Target=”_blank” tells a user’s browser to “open this link in a new window” (or a tab, if you’ve configured your browser to treat windows as tabs). Many people don’t like this behavior, and many usability “experts” have argued against it’s use. The W3C has even deprecated it in XHTML.
The most common arguement for using the target attribute is that it makes it easier to come back to the site if you visit a link. (Really, the argument translates to something like “we don’t want you to leave our website.”) There are a couple flaws with this reasoning though.
- “Advanced” users, like myself, don’t like the lack of control. If we want to easily go back to your site, we’ll open the link in a new tab, and switch back to your site when we want to go back. Otherwise, we’ll come back some other time. Forcing a new window open is just irritating.
- A more average user could easily be confused. The window would open and cover the pre-existing window, hiding it from site. As the average, non-tab-aware user generally relies on the Back button, they will be confused or annoyed that it doesn’t work, as the new window wouldn’t have the same session history as the original window.
There’s no keeping people on your website, and if we want to come back we will, using our own means.
Now, I’m not saying that are never any cases where a new window should be used. Some games or web apps, for example, would work better in their own, custom-sized window, or be more convenient for the user (so they could have the page visible onscreeen while working in another application, for example). Don’t go opening all your external links in new windows though. Your users won’t thank you for it.
Smashing Magazine has also put together a post on this topic – Should Links Open In New Windows?