Bookmark: "Link Targets and 3.2.5"

Sebastian Greger

I can’t even remember how many times I have engaged in the discussion why links on websites should not open in new tabs. Sadly, the number of times I had to surrender and spoil otherwise user-friendly and accessible designs with the client request to “open external links in a new tab” is about the same. It’s a design flaw denounced for over two decades that just doesn’t want to die.

Adrian Roselli’s comprehensive summary on why links opening in new tabs are bad hostile design is a great resource. Not just for the detailed analysis of how this violates a range of accessibility principles and is a manifestation of exclusive thinking, but by explaining how doing it right would require such effort it simply is not worth taking away the user’s control over their machine in this way.

Regardless of what accessibility conformance level you target, do not arbitrarily open links in a new window or tab. If you are required to do so anyway, inform users in text.

My favourite quote, as my own experience backs this up to a great extent:

Consistently across my searches the only ones who ever make the case for new windows are folks whose paycheck is dependent on hitting bounce rate or time-on-site goals in their site analytics.

The only arguments I’ve ever heard for opening links in a new tab/window — despite presenting evidence from usability research — came from marketing. And it’s always about the goal of an organisation to trick users into “keeping them on our site” (essentially a deceptive pattern?). Nobody wants to hear the message that this actually confuses, and even offends, a lot of people …probably because such qualitative impact does not surface when looking at web analytics.

“Opening links in new tabs” remains what it has always been: poor design, disrespectful to users, and a hostile move against inclusion. And I will keep designing every project without target="_blank" at first, to at least trigger this futile conversation.