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Best practice for download links

More often than not when you're at a download center and just want to download a file, you really have to search for the download link. This shouldn't be the scenario. Here's a minor case study on download links and how to make them more user friendly, plus a set of great examples.

Download links come in different flavours

When you want to download something, you have to look for a number of characteristics.

What you have to look for is a download sign, a link, button or an icon, that tells you where you can download something. And very often the characteristics of these download signs are confusing. Plus, what makes it worse; many of these signs are aimed at advanced computer users. Quite often though, even advanced computer users really have to search for a download link to find it. Not very good for usability.

What download links should give users

To make every visitor instantly spot the download link, download links should meet a number of requirements.

Simplicity

Download links should be simple - simplicity is the best friend of usability. A visitor should just have to spot the download link and click it.

Accessibility

Thinking of simplicity will improve the overall accessibility, since visitors by default will know where to get what. Accessibility means everyone should be able to download, without too much hassle.

Clarity

A visitor should always know how to get a specific version of a download. Download centers must be clear on this – how can the user choose what to download? Where's the latest version? It's a good thing to highlight the latest version of a download, since that version probably attracts the most visitors.

Also, a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section might be of great help. Many visitors have questions that need answers and by providing the answers, visitors will get satisfied.

Some great download centers

There are some great download centers and they do their stuff great. Here's a set of best practice download centers and what they do well:

CodePlex

Over at CodePlex, an open source community, you can find a lot of great downloads where information on them are provided in a satisfying way. Take for instance Silverlight Toolkit, which has an excellent download page with a get started part:

CodePlex, Silverlight Toolkit get started

The start page is clear, you instantly know where to download the latest release, and you have a FAQ section (the forum).

When you click the download link, you couldn't ask for much more clarity:

CodePlex, Silverlight Toolkit downloads

What you get is two simple download alternatives, either Silverlight 2 or Silverlight 3.

The one improvement that is clear here, is to highlight Silverlight 3, since it's way more popular. Other than that, this is a great example of a download page.

FileHippo

FileHippo is a structured download center for all users. Even though the start page might be too informative, the specific download software pages are excellent.

FileHippo provides information on the download, such as description, technical information and a change log – a perfect approach in order to satisfy most visitor's demands.

Also, the download link is one of the best you'll see out there – it's visible, perfectly clear and does exactly what's expected:

FileHippo, download link

In one click, you can download the latest version of a specific software and you get to know the file size. Excellent.

Take a look at the CCleaner download page for further inspiration.

CNET download.com

Download.com has always been the one website for downloads. They are constantly improving the website too, while providing one of the best download websites you've ever seen.

CNET download.com gives you simple editors' reviews, clear download links and other helpful information on a specific download.

The download link is quite clear, with an icon, file size and a spyware free statement that says the file is safe for download:

CNET download.com download link

Summary on download links

When providing a download link, make sure you keep it simple, that you're clear and the correct information is provided. Any user should be able to download any file.

CodePlex, FileHippo and CNET download.com are great examples of download centers, where you can find inspiration.

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