One website mistake I see over and over is websites that open external pages in new tabs or windows. I get asked to do this repeatedly on new websites. But, it’s not a good practice and I’m going to tell you why.
But, I don’t want people to leave my site!
Yes, I can hear you yelling at me through your computer screen. The fact is if users want to leave your site, they are going to, no matter the obstacles.
Website 101 says: Don’t take control of the users browser.
The First of 7 Reasons: Accessibility
When you break the back button and have links open in new windows/tabs you cause problems for people with special needs. You might think the only affected people with special needs surfing the internet are blind, but there are many types of of people who use the internet who could be seriously impacted: People with motor impairment, blindness, or even old computers, among others. When you force them to open in a new window you screw up their special browsers and experience.
Here are 3 examples of the people you may be making life more difficult for:
- Jenny has been blind for the last 10 years of her life. She makes great grades and will be going to college next year. Jenny, like most blind people, knows very little Braille. She spends much of her time on the internet using a screen reader that integrates with her browser. It has an advanced text-to-speech synthesizer to read websites, and it also has a huge array of keyboard shortcuts that Jenny uses constantly. One of those is the back button. If the back button is broken, Jenny can’t get back to your website easily — as she can’t simply look at her taskbar to see what is open.
- Marcus is nearsighted and likes to have everything enlarged on his monitor. He has new windows set to open maximized by default on his older browser. Multiple windows of the same application are grouped together making it virtually impossible to tell when something has opened in a new window. Suddenly the “back button” is disabled for no apparent reason and Marcus has no idea how. While he was originally there to read your information, Marcus now has assigned himself a new task, figuring out how to get off of a website he feels is trying to “trap” him. If you were expecting him to finish reading the page he started on your website when he clicked the link, you can forget about it.
- Bob has arthritis and knows nothing about computers. His sister got him a computer and set it up for him. It’s easier for him to open all his windows in new tabs and use the short cut key to quickly flip between tabs. If he clicks on a link that opens in a new window it will ruin his preference and also make it look like all of his tabs disappeared.
6 More Reasons
- It violates one of the fundamental principles of web design: Users need to be in control. If they feel they are not, they will abandon you.
- It’s rude. You are taking over the user’s browser by forcing it to open in a particular way. Some people like to open tabs to keep track of items while others prefer new windows and still others prefer to keep everything in the same window.
- Don’t break the “back button”. People know how to use this button to get to where they are going and not get lost. Once you open an external link into a new window, the back button doesn’t do anything any more.
- Users can’t find what they are looking for. Lots of folks have their browsers set up so they can’t even tell they’ve opened a link in a new window. Now they are confused. All they really know is that your website is screwing with them.
- Inconsistency makes for a bad user experience. Keep things consistent. It would be similar to having a different navigation and position on every page. People will get lost and frustrated.
- If it’s good enough for Google and Amazon, it’s good enough for you. People are used to it. Many folks navigate the web looking for an excuse not to finish your page. (No offense — it’s not you, it’s them.) They are busy, there are a hundred demands on their time, and they are inclined to see even the best of sites as a distraction. It is not good practice to provide them with a reason to leave.