Should links open in new windows/tabs?

WordPress link UI

On her blog One Cool Site this week, timethief listed some good sources for blogging tips and one in particular piqued my interest. It discusses how and why to have WordPress widget images open in a new tab or window.

While I’ve rarely dealt with widget image links, the article did get me thinking about external links in general, which appear in most of my posts. Author Molly Greene suggests that having your links open in new windows/tabs helps keep readers from inadvertently leaving/losing your blog when they close those tabs, since the tab for your blog will still be open. Makes sense.

When you set up links in WP, there is an option to “Open link in a new window/tab.” As a rule I’ve not checked it. It’s another step and I saw no compelling reason to do it. I base that on my own browsing habits. I don’t normally close tabs to return to the blog I was reading; I click the back arrow. I don’t recall now, but I may have developed the habit precisely because in the past I had inadvertently closed blogs I was reading.

However, if having those tabs open makes so much sense, why do we have to manually choose that option? Why isn’t it the default? Is it because we might want external and internal links handled differently (new window for external links but not for internal links)? I’d be interested in knowing why WP opted for the current configuration. What are the advantages/disadvantages of having links open in new windows/tabs? I’d also be interested in hearing your preferences and reasoning. Do you go with the WP default or do you set your links to open in new tabs/windows? Why? Do you handle internal and external links differently?

12 thoughts on “Should links open in new windows/tabs?

  1. I’ve wondered about this too. My instinct has been to check the block, “open link in a new tab” because it seems to save time. When, as recipient, you have read a link that is thus enabled and then close the link, you are immediately returned to the blog post which has remained open. Does this make sense?

    1. Yes, it does. I’ve just gotten so used to clicking the back arrow that it never occurs to me now to close the window in order to go back to the blog I was on. I’ll have to work on that.

  2. I always have those open to a new window – for the same reason – to keep people on your blog. It makes sense.
    Good question for WP. I know placement by search engines is enhanced by using “good/well recognized” sources for links.
    Wonder if it has anything to do with increased/decreased traffic/clicks for WP?

    1. I’m thinking I should ask in the forums. Developers have reasons for every decision they make, and I’m curious about this one. Or maybe it was just a coin flip, with no clear advantage or disadvantage either way.

  3. I always have my links open in a new tab or window PT, pretty much for the reasons everyone here has mentioned. Putting myself in my reader’s place, it just makes sense to have the browser return to the post I’m reading once I close the linked-to tab or page. I just wish my browser was smart enough to retrace the full link chain, since I usually start out by clicking a link in an email. It’s embarrassing how many times I’ve accidentally closed my email tab trying to click on it…

    1. Well, okay, I’m learning. I just posted a new item and then remembered to go back and check the boxes to have the links open in new windows. I checked the first one, and when I opened the second and third ones, the boxes were already checked. Apparently if you check the box for the first link in a post, all the others in that post will also be checked (without your having to do it). But if you start a new post, you’ll have to check the box again for the first link. Seems like sort of an odd approach for WP to have used.

      1. It apparently forgets after you save your draft too PT. I save and preview my posts frequently, to make sure I don’t have any of ugly formatting issues, and find the box unchecked every time I add a new link afterwards…

  4. If I’m in a site that opens their internal links to a new tab, I am annoyed. I don’t want 20 Pied Type tabs open. But if I’m clicking a link that goes to an external site, I want it to open in a new tab so I don’t lose the site I’m in. And that’s the rule I use when posting and building sites. If it’s an internal link to my site, no new tab. If it is going to an outside site, new tab.

  5. Hey Pied Type – thanks for the link to my blog and the mention! You’re right, it WOULD be great if WP made “open in a new window” the default link type, because it would save a step. Although most of us “know” to click the back button, it’s really common to forget and close the whole browser window — and lose the site! Thanks again!

    1. Hi, Molly. Now that I understand the issue better, I’m not sure which way I’d want the default to be. My needs vary from post to post. Usually I forget to even think about the window setting because I’m busy forgetting to set the category, or the featured image, or the head.

... and that's my two cents