Sam Brown

target="_blank" - Do not go there

There has been a bit of discussion lately as to the use of target="_blank", making links in your browser open a new window or tab. Lots of people arguing against its use and many for, saying all links that leave your site should open new windows. That’s ridiculous, here’s why:

“… the links open in a new window. I’m not okay with that. I trust my readers to come back to my website, and I strongly believe I shouldn’t hinder their ability to navigate away from my website, and I see it as an insult to their intelligence, and breaks a bond of trust to modify their browser’s behaviour.”

Cameron Hunt said this in a private email conversation between a few web designer and developers yesterday and I unequivocally agree with him. This method of opening links in new windows completely disrupts the users browsing experience, if I want to open a link in a new window or tab it should be left up to me, the user, to decide what to do with that link, not the sites developer!

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Andrew Waters 1 November 2008, 02:02 #1

I see yours and Camerons point but I use window targeting because of my own browsing habits. When I’m drilling deep into research or balancing many browsing many simultaneous “sessions” in my head, then actually a new window helps a lot to separate them. Relying on a user to know how to right click -> Open in new window is perhaps a little assumptious.

Although I agree that you should trust your users to come back, that is not always the case depending on the reason they are browsing your site…

Tim Van Damme 1 November 2008, 03:11 #2

It’s very simple really: If the content’s great, they’ll come back. If it isn’t, well, then it’s your own fault.

Good content or not, don’t use target=”_blank”. It’s evil, and makes puppies cry. If you do use it, why not go entirely crazy, and resize some windows with JS. Because that’s the right thing to do, right?

Let the user decide wether they want a link to open in a new tab/window or not. How would you like it when you’re driving your car, and turn the steering wheel left, and all of a sudden, your car goes right?

Spencer Fry 1 November 2008, 08:07 #3

Thanks for bringing this topic up. I completely agree with the guy you quoted and am completely against opening links in new windows. When I click a link and it opens a new window, I always give a big “fuck you” glance at the website I’m leaving. “I clicked away for a reason,” I think to myself. I’m a big boy, I can leave and come back and don’t need my training wheels anymore.

Cameron 1 November 2008, 08:22 #4

@Andrew: If you treat your users like morons, then that’s what you’ll get!

Cole Henley 1 November 2008, 09:50 #5

Not forgetting that the target attribute isn’t supported in XHTML Strict, though that may be a separate debate.

Completely agree with you Sam and have been loathe to implement target=“blank” on the sites I have worked on. There is a genuine fear amongst clients I have worked with about people leaving their sites – an obvious concern but one that I feel goes against the principles of the web and ‘surfing’ (do we still call it that?).

However, coming at it from a different angle, I’m not sure if this is a debate that will take a new direction in coming years as more browsers adopt tabbed browsing. I personally feel that opening content from a new/different site within a new tab is not nearly as bad or disorientating as loading it in a new window.

Scott Mallinson 1 November 2008, 10:31 #6

I whole-heartedly agree. New windows can cause confusion to the lesser experienced web users, especially now that Firefox and IE7 open target=_blank in new tabs rather than new browser windows. It also causes navigation complications on mobile devices as I find with Opera Mini.

Phil Thompson 2 November 2008, 09:36 #7

I wholeheartedly agree that forcing users to open new windows (in most cases) is terrible usability. More often than not the user can’t easily find their way back to your website because they have a sea of Internet Explorer windows in front of them that they have to swim through first.

Darren McPherson 2 November 2008, 22:43 #8

I don’t use target=”_blank” because it doesn’t validate under strict. So I use some JS to open a new window. I only open a new window for the privacy policy and terms of use pages. Everything else is up to the user.

Andrew Waters 3 November 2008, 11:48 #9

Looks like I’m outnumbered here ;)

@Cameron – harsh words, I certainly don’t don’t think of my users as morons, that is a HUGE assumption on your part.

Personally I find it useful opening in a new window – and as someone who shapes sites that are largely viewed amongst my piers, I consider their browsing habits as I do my own.

The obvious comeback to that is that you can never know who your users are. Pretty much everyone here can comment as an individual who are tech savvy and know how to work their way around a browser. It’s worth not forgetting that and the reason we want to design sites in the first place – to stamp our own individuality on the sites we build…

Sam Brown 3 November 2008, 22:57 #10

@Andrew – You said:

“I use window targeting because of my own browsing habits.”

Therein lies the problem, that is your preference, and a preference it is. If I was to visit your site and click a link that opened in a new window and I didn’t expect it to I’d be unhappy. However, if you don’t attach any targeting to your links I can choose to open that link in a new window, it should be the users choice, not forced upon us. In my opinion of course! :)

Harry Roberts 3 November 2008, 23:04 #11

I had the same argument out here:

I’m ‘PR Design’, btw ;)

Andrew Waters 4 November 2008, 01:54 #12

@Sam – but preference is all we can build on. The reason you have designed this site with the colours you have is because of your preference ;) Why not rip out the CSS and let me overlay it so I can view this page the way I want to.

It’s not a problem in my opinion – it is a logical thought I follow. Internal links open in the same window, external links open in new windows. I don’t see it as a huge issue, nor a usability problem. Just a preference.

Daniel 4 November 2008, 03:11 #13

I used to use the target=”_blank” all the time, but then when I starting using web standards, I stopped, obviously because it doesn’t validate. If it were that important, a javascript function could be written to make it open in a new window. Though if you use Firefox, just right click on the link and select “Open in new tab/window” which is what I do if I see a link that catches my eye. That way I can finish up on the page I’m currently reading or switch back and forth between the two tabs/windows. In the end, I think the user should make the choice, and not the designer/web author.

Frederik Kreijmborg 5 November 2008, 23:26 #14

Dear Sam and others!

I was using the “blank” thing quite alot on different sites and never felt bad about it, because I somehow “liked” the idea of sending people somewhere else without them leaving the original site. I was anxious and did not waste a single thought on the surfing aspect. Shame on me! I will never – I mean it! – use the “blank” thing again. Every page will by now be upgraded to somewhat a better version without fearing to lose visitors. BTW: I doubt somebody besides me (the author) liked the idea of staying, because otherwise he/she/it would NOT have clicked elsewhere ;-)

I don´t know whether I seem a little bit out of reality but this little debate changed my whole internet experience for about 100% – although I´m used to “true surfing” on the good pages since 1995.

Well, in short terms: Thank you for the inevitable enlightenment that was brought into my mind to remain forever.


Frederico Leonardo 6 November 2008, 01:44 #15

What about Flash? If you don’t target=_blank then the user will probably lose the page/movie he was looking at. Would you still avoid using it?

Sam Brown 6 November 2008, 01:54 #16

@Frederico Leonardo – I was under the impression that you could add anchor links in flash.

So for example within the flash movie clicking on the Portfolio link would add #portfolio to the URL, which would enable the browser to load the correct movie if the back button was pressed.

Frederico Leonardo 6 November 2008, 02:04 #17

Yeah, sure. You could use swfaddress. That’s a good idea, didn’t think of that :P

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Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.