Should I set my links to open in a new tab or window?
This is a great question that I’ve seen debated over and over again. It usually ends with one SEO nerd throwing his Jello pudding cup at another Web Designer nerd. (Please don’t waste a pudding cup – They are delicious. Seriously!) Let’s break down the question so you know what I’m talking about.
Most Content Management Systems (like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.) allow you to set a few basic options when it comes to the link, one of those being “Open link in a new window?” I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there. You click on a link and all of the sudden an entirely new window, or browser tab opens up. So, the question is, should you do this or not? I’ll give you the two viewpoints of the argument and let you decide. (Without the pudding cup throwing.)
SEO Nerd: Always open external links in new tabs
The SEO nerd in me would say, any internal link that takes you away from your website should open in a new window or tab. A different site opening in a new window can reduce your bounce rate and exit page % which might help to increase that page value or authority. If masses of people are coming to your site, going to a page and then leaving that page via a link, it could send a signal to Google the page isn’t valuable. Also, I want people to stay on my site for as long as possible and opening in a new window lets them easily come back.
Web Design Nerd: Never open external links in new tabs
The Web Design nerd in me would say, it’s annoying to have a new window open and the visitor should have total control on whether or not to open a link in a new window. (Also, thanks for the pudding cup you threw at me.) The visitor shouldn’t be affected by your insecurity that they might not be coming back, know how to find you again, or worry about your precious bounce rate/exit page rate.
The SEO nerd: “Not opening a new window will screw with my analytics. The visitor is just trying to better understand the paragraph or article so they are clicking on the link to find out more, they are not trying to leave.”
Web Design Nerd: “If the visitor wants to come back they will simply hit the Back Button. Don’t affect the user experience by creating unnecessary tabs for them. When a new tab is created, you take away the Back Button option for them.”
Best Practice for internal linking is to put the user experience before your needs.
So, all of that being said, what is right for you? I guess that’s for you to decide and how you want to design your site to function. I will say that browsers that open in new tabs are less annoying and easier to manage than an entire new window. For me personally, I tend to make the majority (about 70-80%) of links that point at other websites to open in new tabs.
Context of the link is important too. If I’m linking in the middle of an article, I may point it to a new tab. If the link is in a sidebar and the user has a clear understanding that a link is taking them to another site, I may not choose to open it in a new tab.
Always look at your metrics and make adjustments based on what you see. You may find that it really doesn’t matter either way. If you are just starting to care about this topic, make all links pointing at other websites open in New Tabs, and all links pointing to pages within your site, not open in new tabs.