When (Not) To Use Target=”_Blank” Link Attribute

SMS Text

More and more sites are using target=”_blank” for links to make sure they will open the link in a new window and keep the visitor on the site.

I confess, I am using them myself because I assume the visitors are using FireFox browser that opens those links in a new window.

But is it really a wise thing to do?

When Target=”_Blank” Can / Should Be Used

There is the fundamental law of the Internet ethics that says that you let the visitor decide how he wants to open the links. So (especially) when your target audience consists of technically sophisticated users (like SEO audience for example), be warned that they do not like new windows. They also know how to open a new window or how to prevent a new window whenever they want.

The cases when the attribute can (and is encouraged to) be used are the following:

  • To link to a PDF document mostly because when it’s first followed there’s often a delay while the browser loads up the plugin and PDF (and thus you can let the visitor read more information on the current page while the document loads).

It is also a wise thing to do to warn the visitor of the type of the file he is going to download and how the link will open:

<a href=”document.pdf” target=”_blank”>Document</a> (PDF 13K, new window)

  • To link to “supplemental information” like help files or additional information that would ordinarily clog up the topic with tangent data.

Target=”_Blank” Versus Other Ways to Open Links in a New Window

JavaScript methods versus “target=”_blank”

  • Target=”_blank” will always open a new window or tab exactly the same size as the original, covering up the original and can be extremely confusing, especially if the user clicks and looks away for a moment. With a Javascript method, you can control the size of the window so that’s it’s VERY obvious it’s a new window and you can still see the parent behind it.

  • Obviously, JavaScript method won’t work if JavaScript is disabled. Besides, it will prevent the search bot from crawling the page.

Target=”_blank” versus Target=”new”

Here’s an awesome explanation: Using _blank as a target value will spawn a new window every time while using _new will only spawn one new window and every link clicked with a target value of _new will replace the page loaded in the previously spawned window. Try it out for yourself:

Links with target=”_blank”

Google | Yahoo

Links with target=”_new”

Google | Yahoo

Additional reading:

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
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  • Ross Tucknott

    I've been wondering for a while about the implications of _blank, but with regards to SEO instead of usability. Knowing that most webmasters use _blank for external websites, if I were Google I'd see external links without _blank as more trusted than those with it. It could almost be construed as a mini-nofollow.

    Anyone seen any evidence of Google using _blank as a ranking factor?

    • Ann Smarty

      I personally don't think this taken into account in any way. But then again, who knows?

  • Barry Adams

    I always use target=_blank for all external links pointing off-site, and keep all on-site links untouched. This to try and keep the visitor on my sites and maybe get an extra few pageviews out of them.

  • Michael Martinez

    Trying to force people to stay on your site is insane. However, offering links to other sites you cannot vet without providing some protection to your visitors is equally stupid. It reflects badly on a Website if it appears to hang when the visitor clicks on a link to a bad location.

    People should ALWAYS use the _BLANK option for external links because they cannot guarantee that the visitor's browser won't freeze when trying to load that other site.

    There is absolutely no fundamental reason to use the same browser window to send people to other sites.

    • S Emerson

      There are reasons NOT to open a link in a new window:
      -poor accessibility of the page
      -poor usability
      -nusance for people who use popup blockers = they won't bother visiting your site again

      If your content is great they will use the back button, bookmark your site or find you again.

      As far as outside links hanging, as a responsible website/blog owner you should be checking your outgoing links for problems. If you did this, then you would know which are bad links and remove them.

  • kingkool68

    Optimize your site for humans first (think accessibility), then worry about search engines. The only time I use the target attribute is when I need to use JavaScript to open a new window in a certain size. Those without JavaScript enabled will still have access to the page and have a similiar experience albeit with an uncontrolled window size.

  • seriocomic

    Have you completely missed the point?

    The use of the target attribute is for dealing with frameset built websites only. Any other use of it is completely redundant.

    If you feel you *must* force a non-browser default response, then use unobtrusive JavaScript to do the dirty work.

    More here: http://www.456bereastreet.com/archive/200603/th…

    I can't believe you linked to the SitePoint article and didn't even read it.

  • Business Logos

    IMO it depends on your target audience. Many inexperienced people browsing the Internet do not know how to launch a new browser to open a link. If you have a tech audience the advice is solid.

    • Jim

      I agree. If your site is not a computer technical/SEO site then probably most of your visitors won't know how to launch a new browser window, etc.

      A lot of SEO sites and advice tend to be directed at people creating (other) SEO related sites, and not “general” websites.

  • Julie – Fine Tooth Comb

    I've used _blank for all of my external links, but wasn't aware of the _new option. Thanks for the tip.

