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Should Links Open in a New Window?

Joanna asks – “I’d find it useful to hear your views Darren on the question of links opening in a new window. I was tutored to set them up to open in a new window so I didn’t lose visitors, but I see other people think it’s ‘spammy’.”

The old ‘should I make links open in a new window’ question – an oldie but a goodie.

My personal preference as a web surfer is that if I want to see a link in a new window (or tab – I’m a big tabbed browser fan) I’ll open it in one (and I do – regularly). I find it incredibly annoying when a new window opens up without me asking for it to. I have enough windows open on my desktop at any one time without needing more!

This personal preference has shaped my own practice as a web developer and blogger – I let readers choose how they wish to open the link. Yes, in doing so I’m sure some leave my blog, never to return, but I’m sure in not forcing new windows on readers that I also retain a few that would become annoyed by new windows opening all the time.

My priority as a blogger is to develop communities of readers who have positive user experiences. While keeping people on a blog by opening new windows for links might seem to make a blog stickier – I’d rather keep people engaged with content that they just can’t live without coming back to. If they do leave the site and want to come back they’ll use the back button.

From what I can tell – the two main reasons that it is legit to have links open in new windows is when you’re linking to a document (PDF) or a large image.

IF I ever decided I had a good reason to open something in a new window I’d make a note of it so the reader knew what to expect.

What Do You Think?

I’d be interested to open this up for a discussion though as I’m sure there are a variety of opinions on the topic. Perhaps others with different kinds of goals for their blogs see things differently.

Do you open links in new windows? Why or Why not?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. derek says:

    Darren, I wrote a post on this very topic not too long ago and there was some very interesting discussion that resulted. I too fall into the camp that I prefer not to force anything on my readers and give them the choice of opening it in a new window or tab if they choose to do so.

    However, many people seemed to do the new window thing because they didn’t want people to navigate away from their site. My thought on that is that if my content is compelling enough, they will come back.

    (Link to my post on opening links is included above on my name)

  2. Hava says:

    Hi Darren! I’m a long-time reader, but I’ve never commented before. I just had to reply to this though:

    “By default I let external links open in new windows/tabs. Even with the “target=_blank” tag visitors can still choose to click on a link and drag it to their current tab should they not want a new tab/window!”

    I just tried that to see if it works, and sure enough, it did! I thought I was pretty darn web savvy, but even I hadn’t heard of this before! Pretty cool – thank you, thank you to the commenter who said that, because I’m like many of the people here: I want to control if the links open in a new window or in the same window, and this will help me do that. I blog for a website – Families.com in the Jobs topic – and they have recently changed the set-up of the site to always open *all* links in a new tab. This is really annoying to me, because I’ll be searching through my old posts, trying to find some information, and end up 17 open tabs. Grrrh. Now I won’t have to deal with that. :-D

    Oh, and I use a laptop and have one of those touch pads with only two buttons, so I don’t have a middle button to click with, darn it. I’m going to start using the Ctrl + click though, because that’s faster than the right-click-down-to-open-in-new-tab method.

    Thanks for all of the wonderful insights, Darren, and thanks to all of the great commenters too – I learn so much from all of you guys!

    Hava
    http://mittforpresident.wordpress.com/

  3. Interesting ideas. I think I agree with Barbara. I prefer new links to open in tabs, and don’t mind having tons of tabs so I can don’t loose anything I was following. Then I close a tab when I am done with that rabbit trail, for lack of a better word picture.

    I switched to Firefox a while ago for their ability to customize my browser, especially tabs before IE followed their lead, and don’t think I would avoid a site because it didn’t default to my preferences. I think web-savvy readers would be able to use their web-browser settings to control their preferences. If you loose a reader because of something like this, it was just an excuse.

    Thanks as always for the useful article. I use your email newsletter and RSS to follow your articles and read the vast majority of them.

