Yes I have firm views. Take that as a given. Since long before I could code, however, I’ve always been critical of websites that open their links in another window.

Back in the days before browser tabs, a whole new window would open either above or below the window you were currently working on. It was terrible and unstoppable. People kept up this practice because they thought it was a good way to get a user to keep their website open. It was seen as an audience retention device.

The browser belongs to the user. The website belongs to the creator. The website should not perform any actions on the browser that the user cannot control. That should almost always be the situation.

By keeping things uniform we can set expectations with the user that links will always open in the same window and if they want to open the link in another window they have options like middle-clicking or context-menus.

Of course there are exceptions to this. Banks often open up a separate window for logging in and doing actual banking because they can ensure an extra level of security if, when logging out, they can close the whole window.

The best way to keep a user coming back to your site is to have compelling content. They can always come back by pressing the back button if they meant to open in a new window but forgot.

Another problem with opening links in new windows comes with reporting. Reporting and analytics is another post for another time but many people still use the metrics of a visiting time. The time a user stays connected to a site become a dirty statistic if they actually navigate away from the page but it stays open in a seperate browser window. The website owner doesn’t really have an indication of how useful/entertaining/compelling their site is, all they know is they could fool some script into thinking that people were still there even when they weren’t.

These are just some thoughts. Many theories abound in any workplace so I’m sure yours has some too. Feel free to let me know in the comments.

UPDATED: This post was inspired by a discussion, in turn inspired by an article in Smashing Magazine.

About Josh Kinal

Josh makes things on the web easy to use and understand. Sounds simple, but it’s not. His understanding of developing engaging content comes from many years of writing for print and radio. You might have heard him on Boxcutters, his popular weekly podcast about TV or years of appearing on Triple J, Radio National and 3RRR. He also holds a science degree and in 2012 was one of Australia’s few panelists at SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas