Why links shouldn’t open in a new window

open window in office building

This is often overlooked, but surprisingly important to your user’s experience of your site. In this article we will discuss why opening links in a new window is not recommended, and also when it is acceptable to do so.

Why it’s bad to open links in a new window

  • It removes ability to use the “back” button on your browser
  • The window might appear in front of the original window, meaning the user might not know where the other screen has gone to.
  • Users have the ability to control how to open new links, unless you force it to open in a new window, removing the user’s control.

Removes the back button

When a user is browsing the internet they will follow links to take them from one webpage to another. Buttons in your browser allow you to go back to a previous screen, allowing you a quick and easy “undo” option if you’ve clicked the wrong link or have navigated to a page you don’t want to look at. If they have clicked a link that forces them to view the resulting page in a new window then they will be presented with a new browser window (or tab) where the back button will be greyed out. If the user didn’t realise that a new window had loaded they might be clicking the back button unsuccessfully.

Confuses the user

We’re all busy people and we just want things to work. Opening many different browser windows can be frustrating, as you might have to flick back through all your open windows to find the page you were just looking at. To add more confusion, browsers with tabs (Firefox, Chrome and the latest versions of Internet Explorer) can have multiple tabs open, but a link opening in a new window will show a brand new window, with its own tabs – so not only do you have to switch between tabs, you also have to switch between windows. Make things as easy as possible for your users!

Removes control from the user

Forcing the link to open in a new window removes the choice a user has to open the link how they like. Users normally have the choice to either click the link normally, or choose to open in a new window or tab.

Right click menu for a linkForcing an option removes the user’s choice. This is unfair to the user because this might not be what they want to do.

Usability professional Jakob Nielsen says this about links:
“Links are the Web’s basic building blocks, and users’ ability to understand them and to use various browser features correctly is key to enhancing their on-line skills.
“Links that don’t behave as expected undermine users’ understanding of their own system. A link should be a simple hypertext reference that replaces the current page with new content. Users hate unwarranted pop-up windows. When they want the destination to appear in a new page, they can use their browser’s “open in new window” command – assuming, of course, that the link is not a piece of code that interferes with the browser’s standard behavior.
“Users deserve to control their own destiny. Computers that behave consistently empower people by letting them use their own tools and wield them accurately.”

When it’s okay to open in a new window

There is always an exception however, when links should automatically open in a new window.

Imagine a big long form page where you have to fill in your details. You start typing your name and contact details, and filling out many more options that the form asks you, and then you reach an option that you don’t understand and there’s a link saying “Click here for help”. If you click this link it will take you to the next page and when you press the “back” button, you’ll have to fill in all the options on the form again – starting from scratch. But if the “Click here for help” link forced the new page into a new window (or popup), it means that the data you entered into the forum won’t be lost.

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