by Arun Sinha

For the longest time, web usability experts recommended against creating external links that open web pages in new windows. Click here for an example of this kind of advice from 2005.

The advice may have been sound a few years ago. But that was then; this is now. Broadband and tabbed browsers were novelties then; they're commonplace now. As a user who routinely keeps several tabs open, I like having an external link open up in a new tab.

Because then, I can flit from site to site, secure in the knowledge that when I've completed my travels, I can return to my jumping-off point by simply clicking its tab.

Whereas if every external link were to open in the same window, I'd soon be lost. I'd need to click the back arrow repeatedly (or look up my browsing history) to find my way back to the first site. And then click the forward arrow over and over to navigate between sites.

It's time to revise the conventional wisdom. Internal links should open in the same window, but external links should point to a new tab.

You can set up your browser to open new links in a new tab or window. In Firefox, click Tools > Options, then click the Tabs icon. Under New pages should be opened in, click the appropriate radio button, then OK.

To do the same in Internet Explorer, click Tools > Internet Options. On the General tab, look for the Tabs section and click Settings in that section. Then set up your configuration by clicking the proper checkboxes and radio buttons, click OK, and OK again.

In both browsers, you can open a link in a new page if you press the Ctrl key while you click the link.

If you're creating a website, it's easy enough to tell external links not to open in the same window. To your <a href HTML tag, add the attribute target="_blank".

Another option is to add a <base target="_blank" /> tag in the head portion of your code. This will send all links to a new page. The tag needs to be closed in XHTML, but not in HTML.

WordPress allows you to set the target for a link. Blogger doesn’t. Try using the <base> tag on your Blogger site.

Whatever you do, be sure to send your visitors off to a new tab. They will thank you. And if one of them is me, so will I.

Arun Sinha is president of Access Communications, a digital marketing, content creation and web development company in Stamford, Connecticut, USA. Visit http://www.accessc.com for more information on copy writing, websites, and Internet marketing.

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