At White Lion we have had many contentious debates over opening content in a new window versus the same window. I have noticed over the decade plus of being in the business, many web developers do not have a unified strategy for when to open content in the same window versus opening in a new window. We do.
We feel you need a very compelling reason to open content in a new window since the visitor will be without an easy way to go back. In other words, when you open content in a new window, the visito’s back button breaks. When you open content in a new window your browser thinks you are on the page numero uno so the back button is grayed out.
So who cares? Visitors do. I remember when I was in a meeting with one of our law firm clients several years ago. The managing partner was a very experienced web user. He commented how he hated (a few expressive expletives were used) when he couldn’t use his back button. The meeting triggered memory of many case studies I have read where newbie users were extremely confused when their back button failed to work. I thought here is a man who is seeing triple digit growth because of his web site and Internet technology. The managing partner was practically an expert Internet user but still didn’t really understand the “new window versus the same window” concept – he just knew he hated when a web site broke his back button.
So what is an example of an exception to the rule? As a quick aside, my wife was sucked into White Lion vortex starting out doing temporary work 9 years ago. My wife turned into the best project manager our agency has seen (if I could only get her to come out of her semi-retirement). She noticed when she would open PDF files, she would often times accidentally close out of her entire browser due to how most browsers present PDF files embedded in the browser page. My wife felt we should make PDF files open in a new window to make life easier on visitors to our sites. Our team debated and we agreed creating another White Lion standard (we have over 200). Several years later I noticed Jakob Nielsen who is a known Internet usability expert post an article and agree with my wife and our standard (see bullet point number 1).
Steve C. Kahle – Managing Principal – White Lion Internet Agency