Should links open in a new window?

window fitter

This is a web usability question that concerns you, the people who read my blog, and also those who author their own blogs / websites.

Cat, at Creative Latitude, and I have been wondering (as was Darren at Problogger some time back) about how we present our external hyperlinks to you. When you leave our sites by clicking a link we’ve endorsed, should the new site open in a new window / tab, or would you prefer to stay inside the browser window you’re currently using?

I wasn’t aware that it could be such a bone of contention for some people, until I went back to read the comments left on Problogger. It seems that some people actually get angry when a website takes control of their browser by opening a new tab, and of course that’s not what I want here. Cat fought on the side of the ‘same window’ ‘new window’ campaign a couple of years back, although in the end gave up.

When I add a link to a blog post, there are two or three extra tags I add:

  1. title=”link title here” (this helps with search engine optimisation)
  2. target=”new” (this opens the link in a new browser tab or window)
  3. rel=”nofollow” (this prevents search engines from following links to possibly bad neighbourhoods)

I rarely add the third tag (nofollow), except when I’m not sure I should be endorsing the referenced site. Google, for instance, place certain sites in ‘bad neighbourhoods’, and it’s possible that by linking to those sites, without adding the ‘nofollow’ tag, that Google won’t trust your content.

From an accessibility standpoint, using the target=”new” tag breaks the ‘back’ button. Webnauts.net tell us to avoid forcing links to open in a new window, as this can be disorientating for those who don’t know what happened.

Of course people can also manually choose to open links in a new window or tab, but this is one extra step that I previously thought it would be better to remove. This is where you come in.

What do you think?

I’m interested to know how you prefer links to open.

New window? Same window? Why do you prefer one over the other?

Article image courtesy of The Family Handyman

——

Update: 30 January 2008
With over 70 comments left inside 24 hours, this is clearly a topic you feel strongly about, on both sides of the debate.

I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I’ll no longer add the target=”new” tag to my site links. Indeed I’ve back-tracked and completely removed them from my new blog, Logo Design Love (opens in the same window). Thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to leave your thoughts. I’ve learned a thing or two in the process.

——

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108 comments

  1. Hi David

    I used to code my links to open in a new window, but stopped a while back. The main reason I stopped is because I read so many rants about sites controlling your browser. I don’t personally have a huge problem with it when it is only links (window resizing etc is a different matter),but I felt that so many people did, I should go with the masses, right or wrong. The other reason is that I believe that the vast majority of readers of sites like mine (and yours) control their browser the way they want it. For example, I have a habit of always using a key combo while clicking links, so all new links open in new tabs in Safari or Firefox (whatever the site has coded the default to be), leaving the original window open for me to go back to later if necessary.

    Having used an iPhone for while now, these seemingly small usability issues when using a desktop browser can really flair up when using a mobile browser.

  2. Same window.

    I use Firefox, so if I want to open it in a new tab, I will, otherwise, I would prefer that the links open in the same window. I don’t like it when a website makes that decision for me – that’s annoying.

  3. MakaniMike

    Personally, I can’t stand it, when external links open in the same window.
    However, using Firefox I can easily override the opening-in-the-same-window and give myself control over it by using the scroll-wheel or alternatively clicking while holding ctrl.

    so I suppose (as long as people know this shortcut) you’ll make most people happy by keeping the link in the same browser window and letting them decide…

    why?
    well, usually I am reading something and a link will pop up in the middle of the text. I want to click on it immediately and switch back and forth between the article/blogpost/whatever I am reading and the website I am reading about. Considering that there might be several external links in an article it’s the only thing that makes sense. At least it’s the only feasible way that fits into my personal work-flow.

  4. I have strong opinion on this. I prefer links to open in a new tap. Not window, but tap. Sometimes I see a link from a article that I would like to visit but have not finished reading/looking at the page I am currently on, so I don’t want to lose that one. But mostly I just take charge my self, by right-clicking on the link and telling my browser to open it in a tap. Just the way I browse :)

    Begga

  5. When I built my first website, back in days of yore, I was advised that it was very important to make sure links opened in a new window, so that people didn’t lose your site and forget all about it when they followed links. So when I started blogging I did this automatically, as I assumed it was normal practice.

    Then I read the discussion on Problogger and saw how strongly many people felt about this, and switched to opening links in the same window. I agree with MakaniMike that web-literate users always have the option of opening links in a new window.

    Since making the switch I’ve noticed that most of my favourite blogs tend to us the ‘same window’ approach, so it’s come to seem normal. When I find a blog with ‘new window’ links, it seems a little old-fashioned – part of the Web 1.0 idea of keeping people on your site as long as possible. Whereas Web 2.0 is more about spreading the traffic around and trusting people will come back to your site (and send others) if you provide enough value.

  6. I didn’t have a problem with links opening up in their own window. Quite the opposite. I preferred it that way.

    You see, I have RSI so using one hand is preferable to being forced into using two. And I liked that I didn’t lose a site if I closed a browser window (note: this was several browser versions ago).

    When the subject came up I fussed. I fought. I spat back. I held my ground.

    But then I remembered back. Back when a friend said CSS would never fly. That it would never become a standard like (cough) (cough) Flash would (as in ‘take over the web world’). Then another said Web Standards were compiled from a bunch of hot air blowing gaggle of old men. Yet another said Macs were born to die.

    Well, CSS does just fine (can you even imagine living without?) And their daddy, Web Standards, are here to stay. And Macs? Well, I bet more than a few are wishing they’d bought stock when the predictions were dire.

    A year of two went by. I still read. I still disagreed. Then it came to me that it was time I moved on. Moved on and joined those fussing at my use of target = blank. Even if I didn’t want to. Why? Because there were just too many people pointing in that direction. And to make this web work it’d help if as many as possible agree at how we run this monster. If even to silently disagree.

  7. Hi Andy, I’m thinking similarly in that it doesn’t bother me either way, but there does seem to be a lot of others who feel very strongly (albeit Cat feels strongly in the opposite direction).

    Mike, sorry to have annoyed you if you clicked on any external links. I’m moving with the general consensus now.

    Cat, sorry! I’ve updated the blog post with your true feelings, and thanks for dropping by to clarify things.

  8. I personally prefer that links open in a new tab. Especially if you would have a site with multiple links you want to visit it is easier if they just open in a new tab so that you can continue to browse the original site.

