Target= "_Blank" : The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Target= “_Blank” : The Good, Bad, and Ugly

The attribute: target=”_blank” triggers web browsers to open a brand new tab to house a link. What effect does this have on user experience? On SEO?

There are some practical uses for this command, like pop-ups, links to PDFs, and links to side information.

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.

Example of an Ineffective Use of _Blank

Let’s talk about an example.

A recent client’s website used this command for every sub-page in its services navigation bar. 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: 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, so it is tricky to understand exactly what activity occur

How Do These Links Skew Analytics?

One possibility is that users 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 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 inconsistent?

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 its 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.

Long Story Short: Acceptable for External Links

Team Evolve generally uses this attribute when linking to outside sources on the blog because visitors often want to “bookmark” the referenced page without leaving the post. This allows users to keep their place. Plus, who doesn’t have a minimum of ten tabs open anyway?

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