External links are always a dilemma as a user that follows an external link using a simple click will leave your site. Can the visitors know what is an internal link and an external link? Do your visitors know that they’re leaving the site and when they do – will they come back?
Here’s my impression of the "average visitor" (AV) I met throughout my IT years:
- Only a few AV look at the address of the link to see what address it’s referring to the status bar. Some won’t even be able to tell if it’s an internal or external link if they do look at it.
- Only a few AV use the "Open Link in New Tab" or even "Open Link in New Window". Even fewer AVs are aware of the middle-click option. IE6 users, which still constitute for an overwhelming percentage of browser users, don’t even have tabs and they hate opening a new window with it flawed positioning and resizing.
- While the AV does know about the "Back" button, AV will usually use it in a case of a mistake. If the link found is a good read, AV will stay there.
Which leads to the conclusion that most people that are interested in an external link provided on you site will leave the site, sometimes not knowing that they’re transferring somewhere else. This problem is also relevant when pointing out to images or videos.
Aside from adding HTML code by hand to the links here’s what you can do:
- Use a module or a plugin to mark the external links to indicate that they’re external, and if you wish – forward outgoing links to a new window. If you’re using WordPress, consider installing the "External Links Plugin For WordPress" or "Identify External Links". If you’re using Drupal, consider installing the "External Links Module".
- Use Snap or other preview tools that open a small preview window of where the link is leading to. You can also use MyBlogLog to show the number of visitors who clicked on an external link. AVs will understand that clicking the link will lead them somewhere else. While this might work well on some sites, it is extremely annoying on others. There is a long debate over this tool all over the blogosphere.
* Please note that automatically opening a new window for a link is considered bad practice among some web developers, but I think it justifiable in some cases.
Another neat option, used for links and images, is to AJAX open the link ontop of the site. There are endless JQuery code snippets and plugins that do this kind of thing, like :
Here are the ones that available for Drupal (to see what this does, run one of the demo sites) :
Other Drupal quick tricks that aim at the same functionality:
- Valid XHTML Link Popups using jQuery
- External links in new window with message box.
- Open aggregator links in new browser window.
And here’s also something for WordPress :
- Dan Atkinson with the jQuery 1.1.1 for WordPress and Thickbox 2.1.1 for WordPress.
- Lightbox JS version 2.0
- stimuli.ca Lightbox 2.3 plugin for WordPress
- Drupal : Change DB and table collation to Unicode (UTF-8)
- Tweaking PHP memory limit for Drupal & WordPress errors
- Troubleshoot Server Load and Optimize Server Speed for Drupal-Wordpress in VPS-DS
- Add related links to your Drupal RSS feed
- PHP accelerators : Give your sites a performance boost
- Install, upgrade, test and debug your CMS website locally on a Windows machine