Links: To open in the Same or a New Tab or Window

Post by Audra Barclay


If you create a link and do not tell it where to open, it defaults to opening in the same tab or window. This can work against you; this post will show you why you should decide where your links open.

Once upon a time, I used to say open in new window or tab when linking to another website or to a document e.g. pdf, irrespective of whether it was on your site.

I still say this, but it's not all I say.

So to brush up on the basics - what is a link?

I like to think of links as wormholes  - you start at one spot and are instantly transported to a location far, far away in the webosphere or beyond. ( and I do mean beyond as the boundary between interacting with digital and solid world begins to blur).

But my analogy comes from reading too much Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov.

Put simply - a link links one thing to another thing. ( An element is simply a thing!)

So you can *link* some text like this (click here)





to some text like this (an element in the same page), or the linked text above could have linked to another web page,or a pdf or other document.

Link Etiquette

Link etiquette is a super phrase (which I may have just coined) meaning the manners associated linking. I mention it because first and foremost the web is to learn from, sell to and share, debate, network, collaborate, connect and communicate with other people. Best web practice is always keeping people in mind. Of course, when the mice take over that will change - but that's just some Douglas Adams creeping in.

Link etiquette means manners to your audience and to your linkee.

There are 2 rules:

  • Your audience - the link users - don't want a new window or tab with every click; it's impolite to clutter their screen. Be conscious of too many links opening in a new tab or window.
  • The linkees are providing you with something interesting to link to, so it is courteous to write an apt title and appropriate anchor text  to aid their cause with Google. ( More on google, SEO and links coming soon).

When to open in a new window or tab

So here are my simple rules for when to open a link in a new window.

Open in a new tab when:

  1. You are linking to another website - e.g. have you seen the great web courses we offerBecause you don't want your visitor to be even a click away from your website and engaging with you.
  2. You are linking to any document Because you don't want your visitor to be even a click away from your website. Moreover, documents may be handled differently by different browsers and external viewers may offer varying functionality. Documents may also need to be sized ( zoomed)  differently to the general website so a separate viewing platform makes sense.
  3. You are providing an aside, linking to some additional background or related information on your own website. The smart readers among you have already noticed the link in the first paragraph of this post. It linked to another page on this website but opened in a new window. This is because it was provided if you needed more information or wanted some background info; but, I didn't want you to miss the rest of this post. I wanted to funnel you down to the important links on this page (the calls to action).

Rather than remember 3 reasons to open in a new tab - just focus on this one criteria to decide whether to open in the same tab or window. 

A really effective way of thinking is:  Is this funnelling the visitor towards taking action? If the answer is yes  - open in same window or tab.

When to open in the same window or tab

Open in the same tab when:

  1. When the link itself is call to action or a step towards a call to action. So if the link gets the customer reading more, signing up , buying or moving closer to your goal - then open in same page.

The Funnel

This is *another* funnel. This is the funnel where you fall in the top... of the page, and because everything until now opens in a new window, you reach the end of the post and here I will send you directly to one or other place where I most want you to go.

I may want you to get an estimate on a new website by the company that builds better websites, or I may suggest you just check out our corporate site, or I may suggest you like us on facebook  - so you can keep up with our *Web Wednesday* free give aways. 

In all these instances, you will be one step closer to being either a client or a fan.

So the question is are you doing this with your website? Go look at a page on your website and now redo the links in regard to opening in a new window and watch the effectiveness of that page improve.

And now?

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People in this conversation

  • Guest (Bridget)

    Totally agree with the points in the article BUT:
    1. the 'check out our corporate website' link is broken. You have an extra colon in it.
    2. I actually came to the blog from the corporate website to find out more about you, the blog opened in the same tab and due to good branding I didn't realise I was in a new domain. I explored the blog for a bit and rather than clicking back multiple times I just clicked on Home - but it wasn't the 'Home' I was expecting. You might consider a top-level menu item 'corporate site' on your blog site. It wasn't a great funnel experience for me!

  • Hi Bridget and thanks for reading and indeed proof-reading this article and picking up on the typo. Plus you raise a really good point when you suggest we link more prominently back to our corporate site!

    When "funnelling" a visitor, it's important to not overlook where the visitor may want to go that you did not anticipate. Providing clear alternate navigation is the key.

    Learning what your visitors are interested in - is a topic for another day - but certainly analytic tools like crazy egg - that show where people click or tools like woopra which demonstrate the path and pages visited can be useful.



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