In general, hyperlinks should open in the same window

A walkway made of wood extends over a sandy, grassy hill in to the sunset.

Making hyperlinks is a foundational skill in web publishing. Links have everything to do with usability, accessibility, search engine optimization, and readability.

Links should be simple and helpful to your users. The text in links should be meaningful; avoid writing “click here”. Links should be easily seen and easy to interact with. There shouldn’t be surprises. If it’s a link to a PDF, it should say so. Avoid redirects.123

And in general, avoid opening links in new windows. 

Trust and power

As publishers and brands and citizens we cultivate trust in our writing, our brands, and web publishing practices. And hyperlinks are an important part of this trust. We are, each of us, building the web we want.

This is part of, for example, we recommend against linking to sources of misinformation and hate. And this is also why it’s good to link to the sources we trust, and the institutions we respect.4

Do not force links to open in new tabs or windows

Every once in a while a client asks us to make all links on their website open in new tabs. Or sometimes they ask us to open all links to external sites in new tabs. In both instances, we recommend against it.

Forcing links to open in new tabs is growing more common on the interwebs, but we keep resisting. And there are some contexts where it’s probably the right thing to do. Webmail and social media sites, for example, both make a habit of opening links in other windows, and that makes sense to us. But unless your website is Twitter, it’s probably not the best thing for your site.

Notice that even Google and Wikipedia make links, even external links, open in the same window. The relevant usability principles are:

  • give users the power to choose,
  • don’t break the back button,
  • don’t surprise users,
  • web publishing should be accessible to different kinds of users,
  • minimal design is good design,
  • if you love someone, let them go.5

By letting users choose whether links open in new tabs or not, we give users more control. If users want a link to open in a new tab, they can do that. Give users the power, by defaulting to letting links open normally.6

Signalling link behaviour

If you are absolutely committed to opening links in new tabs, use an icon to signal that, or simply write in the anchor text, “(link opens in new tab)” or simply “(new window)”. Writing “(new window)” in the anchor text is probably better, given the ambiguity in external link icons. For example:

Further reading

Notes

  1. In general, avoid adding inline level links to headings and images.
  2. Don’t surprise the user. If a link goes to a PDF, include that information in the anchor text. E.g. best practice for downloadable documents (PDF).
  3. Anchor text should be meaningful and descriptive. Don’t say “click here”, for example. And if the link goes to a Wikipedia article about the logic proving that there are different sizes of infinity, don’t claim it it’s a link to Gödel’s theorem. The anchor text should match the link.
  4. Links from our websites have a huge impact on Google juice and SEO. So let’s be careful who we link to.
  5. Put differently: don’t be a spammer.
  6. Links that force users to open them in the same tab are equally pernicious.

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