I’ve been working with a client who wants every external link on their site to open in a new window. They dislike the idea of users leaving their site for somebody else’s and not being able to find their way back.
I understand their concern. I really do. It seems like a perfectly rational feeling but there are a few reasons why this generally isn’t the right thing to do.
The Back button is the second most-used form of navigation.
If a user wants to go back to your site, they can. If you open in a new window or tab, you make the ‘Back’ button useless. Don’t treat your users like they’re idiots that need to be led-around by the nose. (It helps to be helpful, but not patronising!)
By opening a link in a new window, you’re not giving the user any other choice.
This is my personal pet hate. If I want to open a link in another window or tab, I can do so easily by right-clicking the link and selecting that option (and I’m sure there’s numerous shortcuts for such behaviour.) However, if you specify that the link must open in another window, there’s nothing I can do about it. You shouldn’t force users into situations that are uncomfortable against their usual browsing patterns. They will end up associating that discomfort with your site.
Some users just won’t understand what’s happening.
As more and more people get cheap access to the internet, there will be more users who have very basic skills, aren’t wholly computer-literate, but will browse your site anyway! If you’d never used a computer before, and were presented with a link that opened in a new window, are you sure you’d understand what just happened? These users may not understand that they’re now in a new window or tab. They’ll have a great big ‘Back’ button screaming at them, not a ‘Close this window or tab and then select the relevant window or tab to view it again’ button.
There’s no guarantee that, when the user closes that window, they’ll go back to your site.
If I open a page in a new tab on Safari, it gets added to the end of my list of tabs. If I’ve already got another tab open that has the BBC website in, when I close the new tab, it’ll go back to the BBC website, not your website.
It’s irritating for mobile browsers.
Some mobile browsers may just ignore your ‘Open in New Window’ suggestion as they don’t support multiple windows. If you’re browsing using Mobile Safari, it will do this very dramatic shrink-this-window open-another-window animation. The back button is much less fiddly. People using mobile browsers are more likely to be on-the-go and less likely to put up with switching windows all the time when browsing your site.
Please be considerate of your users, and don’t treat them like they don’t know what they’re doing. For those that really don’t know what they’re doing, keep it simple. If users remember yours as the site that was easy to use, that’s going to make you a lot more popular than forcing them to look at your content ever will.
Some other handy articles I found on this subject:
- Should Links Open In A New Window Or Not?—Pro Blog Design
- Open New Windows for PDF and other Non-Web Documents—Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox
- My CHI2010 talk: A Study of Tabbed Browsing—Patrick Dubroy
- Avoid Forcing To Open In A New Window—Webnauts
- The Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 1999—Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox
- How Evil Is The Target Attribute?—Robert’s Talk