Links – New window, new tab or something else?

When should you have a link open a new window or tab?

Here are some of the most common scenarios where opening in a new tab is requested:

“We would like all links to open in a new window”.

It seems like a straight forward request and one that would help the user experience, right? Well, no. The reason it has to be requested is reason alone to not do it – normal browser behaviour opens links in the same window. Here is the most common reasons this request is made.

“Because that’s the way we want it”.

If we make a website for only us to use then it might be justifiable however so far we have only built websites for other people to use (no real surprise there). We hate dictating how people should use a website and forcing them into a particular behaviour is just rude. Most people know how to open a link in a new tab, so let them decide for themselves. They also know how to use the Back button.

“We want users to never move away from our website”.

You’ve written amazing content and you blow the competition away with great articles and info. You don’t want to risk users going to a different website and not buying from you or reading your stuff. Again, this is dictating how the users behave and is more likely to annoy them rather than retain their attention.

“Only have external links open in a new tab, not internal ones”.

This may seem like a good idea but it’s the same scenario – it breaks the normal behaviour of the browser and therefore disrupts the users expectations and experience. Keep users on your site with solid, engaging content that fulfils their needs and wants.

“It’s a PDF so should open in a new tab”.

Sorry, that’ll be a no. For starters it is best to avoid linking to a PDF as some can be large in file size but yet again it breaks the user’s expectations of the behaviour of the site. Better to utilise the download html tag and give an indicator of the file size about to be downloaded – you don’t want to force a 10MB download on a mobile device!

“The user is working on something that might be lost”.

Absolutely! This is a good reason to have a link open a new tab as it means they won’t lose their progress by moving away. In this situation the user started a processĀ and clicking away would stop it so opening a new window makes sense. Even better, in the case of an application form, make them aware that they are about to navigate away with “Are you sure you want to leave this page?” or even have it auto-save their progress.

Another key process where linking out may be appropriate is when making an online purchase – certainly informing users of an actions results is crucial to the success of your online business.

“They are listening to a podcast”.

The user actively starts a media file and moving away would stop it, so having the page with the media file initially open in a new tab makes perfect sense (we know Youtube does it differently but videos is all they do).


So there you go – to sum up, the less disruptive to the user’s experience, the more likely they are to value your site and go back if they do navigate away.