Before I Change Link Defaults, I Need to Know!

Some of you have joined my friend Maria Perez and me on our new Facebook group Networking Bloggers. I have learned so much since I have met the community of bloggers that share ideas in that group. One day Maria suggested that she needed to change her links on her blog.

That sent a chill up my spine. I knew my blog wouldn’t pass inspection. What Maria suggested implied an enormous amount of work changing thousands of links. So before I plunged into unproductive seat time, I wanted a second opinion from other “blog doctors.” As it turned out, they did not agree with each other. So now I want your opinion both as a blog reader and writer.

Experts differ on setting link defaults in a blog post. Some suggest never to open links in new tab. (user’s choice) Others say “Open external links in a new tab.” (blog owners choice)

link defaults
Should links open in a new tab or not?

The Reasons For Opening Links in a New Tab

Google Analytics drives most of the reasons self-hosted bloggers make changes to their posts.

link defaults
Google Analytics drives default link decisions.

When a new tab opens, your blog stays open. Hobby bloggers who monetize their blog desire higher Time on Page numbers. The longer the Time on Page the better your blog stats look to a potential affiliate. You probably will not be able to monetize your blog without having a low Bounce Rate and a high Time on Page.

When the user has finished with the link and closed the tab, they’ll find your page still sitting there. And the clock is still ticking on your Time on Page statistics. Sweet. But maybe not entirely accurate. Some suggest that this is a trick.

Always Write sets external links to open in a new tab because I read somewhere that was the correct thing to do, not because it was a trick. Looking at my Time on Page stats as I write this post,  Time on Page, do you suspect me of trying to trick you?

My guess is that few people research or are interested enough to read the links in addition to my article. Links are like reading every reference in a research paper, scientific, or historical novel. It’s important they are there. They show that writer has done his or her homework. However, unless a reader is writing a master’s or doctoral thesis and chasing more sources, he or she will probably not check the references.

I can hear Carol’s voice in my ears right now.

“Who cares about Time on Page anyway? I’m just going to read the blogs I love. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care about how long they take.”

She’s right. It comes down to what is easiest for your readers.

Easier for Reference Typically viewers come to blogs for information. Bloggers use links as references. For example, if I am writing a post about my trip to visiting the Healesville Sanctuary in Australia, I want to know more about Tasmanian Devils. So for me, having an open tab or several open tabs is like having my books and papers spread all around me on the table. I like being able to bounce from one reference to another when I study.

Remember writing with 3×5 note cards? My open tabs are like my note cards. I can click from one to another without having to use the back button as I write. For that reason, when I write my post I make links to external information open in a new tab. Many of you are authors. How do you do your research?

Hobby Bloggers may not include any links. Entertainment or opinions blogs might have a higher Time on Page. People come to visit and stay to chat. However, blogs that provide information may have lower Time on Page because once someone skims through the article and finds what they need they move on. End of story. Some experts suggest that having a post open in a new tab tricks people to stay longer and gives false data.

Have things changed? Darren Rowse of Problogger wrote on this topic in 2007. Comments continued mostly for leaving the link default blank ended in 2009. Have internet viewing habits changed since then? Are people using public computers as much as they did then?

Anthony, web developer and Editor-in-Chief of UX Movement wrote in 2012, “In the early days of the internet opening new windows were hard for users to manage. But the introduction of browser tabs has changed this. Instead of opening up new windows, you can now open links in new tabs. The big difference here is that browser tabs are easier for users to manage than browser windows.”

link defaults
Open link in a new tab.

Do you think opening in a new tab is a trick?

The Reasons Against Opening a Page in a New Tab

It removes the power of choice from the reader. Look at the picture above. The default when you create a link is blank. I changed mine so that Darren’s page opened in a new tab. It’s much easier to leave it blank. Leaving the box blank saves time when you write your blog. If readers know how to do it, they can open a link in a new tab.

The way to open in a new window is to middle click on the link. That opens it automatically. I don’t have a middle click on my mouse. If I right-click, I get a choice to open the link in a new tab. Research does not exist for how many people know to do this. I didn’t until I started researching this topic.

With the link default blank, the back button rules. According to the Neilson Norman Group in 1996, the back button was probably the most frequently used part of a browser. The writer of that post suggested that breaking the power of the back button is almost criminal. Forcing the reader to open in a new tab, then would be grounds for putting you in internet jail and never visiting you again. At the very least forcing the reader’s hand to open in a new tab is a grievous mistake.

Think about your internet usage. Do you get so mad when an external link opens a new tab that you never visit that blogger again? It may depend on what and why you are reading a post. For example, a reader looking for information to a solve a problem could open too many links. In that case, clicking the back button becomes a burden.

As a reader, I get mad waiting for the back button to work! Of course, the user can click on his or her browsing history to find the site again. In my case, I get distracted and may have moved to another task suggested by a different link. For the “pro reader’s choice” blogger the best case scenario is to hope the reader won’t get lost and will backtrack and finish the post they started.


Don’t click away forever! In the end, both professional and hobby bloggers want their users to come back. Honest bloggers know they can’t trick users into becoming loyal. Since there is no agreement on what is the right thing to do about tabs, your opinion determines what you do with links. You have lots of choices.

  • Don’t use ANY links. Problem solved.
  • Let all your links default to blank and readers can choose to open a new tab if they want. Using an empty box default assumes the reader know how to open the link in a new tab. I suspect that most people do not.
  • Open external links in a new tab. You have to check the edit box and make a choice for the reader. I do this because I like new tabs, but some experts disagree vehemently with me.
  • Open all links in a new tab. I hate this. Opening new tabs every few seconds is time-consuming and annoying.

How do you like to browse?

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