Should Your Link Open in a New Window?

Someone asked me if it was all right to have links within their company blog to open up in a new window.

Apparently, she’d heard that it was better to do it that way. The reason was, if the blog didn’t open up a new window when a link was clicked, then the blog would be ‘lost’ to blog users. If another window opened, then the user could go back and forth with these 2 windows and not lose sight of the first blog.

Technically, we’d like to believe everyone’s a web guru online who knows how to manoeuvre the web effortlessly. Just like we want to believe that everyone can start using a mobile phone the moment they buy the gadget.

But a lot of people online aren’t like most techies or geeks. They didn’t go to internet school to learn how to use the Internet; they learnt through trial and error. They expect certain things to happen online.

And online, people don’t like surprises. A link opening in a new window, unless it is warned beforehand, can get annoying. I hate pop-ups and pop-unders and come to think of it, I hate websites which do not forewarn me of stuff and nonsense jumping up at me!

As an Internet user, I want to be in charge of my browsing experience, not some smart-aleck web designer! (As it turns out, since we are in the web design business, we stick to this rule: do not irritate the crap out of your web visitors. Design a beautiful yet elegantly arranged website so that web pages flow seamlessly into each other, much like how a superb orchestra sounds. Don’t show off stuff which has no relevance to the website visitor.)

Don’t Dump Ash On My Carpet!

Jakob Nielsen, the web guru of usability, is even more forthright about the practice of opening new browser windows.

He likens it to “a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ashtray on the customer’s carpet. Don’t pollute my screen with any more windows, thanks (particularly since current operating systems have miserable window management). If I want a new window, I will open it myself!”

Opening browser windows rank as mistake #2 in his list of Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 1999. It may not be 1999 but his tips still make lots of sense. Read his list for useful website design tips especially if you’re thinking of redesigning or revamping your website!

Jakob Nielsen isn’t the only one going crazy over this practice.

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

Neil Turner of Sitepoint also talks about this. He gives 5 reasons why you shouldn’t open a link in a new window and when you really ought to.

The top 5 reasons are:

1. People HATE surprises online. So don’t let things happen without telling them.
2. Opening a new window means the BACK button cannot be used. The BACK button is the 2nd most used navigation function so don’t disable this button!
3. Opening a new window confuses newbie users and blind users of the Internet.
4. It disrespects your web users. If they want a new window, they decide. Not YOU, the web designer.
5. A new browser window clutters the taskbar!

Neil Turner also cleverly shoots down a stupid reason some designers want to use this practice – they often say they want web users to stay on their website and without a new window open, the web user might go elsewhere. The truth is, web users will stay if your website has good content. Not by forcing them to be on your website but by attracting them to stay on.

Another website called Dive into Accessibility also shoots down the fallacy that you must open a link in window with fantastic examples and arguments. A good read for the wannabe web designer!

When CAN You Open Links in New Windows?

So with all this “no, you cannot open a new window”, when CAN you actually use it?

You can use it if you want to allow downloads of PDF or Microsoft Word files.

You can use it if you warn your web user in advance. Tell the web user what is coming before it comes.

That’s just plain courtesy.

Anyway, do you like links opening in new windows? Do you get miffed and groan in displeasure when this happens? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

4 thoughts on “Should Your Link Open in a New Window?”

  1. thanks for being a talented & patient teacher to our web blog writer and assisting the company in creating a great blog of what I didn’t know any of its possibilities beforehand. Your inspirational and creative approach is being noticed as we are getting unsollicited positive response from several countries as a result….

  2. Hi ocz: Yes, Tabbed browsing is good. But you probably belong to a generation of savvier web users. 😉

    Hi Paul: It’s lovely to hear from you. Being a teacher is sometimes not easy but it’s something I cherish because if I can teach, I can learn too. I know it sounds whacked out but it really isn’t. I am teaching all that I know and all that I’ve used in my own busines which can get quite scary actually (haha, I scare myself sometimes!). Thank you for your belief in blogging. I look forward to much more positive responses for your organic skincare blog!

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