It is really annoying when a new window appears after you click a link. I am sure I am not the only person who gets annoyed by this. Even though usability testing and experience have already proven the confusion it causes, a lot of websites still open links in a new window.
One that does need to be a web usability expert to realize opening links in a new window goes against customer expectations. When the customer clicks a link, she expects to be taken to a page described by that link. A new window does the job but when the customer wants to go back, she can no longer do so because the ‘Back’ button has been reset. The new window does not know the originating link. It is now up to the customer to look for the previously visited window. And she has to do it one by one. A very painful task especially when many windows have already popped out.
Opening links in a new window also goes against the principle of “people in control”, which is one of the foundation of web usability. If the customer wants a new window, it is up to her to open one.
Are there instances where opening a new link does not violate web usability? If you can’t get away it, your responsibility is to inform your customers. There are ways to do it but be mindful of its drawbacks.
- Use the
This is not obvious until your customer hovers the mouse over the link for a few seconds. The problem is that customers make quick decisions and they will less likely wait for the
titleto apper before they click.
- Use a text to inform the customer.
This one is obvious but if your text has many embedded links, it becomes a distraction. The upside is your page can rank higher in search engines when the customer enters “opens a new window” :).
- Use an icon.
An icon can be less distracting but the problem with it is recognition. Not every icon is as obvious like an email. By the time the customer realizes what is the icon for, a new window already appeared.
So are there any instances where where opening links in a new window would be useful? The first thing that comes to mind are web-based email applications like Gmail and Yahoo Mail. When I am using any of these, I have come to accept that clicking any embedded link in my message would launch a new window. Yes, it clutters my screen but I don’t way my email to disapper either. I guess web-based applications are a good candidate but it is still up for investigation.
But, if you are providing content like a blog or cooking recipes I don’t think it is a good idea to open links in a new window. But according to web usability guru Jakob Nielsen (is he Danish?), PDF and other non-web documents are exempted.
I understand why website owners would want to open links in a new window. We all want our customers to stay on our website. But we have to accept that we cannot force them to stay if they don’t want to. Forcing the issue like opening links in a new window will only degrade the credibility of your website and hurt usability.
The only way our customers would stay in our website is if we offer them something valuable. As simple as that.