Do not open new browser windows

By Daniel Scocco

When creating a link you can insert the <target="_blank"> attribute to make that link open in a new browser window. I must confess that I used to do that mistake when I started blogging. The logic was quite simple: “I will add the target attribute so that when users click on external links they will not leave my website but rather have a new window opened”.

The flaw behind this reasoning comes from the fact that opening unrequested browser windows will only upset the reader. You should leave the decision about where to open the link entirely to the end user. Also, do not worry about sending visitors to another websites, there is a reason why most browsers come with a huge “Back” button!

Update: If you are not convinced about this, read here, here, here and here.

Poll: Do you think that external links should open a new window? (closed)
Yes: 45%
No: 55%
(Total votes: 77)

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38 Responses to “Do not open new browser windows”

  • Kat

    I’ve heard this tip from several sources, but I have to disagree. I have actually had to implement target=_blank in my links because it’s been requested by my readers.

    I also personally prefer when a page opens in a new window (or in my case a new tab) because then it’s not as difficult for me to jump off “the rabbit trail”.

    So while this may be a generally positive recommendation, I think it’s important to know and listen to your audience to know what’s right for your blog.

  • Daniel

    Kat, listening to your audience is surely important, and if they like links thay pop up new windows then go with it.

    However, I think that the vast majority of Internet users get annoyed by this feature (there are many market researches around website usability highlighting this point).

    Personally I also prefer opening pages on new tabs, but I do that with a wheel-click (meaning that I remain in control of the navigation).

  • menghua

    This tips leaves me thinking whether to make my links open in new tabs or not… lol.. I personally like links to be opened in new windows or tabs and I get annoyed if they don’t. If most readers likes it to be opened in the same window, then I’ll try implement it then..

    But seriously, opening a link in the same window is a big no no to me. I think it applies to a lot of people.. hehe.. How about making a poll then?

  • Rich Owings

    My reviews may have dozens of external links in them. I don’t want readers to have to deal with that many new windows. I only use target=_blank when I’m linking to a PDF file of the owners manual of a product. I do this because it’s slow to load, if it bogs down their computer they are likely to close the window, and it’s a reference they may want to leave open.

    Daniel, I’m enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work.

  • Rich Brooks

    As users become more sophisticated I think there will be less need for opening off-site links in a new window.

    I also am less concerned about “losing” visitors to my blog than my Web site. If you’re continually putting new quality content to your blog, you shouldn’t worry about people leaving your blog because there’s more reason to come back.

    However, my Web site, where I try and “close” business, is not a place where I want to leak prospects to other sites.

  • Daniel

    Thanks for the comments, every point of view certainly adds value to the discussion.

    I just updated the post with 4 links to some other sites discussing the subject (including the WWW Consortium).

  • D. Psyko

    i agree with menghua do a poll

  • Jason Dean

    I can’t believe that there are still webmasters that use target=”_blank”. It’s one of the bad practices of the late 90s. The illusion that you are in control of the user experience. Some lame webmasters also use javascript to hide adressbars, disable right click menus and stuff. How can you be in control of the user if you make him just close the browser, forget about the bad 20 seconds he just had at your site and just click on the next google result ?

    Personally as a user, every time i click on a link somewhere and it opens up in a new window it’s the last click i ever made to that site. The arguments that some users prefer it that way is at least a joke. If they like links opening in new windows why don’t they hold shift when they click them ?

    Having normal links allows 100% of your visitors to customise their browsing experience. Maybe the people that reported that their audience likes links opening in new windows are true. But it’s only because all the other users simply never came back to the site.

  • Daniel

    Alright since readers were asking I just created a poll for the subject.

  • Bes Z

    Excellent tip. I stopped sending readers into new windows after realizing how convenient it is for a user to open a new window themselves. Having the same window allows for consistency.

    Clicking a link means a website will load. The original and exact technical definition does not mean that a new window will open. Thus, doing something like loading in the same window is less likely to annoy a user compared to opening a new window.

    Also, if one absolutely must open some links in a new window, like external links, they must be consistent throughout their site regarding such links, and should also mention somewhere in the “About” or some other section of the site to ensure the users get used to such a behavior. Many sites do depend on new links [like a set of instructions for filling out a form or referring to a side note while reading a long article]. Either way, it is good to be consistent and clear about such things so that the user does not get surprised when they expect a new or even the same window to load a certain link.

  • Everton

    I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as you make out. You have to balance the needs of the user against the needs of the site-owner. For instance, every user would prefer an ad-free site – does that mean all advertising should be removed?

    All decisions should be evaluate the pros and cons of any move. In the case of target=_blank I do this for all external links, as the majority of my readers use an advanced browser where a new tab is opened not a new window. Plus, even if only 10% come back to continue browsing, it is still worth it in my view

  • AL

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve been wondering about this issue for a long time.

  • Daniel

    Everton, you are right about the fact that there are two sides on that matter (the reader and the site owner site), but personally I try to put the reader first when designing the site.

