When Should Link Defaults Open In a New Tab?

link defaults

Before I Change Link Defaults, I Need to Know!

Some of you have joined my friend Maria Perez and me on our new Facebook group Networking Bloggers. I have learned so much since I have met the community of bloggers that share ideas in that group. One day Maria suggested that she needed to change her links on her blog.

That sent a chill up my spine. I knew my blog wouldn’t pass inspection. What Maria suggested implied an enormous amount of work changing thousands of links. So before I plunged into unproductive seat time, I wanted a second opinion from other “blog doctors.” As it turned out, they did not agree with each other. So now I want your opinion both as a blog reader and writer.

Experts differ on setting link defaults in a blog post. Some suggest never to open links in new tab. (user’s choice) Others say “Open external links in a new tab.” (blog owners choice)

link defaults
Should links open in a new tab or not?

The Reasons For Opening Links in a New Tab

Google Analytics drives most of the reasons self-hosted bloggers make changes to their posts.

link defaults
Google Analytics drives default link decisions.

When a new tab opens, your blog stays open. Hobby bloggers who monetize their blog desire higher Time on Page numbers. The longer the Time on Page the better your blog stats look to a potential affiliate. You probably will not be able to monetize your blog without having a low Bounce Rate and a high Time on Page.

When the user has finished with the link and closed the tab, they’ll find your page still sitting there. And the clock is still ticking on your Time on Page statistics. Sweet. But maybe not entirely accurate. Some suggest that this is a trick.

Always Write sets external links to open in a new tab because I read somewhere that was the correct thing to do, not because it was a trick. Looking at my Time on Page stats as I write this post,  Time on Page, do you suspect me of trying to trick you?

My guess is that few people research or are interested enough to read the links in addition to my article. Links are like reading every reference in a research paper, scientific, or historical novel. It’s important they are there. They show that writer has done his or her homework. However, unless a reader is writing a master’s or doctoral thesis and chasing more sources, he or she will probably not check the references.

I can hear Carol’s voice in my ears right now.

“Who cares about Time on Page anyway? I’m just going to read the blogs I love. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care about how long they take.”

She’s right. It comes down to what is easiest for your readers.

Easier for Reference Typically viewers come to blogs for information. Bloggers use links as references. For example, if I am writing a post about my trip to visiting the Healesville Sanctuary in Australia, I want to know more about Tasmanian Devils. So for me, having an open tab or several open tabs is like having my books and papers spread all around me on the table. I like being able to bounce from one reference to another when I study.

Remember writing with 3×5 note cards? My open tabs are like my note cards. I can click from one to another without having to use the back button as I write. For that reason, when I write my post I make links to external information open in a new tab. Many of you are authors. How do you do your research?

Hobby Bloggers may not include any links. Entertainment or opinions blogs might have a higher Time on Page. People come to visit and stay to chat. However, blogs that provide information may have lower Time on Page because once someone skims through the article and finds what they need they move on. End of story. Some experts suggest that having a post open in a new tab tricks people to stay longer and gives false data.

Have things changed? Darren Rowse of Problogger wrote on this topic in 2007. Comments continued mostly for leaving the link default blank ended in 2009. Have internet viewing habits changed since then? Are people using public computers as much as they did then?

Anthony, web developer and Editor-in-Chief of UX Movement wrote in 2012, “In the early days of the internet opening new windows were hard for users to manage. But the introduction of browser tabs has changed this. Instead of opening up new windows, you can now open links in new tabs. The big difference here is that browser tabs are easier for users to manage than browser windows.”

link defaults
Open link in a new tab.

Do you think opening in a new tab is a trick?

The Reasons Against Opening a Page in a New Tab

It removes the power of choice from the reader. Look at the picture above. The default when you create a link is blank. I changed mine so that Darren’s page opened in a new tab. It’s much easier to leave it blank. Leaving the box blank saves time when you write your blog. If readers know how to do it, they can open a link in a new tab.

The way to open in a new window is to middle click on the link. That opens it automatically. I don’t have a middle click on my mouse. If I right-click, I get a choice to open the link in a new tab. Research does not exist for how many people know to do this. I didn’t until I started researching this topic.

With the link default blank, the back button rules. According to the Neilson Norman Group in 1996, the back button was probably the most frequently used part of a browser. The writer of that post suggested that breaking the power of the back button is almost criminal. Forcing the reader to open in a new tab, then would be grounds for putting you in internet jail and never visiting you again. At the very least forcing the reader’s hand to open in a new tab is a grievous mistake.

