Should links open in new pages?


#1

I grew up in the generation of web developers that were taught that you never direct traffic away from your site by opening links in new pages or tabs.
When I started working here at UX Mastery I drove Matt nuts with it and he’d go into all my posts and edit the links.
Interestingly, when we discussed it, Luke didn’t agree with him, so I guess it’s not cut and dried.

Now I’m being confronted with it in a big way. In another of my jobs we are migrating a huge forum onto a new platform that we are heavily customising. Half my staff want links to open in new tabs, and half don’t. I instinctively want to do it because it is how I browse, but not if it goes against a basic rule of usability.

What are your thoughts? _blank or _self?


#2

I’d say it depends on what type of site you are, how likely users are to click the back button vs. find the right tab, and how often users are clicking your (external, I assume) links.

One of the companies where I worked in-house had a link policy that all external links would indeed open only in new tabs. But this was for a corporate info site…so most of the links were to pages within the site.

You could argue that it’s more likely someone will be directed away from your site if they have to hit the back button. They could get distracted by the new page and forget about yours. With a tab, at least your site sits there, making it easy for users to come back to it.

External links opening in new tabs of course becomes annoying only when a large percentage of all your clicked links are actually external - like a blog. But even in that case, what actual percentage during a visit is being clicked? If it’s small, then it matters less. Also I know that for the most part, people skim instead of read, so they will click to “read later” while they skim instead of clicking to get absorbed. That means they’d want to easily navigate back to the actual article they were skimming before. Those are several assumptions there though. There’s gotta be research on this, no?

A primarily-mobile site should probably employ minimal use of new tabs - switching between separate pages on a phone isn’t as easy as on bigger screen browsers and can feel more like a popup.


#3

I’d always recommend links open in the same page. We shouldn’t assume that users are inexperienced, people know how to [I]ctrl/cmd-click[/I], [I]middle-click[/I] or however they like to open links in a new tab or window.

My argument when this arises (and it does still arise in a lot of projects) is that we are always better to give control of where links open to the user, let them make the decision. From user feedback I’ve gathered people are more likely to abandon your site if they feel that this sort of control is being taken away from them.

Hope this helps :slight_smile:


#4

We went back and forth on this at my current place of employment (on our site, same window/tab, leaving our site, new window/tab). I was always against target="_blank", under the pretense that you are overriding the user’s default browser behavior. Unfortunately, everyone in management wants them opened in a new window and my protests went unheeded. I conceded to the decision and focused elsewhere. With our redesign, I may restate my case.


#5

I’ve found the following info useful when arguing against links opening in new tabs or windows;


Hope this helps people :slight_smile:


#6

Thanks Rob. This is at the heart of why I feel quite passionately about this, from the comments of the second link you posted:

[SIZE=14px]There’s also the accessibility issue to consider. If a link opens in a new window, it breaks the “Back” button, which is problem enough for a sighted user, but for a user with visual disabilities who browses with a screen reader, it makes things even worse. These users will have their “Back” button disabled without having any visual clues to alert them, and so will find themselves stuck on the new window with no way of getting back to your site.[/SIZE]


#7

Ok, I’m convinced. _self it is. Thanks all.


#8

Short answer “No”.

Longer answer “Noooooo.”

Joking aside, and for the same reasons that Matt quoted above, there are accessibility considerations, IF and a big IF at that - there are really really good reasons to open in a new window, then you should always ensure that the user is notified. eg “Yearly Report 2014 (opens in new window)”, is better than “Yearly Report 2014”… I’ve not played with JAWS, but I understand that older versions don’t declare the new window, but newer versions do (again, not 100% on this, so correct me if I’m wrong).

You could have an argument for hiding the (opens in a new window) in a <span> and placing it off screen (display:none is not picked up by screen readers, so the -9999px trick is what you’d do here), but having seen some Usability tests with 100’s of tabs open, it’s probably a better idea to have it there for all users!


#9

I know this thread is almost 3 years old now but we are having this discussion at work today.

Our scenario is as follows:

  • User logs in to application
  • User gets stuck
  • User clicks ‘help’
  • User is directed to a decision tree to get self-help (and can access a support form if need be)

Does help open in a new tab or the replace the window you’re in?

Main argument for new tab:

  • user can flick between tabs, using the help tab to solve the problem in the application, without having to navigate back and forth, or print help etc

Main argument against new tab:

  • user is now logged in to the application on 2 windows, is there a security concern (close one tab but are still logged in on another) Or if they hit ‘logout’ on help tab they now have to log in to the application again (maybe thinking they were just logging out of help?)

  • Accessibility accessibility accessibility!

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


#10

Personal preference only – new tab. Flicking back and forwards between tabs in this case would be really important to me.

That said, expected default behaviour (same page) will let people make the choice themselves.


#11

I think this is what it’s going to come down to in the end.

I don’t supposed anyone out there has any research (or know’s where I can find some) on percentages of users that would know how to open in a new tab (i.e. right click a link)?