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Should You Open Links In the same Window or in a New Window?
Date 11/24/2008    Tags Design    (0)

One concept that seems to brew controversy in the web development world is should you be opening your links in new windows or in the same window? I don't personally feel there is a perfect solution, partly because it is so much of a personal preference, partly because the browser feels seemed limited in what options it gives you, and partly because it depends on what kind of site you have.

There are a very passionate amount of people that feel you should never cause a browser to open a link in a new window, the biggest argument being that opening a new window takes the user out of control. Well, it's a big assumption to make that the user expects this behavior just because a few big sites like Google or Amazon use it (ironically Gmail does not). Not all sites do and not everyone expects this! It's not like buying a car and expecting it to have a steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes. There is no standard interface for a website! This argument fails because you're still forcing a non-standardized behavior on the user and thus taking them out of control.

My biggest issue with always opening links in the same window is that if you're in the middle of reading a story and spot a link that is of interest, you may want to read it but probably not right away. It's nice then if it opens in a new window so that you can continue reading and come back to that piece when done. If it always opens in the same window, you're going to lose your spot or you'll probably forget about the link by they time you're done reading. Additionally, opening external links in the same window takes the user away from your site completely. Unless you're a search engine or Digg clone, chances are that the user was at your site to read your site. Why do you so callously want to send them away?

At the extreme other end, there are sites that open every link in a new window. Not just external sites, but links to their own material open in new windows. This is incredibly annoying since you quickly end up with lots of browser windows and no way to navigate backward through your history. A less extreme version of this tactic (which I use on my sites) is for links internally to your website always open in the same window and links that leave your site for an external website always open in a new window. This way, the user will still stay on your site when clicking some other link yet won't be bombarded by new windows.

The only real way not to take away control from the user is to give the user the option of determining which behavior the site will have. This can be done through either a user preference, multiple links (one for new window, one for the same window), or some sort of pop-up box that asks them which they want when clicking a link. Considering how few sites actually go put forth the effort to set this sort of system up (and it certainly would not be difficult to do), I get the feeling this isn't as big an issue to users as designers/developers of websites can make it out to be... or users are savvy enough to force windows to open as the like them without the need of website assistance. 0" style="display:

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