I've read what Jakob writes about this, and I hate forcing new windows. But there are still strong backers of the view that opening external links in a new window keeps visitors on the website. Do they have a leg to stand on? Is there any real evidence or expert opinion supporting target="_blank"?
Pragmatically, when someone clicks an off site link they've 'left your site' anyway.
opening a new window won't keep them on your site, it just means they have a window open with your site in it. (probably behind the window they've now opened (full screen)
they still have to go back, but generally people surf onward...
look at it this way, the Internet savvy will open links in new tabs, use the back button and navigate around in a way that suits them. Forcing new windows generally annoys the Internet savvy.
Internet newbies type your name in google, close "the Internet" when they get confused, open it again and type your name into google again... So opening new windows for them is just adding to their confusion.
all in all it's bad idea to force behaviour on your visitors.
If anything I?d say
target="_blank" reduces real time spent interacting with your site, as it breaks the Back button, so most users can?t return to your site even if they want to.
Putting marketing goals ahead of your users? goals is never a good idea?this will only annoy users. Time on site is also not a particularly good metric, as for most sites you really want to let the user complete their goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.
If you want empirical data the best source will be from your own website. Try an A/B test on your site (maybe using Google?s Website Optimizer) and compare the stats, or do some user testing using something like Silverback.
Watching real users? frustrations with usability impediments like breaking the back button will hopefully remind supporters of
target="_blank" what they already know from personal experience; it?s annoying.
Finally, another approach is to buy the relevant stakeholder a copy of Dont Make Me Think by Steve Krug ;-) This book should be required reading!
I / the company I work for use
target="_blank" on all links and the standard line is because it can encourage people not to leave the site, or even the current page if they wish to read additonal descriptions or see other information.
However, we rarely use actual browser windows these days, and instead open any 'popups' in modal div elements that float above the page. I agree, I think forcing new browser windows is horrible, but unfortunately it is occasionally necessary.
When we use modal divs the
target="_blank" is removed from the link (and the default browser behaviour is stopped anyway, so using
target="_blank" is just a fallback for if JS is disabled :)
Because managing the windows by yourself on a browser which doesn't support tabs is painful,
target=_blank will live as long as IE6 lives. And Microsoft is committed to supporting IE6 until 2014 (the same date as Windows XP to which is it tied). But personally try to avoid both forcing new windows and supporting IE6 if possible.
You could give your users a choice, by including the "standard" link which opens in the existing window, and by adding an additional link which is a generic 'new window' icon (see example), which opens in a new window.
Of, if you only want one link and you want it to open in a new window, you could at least inform the user it will open in a new window by displaying a generic 'new window' icon inside the link, via something like this:
<a href="#" style="background: URL('images/new_window_icon.gif') no-repeat; padding-left: 30px;">link</a>
Personally, I never use target=_blank, I always like to give my users a choice - empowering the user instead of forcing them is surely a better UX.