  • Sanmesh

    You post is really informative, i have used target=”_blank” but now i will try target=”_new”
    method. Please keep it up with your post.

  • Sharma Infoway

    I agree. If you're using it to prevent someone's in-progress work from being wrecked, fine — although there may be better ways to address that problem.

  • Blog SEO – Vincent

    Nice ! I wasn't aware of this !
    Thank you, Ann !

  • asefati

    also from usability issue, i think google doesn't weight the _blank links same as the ones with out it. I know this by experiance.

  • Michael Martinez

    I've used _BLANK for years. Never had a problem with Google. You're not putting the user first when you put their browsing experience at risk by linking to sites you cannot guarantee will be there, are in the same state they were when you embedded the link, or haven't been compromised.

    Every external site is suspect. They could have server issues, heavy loads, routing problems, the users could have routing problems, etc.

    It's simply irresponsible to open new links in the same browser window.

    People should always use _BLANK as _NEW does not guarantee that the external link will open in a new browser window.

  • reyla

    I feel like I assume now that external links open a new window. If a site doesn't do that, I might not even notice its the same window, and then at some point I close the window and panic or realize I have to hit the back button 20 times to get back to the original site and I'm annoyed. So I always use _blank for external windows.

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  • jimmypage

    yes, it's right. i'll follow this tip. Thanks for sharing!

  • jimmypage

    yes, it's right. i'll follow this tip. Thanks for sharing!

  • DeeEss

    I have read this mantra of “let the user decide” in several other places as well. And by “user decides”, you mean the link will load in the same window – but that’s already forcing a decision upon a group of users who do NOT browse in a linear fashion. Which is, like, everyone I know – myself included. It’s way easier to navigate your session’s browsing history tree when you are dealing with a bunch of open tabs you can close, instead of the ever more unreliable ‘back’ button. Ever try to get back to a google search by hitting the ‘back’ button? It’s damn near impossible, because of the way they redirect. Ever read a ripping article filled with all kinds of juicy sources and tangential articles, and get really mad when you mindlessly click on one and the paragraph you were concentrating on drops out and a new webpage starts loading? I I dunno about you, but not everyone gets to surf on a 100mbit connection with the latest version of OSX and a solid-state drive. And yeah, I could right-click or ctrl-click, but..why? As far as usability goes, I think *you* should be the ones to have to right-click or ctrl-click to open in same window!

  • Rich Amor

    Moreover, I’m curious about how google thought about this target element, and value to seo.
    I stumbled to a website which display their category on each posts. The website ranked well on many keywords, they’re really dominating the SERP. As I click to the a category link, always targets to a new window. This make me wonder, maybe – just maybe, umhh..I’m a beginner to seo, it raises the page authority.
    Hmmm…What’s your thought?

  • Denel

    I do web design, and I ALWAYS use “_blank” for external links. One of the first things I learned when studying for web design is that you do not want to have things that automatically takes the surfer away from your site.

    This article is great…but it assumes a tech-savvy world. We are not there yet. There are still a zillion less-than-savvy internet users out there. As a designer, I want to assume my visitors know nothing, and make it as easy as possible for them.

    In addition, I am an experienced web user, and I am regularly running into sites that when you hit the back button it just refreshes their page…and you end up in an endless loop. Then I have to right click on my back button to go down the list of previous pages to find the one I want to go back to. Do you know how many users don’t know they can do that? I, for one, will continue to use “_blank” for external links.

    About the “_new”…now I know what causes web pages to load on top of each other. I find it quite annoying, myself. I like to bring up multiple pages of info to browse through when I am doing research. It is really annoying when I am trying to bring up several links, and they just replace each other. Because that annoys me, I will not use it to annoy others.

  • alfons

    I am totally new to web design and I am baffled as to why standrds compliance would have to become so annoying. I totally understand the idea of CSS streamlining things, and that option being available now is killer, but why force people to use it, there are always GOOD oddball reasons to do SOME things a strange so called less efficient way. Okay, maybe CSS refers to best practices? Anyway, if my understanding is correct the standards are trying to do away with opening new tabs or windows with a left click and so things have to get more convoluted with java to solve it? I LOVE multiple tabs. I have 10 up right now. How much more killer is it to point and click on the info you previously had in front of your face than sort through a stack of pages. Is this not why filing cabinets have tabs? Well anyway I know the page I’m working on must open new tabs. My page is meant to serve as a resource to lead you to an array of information on a particular topic. It would be like using the index of a book to get to the section you want and then tearing out the index and throwing it across the room. Now I need to find something else in my book that’s the size of the WHOLE INTERNET well tough luck. Am I totally misunderstanding this standards stuff? I want to use this target=”_blank”. Does that mean I’m doomed to bad search results?. I can’t figure out to get java incorporated into my page.