There are two types of links every website contains: internal links like this one about why businesses should monitor Yelp reviews and external links like this next one that points to Britney Spears’ tour dates.
If you click the internal link, your browser automatically moves from here to there as you remain within the ariherzog.com domain. If you click the external link (at least the way I manually configured it), a new window is forcibly opened on your browser so you remain looking here and there simultaneously.
Usability studies and popular opinion dictate every link should act like the internal one above; and that you, not me, should be in charge of whether a link opens in a new window or not. It’s your browser and you retain the rights to how you prefer to surf the web. In nearly every web browser, you can mouse over the selected link and view the destination URL in the status bar at the browser’s bottom. If you’re like me, you will click your right mouse button and select the appropriate action to open the link in a new window or tab, thereby maintaining focus on the current window.
Michael Martin and Darren Rowse, respectively, shared reasons on their blogs in 2007 (though they could have easily been written last month) why forcing users’ browsers to open new windows reflects poorly on friendly web design involving links.
Thus, my manual insertion of the target=”_blank” code into the a href HTML reference for Britney’s international tour is frowned upon, in part because your browser has a Back button and you should be smart enough to know when and how to click it, as Jacob Nielsen argued in 1999 in his evergreen list of 10 web design mistakes.
Opening up new browser windows is like a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ash tray 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!
Designers open new browser windows on the theory that it keeps users on their site. But even disregarding the user-hostile message implied in taking over the user’s machine, the strategy is self-defeating since it disables the Back button which is the normal way users return to previous sites. Users often don’t notice that a new window has opened, especially if they are using a small monitor where the windows are maximized to fill up the screen. So a user who tries to return to the origin will be confused by a grayed out Back button.
During a GoogleTalk conversation with John Haydon yesterday, we chatted about this topic. I wrote how I’ve historically been against links opening in new windows, though noting I sporadically opt to make this decision for you; and his response was he’d prefer to keep internal links in its own window — and only enable new windows to open for external links. Musing to myself, I browsed through a list of WordPress plugins that do the trick and briefly experimented with activating one of them, but ultimately decided to maintain the status quo and let you surf the web however you see fit.
Thoughts? Would you like to be in control of what you click and how your browser experience changes? Or, are you OK when windows open out of seemingly nowhere?