    Also, I am not sure whether all readers are against ads, they certainly are againt intrusive ones, but for example when I visit TechCrunch the site sponsors on the right do not bother me at all, and sometimes they are even useful because those are companies I was not aware of.

  • Jennifer Curtiss

    I partially agree with Everton – it completely depends on circumstances. Some of the clients that I work with request links to open in new windows, and I can understand some of the time.

    Often, a customer will be startled if, while browsing a company’s site, he or she clicks a link and it redirected to some foreign page without warning. To avoid this, some sites even have a warning page stating that the user has clicked a link that will take the user away from the site.

    I believe the target=”_blank” will stay in place until more users are web-savvy. While browsing, I often set things to open in a new tab. Firefox has that functionality built in as an option – target=”_blank” opens a new tab instead of a new window (choosing “New pages should be opened in a new tab”). If this were the standard – new tabs rather than new windows – that is far less intrusive and even possibly adding to the convenience.

    Personally, I don’t use target=”_blank”. But some require it. The elimination is not ready to be a hard-fast rule – yet.

  • Stacy

    I used to hate it when links didn’t open in a new window, until I found out about pressing the shift key in IE6 or the ctrl key in IE& or firefox. I wonder how many of the readers who request that links open in a new window don’t know how to do it on their own?

  • Mark Alves

    Google doesn’t automatically opening new windows for links, yet plenty users manage to find their way back to the main Google page.

  • D. Psyko

    I think that the poll should be say “external links” instead of just “links”.

  • Mike Empuria

    It’s an accessibility issue. Never break the back link.

  • Daniel

    Thanks for evertone who voted, 63 votes is more than what I was expecting. And the results are quite balanced (surprising to me also).

    My opinion remains the same, but I guess that both views could be right, depending on the circunctances and the profile of the readers. It was a nice discussion.

  • Shazzer

    Count me among the crew who prefers off-site links to open in a new window (or better yet, a tab). This is my personal preference when I surf. In fact, like some others have said, I find it kind of annoying when a link doesn’t open in a new window…so I have always set links up this way on my blog.

  • Ajay

    Why not add a Depends to the Poll?

    Whenever I make an XHTML 1.1 design, I don’t use the target attribute.

    But, again this is a matter of preference. Sometimes, some links need to be opened in new windows.

  • Daniel

    Shazzer, another way to see the matter is the following: if you make external links open new windows you will satisfy the readers that like it but annoy that ones that do not like it.

    If you dont make them open new windows the readers that dont like popup windows will not be annoyed while the ones who do can still open the new window or tab by using the shift key or the wheel-click.

    You are just leaving the decision to the user rather than taking it yourself.

  • Dawud Miracle

    I happen to agree with Rich Brooks

    I also am less concerned about “losing” visitors to my blog than my Web site. If you’re continually putting new quality content to your blog, you shouldn’t worry about people leaving your blog because there’s more reason to come back.

    However, my Web site, where I try and “close” business, is not a place where I want to leak prospects to other sites.

    I think the ‘target=”_blank” attribute is left over from those of us who have business sites.

  • Wendy Piersall :: eMom

    Jason Dean – I don’t think you can unequivocally say that just because I link to new windows means I am trying to “control your experience” in a negative way.

    I would also be “controlling your experience” if it went into the same window – I am “controlling your experience” even if you click on my link.

    I link to off-site windows for off-site content, simply because my readers expect it. And because it’s also my own (strong!) preference when I’m surfing others’ sites.

    I’m astonished at the heated debate here.

    It’s a ‘window’ for crying out loud. 🙂

  • Jason

    I just spent a long time figuring out how to open links in a new browser, but now I see what you’re saying. However, some of the most popular websites out there have their links open new windows, so I don’t know which is right…

    Thanks,

    ~Jason

  • Daniel

    Jason, which sites are you talking about? If you check the Alexa Top 100 I do not think that the majority of them open links on new windows.

    Let me know and thanks for commenting.

  • Pallab

    I personally prefer if the links open in new background tabs (a proper tabbed browser shouldnt open in new window).
    However, after seeing a few articles on this subjected I think its better to stop using target=”_blank”.

  • jakes

    thanks a lot..i was searching for this for hell a lot of time

  • Bang Kritikus

    For this discusion i resume that using new window has advantage and disadvantage. Choose one and leave another

  • SteveP

    Interesting discussion. The polling is a bit flawed though. It is polling people who create the web not people who consume it. While we all consume it we are pro-sumers.

    If you want to poll this subject the group should poll their own readers. Expect that different types of audiences will have different preferences.

    It would be nice if this topic ended up generating an even better best practice instead of just a contrary opinion: One that includes the type of content or type of audience along with their statistical preference for the _blank.

    Love the tone of the talk too. Very constructive.

  • Daily Good Tips

    Yes… I agree with you I also never add _blank code in my links because I hope reders will click back button after they visit the link. I will get new traffic.

  • Anastasia

    I can argue about it. I get very irritated when links don’t open in new windows. I tend to close windows very wuickly thus I close the site I just left too.

Comments are closed.