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Thread: Should links open a new window?

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    Should links open a new window?

    My site has several links to other websites which I have set up to open in another window when clicked. This seems logical to me as I don't want people to leave my site while they check out these other sites. However, I read somewhere (don't remember where) that the links should not be opened in another window.

    Am I doing it the proper way? If not can you explain why? Would appreciate hearing other viewpoints on this. Thanks.

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    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    Thanks, Brent. Great question!

    I also have external links open in a new window, pretty much for the same reason as you do - to keep the visitor on the site.

    However, received wisdom has it that this isn't best practice for several reasons. Apparently it bewilders some visitors when a new window opens unexpectedly. Also it's said that, since the back button is the most common method of navigation used, you are taking control away from the visitor by removing their ability to move away via the back button.

    No doubt the above is true. However, what I've not yet seen received wisdom take much account of is your target demographic and how web savvy your visitors are. Take my little blog for example. I very much doubt if anyone would be reading that, or even want to read it, if they were not yet at the stage of being confident about using a browser, nor indeed would they be bewildered if a new window opens when they click on a link. On the other hand, maybe if you had an eCommerce site, you might want to cater for the lowest common denominator.

    However, I do give a passing nod to good usability and good practice on this issue by including alt tags with text such as "opens in new window" or "affiliate link, opens in new window", etc.

    There are some people who feel strongly about the issue and argue that opening links in a new window is naughty unless it's absolutely necessary, eg if the link opens a large file such as a PDF or image, or if the new window is more convenient for the user, eg additional help info.

    Perhaps some other members will give you their take on it.

    Edit: It has also been suggested that opening links in new windows can be problematic for visually impaired people. I don't know if this still holds true or not given the rapid changes in technology since usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, first laid down his usability tablets of stone back in 1996. (BTW, I'm not a big fan of Dr Nielsen for various reasons, but that's another story. )
    Last edited by Kay; 16 December 2013 at 11:49 pm. Reason: Addional comment
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    Hmmm....interesting! I appreciate your comments about stating the link will open in a new window. All of my links are to more information sites and my target market is to folks who I hope? have internet experience. My fear is that they might get lost and spend hours on the new sight (e.g. Experienced People) and never return because they would have to press the back button too many times.

    Was also wondering if there are any best practices or protocols when it comes to linking to other sites, e.g. should an emails be sent to ask or inform them? I can't imagine any site saying no but one never knows!

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    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    W3C are the generally accepted standard setters for various usability matters, but their techniques are "informative" and not legal requirements. It's at least worth knowing what the "rules" are, even if you decide to break them.

    For example, here's their page for links opening new tabs/windows. http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20-TECHS/G200.html

    If I'm reading something then I usually open a new tab if I want to explore further. I want to make it easy for myself to get back to where I was in the first place. But that's probably still atypical user behaviour, even these days.

    Some jurisdictions also have legal requirements about website usability for disabled people. These are often not adhered to nor are the laws policed rigorously. There have been some embarrassing cases, eg the EU laid down some fairly stringent laws on the subject with severe penalties for non-compliance, but some of their own sites were found to be non-compliant!

    Was also wondering if there are any best practices or protocols when it comes to linking to other sites, e.g. should an emails be sent to ask or inform them?
    I'm not sure if there are any protocols for outbound links in terms of asking permission. I would only rarely email a webmaster to ask permission or inform them about it. The only reason I'd do that would be to alert them to the link, which presumably has some comment about their site, and invite them to comment on what's been said about them. (It's not really necessary anyway, as most likely they'd find the link themselves without needing to be told.) If someone linked to me and emailed me about it, I would ignore the email 95% of the time. It's usually just a new site and the webmaster is often angling for something, say a reciprocal link (yuk) or hoping I'll tell my visitors about his exciting new site (yawn).

    I can't imagine any site saying no but one never knows!
    Ah, but some would say "no". There's even a Google Disavow links tool.

    Inbound and outbound linking strategies are often about SEO and change rapidly. There's also something known as "negative SEO" - some webmasters do rogue link building to their competitors' websites to knock them off their perches in the SERPs. We have some discussions about negative SEO already but you might need to dig for them - probably in the SEO forum. If you can't find the stuff (and I'll also keep my eyes peeled for you), then please start a new thread in the SEO forum.

