Today I learned

Why external links should always open in the same tab

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If you're like me you'll always set links to external pages to open in a new tab. It's my personal preference and I always thought that this is the best practice because you don't want to lose the user to the external website.

After reading Whitney Lewis article on How to make external links accessible Opens in new tab I gathered new information and learned that it's best to always open external links in the same tab.

Whitney argues that it's not necessary to open external links in a new tab by default because users always have this choice. If they want to open a link in a new tab they can do so by right-clicking on the link and selecting "Open in new tab". If we open external links in a new tab by default we take away the users choice.

The W3C also recommends to open external links in the same tab in their document Opening new windows and tabs form a link only when necessary Opens in new tab.

In general, it is better not to open new windows and tabs since they can be disorienting for people, especially people who have difficulty perceiving visual content.

If we go back to my initial argument that we don't want to lose the user to the external website, Whitney also argues that this is not a valid point:

"If your user wants to leave the webpage, they will, and trying to keep them there can feel like a ploy. On the other hand, if they want to stay on your website, they will. Users can choose to open the link in a new tab."

When to use target="_blank"

But there are also some valid reasons to open external links in a new tab.

  • If you fill out a form and you click on a link to an external website you don't want to lose the form data
  • If you are on a secure website and it links to an external website that is not secure, for examaple if you are logged in to your bank account you possibly want to keep the login active
  • If you need the information from both websites at the same time, for example if you are comparing two products

If you want to open a link in a new tab it's advised to add a warning that it does so, Whitney states. This can be a simple text like "Opens in a new tab" or an icon like an arrow pointing to the right.

If you choose the use an icon, you have to make sure to make it accessible to non-visual users. Whitney shares a a great resource for this: A beginner’s guide to link accessibility Opens in new tab


I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something new. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter Opens in new tab or via Email Opens in new tab.

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I wish you a wonderful day! Marco