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?

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