Force new windows on external links?

Don’t force your users to open new windows…. even on external links.

There are many reasons why it is a bad idea and not many reasons to do it.   There are maybe a few special cases where it is ok – but is it ever really necessary?  Personally I like to control the opening of tabs myself – I use the right click frequently at times – when I’m researching I open heaps of tabs, then work my way through them.  That doesn’t mean I want a website to forcibly open those links in new windows for me!   Unless of course it is my webmail or feedreader service – then it’s practically obligatory.

Let us assume we are intelligent enough to adhere to standards and take advice from the experts.  Let us assume we all want

And of course we’d like our plugin developers, wordpress developers, tinymce developers to help us in this mission.   This research was done for my own use to determine what my plugins should do.


  • forcing new tabs or windows is bad for usability (seriously, studies have shown it is harmful)
  • it is not recommended for accessibility
  • the methods to do it can cause invalid html
  • some folks think it doesn’t help your analytics (although one site had some thoughts on that)
  • it is not necessary… so why do it?  maybe just indicate an external link? or allow for optional js.

Who says no?

Possible reasons to force a new window on external links?

But I want to keep the user on my site…..

“Marketers love it because it allows them to link to external content without taking the reader off the page.”

This is a reasonable fear for a client to have. The user leaving the site and not being able to get back….In every single usability test I’ve done, opening external content in a new window makes this problem worse – not better.

quoted from the Stack exchange usability forum

Special cases perhaps?

  • webmail,
  • feed readers,
  • long lists of external resources.

If we need to do it, what is best way to deal with external links?

Best ways to handle external links

Indicate the external link.

See how Wikipedia  does it.  It classes links as external with a css class.  That css class is then styled with a background image.  It provides a clear visual clue as suggested here.   The css is something like:

 a.external {    background: 
    no-repeat scroll right center transparent;
    padding-right: 13px;}


style the rel=”external”



Force it open anyway?

If you really truly must force  open a new tab or window on an external link, consider:

target=”_blank” is invalid html

 rel=”external” or rel=”external nofollow”

data-rel=”external nofollow”

WordPress and external links

I’m a wordpress plugin developer.  Sadly at stage of writing there doesn’t seem to be a consistent approach in wordpress. Perhaps it’s tinymc’s fault – can it be configured ?

post author or comment author links in twenty-twelve theme

  • uses “rel=”external nofollow”,
  • but by default there is no js to force a window open links in meta sidebar or footer

  • no attributes, so not an issue

Links or link manager plugin

  • links are no longer a default feature in new sites, but can be added with link manager plugin
  • option to add target=”” and rel=(but only real relationships), not forced

Links in posts

  • (if added using visual editor’s insert link), then we get target=”_blank” ?
  • it’s tinymce allowing users to select ‘open in new window’ – can it be disabled?

external link plugins

even plugins that aim to help you manage outbound links note that opening new windows may have detrimental effects.  Semilogic suggests users may think you used a pop-under.

 Wordpress related discussions and requests:



Accessibility guidelines:

Usability advice on external links and new windows:

Web design advice on target=”_blank”

Contrary Arguments

One argument for new windows on external links, but many comments questioning this advice

Need help discussing with your clients?

Some tips on discussing decisions like these: or self-hosted wordpress

Looking to set up a website using WordPress, one of the world most popular content management systems?

Assess your skills (ftp, html, css, php) and what you are prepared to do yourself, and how good you are at educatng yourself using the web.  Then consider your options. PROS

  • easy to get going even if no skills
  • free, or can add premium feaures (they add up)
    • videopress ($60/year)
    • custom css for own styling or tweaks ($30/year)
    • post or moderate using your phone (usa only)
  • can map your existing  domain there ($12/year), or register a domain through them($17/year)
  • they’ll keep you up to date with wordpress at least.
  • language aspects are pre-loaded
  • if you want to allow comments, has good antispam built in, althoiugh you can also add that feature (akismet) in to a self hosted site.
  • you’re hosted by – so you are on a server where all the sites are running wordpress CONS

  • limited to their themes, although premium themes available ($45)
  • totally reliant on them – if they disappear, so do you (unless you have figured out a way to keep own backup of your site and can arrange hosting, reload of site and repoint your domain name.  That said, this is what you would have todo on a self hosted site anyway.
  • cannot display ads, unless you revenue share advertising (high volume clients only)
  • have to pay extra NOT to have ads ($29.97)