    If this is not the case, I still always make the links open in a new tab myself.

    I also do this for my own website, I think people might lose track of your website if they keep clicking on links that open in the same window.

  9. Hi David,

    I prefer to have them open in a new window/tab (and code mine to do the same) because if I’m following a story and it leads “off-site” for more information then I’d prefer to have the link open a new window/tab so when I’m finished with the “off-site” information I can then close the tab and continue on with the original story.

    This also helps to encourage a visitor to my blog to stay a little longer and possibly leave a comment or read other posts/articles.

  10. I always add target=”_blank”, which is a bit more flexible that target=”new” I think.

  11. Hi David

    This post made me smile :-) I was the person who asked Darren that question, in all innocence, and was astonished at the discussion and debate it precipitated.

    I did change my practice after that on my Confident Writing site… but I don’t think there’s one ‘right’ answer

    It will depend on how how blog or web savvy your readers are likely to be. If your target audience and readership is new to the web, you might want to make life ‘easier’ for them and open a new window (to save them getting lost).

    That probably doesn’t apply to your readers here though.

    Joanna

  12. Well, now that I’m used to it … honestly, it’s not that much work to click on the command tab (Mac) when clicking a link.

  13. Anup Shah

    Hi,

    Just thought I’d leave a point that I don’t believe the title attribute on links will help with SEO. For ranking they almost certainly don’t. From what I have read, there is mixed evidence on whether it has any bearing on indexing, either.

    Usually for SEO (ranking), the important things are things like good content that people want to link to, inbound links, etc. For indexing, the page title (not the link title), the meta keywords and descriptions are important as these are typically used to show in the search results page. I have a bit more info here if that helps:

    http://www.onenaught.com/posts/33/seo-for-sake-of-seo-misses-the-point

    and

    http://www.onenaught.com/posts/30/explaining-natural-seo-search-engine-ranking-vs-indexing

    Hope that is of interest.

  14. Links should open in the same window, there shouldn’t even be a conversation about it.

    The only people who would argue otherwise are not web developers or web users.

  15. caroline

    I prefer a new window.

    Personally I really hate it when they open in the same window because I often open the link and minimise it to go back to and read especially if Im trying to get through the load of feeds i get everyday. This way I can go back and digest them at a comfortable pace and maybe add them to my subscriptions in my feed ‘in box’.
    This method keeps me upto date with the 200plus feeds i have and also means I can get through everyones blog in a timely manner.

  16. Dan Cole

    Links should open in the same window, because it just makes sense. In firefox it is understood that if you left click on a link you will open the link in the same window and if you wheel click on a link you will open in a new tab.

    If a website does open a page in a new window, I close that first tab that had the link and close the new window that popped-up. I close the tab because I no longer wanted to be at that page and I close the new window because I use one browser window.

  17. José Luis

    What about something like:

    <a href=”….” >Some Link</a> (<a href=”…” target=”new”>or open in new window</a>).

    That will give peace of mind to everyone…. Will use more space thou…

    Cheers!

  18. Good question. Here’s how I see the issue:

    * sometimes opening in a new window is required,
    * when doing so, always indicate a new window will be opened so user knows what to expect.

    Some smart CSS and / or unobtrusive JS will help you select links with target attributes and style them (with icons, for example) appropriately.

  19. If I want to open a link I open it in a new tab as I am usually not done reading. If it is just a quick read I look it over and close it when I am done. So, basically I don’t care how someone programs it. I choose what to do anyways. ;)

  20. Hmm, interesting stuff. I hadn’t realised it was an issue for so many people. I don’t really mind, although I would probably sway more towards the “open in same window” group, as this gives control into the end-users hands. However if you wanted to make your blog uber usable and loved by all I would probably write some kinda Java Script to add a “pop-up icon” next to links in the body of my blog. Allowing the user to decide for themselves which link to follow. Hmm… thinking about it makes me want to tinker :p

  21. So it is simply obvious from the comments that the links hould not open in a new window. It is pure annoyance.

    “Don’t Control My Browser”

    Forcing links to open in new window is like saying that the user is ignorant. I am not ignorant, and the millions of internet users are not too. I know when to open a link in new window, and I will do that when needed. That is simple as that. It is the most “usable” solution.

    Another tweak that can be applied is to put a small icon near the link to denote it as an external link. When clicking on the icon, the link may open in a new indow. This idea is pretty popluar, eg: in Wikipedia.

  22. I’m with some of the above commentors in that I sometimes prefer links to open in the same window, and sometimes in a new tab. How do people feel about some kind of an unobtrusive javascript solution that adds an icon to the end of all external links to open them in a new window? That way you get the best of both worlds. That said, if not offering both options, I prefer links to open in the same window because it’s much less trouble for me to command-click a link to open it in a new tab, then to try to control a plethora of pop-ups.

  23. When I read a post with links I’m interested in I always open them in a new tab and continue to read the post I was on. After I finish the post I go through all my open tabs to read whatever it was I wanted from them.
    Like most people said I feel that opening new windows is a control thing. If your content is worth coming back to, the user will come back to finish reading your post.

  24. i say it depends on the audiance.

    Consumer, yes, new window. Most of the time they are like puppies, and will just keep following links, not remembering their original intent.

    If your site is for designer or high tech crowds, then current window.

    Like everything else in design, the target audience should be the reason for doing it one way versus the other.

  25. Personally I think the best usability is to open external links in a new window. A lot of people disagree with that but I think the worst thing to do to a visitor is to load an external link in place of the source site.

  26. I personally open links in new tabs anyway, and if the site does that automatically better so. BUT: i hate when the new window opens without me specifying it. Makes desktop messy…

  27. Hi David,

    When reading a blog, I like links to open up in new windows….the reason is simple. You give us a link to have a look at something….but we still want to continue to read your blog after we have viewed the link.

    I prefer new windows, you can close them and then continue on reading the blog….in addition, what happens if the new page that you have linked to has a link on their page that grabs interest, then I am two “back” steps away from returning to your blog.

    I would like users to be able to keep my blog open and do anything they want from the link that I provide in another window. that way they have more freedom to return to my blog easily and quickly, yet continue on in the new tab also.

    I guess there are a lot of “control freaks” out there that I think need to chill a little! Losing control in life because of girlfriends is warranted……internet browsers…..not so much! :)

  28. I vote – opening in a new window = no. Just imagine if google search results, every one opened in a new window. Frustration would set in very quickly.

