Q: Are there any usability guidelines with respect to hyperlinks? In particular, the number of them on any given screen (for example, a page with 50 hyperlinks).

The answer to this question (and most) is: it depends. It depends on who your users are, the goals they are trying to accomplish on the site, the level of hierarchy within the site, and equally important, the type of site and its business goals. However, there are some general guidelines to follow.

In general, home pages should provide a small number of links as well as a description of the site’s intended use. The function of the home page is to orient users to the site and its purpose, and perhaps to provide links to the most frequent, most important, or most up-to-date information. Providing too many links on a home page will often cause users to leave the site due to inability to find the information they need in a crowded list of links. We’ve seen a large amount of eCommerce sites that break this rule by putting (in some cases literally) every single product they sell as a link on the home page. This is neither useful to users trying to find a particular item, nor visually appealing. It is a primary cause of site abandonment by users.

In many cases, it may be acceptable to have 50 links on the page””even a home page”” if they are grouped in a way that is logical and makes scanning for information easy for the intended audience. For example, a news site like cnn.com will have over 50 links on many pages, but links are grouped by category (US News, World News, Technology, Business, Entertainment, etc.). Within each category, note that there are usually 3-5 links, and users have to click on the category to see more links within a specific area.

Browse and search functions may return over 50 links in a results set also. Again, the rule above about grouping applies. Provide as many relevant ways for users to sort and group the information as possible to make it easier to scan results. For instance, break up categories within a browse function into discrete, logical chunks that follow the users’ expectations. For search results, provide the ability to sort and filter results in meaningful ways.

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