Benefits of not opening new windows
Forcing open a new window (or tab) when a user clicks on a link:
- Risks the user not noticing, and then wondering why their back button doesn’t work when they try to return to the page they just came from
- Disrupts users who did notice, but prefer to manage their browser windows themselves
- Requires users to shut down windows they didn’t open.
This is annoying for some, but can be very confusing for:
- Vision impaired users with screen readers that don’t announce the new window opening
- People with cognitive disabilities who may not be able to keep track of other open windows.
If you must open a new window, indicate this in the link text (unless you’re opening a document—including a document format and size warning is enough).
When is it OK to open a new window?
It’s been a long-held usability principle to avoid taking control of people’s browsing experience. And yes, most web designers ignored this. However, there are times when it is helpful to open a new window.
- For ‘help’ information—opening a window next to the element the user needs help with let’s them read the instructions in context
- When the link leads to a document—opening a new window can save someone from accidentally shutting down their browser when closing the document. Although newer browsers open documents in new tabs. Forcing open a new window is probably not necessary now.