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3 of 7 links on my navigation menu are external links to others websites (same company but other services/not the same domain). Those websites are not the core of the business. Linking a navigation menu item to external URL is not good practice, is it? how can I solve this?

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clear. I would like explain a little more the main problem. We are a travel agency but this last year we opened up an online insurance -and car selling- ecommerce (yes... we did a study of the market).Therefore, we can say that we have a wide range of services. Our website contains many links to other domains that don't share the same navigation menu nor the same style (colors, fonts, etc..). –  Luis Sep 15 '12 at 14:51
    
Car companies do this all the time. They often have the top menu as jumping points to multiple car brands owned by the larger parent company. There is no rule anywhere that states a link has to be in the same domain. –  Mathew Foscarini Sep 19 '12 at 0:14
    
Mathew, I agree with you but car companies do this because they only sell cars. By the way, do you think its good way to do it?. –  Luis Sep 20 '12 at 23:14
    
The nav menu at the top of a website is "premium" space, by putting links there you are telling the visitor that these links are more important then those below them. That is all there is to it. If you feel they are this important, then by all means put offsite links there. It doesn't matter where the links go, only that you think the visitor should be able to find them quickly and easily. That's what the top nav menu is for. –  Mathew Foscarini Sep 20 '12 at 23:35
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4 Answers

Navigation is always an interesting topic, and should be treated with care in each case. If you have a target group at hand, or a selection of your target audience – use them. You could use Card Sorting to find out what your users think of all your pages and links belonging. As a designer you are sometimes amazed how user group pages together into logical entities.

Card Sorting with post-it notes

In your case, they might group all the external links into one logical entity and label it “External Resources”, then that would be your choice – adding an External Resources link to you navigation menu. The label could also be “Partners”, “Vendors”, “Manufacturers’” or the like.

But your users might also group in a different way, such as in sub groups. Let’s say you have Products as a top navigation item, and you have external links to the manufacturer of this particular product, then user might feel that this link should be on these specific product pages, way down in the navigation hierarchy.

It all boils down to how your target users group all your pages, and what your external links represent.

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Have you considered adding an external icon such as the usual globe and chain link icon?

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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If the websites aren't the core of the business I would never place them in the main navigation.

I might support the idea of external links in the navigation if the other sites have the same design and you could easily navigate between all websites.

I think that most users don't pay attention to the address bar unless they want to switch site.

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When we send people to another site of ours, or another environment that is sufficiently different to cause confusion, we hit them with an alert in a lightbox.

This technique might work best with the visual cue method suggested by @TJH .

By using the icon on the link, and then carrying that icon through to the alert box, you help users who don't want to leave the current site to identify future external links.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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