  4. Mary says:

    I generally prefer to have links to outside sites open in a new window. This may be the only thing I’m ‘old school’ about in web design! Most of my site visitors are not terribly web savvy and don’t necessarily know they can *choose* to open in a new window.

  5. Aaron Putnam says:

    Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what “we” think is the better solution. Conversion should determine whether or not you pop open a new window. Also, depending on the circumstance, linking out in a new window may be more useful. Generally speaking, however, if we’re just talking about the user experience, I would not pop open new windows.

  6. Sterling says:

    I’m more of a ‘it depends’ type of person. If the site is a business site (just for the purpose of selling and item or items) and the link will take them off the site, it will open in a new window or tab. I think the goal of a site like that is simply to sell.

    If the site is a social media site and my goal is to create an excellent user experience or to build a community then I will let them slide away without opening a tab, as Darren said, the goal would be about a positive user experience.

  7. This is a good question. Personally, I will often be reading blog posts and click on a link that piques my curiosity, but I won’t be finished with the original blog post, and the new link will already be loading. I often forget to right click and select “Open in New Tab” which is frustrating. If someone can do it for me, great. But I can also see it as being spammy — especially if you’re clicking on a lot of links and already finished reading the blog post.

  8. Barbara says:

    I’ve been a web developer for 13 years, as well as been involved in various manners of blogs and social networking for at least 15 years.

    From a developer or site owner aspect:
    Yes, you want to keep people on your page. Do it with engaging content. If people like your site and clicking a link takes them elsewhere, they’ll go back and bookmark it, or go back and open in a new tab. Make it easy to bookmark. If it’s dynamic, provide content via rss. Do whatever it takes to make it easy for people to come back to your site.

    From a surfer aspect:
    Don’t open links in new windows or tabs for people by default, it’s VERY annoying. If your site is worthy, they’ll be back. Don’t turn off right-click functionality, so people can’t choose to open in a new window or tab on their own. If people want to grab pictures or any other content on your page, disabling right-click doesn’t stop them.

    A good developer will forget the target attribute exists, because they don’t use frames and they don’t force things to open in new locations.

  9. avid learner says:

    While I can be described as an intermediate web user my readers are “regular” folks. My readers usability is more important than page rank, so I like pages that open in new links! On a personal note, I generally open in new tabs, read the entire article then go to the new tabs to follow through. It is easier to digest the info as far as comprehension and relevance, I have also found this works better with my readers!.

  10. I think it’s personal preference really. I’m sure there are some people (In fact, I know people) who prefer links to open in a new window – to keep things organised –

    I’m not sure what ‘I’ think is best. The most used button is the “back button”, so this is a good argument why NOT to open links in a new window.

  11. Although I forgot to add: If I’m reading a blog post, and there is a link included in the post, often that will not open in a new window and I’m taken away from the post. I then have to go back and find where I was last reading.

    This can be annoying. Both have their good and bad points.

  12. Gillian says:

    I think the world is gravitating towards a new practice – opening links in new tabs. Let’s all converge on this!!

    Jakob Nielsen will catch up in time. His advice sounds out of date – relevant to days when browsers did not have tabs. And not particularly relevant to blog-style websites.

    Whichever way it converges, life will be simpler if most sites work the same way. The river is running towards ‘click –> new tab’, so don’t reverse your practice. Encourage others to join the flow.

  13. Carrie says:

    Doesn’t it depend on your target market? Obviously, the readers of a blog like this are highly internet savvy and know how to open a link in a new window. But if your target market is not so tech savvy, having a link open in a new window may be a smart move.

  14. Trula says:

    This one sentence you wrote is why I don’t force new windows: I have enough windows open on my desktop at any one time without needing more!

    Ok right!

  15. Tracey says:

    I like the “new tab” approach myself, and right-click to select that option when I think about it. I didn’t think about it when I lefted the link to this article from iGoogle, and it opened in a new window.
    If tabs are the way things are trending, and if it happens to be a more organized system for the user in the long-run, then go with it.

