Target= “_Blank” – The Good, Bad, and Ugly
The attribute: target=”_blank” triggers web browsers to open a brand new tab to house a link. In other words, it effectively makes the choice for visitors about where and how to open the link. Not only does this have implications for a site’s usability but also its SEO-friendliness.
There are some practical uses for this command, but they are few and far between. Think pop-ups, links to PDFs, and links to side information, like when filling out a form. For example, a “What’s this?” button when a site asks for your credit card security code usually points you to a new tab. In this instance, causing links to open in a new window allows you to find the information you need without losing all of the information you have already entered.
However, there are lots of techies out there that swear against using _blank altogether. Most users are technically savvy enough to know how to right click and choose the option of opening a link in a new tab or window if that’s what they want. More often than not, however, prompting a link to open this way isn’t very user friendly.
Let’s talk about an example. A recent client’s website used this command for every sub-page in its services navigation bar. Pause. Let’s think about that for a minute. So that means every time potential customers want to learn about a specific service, they are opening a new tab. And when they want to navigate to another service, guess what? Another tab! When there are several services to click on, the tabs start to multiply like rabbits, resulting in a chaotic browser and a massive headache. At the very least, these visitors have started to exit tabs before opening another one within the site. Or even more likely, they have given up on your site completely and moved on to one of your competitors. Now the company, not just its online users, has problems too.
Believe it or not, _blank is used pretty often on the web. Granted, it is somewhat rare to see a website that uses this attribute for its internal links. But there are plenty of sites out there that love using this handy tool for external links because they think that it will keep people on their site.
So that got us at Evolve thinking. What exactly are the repercussions for target=”_blank” from an SEO standpoint? Is link juice still passed on to new windows? Do Googlebots crawl across tabs? And what about effects on metrics?
Here’s what we found:
The Good: Link Juice and Crawlability
Search engines see these links just like they do any other. They are crawlable and they still pass along all of their link juice. Thankfully search engines, unlike people, ignore this attribute.
The Bad: Errors in W3C
Links that use target=”_blank” will show up as errors when validating html using the W3C Validator. Luckily, this can be fixed by adding in a few lines of code that serve as a valid replacement. But if there are a bunch of these, this can get pretty tedious.
The Ugly: Say Goodbye to Google Analytics
In the client example, Google Analytics becomes an almost worthless tool. People do funky things when they are bombarded with new windows. One possibility is that they exit each tab when they are finished with it, thus navigating back to the homepage before navigating to the next page of interest, even though the services navigation is still on the second page. Another possibility is that they reach a breaking point, which will vary among visitors and their patience levels, and leave the site altogether.
This is likely causing completely inaccurate data in your site’s Google Analytics account, specifically in areas such as bounce rate and conversion paths. How are you supposed to understand your customer’s on-site behavior when your data is all screwy? Subsequently, how are you going to improve user-experience when you don’t understand what that experience truly is?
You may be tempted to say that a company using target=_blank for their internal links doesn’t care about user experience, but I say it is simply misled. And it desperately needs to consider finding a new developer.
Think I’m being too harsh? In an article called the Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 1999, getting rid of the usability of the back button and opening new browser windows were numbers one and two respectively. But creating new windows every time you click a link also makes the back button obsolete. So my point is, creating new browser windows is the single greatest design mistake a site can make – and people knew that back in 1999!
Team Evolve generally uses this attribute when linking to outside (and sometimes inside) sources on the blog – but now we’re second guessing our habits. It seems acceptable to save the reader’s place while simultaneously allowing them to explore the site we reference, but if users find it as frustrating as they do, it might be worth opting out of this link attribute.
What are your thoughts?