Linking etiquette

by Martin Reed on 22 April 2007 in Snippets

When creating a link, there are two ways of doing it – via a link that opens in the same window, or one that opens in a new window. Deciding which to use can be a little tricky – here are my preferences.

Links opening in the same window

All internal site links in my opinion, should open in the same window. Visitors to your site do not want window upon window to open just from browsing your site. If they click on a link, it is because they want to move through your site – they are no longer interested in the page they have just read. They are done with this page and are now moving on. There is absolutely no need for you to keep that page open in their browser.

If a user wants to keep the current page loaded in their browser, they will themselves decide to open a link in a new window. This is extremely easy to do in newer browsers, via shortcut keys or a simple right click of the mouse.

When should links load in a new window?

There are some school of thought that state links should never open in a new window. As I have already mentioned, surfers can decide whether they want to open a link in a new window easily enough of their own accord. Forcing certain courses of action is not a good idea in terms of your site’s usability. I still use such links however, when directing a user away from my site.

On this blog, when I mention my other sites such as Just Chat, I will set the link to open in a new window. Users may want to check out external sites I mention, but then return to my site. Therefore by opening external links in a new window, my site sits in the background so it is easy for the surfer to return to my site when they are done. Not all surfers know how to open a link in a new window – these are the users I am targetting and aiding usability for in these instances.

I like to keep to the following rule:

Internal Links – Open the link in the current window

External Links – Open the link in a new browser window

Do you agree with me? Do you feel that all links should be set to open in the current window? What types of link do you use on your website? Leave a comment and let me know!

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{ 6 comments }

Tim April 22, 2007 at 6:59 pm

I disagree. If the user wants to open a link in a new window, they always have the option of holding Ctrl or clicking with the middle mouse button. However, there is no simple option that I know of for opening a link in the current window if its target is set to a new window.

The only reason that I can think of is if you want a neat popup with e.g. a license agreement. Other than that, opening new windows only feels like a cheesy way of keeping the users on your site.

Dave April 23, 2007 at 5:10 pm

I completely agree and follow the same rule. Internal pages stay in the same window, external pages open a new window.

Timothy Bryce April 23, 2007 at 7:05 pm

I agree – same policy here.

Martin Reed April 24, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Tim: I understand your policy and think I addressed it in my article. I think it is down to personal preference and personally when I visit websites I want external links to open in a new window. I accept this isn’t the same for everyone though.

Just as Dave and Timothy mention, external links appearing in a new window do not seem to be an issue for the majority of web surfers although this preference may change in the future!

Sandra Possing November 7, 2007 at 11:47 pm

Totally agree with the Internal – current window, External – new window theory. I was just debating the issue with coworkers regarding our blog and I think this policy makes the most sense.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 12, 2007 at 6:18 pm

Sandra – Modern usability thinking is moving away from having external links open in a new window; this is based on the theory that users should have full control over their own surfing experience.

I think though, that for sites with a particularly ‘non-techie’ audience, opening external sites in a new window is perfectly acceptable.