  16. I used to have it open in a new window (or tab, depending on your browser settings), but have recently changed based on some articles here. My initial thought wasn’t so much of trying to keep people as trying to help them not get lost. I have an audience that are mostly not very web savvy, and I’ve watched many new ‘net people go to a new site and not have a clue about how to get back where they came from.

    After more thought, these are also the people who won’t know what to do with a bunch of windows, so I think going with the “in the same window” choice is probably better. They’ll find the back button eventually :-)

  17. MJ Ray says:

    Well, I find tabs a bit of a bad user interface. I browse with two tiled browser windows side by site (try it sometime – it’s surprisingly good) so I can use one window to read a blog or whatever and the other to bring up the references. Moral of the tale: power users will be browsing in “strange” ways. Don’t even try to second-guess them. Just don’t violate the way the web works, else you will break all sorts of unexpected sites.

    @Gillian (#112): Nielsen won’t catch up. You will. Good design is timeless.

    I actually have Firefox set with “Force links that open new windows/tabs to open in the same window/tab as the link” on Edit: Preferences: Tabs, but some sites now seem to use javascript to defeat that. That’s very very evil.

  18. Caitlin says:

    I’ve always coded so external links open in a new window and internal links go straight to the page. Yes, it’s because I don’t want to lose readers but I also think it’s distracting to suddenly be on another website. Of course, a reader can hit shift and force it to open in a window but there are many, many people (who are probably not readers of this site) who are not that tech savvy. And there are others, like myself, who never hit shift when clicking on a link because we _assume_ all external links will open in a new window so I never hit shift when clicking on a link. I find it incredibly annoying when I’m wrong and then have to backspace to get back to where I am.

    I agree that new tabs are better than new windows – is there a way of coding that in, without breaking it for people who aren’t using tabbed browsers?

  19. I agree that its best to not open link in new tabs and let readers open a new window or tab, but most people don’t browse this way. Working at ad agency that builds sites, this topic comes up every time we create a web site. I would guess that a majority of people do not shift/command/ctrl click. Unless you have a database/cookie structure to store where a user just came from inside a Flash document and restore them to their previous place, then you have to open a new window for Flash.

    I say, go ahead and do whatever you want Joanna, since if you are savvy enough to care, then you should have your preferences set to force a new tab to open (at least if one is using FireFox).

  20. CabSav says:

    I’m with Barbara (no. 7) et al. I like to open links in a new tab or browser, for all the same reasons Barbara cited.
    As a surfer, I don’t like the new link to open over the top of my old one. I prefer tabs to new browsers, but I still don’t mind, providing whatever it was that caused me to go off on whatever tangent is still open somewhere. So much so that if I can’t open it in a new tab or browser, I won’t actually click on the link. I will even right-click on a Google search and open in a new tab.
    Interestingly, a high proportion of people who have commented here say they will right-click and open in a new tab anyway. Doesn’t that say that they really want the link to open in (the modern-day equivalent of) a new browser?

  21. Why do people think you keep someone on your site when you open a link in a new window? You don’t. You’ve still sent that person to another site, only it’s in a different window. If a person isn’t savvy enough to use a back button do you think their savvy enough to realize your site is sitting there in a window behind their active window?

    How about this for a scenario. A person clicks on your link and is taken to another site in a new window. They read the page and then are done. They continue surfing not by going back to the window with your site, but in the active window. They don’t attempt to close their browser until they’re done surfing. That’s when they see your site again. Maybe it’s an hour or two later and then wonder how your window got there.

    Perhaps they think it’s one of those spam popunders and now associate your site with spam. Maybe they’re just confused and close your window too. In any event it’s a couple hours later and they’ve long since forgotten their interaction with your site. They wanted to get back to your site a couple of hours before, but when they hit the back button it wouldn’t take them there. I know this isn’t everyone, but I bet it’s more likely than most assume.

