citizens with information about service performance (e.g., Nursing Home Compare, )
    • The website provides community-level information and services (e.g., MapStats, post office locators, Social Security Office locators, National Park Service Guides and veterans' facilities).

4.3.2 Denoting Off-Site Links

When linking to a site not managed by N.C. DHHS, an icon should be used in the DHHS redesign site. The icon Example of icon denoting link to exernal siteis located in the /library/images/ folder, called "external-link.gif". The ALT text says "Link goes outside of N.C. DHHS."


At the bottom of any page that includes this icon is an explanation: "Link to site outside of N.C. DHHS Denotes link to site outside of N.C. DHHS."


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