--- Originally posted on the Adaptive Path Blog ---
I'm a big fan of indexes. There are many a content-focused website whose content could be made more findable with an A-Z index of the site content. There are lots of places on the web that talk about the merits of such indexes. Most will tell you to put a row of the alphabet at the top of the index, and have the letters be quick jumps (i.e., anchor links) to that section of the index.
But what about those letters that don't have any entries? Do you show the letter and have it link to a message saying there's no entries? Do you show the letter but have it not hyperlinked? Do you just remove the letter all together? Which option gives the better user experience?
This very question came up recently on a project I'm working on. My gut told me to show the letters but not make them links. But why? I looked high and low on the web for someplace that told me which was the better way, but I couldn't find anything. Looking at examples of indexes wasn't overly helpful for I saw sites doing it in all kinds of different ways.
So I turned to the wisdom of the crowds. I asked the question on Twitter and Plurk, as well as the Argus Associates Alumni. (Thanks to everyone who responded!) The overwhelming response was to show the links not hyperlinked, AND grayed out.
I also got multiple reasons for why this is the better approach:
- It preserves the pattern of the alphabet and makes glancing easier.
- Users don't wonder why some letters are missing, which can make it look broken.
- It saves users from getting to a destination just to find out there's nothing there for them.
- Some back-end work is saved if content is added in those areas in the future.
So there you have it. Be sure to include your unused letters at the top of your index, but gray them out and don't make them links.