    How many comments above mentioned opening a new window to force your visitors to stay on your site? Why do you want to force your visitors to do anything? Why not persuade them instead? People don’t like to be forced into doing anything.

    There are legitimate times to open a new window and Darren mentioned two. As long as you indicate a link will open in a new window it’s probably ok as well. I’ve always suspected that people who want to open every external link in a new window do so because they lack confidence in the quality of their content. If your site is good people will find their way back.

    How many here have not made it back to ProBlogger? Ok if you haven’t I suppose you’re not reading this. But we all make it back here because the content is good and valuable and we enjoy reading it. Some people might not find their way back. it happens. But if you build a good site with engaging content people will bookmark your site, subscribe to your feed (if you have one), or they’ll simply remember your URL.

  22. Matt says:

    This almost feels like a cyclical debate with no conclusive answer because both parties have valid points in nearly equal measure. My tendency in a case like this is to encourage technology to meet the needs of both.

    It could be as simple as adding an option button on the site that would toggle “Open Articles in New Window” on or off.

    Then the opportunity becomes placing the button appropriately so that visitors see it when they want it.

    I also think there is some room for customization based on browser version. For example someone visiting using Internet Explorer 6.0 won’t have tabs available and the script would account for this in determining its default setting for each new visitor.

    -Matt, metaviper.com

  23. Mark says:

    This is a very good question you’ve brought up Darren. I personally enjoy having links open in new browser windows. However, a blog should be designed and written for the readers. Many people have commented that they wish to be able to decide for themselves, which means that I will be changing the links on my blog so that my readers can decide how they would like to access links (I’ve had them set to open in new browser windows). In fact, I am going to change my link settings right now.

  24. It depends upon the sophistication of your audience. Most of my readers get lost if they click on a link and they go to a new page and I had complaints in the past when my sites were set up that way. Now I take the extra time to code each link to open in a new window.

    -Michael Daehn
    http://www.marketingenious.com

  25. zool says:

    I think new window is the best coz we won’t close the last page…

  26. DarrinW says:

    Now this is what I’ve wanted to know for a long time. Seems like the majority prefer links to open in the same window. I don’t though.

    But this is what most people want, I guess, so I’m off to change my linkage format.

    D

  27. Tonda says:

    Yep, I don’t like opening links in new windows too. If web developers will not use it, people get used to it and then they will exploit possibility to open link in new tabs in their browsers.
    At last, it’s not valid (XHTML).

  28. The thing is I really don’t want them leaving my site. I always want my readers to still have the same window with my site still opened.

    I will to make a note of putting a “opens in a new window” text next time I create a link on my blog.

  29. Jim says:

    We’ve always done our website so that when an internal link was clicked it would:

    1. Open up in a new window if it was more along the lines of “side” information like available options, larger images, online policies and such.
    2. Open up in the same browser if it was a direct link to a different product line or our home page.

    Thinking about it now, it is sort of silly to not give the visitor a choice. Sort of hypocritical actually as I hate that myself and prefer to left click to open a new tab. I think I’m going to be spending some time this weekend changing this on our more visited pages.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know if forcing a link to open in a new window have any negative effect on SEO?

    Jim

  30. Eric Grey says:

    My niche demographic is not technologically savvy – as such, they are highly unlikely to know how to open links in a particular way. Many of them barely understand that the underlined or blue words are clickable. I have had complaints about links opening in the same window because they get interested in the content on that page and even when they want to head back, they are lost down the rabbit hole of link clicking. I’ve actually had emails from users asking how to remedy the problem.

    So for now, I’ll keep many of the links opening in a different window – but I do let links at the end of articles (for more information…) open in the same window.

    Maybe I will have to reevaluate this practice…

  31. xensen says:

    Many people in the comments above say that it’s annoying to force new windows to open. But as I read through these comments I clicked some links and found it annoying to have to navigate back to where I was via the same window. So the option may not be annoying/not annoying but annoying in one way/annoying in another.