    I think it’s better to go with how the majority of sites handle it and that is to not open a new window. By opening a new window you go away from convention and I think that confuses users.

  29. Sounds like we need to have a Go Daddy poll on this one.

    I’ve always liked links to open in the same browser. If I want to open a separate one I have the option to right click.

    target=”new” doesn’t give me an option.

  30. You could do both, giving the user the option to open it in the same browser or in a new window; without having to involve an extra step for them. Just provide two links, side by side.

    The link would look similar to this: New Site (open in new window?)

    Just set the link tag for “New Site” to open it in the same window, and give “(open in new window?)” the same URL, but add the target=”new” attribute.

  31. Heathwitch

    Hi David.

    Longtime reader, firsttime comment; I work in the field of Web hosting and design, and come from Derbyshire, UK.

    I prefer all external links to open in a new tab; I often get irritated when they don’t. If I wanted to leave the site in question, I would do — simply by closing the tab or browsing to elsewhere.

    I do not appreciate someone assuming that, just because I want to follow an external link, I want to leave their site. What happens if I want to go to that link, but finish this blog post first? If I open the link in a new tab there and then, I can finish reading the post/article/whatever and then head over there, without forgetting.

    Nowadays I don’t take a chance on it — if I don’t know the author of the article and the way they code external links (or how the site generally works), I always use right click>open in new tab to open my links. Even on Google — it means I can research multiple search results easily, without losing the original results listing.

    When coding myself, I use [target=”_blank”]. It’s my code, therefore it lives by my rules — unless a client tells me specifically otherwise, of course.

    Just my two cents.

  32. There are many things to consider – the main being your visitors.

    Me? I hate it when web sites make links open in a new window.
    I use hot-keys and tabs like there’s no tomorrow. So if I want a new window (which most of the time I do), then I open in a new tab.
    If I don’t, then I don’t.
    It annoys me when the web site automatically does so for me.

    But on the other hand, if you visitors who aren’t very web knowledgeable, they won’t really know and you may have lost a visitor.

    So I’d have to say that it depends on your type of visitors.

  33. Links should open in the same window. If I want it in a new tab I will do so myself.
    It’s no more extra steps to do so either, one click will open it in a new tab if I so choose.

  34. I think with the evolution of browsers (meaning Firefox!! Yeah!), users can now browse in an organised fashioned, unlike in the past where we had new browser windows flying all over the screen.

    Personally I get irritated when a link opens in the same window – I might’ve still wanted to surf on the referring website, but now I have to click on ‘Back’ to retrieve it and do a ‘open new window’ on the link. So much that I’ve actually got this habit now of right clicking on all links to do a new window/tab.

    I suppose we could all practice the dual option links like http://jumptags.com/, where there is the hyperlink that opens in the same window and then an icon next to it to open a new window.

    Looks nice and it’s useful. Devil’s in the details!

    Vicki

    PS: Now I’m inspired to go put that on my own website.

  35. Same window

    if I want a new window, it’s just a middle click away.

    opening in a new window screws around with the reader’s browsing habits

  36. It’s really a 50/50 question. You can’t satisfy on both sides. I am ok with either way because the most of the time I right click rather then left click the link. But my dream goal is having each link, mostly external ones, being popped up in a modal within the page. But it’s too much work to get it and I am not sure if it’s everyone’s favor either. So in my site, I put the SnapShot for all external links opened in the new tab if being clicked.

  37. I always let my links open in a new window, unless it’s an internal link.

    I don’t want people to leave my site. Firefox or Flock makes it a bit easier when opening links.

  38. I hate when a website opens external links in a new window. Absolutely can’t stand it. It goes completely against usability rules.

    Here’s Jakob Nielsen’s take on it (from the wonderful and highly recommended book, Prioritizing Web Usability):

    When users click a link on a button, they usually expect a new web page to appear in place of the last. To undo their action, they click the Back button, as discussed in the previous section. Violating these expectations intrudes on their experience and free navigation through cyberspace.

    Unfortunately, many web site designers insist on displaying new information in a new browser window instead of reusing the existing window. Sometimes these are small pop-ups, a phenomenon that’s annoying enough to warran its own separate discussion. Other times, the new page is displayed in a new, full-sized browser window.

    Designers often tell us that they open new windows so they don’t lose visitors to their site. But ultimately that’s a lost cause. If people really want to leave, they will. And if users follow a link to another site and want to return to your site, they will invariably do so by clicking Back, since that’s the most popular way to revisit pages.

    […]

    Web browsers include a perfectly fine feature to open a link in a new window: The user can right-click on the link.

    ***SNIP***

    In Opera, if I want to open a new tab, I simply click the scrollwheel in on a link, and I believe Firefox does this too. For all the other links, I follow them as intended…unless, of course, some jackass decided I would rather my link open in a new tab.

    But the point remains, the Back button is the most used feature in a browser, and it’s the primary form of navigation for users. They know what it is, they know where to find it, and they use it…a lot.

    Vicki: You could always right-click and open a link in a new window, or do what I mentioned earlier if you’re an Opera/Firefox user. And actually, I just checked, this works in IE7 as well.

    Dennis:I don’t want people to leave my site. Firefox or Flock makes it a bit easier when opening links.” But if they want to leave…they will.

  39. Quite the difference of opinion here, with people feeling strong enough to hate it, one way or the other. I’m not about to let it get to me that much, but it’s certainly an interesting discussion.

    I’m heading out for dinner so don’t have the time right now to respond individually, but thanks very much for offering your opinions.

  40. Call me old fashioned but I get a bit wound up when links open in a new window. I have been browsing the internet since 1997 so I know how it works. I know when I click a link it takes me to that page. I make the decision to click that link and I’m fully aware what’s going to happen. What’s more, I know where my back button is and I know how to open a link in a new tab if thats what I decide I want to do.

    Web publishers shouldn’t be making the decision of the user for them.

  41. Joshua Clanton

    It’s very interesting to see all of this discussion, since I’d assumed that target=”new” was no longer used by reputable sites. My perspective is that the purpose of a link is precisely to take you to another page, and implies, unless told otherwise, that one wishes to leave the current page.

    Although I do tend to open things in new tabs fairly frequently, I want that to be my choice, not the site’s, especially given the abuse this feature has received in the past.

