Poll: Open external links in new window or not?

Posted on January 30, 2013

Recently at work, a coworker and I had a brief discussion about a popular web idea.

Should external links open in a new window?

This has been a debate for a while now and I believed external links should always open in a new window. But, should they? Here’s a scenario that made me rethink this:

  1. A user goes to a website and browses around a bit.
  2. The user thinks, “I’m finished here. I want to see what they have to say on Twitter.”
  3. The user clicks the Twitter icon and instead of arriving at Twitter in the same tab/window, they were given a new tab/window.

What’s the problem with this? The problem is the user lost control of his or her browsing experience. The web developer assumed the user wanted to “stay on the site” when the user didn’t want that at all. Perhaps this user is tech-savvy and knows holding ⌘ while clicking a link opens it in a new tab. Many popular sites like Daring Fireball and Reddit aggregate content from other sources and open external links in the same window.

However, Andy mentioned that it’s about context and I agree with him. These concepts work great for a site that has more technical users. But it may not be a good assumption if a website’s traffic is primarily senior citizens.

A good rule of thumb for us is: know who your users are.