Don’t Open Links In New Windows: Part II [link]

NO! Links that force new tabs.
Just say no.

I’ve written and linked to other resources about this before: Despite many CMSes making it easy, it is rarely appropriate to set a link to open automatically in a new window or tab. Users have many ways they can do this on their own ((I can think of at least five ways a user can open a link in a new window or tab:

  1. CTRL/CMD+ Click the link.
  2. Drag a link to a new tab or new window.
  3. Right-click and Select “Open in New Tab/Window.”
  4. Use keyboard to focus link, then CTRL/CMD + ENTER.
  5. Right click. Copy the link address. Open a new tab/window. Paste the URL. Go.

)) and it’s important that we as website builders and editors set a strong user expectation about the  default behavior of clicking a link. This practice strikes me as probably the best example of the “Worst Practice” cycle that I described last year.

Now, one of the most important blogs to my development as a web designer and developer, CSS-Tricks, has weighed in with the same advice. Some of the more choice quotes are below.

On one of the worst reasons I’ve heard for doing this:

Branding branding branding! Eyeballs baby. Metrics. ENGAGEMENT.

Other sites should have normal-style links, but our site is special. Our site is more important and should never be left behind.

When “best practice” is really a “worst practice”:

We’ll have “internal” links (links that point to our own site) behave normally, but “external” links (links that point to other sites) open in a new window/tab…I’ve heard from a lot of people that this is “a convention.” As in the way it’s supposed to be done. It’s not. [author’s emphasis]

When you should do it:

Checkout is another case here. Of course you don’t want to lose customers during their checkout process. A link to something like “shipping information” should be openable without them losing their place in checkout.

So don’t just take my word for it, read up for yourself.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Open Links In New Windows: Part II [link]”

  1. Hey Mark, as always insightful, and I do know how you feel about this. I will admit I am still guilty in some cases. Where I find myself doing this the most is when I include a link to an affiliate, eg, product or services. What is your thought on that?

    1. Hey Bob, I know this is a hard one to give up! I’d want to hear your rationale for doing it that way, but a few general responses:

      1. If there is one feature of a browser people know, it’s the back button! (I heard once in the mid-2000s it made up 40% of clicks in a browser. I think that’s gone down, but still…) Not only are people then comfortable going back to your site but opening in a new tab/window breaks the back button function!

      2. I think this habit made people overly paranoid about losing a reader. If you’re producing good content and new content frequently as you do, at a point you have to trust that visitors found you, left for a good reason of their own choosing, and will be back for more if they liked what they saw.

      3. In the extreme (where I don’t think you are, but bare with me), sites that are too aggressive with this make me not want to come back as I feel like they don’t trust me. I hate feeling manipulated (don’t we all?) and when overdone, the new-tab-link is a means of doing that.

      What do you think?

      1. Yeah I just knew you would have at least one good rebuttal :)

        1. I really get what you’re saying and the habits. Now I find myself not using the back button anymore, end up closing the tab and boom, it’s gone. Now I have to make the effort to find the site again and I hesitate, questioning myself, do I really need to go back there. I’m assuming I am in the minority with this method to my madness.

        2. This kind of goes back to #1 and what I said. I know that lot of people do get paranoid, and I think I can safely exclude myself. But there is always that lingering what if :)

        3. Totally get that one.

        So again your posts on accessibility are thought provoking and make me ponder…..cheers

      2. The back button doesn’t retain input data in most cases. Like this page for example. If I click a link that redirects me, this comment must be retyped.

        I know this article is a little date now, so I’d be curious if your thoughts on this have changed it all.
        But it is entirely reasonable, intuitive and just general good practice to make external links open in a new tab.
        Especially on a page where the user could possibly be providing any kind of input.

        It is not about losing the reader, its about them losing their place/content/progress.

  2. Thank you for educating me about this, Mark! I had no idea I was limiting accessibility on my website by directing external links to open in new browsers. Like BobWP said, the points you’ve made are thought provoking and have given me a lot to consider.

    The CSS Tricks article was really insightful too. Thanks for keeping me in the loop about best practices & accessibility!

  3. Hi there, “fake name”. You’re right that you *should* use a new-tab/window link when the user might lose data. However, for the example of a comment form, I’d only do so for links that are part of the form and not all links in a post.

    > “But it is entirely reasonable, intuitive and just general good practice to make external links open in a new tab.”

    Many people think this, but it’s just not the technical best practice and it strips users’ control over their own browsers. Users can choose to open new tabs but they can’t choose NOT to if forced. It’s the best example of what I dub the “worst practice cycle”. https://mrwweb.com/the-worst-practice-cycle/

    > “I know this article is a little date now, so I’d be curious if your thoughts on this have changed it all.”

    If anything they’re more strong now that tabs are more confusing on phones and tablets.

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