    PS For those who say they’ve been right clicking to open a new tab, there’s a faster way. Just hold down CTRL when you click a link and it will open in a new tab without having to go through the menu.

  42. I normally dislike it quite a lot when a new window pops up. But one place I always do really appreciate it is when it’s a help link.

    For example, you’re trying to fill in some complicated details on a form, and half of the form is filled in. You want help, so you click the help link — if a new window *doesn’t* pop up, then you’ve lost everything you just typed in (which is admittedly partly a result of bad browser design, but that’s not the point right now.)

    But all that doesn’t bother me too much. What I really want is for every link to have a good old-fashioned href, and then I could choose whether or not I want a new window/tab — it’s as easy as a middle-click (if you have a 3-button mouse) to open a new tab. Even if it’s got a target=new, and I don’t get the choice, at *least* the middle click will still open it.

    My pet hate is when the designers decide, sensibly, that a help link needs to open in a new window, but they use some fancy javascript to do so, and leave out the href altogether. Generally what that means is middle-click doesn’t work, no matter how hard I click. Then it’s a gamble whether or not I bother clicking the link and potentially lose my data. Some form of hovertip or icon to indicate what’ll happen when you click it is always nice.

  43. It actually doesn’t bother me which one people use, as long as it’s not opening a link in a resized window (maximized). If I want to stay on the page I’m reading, I always open in a new tab, otherwise I do know how to use the back button, but it is annoying to use if I go from link to link.

    On my own site, I used to force links to open in a new window/tab, until I saw the amount of people who didn’t really like it, so I had removed it. I just hope most people know how to open a link in a new window/tab. If not, they leave my site. Not a big deal.

    I do like Keith’s suggestion above about giving the visitor an option of opening in the same window or new one using two links. I might have to consider trying that.

  44. Bryan:

    But one place I always do really appreciate it is when it’s a help link.

    Ah, an interesting example and good point. There are definitely times when I do want a link to open in a new window, and in those instances, it’s understandable if I’m being forced into one. However, like you said, I don’t take the gamble, and will still use the middle button to open a link in a new window. The designer though should state (opens in new window) next to the link.

    Browser design is also important too. Opera, for example, won’t lose my data if I were to go forward on a help link and then come back, so I don’t worry too much if I just click a help link without opening it up in a new tab.

    Alisha:

    I do like Keith’s suggestion above about giving the visitor an option of opening in the same window or new one using two links. I might have to consider trying that.

    The only problem is you’re creating a new convention. What symbol do you use? How recognizable is it to most people? Does that symbol imply that the text link doesn’t open in a new window, while the image next to the link does? And how do I know that they both aren’t going to do the same thing?

    It just seems like the icons/symbols being used to designate that are used more in the sense of letting a user know that clicking on this link WILL open the link in a new window/tab, leaving the choice aspect of it out. But making the symbol clickable AND having it function differently than the text link it is smashed up against could be a usability issue.

    It’s just easier to have all links, unless specifically stated, open in the same window/tab, and if the user wants to open a link in a new window, they can right-click, use their mouse, a keyboard or browser shortcut, and even set the preferences in their browser to force ALL links everywhere to open in new tabs/windows.

  45. Kyle, you’re right. I would have to really think about how to let the visitor know which one is which without causing problems for him/her.

  46. It’s beyond our control. Since I use Mozilla, I tend to ‘Open Link in New Tab’ rather than clicking at it because I don’t want the initial page to be replaced. This is true when the link is totally different page. Thus _blank fit for me very well. Have you ever think that when you load other page on the same can cause distraction. Your message might not get across them while average time per user might decrease. What say you? Well.. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  47. Wow, this issue really is a can of worms!

    I’m a big fan of links opening in a new tab. At any time when I’m on the web I’ve got at least five or six tabs open. Mostly I’ve had to open the tabs myself, but when I come across a site that has coded to do this for me, I usually think “oh good”.

    New windows – no. New tabs – yes. Personal preference.

  48. I couldn’t care less (as long as the new site loads quickly …). But i once had someone commenting on my site saying that i should get the new site opening in a new window.

  49. I prefer opening in a new tab. I use Firefox, and always ‘click’ links with the right mouse button and ‘open in new tab’.

    Two reasons. One is that opening in a new tab lets me continue reading the article – and starting loading any other interesting pages in other new tabs. Only in rare, what I consider grossly difficult sites to I count on the back button.

    The other reason, though, came back to me. I really despise links that open a new browser. A new tab fits my habits – a new browser has system impacts, useability, and other distracting annoyances. By selecting ‘open in new tab’ I defeat almost all of the wackoes wanting to launch IE when I am using Mozilla or Firefox – and I get lots fewer cascades of unwanted popups.

    So I will have to vote with the ‘don’t open a new page’ side. Your link is taking me away from your article – let what happens next be between me and the destination page.

    Is it possible that every off-page link should be duplicated at the end of an article, so that one could read the entire article, and then choose which references to follow?

  50. “Bryan:

    The only problem is you’re creating a new convention. What symbol do you use? How recognizable is it to most people? Does that symbol imply that the text link doesn’t open in a new window, while the image next to the link does? And how do I know that they both aren’t going to do the same thing?”

    I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t suggesting the use of any icons or images but only text. You could have the labeling or naming convention set to what ever you thought your userbase would understand the best.

    Some examples:

    Linked text shown between [ and ]
    Check out [SomeLink] ([SomeLink in a new window])
    Check out [Some Link in this window] or [in a new one]

    etc…

  51. I am a freelance webdesigner, and after working on hundreds of web pages, I have run into this issue quite a lot. This issue has a view view points, but mostly this is what I find:

    Users of non-tabbed browsers do not like having a new window open, but also do not like being forced to leave the site they were just reading.

    Users of tabbed browsers do not like having new windows open (almost ever) but are less bothered by a new tab opening.

    The key to finding a good medium between getting your users in a new tab/window to follow your links while still retaining them on your site is to warn them that the link they are going to click opens a new window.

    Many popular sites do this. CNN uses icons to warm users that the link they are going to click opens a new window, or opens a video page etc.

    Over all I find using small icons to warn uses of new tab/windows (as well as PDFs, Word Docs, or any other document that might load a program into their browser,) a good way to go. The user can see what is going to happen and can choose to click or not.

