Opening links in new windows – why I hate not being able to do it

As a bit of a web accessibility nut (I believe it’s really important), there’s a couple of things that I don’t like to do, but do anyway.

One is making sure external links DON’T open in a new tab/window. I love a bit of target=”_blank” action, but I know it’s not the best for users.

It’s something I’ve avoided for a long time, because personally, I prefer it when links that are going away from the site I’m on, open in a new tab. I seem to have developed a strong aversion to the back button – I don’t like to have to wait for the previous page to reload, I prefer it just to be there, when I close the tab/window.

I read a few celebrity gossip bloggers (#noshame), who post 10+ articles a day – I usually open each article in a new window, because I don’t like constantly having to reload the home page to get to each article. I admit, I may have developed some weird computer habits over the years…

I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to find *credible* evidence to support my desire to avoid the back button, but have yet to do so.

The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 make it pretty clear in guideline 3.2.1: On Focus:

When any component receives focus, it does not initiate a change of context. (Level A)

Additional Techniques (Advisory) for 3.2.1 mentions that one could only open new windows when absolutely necessary, or give users advanced warning if a link is going to open in a new window. But I don’t really want to have to add icons or warning text next to each link.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen suggests that PDFs and other non-web documents should open in a new window, simply because the interface looks so different and the user may close the window when they’re done looking at the document, not realising they’re still in the same window.

Smashing Magazine has a great write up on why new windows are a no-no, from a usability perspective.

Ultimately it’s best to let the user decide how they want links to open. Opening them in a new window for them, takes away their choice.

My usual techniques for opening links in tabs are the middle-click on my mouse or right click > ‘open link in new tab’ if I’m on the laptop without a mouse. It’s the most painful on my iPad or iPhone – I have to hold down on a link and select to open the link in a new window – definitely not efficient. I still do it though!

That said, if accessibility isn’t a priority for you (although I do think all websites should at least aim for Level A), then do what you want, but know that you may be confusing your visitors.

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