    Meanwhile, here's a brief history:

    Google's algo used to count inbound links to a site as a measure of the site's worth. The logic was that "if lots of people link to it, then it must be good" (have some authority). Thus sites with lots of links to them rose in the SERPs. Webmasters went on massive link building campaigns: more links = higher ranking in G. A whole scummy link building industry grew around this. The link building companies often achieved their targets by hiring armies of people in low income countries to spam blogs and forums with useless posts. Given the quotas that these employees had to fulfil - maybe 50 cents an hour for 50 links - the only way for the employees to achieve this was by copying and pasting generic rubbish and by getting forum profile links and sig links. Bots were (still are) also frequently used to automate the process. You can imagine the hassles this creates for webmasters on the receiving end of this junk.

    Google, naturally, didn't like their algo being gamed in this way so they started to penalise for "unnatural linking". (That's a long story in itself.) However, just as your site could be damaged by "unnatural" inbound links, people quickly figured out that they could use this tactic against their competitors - ie, pay for thousands of crappy links into the competitor's site to get them penalised or knock them down in the SERPs.

    The link building industry is still going strong. As long as some webmasters and website owners are still out of date and naive enough to hire these link builders in the mistaken belief that getting more inbound links is beneficial to them, then these link building scum will stay in business. (Ever seen these offers for thousands of links to your site for only $5? Ever wondered how it was done?) There are, of course, much more sophisticated ways to game G's algo without looking unnatural...

    Even forgetting about the link building industry for the moment, webmasters often care about the quality of their inbound links. They might not consider a link from a new website to be a high quality link. They might not care one way or another. Unless thery're very new themselves, it's unlikely they'll care much about such a link, and an email to tell them about it might just be considered a nuisance.

    Just my take on it. It would be nice to hear from some other people. Some people visit every day, read everything and say nothing.
    British Expat - helping people to live and work abroad since the year 2000.

    The joy of Internet delivery - the cartoon illustrating this will make you laugh!



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    Top Contributor Dave McM is a Premium Member
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    Personally, I find it a bit annoying when an external link in the middle of an article opens in the existing window - it takes me away from what I'm reading. Having to go through the palaver of right-clicking and then clicking a menu item to open the external link in a new tab, rather than just clicking on it, is a nuisance. But so many sites make me do it that I'm (reluctantly) used to it by now.

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    I'm with Dave on that, I prefer to have an external link open in a new window/tab but I have become accustomed to right clicking and selecting open in a new tab. What I hate is when right clicking has been disabled and you have to open in the same window. I don't like having to remember to go back to the link to follow it after I have finished reading an article especially if the article spans multiple pages. Whatever happened to the idea of making navigation user friendly?
    Help bring Janice home My mother-in-law was hospitalized while on vacation (holiday) We're trying to bring her home.

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    I'm with Dave and Jim. Back in the day before tabbed browsers (aren't we all old enough to remember that?), opening in a new window could be a problem because the user could end up with several copies of Internet Explorer open at once. Instead of being able to simply click a back arrow to go back to the original site, you might need to ALT-TAB through your open windows to find the right window, though usually simply closing the new window would leave you in the right place. Worse, those extra windows were (at least at one point) actually new copies of Internet Explorer running on your system.

    With tabbed browsing, the default is that an external link set to _blank opens a new tab in your browser, not a completely new window. Personally, I prefer to have an external link open in a new tab but, like Jim, I have become accustomed to right clicking and selecting open in a new tab since I never know whether it will open in a new tab or just take me away from the page I am reading.

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    I agree with Dave, I find it annoying to have to click back sometimes several times to get back to the site I started on.
    It is, however, just a personal thing and there is probably a split between those who like new windows, those who don't, and those who didn't even notice they had a new windon open

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    Interesting to hear everyone's opinion on this and I appreciate it. I asked a few of my friends if they preferred a link to open in a new tab and everyone said they did and that they disliked it when it didn't open in a new tab. Also, most of them were not aware of the right click - open in new tab function, which makes me wonder what percentage of internet users are aware of this.

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    It's funny how we can easily forget what browsing is like for the less savvy surfer. If you've been on the web for a decade or more, you probably know a lot of tricks that newer users don't. It is exactly the same reason programmers have to do "User Acceptance Testing" for software. When you're "too familiar" with the workings of a piece of software, it is difficult to see potential challenges the untrained end user might face. BrentM's friends being unfamiliar with the right click option is a prime example of that.

    It is also an argument in favor of external links opening in a new tab or window.
    Help bring Janice home My mother-in-law was hospitalized while on vacation (holiday) We're trying to bring her home.

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