    PS: These icons can be added with a simple clean Javascript to look at the target or rel of links withing certain containers of your site. Certainly something to look into.

  52. Gee whiz, a lot of comments!

    I definitely prefer same window, but I almost always use command click or middle click to open in a new tab. I do that because I’m usually not finished on the page. Occassionally I am finished on that page and just click the link – it ruins the way I browse to open in a new window.

    Rather than saying links should open in the same window I would say that links should open wherever the user wants them to – they can set it in their browser preferences. Stop trying to control links at all. If you really want to open links in a new window warn people with a title attribute or icon, since it’s not the default behaviour for most browsers.

  53. Links within the same site should stay in the same window.
    Links to content that is NOT yours should go to a new tab, window, etc …

  54. No other window. All accessibility rules, say so, and Nielsen says the same. ;) Plus that it is very annoying to see new windows popping up!

  55. Keith:

    I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t suggesting the use of any icons or images but only text. You could have the labeling or naming convention set to what ever you thought your userbase would understand the best.

    Great point, that throws the convention issue out the window, as long as you specify with text that clicking on this _separate_ link will open it in a new window/tab.

    Honestly though, it just seems like a lot of work. Your power user already knows how to use their mouse, keyboard shortcut, or browser to force links in a new window/tab, your average user, on the other hand, should not be introduced to a new window.

    You have to realize there’s a lot of people who don’t even know how to copy-and-paste, and there are even people who type in a site’s URL into Yahoo! and Google to get to the site instead of using the address bar.

    For anyone reading, I highly recommend you check out the following books:

    Prioritizing Web Usability by Nielsen

    Don’t Make Me Think by Krug

    * None of the links open in a new window :P

    Krug’s book is a good introduction to usability, while Nielsen’s covers a lot of the same topics and more. You should be able to get through Krug’s book in a couple hours too, so I’d start with that.

    I wish more designers/developers would consider usability, it’s seriously the most important thing you can do for a site. As a designer, it’s hard to sacrifice visual design for things that “seem obvious” to us. You really need to put yourself in the LCD shoes.

    Another concept that follows usability is personas, and for that, I recommend The User Is Always Right by Mulder. Understanding your target audience will greatly help in what you need to do for your site, both in terms of usability, the overall design, etc.

  56. Jermayn Parker

    Wow strong response!
    I am of the STRONG opinion that you should keep users in the same window! As already stated the back button is the most used button on your browser!

    some of my opinions about two points you raised:
    Opening links in new windows:
    http://germworks.net/blog/2007/07/02/usability-and-accessibility-the-foreign-legion-of-web-design/

    using nofollow:
    http://germworks.net/blog/2007/11/13/nofollow-donot-use/

  57. I’ve often thought about this. Personally, I open off-site links in a new window, though probably out of habit, rather than any thoughts of usability. Re the nofollow tag, I’ve never used it.
    However, now that you’ve raised the issue, you got me thinking about the topic again, and perhaps opening those off-site links in a new window should be left to the reader…

  58. It was stated that ‘the back button is the most used button on your browser’.

    I use the ‘X’ (escape, ‘stop’) button much more often that the back button. I use the right-click, open-in-new-tab sequence and delete-tab buttons many dozens of times more frequently. I doubt I am the only person that uses a different reading style.

    Constraining to usability rules – never launching into a new page – is in one sense, a wimpy cop-out. Instead of managing the user’s experience, you just let things dangle, with a lame cover story (just meeting usability rules..). And yet, ‘back button is most used..’ assumes a usage pattern that doesn’t fit everyone. Taking complete control, launching the new window, is also going to be incomplete, and inadequate for some visitors. Meeting government mandated usability requirements has begun cropping up in some of the work proposals I have seen, some rippled out to providers to government work. Taking the ‘most mediocre’ approach, that looks like you never learned more about the Anchor tag than ‘HREF=’ seems amateurish. But it works, doesn’t seem to offend many. Perhaps ‘TARGET=’ was just another fad that didn’t work well, and will go the way of the Font tag.

  59. Brad:

    Well yes, obviously everyone is going to have a feature they use more than others, but I doubt you’re an “average” user.

    I personally never touch the Back button. I use the Z key or mouse gesture instead. So in that sense, you and I are alike. We’re keyboard/mouse shortcut people.

    I’m willing to bet most commenters in here use shortcuts in every application they use, and will even cross-use a shortcut (Ctrl B in Gmail or a forum post to bold something).

    However, most people aren’t like that. The mouse is for using your computer, and the keyboard is there soley for typing (an email, document, etc.).

    I don’t see how it’s a “cop-out” to not want to control a user’s browsing experience, especially for something as universal and accepted as the Back button, which has roots going back before browsers (e.g. the Undo button, since they’re essentially the same thing).

    People will even use the Back button repeatedly to get somewhere even when there’s a link available in front of them. I find myself doing the same thing sometimes. See Fitts’ Law for more information.

    That law in combination with “recognition verses recall” makes the Back button very important, and not something you should take away from a user.

    Forcing links to open in new windows is no different than disabling the right-click menu, browser chrome, using frames (to break the Back button functionality), and/or employing redirects (so when you click Back you keep going forward until you do it really fast).

    There is a reason usability rules exist, they’re proven and tested for most people.

  60. I think lately people prefer same-window.
    I trust my users to know how to use the back button on their browser, if they want to come back they will.

    When I read blogs that reference external sites, I middle click the link if I’m interested. That way when I’ve finished reading the post, I can read the reference in the new tab which has been kindly loading in the background.

    I open a huge number of links in a new tab like this, and a site that uses target:_blank messes up the whole flow of reading!

    I think you have plenty of responses on this but I felt the need to add my two cents…

    All the best

  61. Stuart, do you have any good reasons to back up your opinion? Sounds to me like an archaic rule spouted from the days of tabless browsers and webmaster controlled experiences.

  62. Having had time to re-read everyone’s comments, I went over to my other blog, Logo Design Love, and removed all ‘target’ tags from the links. As you know, that blog’s very new, so it didn’t take too long. This blog, however, is a different matter, but I’m no longer going to force links to open in new tabs / windows anywhere.

