Why opening off-site links in new windows is a bad idea

I get asked regularly to open links to 3rd-party websites in new windows. Keeping people on-site longer seems to be the goal.

Opening links in new windows is a bad idea. Here’s why:

  • New browser windows have no history — and therefore no working back button. You wanted people to come back to your site, but you blocked the most direct path. This just frustrates people, which you want to avoid at all costs.
  • If keeping people on your site longer is the goal, then ask yourself why? They can leave whenever they want, and trying to stop them is pointless. Besides, longer visits don’t necessarily translate to higher sales or deeper engagement — it may mean they’re flailing away in frustration instead of finding what they want. If boosting metrics is the goal, then you’re probably putting the cart before the horse.

The best way to keep people on your site — and to keep them coming back — is to publish interesting, high-quality content. Regularly. People love that.

Notes

  1. There are exceptions where opening new browser windows can be advisable: linking to non–web-native content (e.g. PDFs or Office documents whose content or software may take time to load), or forms (where referencing another window may prove helpful).
  2. There are prominent websites that open all 3rd-party links in new windows. A disclaimer next to the link may disavow responsibility for (or endorsement of) the contents of 3rd-party sites. This reveals the publishers’ contempt for their visitors’ intelligence, to say nothing of the juvenile idea that opening a new browser window somehow distances the sites. A link is a link — even when poorly executed.
  3. A few days after this was originally posted, Marco Arment (of Tumblr/Instapaper/The Magazine/ATP/Overcast fame) posted a similar piece: Forcing links to open in new windows: an argument that should have ended 15 years ago