External link disclaimers: how much is too much?

It's worth being careful when you link to other sites, but don't let over-cautious legal jargon get in the way of usability.

 External link disclaimers: how much is too much?

Some corporate sites use lengthy (and wordy) disclaimers to let readers know when they're about to follow a link leading to an external site. You know the sort of thing: You are now about to leave the Madeup Corporation site. Madeup Corporation takes no responsibility for any of the content, links or any transactions made via the external site. Any information you might find on the external site is not endorsed in any way by Madeup Corporation or any of its subsidiary companies or websites. Thank you for visiting the Madeup Corporation site.

Sometimes it can seem a bit excessive this is the internet, after all. A link that goes somewhere else is hardly the biggest surprise. But it's just as odd to come across a corporate site, as I did recently, that doesn't tell you when a link goes to another site. In this case the link led somewhere that didn't look like the home site, didn't really match the link description and had a puzzling lack of breadcrumb trail navigation. This perplexing "where am I?" feeling isn't something web copy should engender in users.

In particular, be up-front with your users when you link to external ecommerce sites. Like it or not, readers are likely to see this as an endorsement of what's being sold there fine if you want to recommend a partner, of course, but that's not always the case. I think disclaimers do have their place not so that companies can cover themselves, but to aid navigation and orientate users. They don't have to be long and legalistic a simple "You're now leaving our site. Because we don't own the site you're going to, our terms and conditions don't apply there" will do.