    Here’s a question: how can you tell if the ‘target’ tag opens a link in a new window, or a new tab? Does it depend entirely on the browser used? For instance, when I’m using Firefox, the tag opens the link in a new tab, and I don’t mind that at all, but it’d be a different matter if a new browser window was opened, and I hope I’ve not been forcing that on my readers (I’ve a sneaky feeling I have, and if that’s the case, I do apologise).

  63. livejamie

    David: You can’t. :)

    “Target” is an archaic html element from the good ole internet days where frames were the norm.

    Nowadays, how the target is handled depends completely on the browser: Every tabbed browser has some setting that controls whether links open in a new tab or a new window. It’s up to the user to decide, which only solidifies the argument of leaving the links alone, the user will always end up deciding what to do. :)

    If anybody needs help finding the option within their respective browser I’d be happy to help.

  64. David, I think you’ll be glad to know that I never new you used the target attribute. I must have always used Cmd click to open in a new tab and it worked fine.

  65. It’s an interesting dilemma, I usually use target=”new” for external links, but more and more people now use browsers with tabs so a simple middle click loads the link how ‘they’ want it, rather than how I tell them.

    I may experiment with removing target=”new” and see what happens.

  66. Peter Nush

    I think the best behavior depends on the context.

    Specifically, when the result of a link is within the flow for the consumer, staying within the current window and preserving history/back-button behavior is very important. Whether someone is linking to content elsewhere on your site, or off to another site, their perspective of flow is important, and you shouldn’t mess with it.

    However, when a link leads to a temporary action, I think a new window (or equivalent) is most appropriate. I think I can best explain this by an example. At the Wall Street Journal (Wsj.com), when you are reading an article and click a link to another article, it loads in the same window. However, when you click on a link to email the article to a friend, it opens a new window. In this new window, you fill out the email address, hit send, close it, and are right back into your reading flow. If I hit the Back button to get to my previous page (another article or the main content page), I actually get there. My flow isn’t broken. Here’s a pseudo-visualization:

    Yahoo! News: News index -> news article -> email form -> confirmation -> news article
    – BACK takes me to the confirmation page; BACK twice takes me to the email form; I have to go BACK three times to find other articles to read, breaking my flow, frustrating me, and not wanting to ever forward anymore articles to any friends.

    WSJ.com: News index -> news article
    _ \
    _ -> email form -> confirmation
    – BACK takes me to the news index so I can read more stories, in my flow.

    This gets even more important on mobile browsers with not-so-speedy data connections (and per KB data plans); selecting BACK and waiting for a confirmation page to load is not only frustrating but potentially costly.

    So, I think content — site viewer context — is the driving variable in deciding whether to open a new window or not. If your link is within the flow of a reader, don’t open a new window. If your link is temporary (Add a bookmark, subscribe to an RSS feed, share the content, etc.), then I think you should strongly consider opening a temporary new window — AND closing it when done.

  67. @ livejamie – that’s a good point. I know that target= doesn’t validate as strict xhtml, not that that is the be all and end all of things of course.

  68. Personally I think the argument that opening a new window is in some way “taking control” of my browser is ridiculous and one that only “purist” web developers care about (and I speak as someone with 10 years experience as a web developer).

    Its an argument I think that has become confused with the argument against pop-up windows, both automatically opening ones and ones a user opens by clicking alink but which remove toolbars, size the window etc. These are/were annoying as they actually DID take control of the browser but opening a new link in a new tab isn’t (in my opinion) the smae thing especially if the link carries a sign that this is what will happen when the user clicks on it.

    After all, whats the problem with another tab being opened? So what? Personally I prefer it – linking to another site breaks the flow of the page I am reading and in many cases once I have finished on the new site, I will want to return to the original site – its nice to have that still open and not have to rely on the back button to get to it (especially if I have browsed several pages on the new site)

    My rule has always been “same site, same window; new site, new window”. I then accompany the link with both an icon and alt text to tell the user a new window will be opened.

  69. I don’t see anything wrong with a link opening a new tab, and in fact I prefer that.
    Just because I want to click on a link, doesn’t mean I want to necessarily leave the site I’m linking from.

    it annoys me more when they open in the same window.. because then I have to click back, and escpecially if I continue clicking on links.

  70. As time is of the essence, I don’t believe sifting through 70 comments is going to be the wisest idea however I will express my opinion… I believe websites that are not in your website should open in a new window and ones that are in your website should open in the same window. However of personal habit I always hold down the ctrl key when opening ANY link so maybe I am contradicting myself.
    On my site I do what I said above however I would be interested in seeing the final conclusion… Post it in the actual article so everyone doesn’t have to scan/read the comments :)

  71. I prefer a new window/tab. Usually when I click on a link to view its content, I skim through it and close it… if the link opens in the same window/tab, I usually close it and realize that I can no longer go back to the site the link was previously located… *facepalm*

  72. Personally, I prefer a new window. It allows me to continue reading, without having to backtrack later to click on the links I found interesting.

  73. I feel very strongly that they should open in a new tab/window. I think it does me a favor because I very rarely want to close what I am reading that has the link and it’s just more work to have to “navigate” back to it. I would rather just be able to click on the tab to get back to it. Sure I can use a keyboard shortcut to open a link in a new tab/window but it makes things easier if I don’t have to.

    I know others don’t like links opening in a new tab/window. I think it comes down to browsing style. I am a infoholic so I can have a lot of tabs open. Some people don’t use tabs as much, they just use the back button a lot?

  74. I’m a fan of links opening in a new window. If you could only see my firefox browser you would see that I have a massive amount of tabs open and I like it that way. It lets me pop around from site to site without messing with the back button. As many others have said already we don’t want a site to control our browser windows with the exception of opening a new window.

    One thing I don’t like is if a site opens up a new window, changes the window size and removes my top bar I will most likely not use your site again.

  75. My simple answer is NO!

    I’ve set all my browsers to force a new window to open up in a new tab, and I usually will Apple+Click or right click and open a link in a new tab anyways. I do set some links on my blog to open in a new window, but that’s because I’m hoping people use tabs, and I don’t want to take them away from the current page. I also feel that the back button is a P.I.T.A. too.

  76. My personal opinion: I like the control of doing it myself …at times.

    I don’t think there is a right way, but it is more of the annoyance we all felt back when we didn’t (or couldn’t) stop the ads from appearing when we clicked. (Some, like me, weren’t always on the ball about it.)