Think about your internet usage. Do you get so mad when an external link opens a new tab that you never visit that blogger again? It may depend on what and why you are reading a post. For example, a reader looking for information to a solve a problem could open too many links. In that case, clicking the back button becomes a burden.

As a reader, I get mad waiting for the back button to work! Of course, the user can click on his or her browsing history to find the site again. In my case, I get distracted and may have moved to another task suggested by a different link. For the “pro reader’s choice” blogger the best case scenario is to hope the reader won’t get lost and will backtrack and finish the post they started.

Conclusion

Don’t click away forever! In the end, both professional and hobby bloggers want their users to come back. Honest bloggers know they can’t trick users into becoming loyal. Since there is no agreement on what is the right thing to do about tabs, your opinion determines what you do with links. You have lots of choices.

  • Don’t use ANY links. Problem solved.
  • Let all your links default to blank and readers can choose to open a new tab if they want. Using an empty box default assumes the reader know how to open the link in a new tab. I suspect that most people do not.
  • Open external links in a new tab. You have to check the edit box and make a choice for the reader. I do this because I like new tabs, but some experts disagree vehemently with me.
  • Open all links in a new tab. I hate this. Opening new tabs every few seconds is time-consuming and annoying.

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Author: Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, author, blogger and retired teacher/consultant - Promoting Hobby Blogging

40 thoughts on “When Should Link Defaults Open In a New Tab?”

  1. As a blogger and a blog visitor / reader, I prefer opening links in new tabs or windows, Marsha.
    I’ve not had any complaints about my links, apart from the odd time when they don’t work – usually because the original page linked to has been deleted by the owner for some reason ?

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    1. I agree 100%, Chris. I think there is a plugin for locating those old links. As many as you have on your blogs I’m amazed at how well they keep working. I guess you pick quality folks who keep on blogging, my friend. And you have established a name for yourself in the blogging community, so if something did break down, a friend would be sure to tell you. 🙂 Have a great week, Chris.

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    1. I agree 100% That’s my choice to do here after studying up on it. I think blogging has changed so much that most people expect that to happen and are not insulted when a new window opens. I did not even know how to open a new window until I started to research this, and look how long we’ve been blogging. Have you had your 5th birthday yet? I had mine yesterday. 🙂

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  2. Yes, I’m with these two 🙂 When I’m reading and I want to check out a link and it clicks away from the page, I am unlikely to go back and read. Think of it as thumbing through a paperback book or reference. I think the benefit may be more for the reader in the long run!

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    1. Wow, and that’s why there is no agreement about them. Everyone has a preferred way to read and study. I go back when I close the link where I clicked to in the first place. I get lost with a back button. 🙂

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    1. Maria Perez and I speak on the phone quite a bit over Networking Bloggers. Issues come up that have bugged both of us. That spurs my research, and off we go! In spite of the fact she’s only been blogging for a couple of years, she know so much. She’s like you, curious and positive and so active. It energizes me all the more! 🙂

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  3. 100% always open a link in a new tab, Marsha. It’s very rare that I will go back to a page if it closes completely when clicking on a link. Sometimes, I find that pressing the back button doesn’t always work and I end up getting a message saying that the page can not be found.

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    1. Very excellent point, Hugh! I still leave the default blank to the posts to my own blog. If they use the back button they are still in my blog. I’ve been on websites that open a new tab every time you want to do anything. For us hobby bloggers I don’t think we need to have our own posts open in new tabs. But you bring up a good point, if the back button doesn’t work and we get an error button, we’re gone! With my luck my back button would get stuck and give me nothing but circles! 🙂 Thanks for such a helpful and thoughtful comment. 🙂 Are you part of our Networking Bloggers group? If not, you should be. You contribute so much to every conversation. BTW, I saw your Blogger Bash on Twitter and retweeted. How’s it going? You having lots of fun? 🙂

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      1. Hi Marsha. I don’t think I’m a member of that group. Could you send me an invite or a link to it? I have joined some Facebook blogging groups, but not much seems to happen on them.

        Thanks so much for the retweet. I’m on the UK Bloggers Bash committee and we’re busy organising this year’s event, which is in London on 10th June. Lots to do, but both previous events have been great fun and very successful.

        Have a great weekend.

