When to Open Links in a New Tab
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.
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.
Figure: Too busy to be forced to stay on that website. (Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc., distr. Bulls.)
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
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Perhaps my most comprehensive book: The Web Development Glossary (2020). With explanations and definitions for literally thousands of terms from Web Development and related fields, building on Wikipedia as well as the MDN Web Docs. Available at Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.