open in a new window

When links should open a new tab or window

A common request we get is to have links open in a new tab or window.  I want to be really clear on this because from a user standpoint, I cannot stress the importance of when it’s ok to open a new tab or window, and when it’s not.

The simple answer is:

– Open a new window or tab if you are linking to an external site
– DO NOT open a new window or tab if you are linking within your site.

A lot of people ask me when I’m building a site to make the links open in a new window.  Firstly, you can do that yourself if you are using WordPress on the majority of the links, and secondly I won’t do it.  It’s a horrible user experience.  Let’s explain why.

1) Do as I do, because that’s what people are used to

When in doubt, I always recommend you model your navigation on the industry big wigs.  These guys analyse user navigation to lowest common dominator, so if they believe windows shouldn’t open in a new window, then I’m going with them.

Think about sites like Google, Ebay, Youtube, Facebook, or any news site. Do the links open in a new window or tab?  99% of the time they don’t.

As the world visits these sites they become more accustomed to the way their navigation works.  They expect windows not to open.  So don’t buck that trend on your site.

2) Stack of cards – opening new tabs and windows on a mobile

Mobile and tablet use is booming.  We are all sitting at the bus stop, laying on the couch, or sitting somewhere else with our thumbs busy scrolling through our phones and tablets.  So it really surprises me when people don’t think about the mobile user experience on their own site.

There is NOTHING more annoying on a mobile when a new window opens.  The old window is pushed to the back, and the back button becomes irrrelivant.  It’s like a stack of cards, and the more cards that open the more fustrating it gets.

3) If you have the need to open a new window or tab, your navigation is crap

In WordPress you can edit your own navigation.  You can put links to key content of your site in the main menu, in the sidebar, in your posts, with your categories, or in the footer.  And if you don’ t like that you can create another menu in the header.

With so much ability to put your key links in the right places, why do you feel you need to open a new window?

So when in doubt, leave that ‘open in a new window’ button alone.

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