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  4. Hi Marsha,
    It is indeed a great joy to be here on your page,
    Nice to meet you at Kingged. Thanks for your quick response.
    I appreciate you for the way in which you work with your readers.
    You have a wonderful page here. will surely come back again to read more.
    Opening links in a new tab is indeed a new concept to me, i never tried,
    Thanks for opening some thought on this subject
    Keep sharing
    Best Regards
    Philip Ariel

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    1. Thank you so much, Philip. I appreciate your encouragement. I do love my readers, and I’ve made so many friends blogging. I just got back from visiting two of my favs in Australia for the first time. Went all the way over there just to spend time with them, and it was amazing. 🙂

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  5. I’d always preferred having a link open in a new tab, rather than waiting for the slow(er) return, but never knew how to make this happen in WP. Now, after reading about Time on Page, I’m not sure I want to do this. Great post, Marsha. Food for thought… 🙂

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    1. If you don’t care too much about stats, I wouldn’t worry about that issue, Tina. It’s whatever is best for the reader, really. I was sending Sally’s post out yesterday from her page to all of the media. I must have had it open more than a half hour. I had to stop to go to the bathroom. So, her stats will look great. But then again, she probably doesn’t care too much about that. 🙂

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    1. Thank you. My head feels like it is going to explode sometimes. Are you an Amazon affiliate? I’m trying to figure that out, and at the same time I’m still struggling with Mail Chimp and boxes in my posts, and Google Console. I hardly have time to write a blog post, let alone a book. My clock needs steroids. 🙂

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  6. No Marsha, I’m not an affiliate anywhere. I too struggle with Mailchimp, I have it set up to send out blog posts once a week, and I don’t have the head for much else. You said it, how much time it takes to learn and set up new techy things. I have enough to contend with social media, emails, blog writing, and my book writing has seemed to come last for quite awhile. So I plan on spending more writing time, come May, than anything else. 🙂

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    1. Sounds good. I need to do that, too. I had a goal to finish one by April 15, and I haven’t touched it for months! 🙂 We are going to Sedona in April so maybe I’ll have some time to work on it more. 🙂 I hate to say it, but I’m glad you struggle with MC too. 🙂

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    1. One thing researching about links has done for me is to realize that if I miss a few links one way or another, it’s not a big deal. I do notice that my time on blog is getting longer by about a minute and a half or two minutes recently. So maybe someone is clicking my links and staying around. I think the comments on this article are helpful, don’t you?

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  7. Arrgh Marsha, I feel so thick reading your post! And then, I got it…yes, I do use links in my posts for the most part, but I realised that I don’t tick the ‘open new tab’ box when setting up the link. Meaning, if I’ve got this right, when a reader clicks on it, the new tab opens but my blog closes, right? I didn’t even think about doing it to be honest, but it makes perfect sense. Like you, I use different open tabs like those 3×5 notecards when writing/blogging. But I had no idea that opening in a new tab was some kind of trick to keep our blog page open at the same time for time spent there. That doesn’t worry me, especially since I’m barely hanging on by a thread right now anyway. I won’t change any previous links but I will tick that box from now on I think. Thanks so much Marsha for pointing this out for me and others here. I was very interested to read the other comments here, finding all the info here extremely helpful 🙂
    I clicked over to the Newtworking Bloggers FB page and requested to join – if you’ll still have me! I thought I had already done it…but these days, I’m not thinking straight with a lot going on behind the scenes, and as you know, I will be pulling away from blogging shortly to focus 100% on finishing my memoir. And also, so heartbroken as I wanted to let you know that we had to put dear, sweet, brave and beautiful Maisy to sleep on Saturday. I’ve been in bits, we all have. 15 years is a long time to have had her companionship. Ahh…the heavy price we pay for pet ownership and the love and joy we share. Sorry to leave such a long comment Marsha…I’ve rambled long enough…catch up again with you soon… xo

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    1. I clicked too soon. I’m so sorry about Maisy. I know how heartbreaking it is to have to do that. Vince had to do that with one of our kitties that got sick. We have lost a couple of dogs over the years, and when Puppy Girl goes, we will be miserable. Again, I feel bad for you and will be thinking of you and Maisy today.

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  8. Absolutely Marsha. Whenever I read a post about something new and helpful to my work, I always scan through comments as well to see how people who’ve used it feel about it. Kind of like reading reviews on Trip Advisor when I’m looking for feedback on a restaurant or hotel. 🙂

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  9. Thank you so much dear Marsha…it really is heartbreaking to lose a beloved pet, so sorry you know that heartache too. I can’t bear to think of it with Eddie, our 11 year old black moggie. He knew Maisy his entire life and seems a bit lost without her. Making sure to give him lots of cuddles and snuggles. That is so sad about your kitty. We’ve lost dogs too and our kitty Willow too…doesn’t get any easier either. Ahh…but we have our wonderful happy memories don’t we? And how thankful for your sweet Puppy Girl and our Eddie – and a grumpy bunny, but that’s another story… 🙂

    Like

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