    It probably is good to open the new window automatically – and keep a person on your site for a short moment more, if the content you linked to is “perceived” better than your site’s content. People are trying to process so much visually, than I wonder, does the window portray all we intend it to?

  77. I think most web users don’t think about using tabs, and having an external page open in a new window is helpful for both parties.

  78. I made small websites, still do, every now and then. I think it’s better to open the link, if its an external link, in a new window/tab. As people have said before me, it helps that they don’t close your site while looking at something you’ve perhaps recommended. With Firefox and IE’s tabs, its even easier. Not using IE if I can avoid it, I don’t know if it opens “new window” links in tabs like Firefox does, but I find it very useful.

  79. Cam Beck

    It’s *generally* considered a best practice to launch the website in the parent window unless you warn your users otherwise, and there is a valid reason for doing so.

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710b.html

    This is the expected Web behavior for novices, and expert users already know how to launch a new window from a link, if they desire.

    Even novice users do know how to use a back button, so there is little chance they will lose your site, if they want to go back.

    It’s a battle sometimes, with marketers, since they consider it a terrible sin to take users to a site other than their own (the horror!). What they forget is that what a user wants, the user will get, one way or the other. You can either impede them or make sure you stay in their good graces by speeding them along their way without forcing them to do something they didn’t expect (like go back and close your window!)

  80. 1 for Same Window, no target for new or blank windows.
    I was going to provide the link to Jacob Nielsen’s arguments on this topic, but Cam Beck already did so ;-)

    Also, like Kristarella, I didn’t even know you’re using the target for your links, I’m so used to clicking on the links while holding Cmd(Ctrl) keys, or even right-clicking and opening in a new tab, that actually it doesn’t really matter for me whether someone opens a new browser window or not. However, for not so tech-savvy people’s sake, it’s best not to open links in a new window. They really get lost with the disabled Back button.

    I was opening links in a new window for one of my client’s sites, until I started getting calls from her, asking how can she get back to the previous page.

  81. Does anyone have any recent evidence or testing that actually demonstrates the opening a new window is confusing for non-tech savvy users?

  82. Stuart – I can refer you to recently published books that others have already posted here (“Prioritizing Web Usability” and “Don’t Make Me Think,”) but finding an online reference to a specific study is challenging, since most people still want to charge for that kind of insight. :)

  83. On further thought, don’t you think there is something seriously wrong if people get their panties/boxers in a knot over such a small thing as this?

    At the end of the day, the link points to the website, users can access it; it’s not as if there is a major error and nothing works. There are bigger things to worry about.

    Imagine if we had to second-guess everything we code/design/take action on, boy wouldn’t be neurotic…What I mean to say is that you can do your darnedest to do the right thing, but you can’t please everyone nor stroke everyone’s ego.

    “What!!! How DARE they use a same window link!!! Do they know WHO I am????”

    :)

  84. Personally, when I browse, I always right click open in a new tab (in FF).

    Our blog is corporate though, (www.greymotors.com/news.php), and the boss doesn’t like things that take people away from the site. And I understand that. Not that we have any comments /on/ the blog. But other links on the site tend to pop in a new window so we don’t loose folks.

    I deal with lots of non-tech-savvy people. I get the impression from lots of them that once they get linked out of a site, they tend to be gone.

    I don’t know, I like to make it easy for people stay on the site.

  85. Vicki – It’s not an issue of users who get super offended by something so small.

    Small issues tend to build up and leave an overall impression of the site’s usability. After a few of them accumulate, the user doesn’t bother to “get their panties/boxers in a knot,” they just leave and never come back.

    In usability testing, the comments come out, but that’s partially because it’s a captive audience and they’re being asked to find something on a specific site. But ordinarily it’s not worth getting upset over, but you still lose a reader/customer as if it were.

  86. It’s an interesting question..I too get very annoyed sometimes when a new window pops up. My links are in same browser, but when adding links in posts I tend to have them pop up, or if I’m the reader to another site, I open them in a new window, because otherwise it’s too easy to lose the original post. Of course, some people prefer to use the back button on the browser.

  87. I like having it open in the same window. But the majority of the world might be different. I like to “Open in a New Window” by choice. I use firefox, and I’ll just hit CTRL+click to do so. Cheers!

  88. It’s not really an issue for me since I usually right click on the link to open it on a new tab. Maybe since I’m so used to Firefox that I hardly get links that open on a new browser. So when one does, I get a bit annoyed. But I understand that the latest Internet Explorer can open links in new tabs now so that shouldn’t be a problem for most users.

  89. Though I dont have any data to support this, I feel it is best to have links open up in the same window. If a new window opens up, people may feel it is an ad or a pop up.

  90. Thanks everyone for the continued comments, and apologies for not having the time to respond to each of you individually.

    In case you missed it, I’ve added an update to the bottom of my article that says the following:

    With over 70 comments left inside 24 hours, this is clearly a topic that people feel strongly about, on both sides of the argument.

    I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I will no longer add the target=”new” tag to my site links. Indeed I’ve back-tracked and completely removed them from my new blog, Logo Design Love (opens in the same window). Thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to leave your thoughts. I’ve learnt a thing or two in the process.

    I’ve learnt a fair bit through your comments here, and it’s very much appreciated.

  91. I always force external links to open in a new window and I always will.

    First of all, I believe it is the most prevalent way of doing it, at least at the sites I go to, and it makes the most sense. It’s fine to recommend another site, but you want your readers back yours, and the easiest way is to leave it open.

    Secondly, I find some of the arguments against new windows decidedly insulting. More than once the argument that the user will get confused has popped up (no pun intended). Assuming your readers aren’t smart enough to figure out how to close a window as opposed to hitting the back button doesn’t say a lot for you or your base. Someone above even said that the reader might think it’s an ad! That would mean the reader in question has the attention span of a rock; obviously they can’t remember clicking the link less than a second ago, so once again why would want them at your site?

    Lastly, the “browser control” argument does not hold water. People can complain about browser control, but the link issue is one of site control. And a site owner has the right to control their site any way they see fit, without being harangued for good business design.

    If, as many pointed out, most of your readers use any of a variety of shortcuts to force the same, or even a new, window, then there is little point in worrying about the audience, but you can’t have it both ways. You either kowtow to a vocal minority, or you do what most businesses seem to be doing to ensure a steady profit stream.

