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:

  1. 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".
  2. 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:

And here’s also something for WordPress :

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10 Responses to The external links dilemma : How to mark, preview, open-new and AJAX your outgoing links

  1. Dan Atkinson says:

    Thanks for your link!

    I’m hoping to update it soon to jQuery 1.1.2 and Thickbox Reloaded.

  2. Joe says:

    Does external link consider a vote or a good link for most search engines?

  3. fiLi says:

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean.

    But if you’re asking whether search engines care about incoming links and consider a link from your site as a vote of confidence than for the the popular search engines the answer is yes. Incoming links and their authority is one of the most important factors for SERP rankings.

  4. Joe says:

    ok. How bout those external link in blog comments? does search engines count them? or ignore them just like the nofollow?

  5. fiLi says:

    WordPress has “nofollow” on comments by default. There are several plugins, one of which I currently use here, to turn those links into a “dofollow”.

  6. Joe says:

    Yeah, i know that, just like the blogspot and typepad, they have a no follow attribute on all of their comments. There are several blogs which doesn’t have a nofollow tags, but they have an external relation attributes. I just don’t know if these external attribute comment links are counted. are they?

  7. […] lezen Een interessant artikel over het gebruik van externe links van fiLi’s tech. Vind je dit interessant? Neem dan een abonnement op mijn RSS feed!Wat is een RSS feed? Lees […]

  8. hey u told WordPress has “nofollow” on comments by default.and it can be turn into a “dofollow”.How it is?? may i know the plugin name and exact link to download….reply soon

  9. fiLi says:

    There are a million wordpress plugins that do this.
    Try “dofollow”.

  10. I don’t have Complete idea to tell few words about it. Nice Sharing with this informative blog.

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