    I have gone back and forth on this in my own practice and am currently in a “same window” mode. After reading the opinions here I might change to “external: new window/internal: same window” as several suggest.

  32. Celebrienne says:

    I always let links (internal and external) open in the same window. I’m confident enough to do it – I believe my content is actually good enough that people will get back to it by hitting the back-button of the browser if they don’t use tabs.

    There’s nothing more annoying than other people deciding for me how I get my links served. My virtual space is valuable to me – I usually have 2-3 browser windows with 5-10 websites open, I don’t need a fourth one stuffing up my taskbar.

  33. Sue says:

    Late, but I’ll throw in my two cents…
    As a surfer, I prefer to choose how to open my links (usually in a new tab). I do not like new windows to open. As a firefox user, I’m spoiled. If there was a way to have everyone use a tabbed browser, and I could set links to open in a new tab, I would, but till then, I leave them to open in the same window, with the exception of pdf files. And I note that it will open in a new window.
    It’s not that I see it as spammy, but I’ve been to (poorly coded) sites where everything opens in a new window, and to me it’s irritating. Most of my posts are fairly short (average wordcount 304), so it’s not as if someone can’t find their way back if they want.
    My readers are not the tech-savvy type, so I try to make it as consistent for them as possible. I don’t feel I lose any readers by opening in the same window.

  34. Lindsey says:

    Personally I think all external links should open in new windows, from both a blogger’s POV and a reader’s POV. I don’t want to lose traffic as a blogger – I want to refer people to cool stuff and information, but I don’t want them to get absorbed at another site, or click a link on the referred site and not return.

    As a reader I don’t want to be directed away from a site I’m reading because I click a link within a post for more information. I want to stay on that same article and have the new material open in the background for me to check on my time.

    But I firmly believe that internal links should always open in the same window, with the exception being if the link is to some sort of material like a .pdf.

  35. Jack says:

    I should open in the same window.

  36. Dan Cole says:

    Better late then never… I would go with open in same window. If you make a link open in a new window how can users force it to open it the same window? It can’t be done, but if you open in the same window, users can easily force it to open in a new tab or window.

    “Even with the “target=_blank” tag visitors can still choose to click on a link and drag it to their current tab should they not want a new tab/window!”” – Hava. I didn’t know of this fact and I believe very few people do, but thanks for letting us know.

  37. jon says:

    I do three blog carnivals a week. I let the window stay. If the reader wants to come back it’s easy to hit the back button. I do however remove any submissions where their site has disabled the back feature.

  38. Sephyroth says:

    I agree with you, Darren; if I want to open something in a new tab I’ll just middle-click the link, and if it doesn’t matter where I want the tab to go, I’ll just left-click.

    Having links open in new windows/tabs doesn’t really bug me however, unless it is being done in a manner where all the links open into the *same* tab, i.e. using the same target location.

    I also think that if a site opens links in new windows, it should be mentioned somewhere.

    Sephyroth
    http://www.sephyroth.net

  39. JHS says:

    I have been building websites for about 10 years and have never created a link that didn’t open in a new window. Why? Because I don’t want my visitor to get so enthralled with the new link I sent them to that they forget to finishing reading my site where they found the link in the first place!

    In the old days of html sites, I did not put as many links into my sites because they opened new browser windows. But these days with the use of tabs, I generously include links for “link love.” My statistics show that the vast majority of my readers use Firefox which means that they have the ability to use tabs and, like me, probably do regularly. I find myself opening many tabs as I cruise from site to site & I sequentially visit them after I finish reading the site where I found the link in the first place. Or if time runs out, I just leave them open and come back to them.

    I’ve never gotten a complaint and have no plan to change my approach.

