old-man-shrugging-shoulders Theory

Think About The Link

This is a guest post written by Mark Oleszczak.

Have you ever had an itch inside of your head? If so, you probably realize that every possible scenario of how to relieve that obnoxious tickling sensation would end up in a painful death.? Long pointy tube directly through the ear: death. Jumping straight up into a spike: death. Pulling your head off: death.

More importantly, why the hell would the inside of your head itch anyway? We may all have our suspicions, but for me I tend to get those uncomfortable itches when I am asked a question that I do not know the answer to. Naturally, I make something up and go on with my day. But usually, later in the day when eating a cold reuben sandwich, that stupid inner head itch comes back.

Fine. Seeing that they do not make those handy back-scratchers for the inside of my head, the only alternative is to sit down and hash out the answer to that question that has driving me bonkers: When should you open links in a separate tab?

Internal Vs. External Links

Fundamentally, they do the same task. They are embedded onto a page of a website, and upon clicking – they open a page. However, one version opens in the same tab, and the other opens in a fresh tab. However, the question is not what is the external link – but when should it be used?

Internal Link
<a href=”markoleszczak.com”>Link</a>

External Link
<a href=”markoleszczak.com” target="_blank">Link</a>


Anybody that has worked on the web for more than a few minutes understands how obsessive people can become with metrics they do not understand. Bounce rate is not like a golf score, time on site should not be equivalent to the number of hours there are in a day, and unique visitors and total visitors are not the same thing.

So what is the big deal on the way you open links? Well, this is a tricky one, as it begins to sound more like an ethics question than a logistics question. While we all loathe those inflating pageviews, we also despise those sharing false metrics with Mr. Boss Man to make things look better than they are.

It may not appear a big deal, but you can drastically change the result of time on site, and inaccurately gauge the people bouncing from your site.

Case 1: External Link

External links falsify the total time spent on the initial web page.

  • Visitor lands on Website A
  • After 10 minutes, she clicks a link (Website B) opening a fresh tab
  • She stays on Website B for 20 minutes
  • She closes the Website B tab
  • She returns to Website A and finishes reading for 10 minutes

Time on Website A = 40 minutes

Per Google Analytics, Website A’s inactive time will continue being tracked until it is timed out after 30 minutes

Case 2: Internal Link

Internal links allow for correct analytics.

  • Visitor lands on Website A
  • After 10 minutes, she clicks a link (Website B) opening in the same tab
  • She stays on Website B for 20 minutes
  • She clicks the back button to return to Website A
  • She returns to Website A and finishes reading for 10 minutes

Time on Article A = 20 minutes

As you will notice, this is an identical scenario, but with two different results.

Forced Behavior

Allow your website visitors to choose for themselves when they want to open a new tab.

While growing up, a lot of your decisions were made for you. Spinach was delicious and homework was fun. Nobody likes having their mind made up for them, but as you grew, you had more of an opinion. You were able to select the foods you liked. You could choose your favorite classes to take. You finally had an opinion, and the world was a happier place.

For links it is the same thing. People should be able to decide themselves if they want to open a link in a new tab. With a simple Shift+click, any link can be opened in a new tab.

Reasons Why You Should Not Open Links In New Tabs:

  • This disables the back button on the new tab. The back button is the second-most used navigation feature in a browser
  • Visually impaired & less tech-savvy users can have a hard time navigating through tabs
  • Increased number of clicks for visitors on smart-devices

When Is It Acceptable To Use The External Link?

It is important to understand that this “target_blank” command is not always a buzzkill. With everything, it is best used in moderation. Many times this command is used when printing a page or when paired with an icon indicating it will open a new tab. As long as people know what to expect and they will not try to hit the “back” button, a new tab can actually be a convenient way to present certain information.

Just keep in mind that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. Do not assume everybody likes browsing the web the same as you. And do not assume that everybody likes spinach. Now grab a cold brew, raise your glasses, and salute the beloved link.



  1. Joost van der Borg

    Thanks for the good post. There’s an additional reason to not force links to open in new tabs: when you force it, users can’t in any way choose to open in the same tab. When you don’t force (as you correctly say) you leave the choice to the user.
    One minor point: You speak of ‘external’ vs ‘internal’ links, but you’re talking about opening (any type of) links in external windows/tabs. An external link to me means a link from http://www.site-a.com to http://www.site-b.com, where internal links are from site-a.com to (for example) site-a.com/anotherpage.

  2. метод кумулятивного построения

    Hurrah! At last I got a website from where
    I be able to genuinely obtain useful data
    concerning my study and knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *