7

There are links, buttons, images and much more that directs users to new pages.

In my opinion, it should always stay in the same tab unless it's a PDF or download item. But when is it acceptable to open things in a new tab?

5

Open a new tab when you leave the basic navigational structure of your website.

This is a very "open" rule, since a lot of minor things can take you away from said structure, but bear with me.

Searching, finding

Always allow a user to navigate to anywhere on your site. Every page you show should have some way to escape the current funnel, and switch to a different one. Even if it's a link all the way back to the homepage or app dashboard.

This allows users to change their minds at any point in time. (spoiler alert: users change their minds all the time!)

Loss of control

If you think of your navigation that way, you should be able to identify where users will lose that control.

Some examples:

  • Payment gateways
  • In-browser PDF viewing
  • Links to external websites/applications
  • (etc)

Any time "the way back" disappears, you should allow users to come back by just clicking the other tab, or closing the new window. This is safer than relying on a back button to be able to do the job.

Analogy

I think the aforementioned "back" button is a great analogy. Your site's navigational structure is as much an anchor as the back button is. It's there on every page, because the goals of your users change all the time.

And the same rule that applies to the back button should apply to the main navigation of your website: don't break it.

4

The decision to open links in new windows or not depends on the given site and the preferences of its visitors. Visitors to the sites with heavy linking are more willing to have links opened in new windows then open dozens of links in new windows manually. Visitors of less-heavy-linkage-sites are more likely to open some particular link in new window to remain on the site and continue to browse through it afterward. However, this is not true.

From the usability point of view the decision to enforce opening links in new windows violates one of the fundamental principles of the user interface design: users should always be in control of the interface they are interacting with. Leading user interface and usability researchers such as

  1. Ben Shneiderman (8 Golden Rules of Interface Design),
  2. Theo Mandel (User Interface Design Principles)
  3. Bruce Tognazzini (First Principles of Interaction Design)

claim that a user-friendly and effective user interface places users in control of the application they are using.

It is important that users are placed in control of the user interface they are using. Since users expect the link to be opened in the same window, set your links to open in the same window. Don't force a new window upon users unless there's a very good reason to do so. For the latter purpose, consider opening links in new windows if the link provides assistance or help, if it may interrupt an ongoing process or it leads to a non-html-document. Allow users to select how the links should be opened on a given web-site. Opening links in the same windows the lesser of two evils. And if users don't know how to do it quickly, tell them explicitly — they will be grateful for your help.

Reference: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/07/should-links-open-in-new-windows/

2

The most common situations when I chose to make a link open in a new tab are when I am taking the user away from my site to another site but I don't want them to leave my site completely, or when I am linking to something contextual for what they are working on, on my site.

Consider these examples:

1. I don't want them to leave my site

  • Say I am running advertising on my site, if a user clicks on an ad I don't want them to be taken away from my site, this is detrimental to my site and the time a user spends on it. So I would want this link to open in a new tab.
  • Say I am an ecommerce site, basically I don't want a user to leave my site, as the longer I have their attention, potentially, the more likely they are to convert. So any links to a site that isn't part of my site, I would want to open in new tabs.

2. Contextually I want a new tab for the user

  • In this case I might have a site with a form for the user to fill out, and I provide a link with what an example form might look like when it's filled out. I don't want the user to leave their form, and it might be nice for them to have this example appear in a new tab so that they can use it as a reference.
  • Similarly, I have an article with inline links to references or other articles, I might want to give the user the option to have a quick look at this site side-by-side with my site, maybe it has some stats on it that are better viewed next to each other, rather than navigating 'back' and 'forwards' through pages.

Basically the number one reason sites do it, is so that if you get distracted down a 'rabbit hole' once you click a link, their page is still there in a tab for you to come back to later. 'Time spent on page' is an important metric for sites, and they don't want to give that up too easily. But I've tried to give a few examples of other cases above.

0

You can consider a new tab for a "micro site" within your site or if there is a very direct conversion funnel you might like to try and take the user down.

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