Please Dont Ask Me To Open New Windows

 BLOG 2010 Apr 19

As a web designer, I strive to do what's best for each client, even if they don't understand why I'm doing it. Sometimes I find myself in a geeky ramble about some technical aspect of a client's site but their glassy eyes suggest they don't understand a word I'm saying. They just want a nice looking web site. They also want it at the top of every Google search, they want a thousand visitors an hour, and they want each one to buy two dozen of whatever they're selling.

I spend a LOT of time explaining how web sites work, how search engine optimization works, and how to set realistic goals for any web site. I explain why a standards compliant web site is better and why they should care. Inevitably, I get the request I always loathe, "Can you make my links to other sites open in new windows?"

Opening a new window when someone clicks a link is bad. It has been bad for 10 years and it will always be bad. I will now explain why and quote other experts in standards compliant design:

Opening new windows breaks the BACK button.

Most people are used to using the "Back" button of their browser. Virtually every browser, including those on mobile phones, PDAs, iPhones, and so on, has a back button. If you open a link in a new window and you click on the Back button, nothing happens. Mark Pilgrim says,

"The one thing every web user understands is the "Back" button. It's an integral part of browsing the web. Follow a link, go back. Explore a search engine result, go back. Even my father can do this, and he's still excited when he can double-click the "Internet" icon successfully on the first try."

Don't break the Back button. Doing anything to confuse your visitors is bad.

Opening new windows is rude and obnoxious.

Way back in 1999, Jakob Nielsen wrote,

"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."

Every client tells me they want new windows to open so people don't leave their site. If people like your site and the information it provides, they will stay longer, and might bookmark your site so they can return. If someone doesn't want to stay on your site, opening new windows will just annoy them more. Savvy surfers know how to open links in new windows or tabs, if they want to. Forcing new windows upon experienced visitors is an insult and will result in more people leaving your site, rather than staying. Annoying your visitors is bad.

Opening new windows is not standards compliant.

Web standards ensure the best possible experience in all browsers, including screen readers for the blind, mobile devices, touch screen devices, and others. Trying to open a new window on a device that doesn't even have browser windows is a problem. Some devices handle this gracefully, others don't. Finally, if your site's markup language is XHTML, the target="" attribute is not supported. This means your site won't validate if your XHTML links try to open new windows.

If these reasons don't convince you, I'm not sure what will. My goal is to build web sites that provide the best experience to all visitors, regardless of browser, operating system, or physical limitation. Breaking the Back button and forcing new windows upon people won't keep them on your site. A pleasing design, simple and easy navigation, and great content will.

Further Reading:
Beware of Opening Links in a New Window
The target attribute and opening new windows
Re: Opening a link in a new window...
Should Links Open In New Windows?
New Window for a New Link?