I've gotten the request multiple times to make all html email links open a new tab. The reasoning is usually "If someone opens the email in a browser we want the links to open new tab so we don't take them away from the email". I generally use this function very sparingly on websites but in this case I thought I'd do a little research and see if there is any solid reasoning to do this.

Unfortunately there's a lot of information out there about websites but not a lot about emails opened in a browser. Is this still generally aligned with the website practice or is there legitimate reasons to do this on emails specifically?

  • I'm missing something out here. If there's an email link on a page <a href="mailto:[email protected]"> what exactly happens if you don't open it on a new tab? For me these links always open the mail client... I was never redirected away from a site. It's been like this for years.
    – Izhaki
    Oct 23, 2017 at 20:59
  • @Izhaki I believe the "email links" OP describes are links within an email's contents. Oct 23, 2017 at 21:11
  • Ah! I see. Misread the question. Oops...
    – Izhaki
    Oct 23, 2017 at 21:16

2 Answers 2


If someone opens the email in a browser we want the links to open new tab so we don't take them away from the email

That's a very sound argument.

But it also only covers the business goals. There is also user goals, which go:

  • My main goal is reading my emails.
  • Sometimes I click on a link in an email - this represent divergence from the main path.
  • So allow me to go back to that main path at ease.

You should remember that once users navigate away from your site, they are, as far as you are concerned, in no man's land - they can suddenly experience:

  • A multitude of spam or porn adverts.
  • "Are you sure you want to leave this page" prompt?
  • Multi-redirects, as with unsubscribe on old newsletters systems. That make the back button a bad user experience.

All of these are barriers in the user's original goal.

See also: http://uxmovement.com/navigation/why-external-links-should-open-in-new-tabs/

  • 1
    Sounds like we said essentially the same thing about 20 seconds apart ;) Oct 23, 2017 at 21:28
  • Specifically, if someone is using a web-based email client, links inside an email should not navigate the use away from the web app, ever.
    – Tim Grant
    Oct 27, 2017 at 17:20

New tab by default; possibly offer option to change preference1.

Many users go to check their email to check their email2—meaning this is their primary goal.

After a user visits a link (and possibly many others from that one), you shouldn't make the user click ←Back 1..n times to continue completing their primary goal.

Thus, opening in a new tab gives them an easy way to resume their primary workflow.

1. It doesn't look like Gmail has an option for whether or not to open links in new tabs (they do always), but some users may find it useful. 2. Based on my experience and observations.

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