When to Open Links in a New Tab

Published on December 9, 2019 (↻ September 24, 2022), filed under and (RSS feed for all categories).

Always open links in the same tab unless doing so 1) could disrupt a process, 2) could risk data loss, or 3) could confuse the user.

This rule is an ad hoc one, yet also one based on industry heuristics like Jakob’s Law and user research around non-HTML links.

It could also be rephrased as follows:

Don’t tamper with hyperlinks unless you are certain to improve the user experience.

This really is it, for default link behavior is good while it’s always smart to keep an eye out for the user.

This really is it even when we run into advice that confuses user focus with self focus, as this recent quote from Web Designer Depot exemplifies:

External links, for instance, should always open in a new browser tab. Your goal in designing a website is to get more visitors to convert. Letting an external link replace your website in the open tab will only decrease the chances of that happening. In some cases, internal links shouldn’t be opened in the same tab either. So, be sure to think about this the next time you add a link to your site.

(This thinking is known to be tempting for novice website owners, yet it makes for a really bad practice.)

Always open links in the same tab, unless you are certain that you help the user. Users know how to open new tabs and windows, and they do so when they choose to.

To regain his “Singing Sword” and seek redress, Prince Valiant has followed the trail of Angor Wrack, the Sea King, to Jerusalem.

Figure: Too busy to be forced to stay on that website. (Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc., distr. Bulls.)

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!