Content design: planning, writing and managing content

Links

Adding links to content, making them accessible and GOV.UK's external linking policy.

Do not duplicate information. If it exists elsewhere on GOV.UK or can be better supplied by an organisation outside government, link to it instead.

Make sure all links are provided in context, at the point in the content at which they’re useful. Do not put all the links together at the bottom of the page.

Do not use unsorted lists of related links to point users to content you think they might be interested in. These are sometimes known as “further reading” or “more information”. GOV.UK provides other more effective ways for users to find related content.

When writing a link, make it descriptive and front-load it with relevant terms instead of using something generic like ‘click here’ or ‘more’. Generic links do not make sense out of context or tell users where a link will take them. They also do not work for people using screen readers, who often scan through a list of links to navigate a page. It’s important the links are descriptive so they make sense in isolation.

If your link leads to information rather than starting a task, use the text about that information as the link. For example, ‘accessibility testing’. Consider using the title of the page the link goes to as your link text.

If your link takes the user to a page where they can start a task, start your link with a verb. For example, ‘send a tax return’.

When you write link text, consider the other links on the same page. Do not use the same link text to link to different places. Avoid linking to the same place more than once if you can. If you do have more than one link on a page to the same place, use the same link text.

Links help people scan content, so do not swamp them with too many or link to the same tool or webpage throughout your page. Link to online services first, unless an offline alternative is better for your users.

One word links can create problems for users with limited dexterity. Including more words in your link text also makes it more descriptive and user friendly.

There are some instances where you cannot avoid them, for example the names of topics on GOV.UK or organisations.

Anchor links are used to take a user to a particular section of a page.

They can take users to either:

  • another section on the same page
  • a section on a different page

It’s not good practice to use anchor links in your content. Anchor links can be disorientating for some users with access needs who may have problems getting back to the previous page.

For example, screen magnifier users and those with motor function impairments. People using assistive technology may find it hard to see what they’ve missed or realise that they’ve skipped forward.

Avoid using anchor links to content on the same page. Instead, rearrange the structure of your content so that people can navigate the content more easily.

There may be rare instances where an anchor link to another page is needed. For example, if people only need to read an annex of long, complicated guidance.

If you have to do this, make it as accessible as possible by making the link as descriptive as possible. This is so that users know what they will see on the onward page. For example, ‘read Annex A of the EU spouse visa guidance to check your eligibility’.

The link text must give clues to:

  • where you are sending them - ‘the EU spouse visa guidance’
  • what they need to do when they get there - ‘read Annex A of the EU spouse visa guidance’
  • why they are going there - ‘to check your eligibility’

Your anchor link should make it clear that you’re sending users to a different piece of guidance - it’s often useful to include the title of the page they’re going to.

You can add links anywhere in body text, but not in titles, summaries or subheadings.

In Whitehall publisher, you must use Markdown to format:

There is a different way to format links if you’re translating content into ​​a language that is written from right to left.

Link to the publication page (the page the attachment is added to), not to the attachment itself.

Example

To link to the ‘Budget tables: February 2021’ document, use the URL for the public spending statistics publication page.

You should not link directly to attachments because:

  • users might miss important information or context by bypassing the publication page (even if the attachment is a HTML)
  • links to file attachments, such as PDF or ODS, can break when pages are updated
  • users cannot navigate back to the publication page from file attachments

If the page you are linking to has more than one attachment, be clear which one you are directing the user to.

Linking to documents on other sites

Link to the page that hosts the document and give the full title of the document you’re linking to. Do not link to the document itself because:

  • links to documents are more likely to break
  • it’s harder for users to navigate back from documents to the page they were on

If you cannot avoid linking to the actual document, add the file format and size to the link.

Example [Application form (PDF, 19.5KB)](https://some.web.site/form.pdf)

Linking to a page in a different language

If you are linking to a page in a different language, you must signpost the change in the link text and language of the origin page.

For example, ‘trwydded car, ee o awtomatig i drawsyriant gyda llaw (yn Saesneg)’ where ‘yn Saesneg’ means ‘in English’.

If linking to a non-English page from an English page, you must signpost this as well.

For example, ‘You can find information and guidance regarding the current outbreak of COVID-19 in France on the French Government’s COVID-19 pages (in French)’.

Users will expect a linked page to be in the same language as the origin page. It’s good practice to prepare users for a language change in their journey. It’s also important for accessibility so that screen readers can correctly pronounce content on the origin and destination page.

GOV.UK external linking policy

You can link to an external website in one of these situations:

  • you’re linking to a government service or website
  • a user can only complete a task using a third party website, for example finding a driving instructor
  • there is evidence a user needs something that cannot be published on GOV.UK, for example information or advice government cannot or does not provide
  • a trustworthy source can support users better than GOV.UK can, for example it has a tool or feature that GOV.UK does not

Rules for linking to external websites

Users must be able to access the content without having to pay or register to see it.

You can link to commercial websites, but GOV.UK must be impartial. You must have reason for linking to one commercial website instead of another if they provide similar information. Linking to one commercial website instead of another can look like endorsement, or give one company an advantage over the other.

Check if the site is usable and accessible (especially on mobile) and if it’s a safe place to send a user. Read the site’s privacy and cookie policies.

Plan how you’re going to maintain the link. The content on the website can stop being useful. Links break and the design, content and privacy can change without warning.

You can put a link:

  • in the body of the text (inline)
  • as a related link in the right hand navigation

You can also raise a support request to feature a link in GOV.UK search results.

Link to a specific page, not the website’s homepage.

You must make it clear users are leaving GOV.UK if you’re using inline links.

For example:

[Find a counsellor on Counselling Directory]

Search for courses and training on:

  • [Careers Wales]

Using third party services to collect data for GOV.UK

Check that the provider meets GDS best practice for:

The provider is not allowed to access or use the data.

The third party must not be able to access or use the data it collects for GDS.

Do a Privacy Impact Assessment before you use the provider.

You should check that:

  • data is stored and handled securely
  • security is tested regularly
  • the third party provider meets General Data Protection Regulations
  • there is clear information to users about who owns the data, what their rights are, and who they should contact with questions