  40. FIAR says:

    I’m a bit late to this conversation but here’s my take. I use tabbed browsing. Most of the time I open links in a new tab by middle clicking, or CTRL click on my laptop.

    That said – I HATE when link force me to open in a new tab or window. Seething white hot hate.

    If I didn’t middle click or CTRL click then I wanted to open the new page here.

    I think it needs to be standard and expected that the reader makes decisions about opening in new tabs/windows.

    As for “keeping people on your site” by opening in a new tab. That’s plain stupid. Chances are, if you have a worthwhile site, visitors will return. If not, you need to work on content, not link targets.

    When I’m done with a site, I’m done with it. Period. When I’m not done yet. I’m not. Period.

  41. Keral Patel says:

    I only open windows in same window on all my sites and my blog.

    I myself don’t like a window popping up and it sometimes is frustrating when it keeps on popping up.

    So if I think from a visitors point of view I let the new link open in same window.

  42. Maurice says:

    I’m also a tab-browser maniac. I Love to open many tabs in one browser to prevent lost of information on the site I opened before. I’m agree with u on this.

  43. I asked my readers. They are all IT people, so presumably they are more comfortable in a complex windows environment, but the results were interesting: http://www.itskeptic.org/node/295

    out if 25 responses (my blog is rather a niche one) 72% want links offsite to open in a new window and 28% in the same (I didn’t offer a “don’t care” choice)

  44. Good post and good question. I guess as a web site owner you want that new window to open so they will still have your site open, but I can see the point about it getting annoying for the surfer. I guess if you have done a good job of presenting yourself, they will hit that back button or bookmark your site for later.

  45. ZtrixQ says:

    I prefer to have (extern) links open in a new window. If you open the page in same window and you keep on reading / surfing the the new site you suddenly lost track where you were from the beginning. And if you close your browser – well sometimes hard to get back the the to page you started out with.

    If the page are on the same site I would like it to open in same window.

    Great blog you got.

  46. in the past, i would have said “new window or tab,” but after recently coming across tips for making your site accessible for blind and vision-impaired readers, i’m now voting for “leave it in the same window.”

    why? because if a new window opens, the vision-impaired reader may possibly not know it, or not be able to find the original window (have you ever played with the software that enlarged print? they can get very confusing). if you keep it in the same window, all the reader has to do is hit the back arrow.

  47. ourmonmouth says:

    I think the big issue here is what is the users expectation.

    We have heard from both a bloggers and a users perspective of why they like to link inside of, or into a new window. As bloggers, and web designers we owe it to our users to create a consistent enjoyable experience.

    I would suggest that how ever the blogger or web developer decides to direct there traffic is up to them. The one thing that needs to occur from a usability standpoint is an indicator or visual clue that informs the user of what that experience is.

    For example, on my website http://www.ourmonmouth.com I use a icon to let users know that on certain links I am going to open a new window for them. That way the users expectation is set and I don’t loose the traffic.

    Happy blogging,
    Howie

  48. Peter says:

    I perfer new windows mostly because i use virtual desktops so links in new tabs will open in IE on another desktop than the one i’m working on.

  49. Sam says:

    AUDIENCE…PURPOSE…CONTEXT.

    Sounds a little cliche, I know. But these are the three things that should govern every aspect of design and navigation in some way or another.

    I intern for a very large public university and it is my experience, from a marketing point of view, that it is very important to keep users within your site. So I design for all external links to open in a separate window/tab, Including PDFs etc.

  50. Jerome South says:

    Both sides of the coin have good reasons to prefer one over the other. I’d like to add that it depends on what platform (OS) and browser (IE, Firefox, Opera, Netscape, etc.) the reader uses.

    I agree with Darren that personal preference does shape web/blog development. For example, I grew up on a PC but now prefer a Mac. If you want to cater to the masses (desktop & mobile, PC & Mac) and build loyal traffic then why not build it so the link opens a new tab or window, making it easier for all readers to go back to the source?