I recently linked to “Why None of the External Links on this Website Open in a New Window.” You should read it if you haven’t. Here’s a short version: Accessibility and user experience considerations dictate that you should avoid opening links in new windows.
This is a point I make to clients all the time, and often their response begins with “but.” ((These quotes are paraphrases of generic argument and not anyone in particular.))
But visitors might not come back!
But we want visitors to stay our our site.
In this situation, either a client doesn’t know that they can CTRL + CLICK a link to open it in a new tab ((Or SHIFT + CLICK for a new window, or right click the link and select “Open in New Tab/Window.”)) or they think their visitors don’t know. And they’re probably right. ((My super-duper rigorous Facebook poll supports this claim.))
But does that make it ok to ignore a best practice? I don’t think so, but this belief requires some longer-term thinking.
The Worst Practice Cycle
In the short-term, it may be a good decision for an individual site to follow something that’s convenient but against best practice. But when many people make the same bad decision many times over, they lead to what I have just dubbed the “Worst Practice Cycle.” It’s like the water cycle except not at all and sad.
Here it is:
- A new website implements a “worst practice.”
- People use the website and learn how it works.
- People don’t learn the better way.
- Website builders want their site to be “intuitive.” ((Let’s remember, “intuitive” = “familiar.”))
To apply this to the example I began with:
- A website makes their links open in new tabs.
- Users figure this out and adjust their expectations to include this behavior when using the web.
- People don’t learn that they can CTRL + CLICK a link any time they want.
- Clients are hesitant to let links open in the same window because they assume their users don’t know they can do it themselves.
This same thing happens with other features like font-size changers. Again, browsers can do that in the “View” menu or with CTRL + “+ or “-“.
A Matter of Perspective
As a person who builds lots of websites, you can see why I favor the long-term view over the short-term. I want the ecosystem in which I work to be better for everyone. In trying to help that effort, I work hard to blog about best practices and advocate for them in presentations, trainings, and conversations.
I really do understand the urge to just follow the crowd and do what’s familiar and easy. But I hope you, dear website owner, can join me in moving the web forward.
So what do you think? Where’s the best place to break the cycle?