Small- to mid-sized companies may have a heck of a time getting attention. Because of their size, they likely don't have the resources to afford integrated, enterprise-level solutions, and therefore rely on third parties to fulfill certain functions in a potential customer's web experience. These third party solutions may, in the short term, take users to a different domain or subdomain. They may or may not include:
- eCommerce storefront
- Loyalty programs
- Application process
And small- to mid-sized companies aren't alone. Even larger companies looking to be efficient with their budgets may run a trial program and hope to curtail some of the up-front development costs by leaning on the companies that specialize in these sorts of things.
So the question inevitably arises -- When people try to access these services, should we open a new window/tab, or should we direct them to the service in the same window/tab?
Marketing professionals tend to think that they lose something if the user navigates away from their site. Over the years, they've learned to focus on the wrong things.
Let's go ahead and put that baby to rest. People will leave your site. They will always leave your site. In fact, they'll probably spend most of their time on sites other than yours. Now relax. And focus instead on delighting your customer.
If you really think there is an opportunity to delight your users by increasing their pageviews and time on site (and there may be), give them something that delights them. Don't annoy them by making it difficult to manage their windows and tabs.
How annoying is it? In my years of observing and moderating usability studies, I've met people who have expressed...
- ...satisfaction that a link opened in the same window
- ...satisfaction that a link opened in a new window
- ...disappointment that a link opened in a new window
What I've never once seen is someone who has expressed disappointment that a link opened in the same window.
Ultimately, how you handle outside links depends on a number of factors that I won't go into here, but don't automatically assume that linking them off is going to harm your brand. - Cam Beck @cambeck