Opening a Link in a New Window: It Depends

Should links to external web sites should be opened in a new window? Danish usability guru Jakob Nielsen says a typically unequivocal no, as does accessibility site Dive Into Mark.

But accessibility wonk Shawn Lawton Henry opines that you shouldn't unless you have a good reason. So you can imagine my surprise when she opens a PDF in a new window. But a closer look reveals this nuance: "There are good reasons to use spawned windows, such as to provide help for a form without losing data and context. "

And opening a PDF is a good reason because users tend to close the whole browser window when done viewing a PDF. Using one usability problem to cancel another out appeals to me greatly. However, I missed the icon, so "link opens in a new window" might well be better.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Tuesday, January 28, 2003 (Link)


Posted by Shannon Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 10:51 AM

Most (if not all) the links on my site open in a separate window. I do this for two reasons.

1) I tend to get side tracked when I click on a link from a web page. The next thing I know, It's ten web pages later, and I want to go back to where I came from. It's much easier to close all of the new windows than to try to click the back button to get to where I came from. This is especially useful when one of the pages I've visited inhibits the use of the back button.

2) I think people are more likely to return to my site if the links on my site don't take them away. I think this is even more useful for people with more content. I mean, my website has only one page. Most websites have more than one page, and I think people might be more likely to click on another link to another page if that window is still open.

I didn't realize there was a popular opinion about linking options. Shows what I know!

Posted by Chad Lundgren Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 01:42 PM


Notice the way you phrased it: "*I* tend to get side tracked." The issue is whether a web site should open its links in its own window, not whether you should. In fact, sites opening a link in their own window is the most common way the Back button is disabled, or seems to be.

As for keeping people on your site the in thing now is elasticity:

"Weblogs are a good example of the effectiveness of elasticity; they continually direct people away from themselves yet people have very strong connections with the weblogs that they read and often come back for more."

Posted by Shannon Thursday, January 30, 2003 at 11:15 AM

I never thought about it like that either -- the fact that weblogs are designed (mostly) to send people to other sites. It makes sense, though.

Posted by Zelda Monday, February 10, 2003 at 03:13 PM

I am both a user and a creator of web content. I have links from my weblog open into new windows because that's how *I* like to surf. It saves me a right click every time it is hard-coded into a page.

Posted by Phil Monday, August 4, 2003 at 07:41 PM

There is a very informative post on this subject.
[Edited 08/04/2003 to make the link clickable -Chad Lundgren]

It answers the technical questions of why some people are so opposed to opening a link in a new window.