Self Hosted WordPress PROS

  • Total control (along with that comes the requirement that you be able to manage that control)
    • own themes, plugins
    • customise functionality and style as you like
  • Cheap if you have the skills! Good wordpress hosting is available from $72/month

Self Hosted WordPress CONS

  • You need to purchase your own domain name and web hosting
  • If you don’t know what you are doing, you either need to hire some one or you will get into trouble.
  • Have to do/arrange WordPress upgradesm plugin and theme upgrades
  • Hiring people can get expensive
  • Have to add in what comes automatically at
    • add in askimet anti-spam
    • add in own backups to your own pc (your host should do backups, but you should also have your own)
    • spikes in traffic may be a problem
  • With shared hosting (own server costs approximately $200/month), you are sharing the server – this reduce costs but if the other guys are up to no good…. That said a good wordpress host will normally switch servers for your promptly if you suspect a problem.

 More Information

What to do:


  • your skill levels
  • website requirements and it’s implications (eg:membership, comments – you need anti-spam)
  • how much you are prepared to pay for someone to assist you if you need assistance.

It is free to open a site, so give it a go – you’ll need it anyway if you want to use their anti-spam service askimet, or the stats via the jetpack plugin.

If you are comfortable with doing many things yourself or are prepared to hire the skills you need, and know how to test your website and any plugins you add, consider going with a self hosted solution.  You can either do it yourself – there are heaps of guides out there.

If you want to get going quickly, I can have you up and running within a day if you use icdsoft as your host

Price vs value vs expectations vs feedback

photo by ecastro

A Seth Godin post on the irrelevance of price to content, struck me as relevant to plugin development.

People walking out of the afternoon bargain matinee at the movies don’t cut the film any slack because it was half price. Critics piling on to a music video on YouTube never mention the fact that HEY IT WAS FREE. There is no thrift store for content. Sure, we can get an old movie for ninety-nine cents, but if we hate it, it doesn’t matter how cheap it was. If we’re going to spend time, apparently, it better be perfect, the best there ever was, regardless of price.

It also made me think about the responsibility one has in putting something out ‘there’ – making it free does not absolve one of responsibility for it.  Certainly one should not put something half baked out there.  There are many plugins loaded up that never amount to anything – why do people bother?

Is it responsible ?

The culture of free

Certainly the culture of ‘free’ is (I think) changing.  Services like itunes have proven that there is a market for paid apps.  Some want to ‘pay more’  – they hope they’ll get a better product, and sometimes they do.

There have been many controversial posts on the web about the whole free/paid plugin question.

I’ve noticed that most of the time, when someone has paid for a plugin, they have a vested interest in telling the developer if they experience a problem on their system. This helps the developer understand if there aspects of server setup, or interactions with themes that you did not expect, or perhaps where there is a gap in the documentation or ease of installation.

When the plugin is free, while many are grateful and supportive, others can be quite harsh. A brusque “does not work” ! with no details. They do not stop to wonder why a highly rated plugin used by many does not work on their system – were they on an old core system, did it work on the default theme – who knows?

They slate it, uninstall and move on to the next free one.

The developer knows it works because he tested it (hopefully) on several wp versions, several browsers etc…. but clearly there was a situation somewhere that caused a problem.

Moral of the story?

Releasing a well developed free version is great for exposure, but do not do it unless it is reasonably robust and you are prepared to a some support ….

A free plugin I was using was not doing it’s job like it used to …. a quick look at both forums (wp and the well regarded authors main site) revealed a number of unhappy users. The developers who were perhaps too busy to dedicate time to the ‘free’ plugin, but could perhaps have handled the situation better…. what is left is a slight feeling of negativity.

Some developers have the attitude that they have offered up some code for free and users should debug it and modify it… well….. in some communities where everyone has some ‘expertise’ that philosophy is totally valid.

Too easy

However WordPress has become so accessible to so many. Many WordPress users do not even have html or css skills, let alone php…… As for basic debugging skills ….I sigh at some posts at wordpress – what do these people expect ?  that they can run their web design business leveraging off the good will of others ?

One of the reasons that WP Help desk shut down apparently was that they found it hard to find good staff who were prepared to put up with abusive users of free plugins. How sad

The dangers of too easy and free…..