    The choice is yours. Just don’t come to me with your complaints. I’m too busy trying to track down the person of questionable parentage that invented the idea of browser tabs so I can smack them on the nose with a rolled up newspaper and rub the nose in that bit of mess they dropped on the world.

  92. Hell what an interesting topic. Personally if it is a link off your website I normally open the link in a new tab, not to disturb the content that you are currently busy with. I think for seasoned web users we have no problem right clicking and opening things in new tabs, but for novice web users we need to guide them. I suppose there is a whole list of pros and cons that have to be examined. The most important thing is to realize who the target market is and how they would react and if it would disorientate the user, either way.

  93. phrebh, Jason,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. Pros and cons, definitely.

  94. I run the site Informed Networker. Right now all links open in the same window – but this has actually been a frequent complaint from users. Since the links take them to outside sites. However, I have an old-school mindset as many of the above posters than opening a new window is bad…and I still think it is. I agree with someone who suggested we need a new convention/symbol that acts as a second link…and I’m researching what others are doing in this field…as I am sure some are….I think maybe Wikipedia has a useful symbol.

  95. The questions are:
    What do the clients want?
    Do you want your clients potential clients getting lost with offsite links?

    I think people are forgetting the people who do not understand the web still.

  96. Very late to the party on this one, but the simple answer is that links should not be coded to open in a new window. If the user wishes to open them in a new window or a new tab the their browser gives them the ability to do that. But if I want to open the link the regular way (ie. in the same window/tab, overwriting the previous contents) and the link is hard-coded with a target=”_blank” attribute then there is no easy way to circumvent it — short of opening it, copying the URL from the new window, closing the window and pasting the URL into the original window’s address bar. That’s a big pain.

    The user should have all options available to them, and coding target attributes into your links reduces the user’s options.

    To Adam:
    I don’t agree that it all comes down to what the client wants. Best practice (and the behaviour of links should be covered by best practice and web standards, I think) should be an internet-wide consensus (or as close to it as we can get), not decided on a case by case basis according to client whims. I want the internet to work the same way across the board.

  97. Rick,

    Better late than never, and I agree with your opinion. If we cater to each individual visitor, we’d never have consensus.

    I hope your site redesign is going smoothly.

  98. I don’t like when internet explorer opens a link that I press in google in a new window.

    I don’t know how to turn it off though. Can someone tell me how for websites to open the links u click on in the same webpage.

  99. Manvir, if you’re just talking about Google then you can change your Google preferences from the Google homepage (the basic one with the search input bar). One of the options is “Open links in a new window” (checkbox). It’ll set a cookie in your browser.

    For other sites, if they are coded to open in a new window then there is little you can do about, which was my point above. Deciding on behalf of the user whether the links on your page will open a new window or not is rather rude I think, as it removes the element of choice. The best that a user can then do is to to use a key combo to try and force the link to open a new Tab rather than a window. But I’ve yet to find a way to force a link (that is coded to open a new window) to replace the page it is on.

    Links should not open new window or tabs without an explicit request from the user, ie. via keyboard modifiers. One good option when building pages is to give links that go off-site an additional visual cue, like a little icon, so that visitors know that they’ll be leaving your site when they click on the link. They then can make an informed choice about how they want that link to open.

  100. I find that everything is based on how a user browses. After reading some of the comments the argument really goes back and forth. I actually like when some links open in a new window/tab. depending on the situation relation the link has. I feel if you are referencing a site you should have that open in a new window. On the other hand it’s not necessary for media links such as video.

    I really enjoyed reading everyones point of view on the matter. You can really tell a lot about how some one views the web by their point of view.

  101. If the user is browsing with IE (and possibly other browsers under Windows) and has the browser set to full-screen — a practice much more common on Windows than on Mac systems — then a link opening a new window can cause confusion. The new full-screen window will not be offset and, lacking this visual clue, the visitor may not realise that a new window has popped up over the top of the old one; they’ll simply wonder why their back button has suddenly stopped working. This problem is particularly acute for users with learning difficulties.

    Designing to web standards is, in large part, about removing obstacles for visitors who may have abilities (or disabilities) different to those of the web designer, and so I think that this is another argument against coding your links to open a new window.

    The visitor can always open the link in a new tab or window if they so desire, but why should we assume that they wish to do so?

  102. I agree with Begga, it so f*cking irritating when you are on a (good) website and for instance reading something and then when you click on a link you are suddenly lost. Maybe you then click some further. Finally you don’t know that (good) website anymore.
    With other words I prefer links opening in a new tap or window. Thnx!

  103. Milbach's Scratchpad

    That is a great point about IE on Widows. When you are using IE with the window full screen you don’t know really if you are in a new window or not. As I was going through my basic and advanced web layout classes we were told that the sites we build should be as user friendly as possible. So I think you really should set up our links so that you open in the same window and have the user over ride it if necessary.

  104. As a rule I hate it (links opening in a new window) but the irony was not lost on me, when I arrived to this article via my Google RSS Reader panel, which by default opens the link in a new window/tab.

    For website nav, i will often middle click an interesting link open and continue reading the piece, and systematically reduce my open tabs during the day – or the pc keels over when the open tab count gets to 74 plus and then ffox still tries to restart them all again post crash.

    So for websites no, but for reader yes.

    Oh and by the way I loathe those links with mini bubble previews of the page – that makes my mouse dance around the page complete hell. I really really despise those things.

    Give me predictable, chunky, well behaved links with a nice contrast any day.

  105. “So for websites no, but for a reader yes.” Interesting point, Paul. I use Google Reader, and can’t actually remember if links open in a new window. I’m so used to right-clicking for new tabs, and I know I’ve never adjusted the reader settings.

  106. Hi david..thanks for letting me know about this article…from my point of view i prefer when external links open in new tab…but yeah, you are right that many users dont have to find it that friendly…so perhaps in general its better to keep it opening in same window :) and asyou said, there is always good old right click ;)…cheers man and keep it up :)

  107. I’ve used standard links on my blog from the start, because I know how much it annoys me when I’m clicking around in someone’s blog post and end up with four or five windows open. I think I’m with Paul on this one – perhaps I’d refine it like this:

    For links within web applications (Gmail, Google Reader, Twitter) , I’d prefer them to open in a new tab.

    For links on a normal web site, I’d prefer they were just standard links and let me decide whether to open them in a new window/tab/whatever.

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