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 own1 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.


  1. 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.

    [Back to spot ↩]

5 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. 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!

    1. Glad you found the post useful, Kat! Despite posting about this topic before, I had to post that CSS Tricks article since it was so perfect.

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