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Should outgoing links open in a new window?

It’s a question we are asked quite a lot, and the answer is… “maybe”. To understand what this question is asking, take a look at the two links below:

  • Google (opens in the same window)
  • Google (opens in a new window)

Many people say you should always have links open in new windows so that users don’t “leave your site”. That’s true in many cases, but isn’t necessarily always the right answer.

So which is the right way to do it? Let’s look at some examples and use cases.

Article snippet

ManageWP.org is a great place to stay on top of WordPress-related news. I follow their feed and read many of the articles. When clicking through from the feed, I am taken to a page that has a snippet of the article with a link to read more, such as this one. If you click the title of the article to go to the original post, that link clearly should open in the same window, replacing the snippet with the full article. Instead, it opens in a new window and requires me to go back and manually close the old one. Unnecessarily annoying.

PDFs

If you link to a PDF in your content, it’s generally considered wise to open those in new windows because users are apt to close them when they’re done (rather than going “back” to your site).

Don’t break my mom’s back button

For novice internet users, the “back” button is an essential part of their arsenal. If you open a link in a new window, that back button is now useless. Some people may not even realize that a new window was opened, simply that their back button is broken. They want to go back to your site, they can’t, so they just close everything.

At the same time, some sites do weird redirects when you land on them, making the back button essentially broken anyhow. In those cases, I’d suggest opening a new window for sure.

Don’t clutter up my screen

On the other end of the spectrum are power users that understand how to open links in new windows when they want to (quick tip: Windows users can click a link by pressing the scroll wheel on your mouse and Mac users can Command-click). I do that when I want a link to open in a new window, and I do a normal left-click when I want it to open in the same window. When you force a new window on me, it’s a bit annoying.

A good example of that (aside from ManageWP that I mentioned above) is our local water company. In the course of paying your bill online, it’ll open new windows three separate times. I have no idea why…

So what’s the verdict?

All of that said, it’s becoming pretty common to have sites open outbound links in new windows, so it’s ok if that’s your normal move. Just be considerate of who your audience is and why they might be clicking that link, and then act accordingly.

How do I do it?

WordPress makes it very easy to decide how a link should be treated. When adding a new link, you’ll see something like the box below. Check the “Open link in a new window/tab” (or not), depending on what you’d like to do.

open link in new window

What are your thoughts on the matter?

About the Author

Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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