Opening Links in a New Window, and Other Hard Sell Tactics

SalesmanAs often as not, I build websites for small-to-medium sized businesses. They share a foible in common – if they have a link to an outside site, they almost invariably want it to open in a new window. The impulse is natural – they want to user to stay on their site as long as possible. This way they think they can make the sale, or at least possibly get the visitor to read all their stuff.

As usability guru Jakob Nielsen says, that’s a really bad idea. You get rid of the Back button, so it’s actually harder to get back to your site, not easier!

Yes, but they’ll close their browser at some point, and then my site will be there waiting!

Do you want to annoy the user by giving them an unexpected surprise, when they may just want to close everything up and go on with their day? To your visitors, this is like the old-school door-to-door salesman trying to keep his foot in the door so you can’t close it, and have to listen to his pitch. Highly irritating, just like ad pop-ups. People today have less tolerance for this than ever, especially given how many consumer choices they have. If two vendors are offering the same thing at a comparable price, do you think the annoying one is going to get the sale?

Nowadays colleges that teach advertising are well-aware of this, and instead of high-pressure, they teach you to build a long-term relationship with your customer. This does not mean getting in their face and repeatedly berating them until they give in. But many small business owners didn’t get this memo, and continue doing what was acceptable practice decades ago.

There is one exception where the new window thing may actually help, for a technical reason. Let’s say a user is filling out a really long form on your site. While doing so, they see a link to your privacy policy (or a link to another site) and they click it. When they are done, the click Back, and their form is now empty! The air may suddenly turn blue with their reaction! There are ways to code around this, to make forms have persistence, so to speak, but this requires additional processing and expertise to set up, and may not be feasible to include in your site for various reasons. In this scenario, the new window will leave the form intact, and may be best. The user will be expecting to complete the form, so they will be looking for it rather than surfing off elsewhere.

Have faith in your visitors. If they like your site, they’ll come back. It may be hard to hear this, but if they’re not coming back, consider having more interesting info on your site, or making it more attractive to look at, rather than trying to force them to come back.

Some funny things that people like to put on sites that really don’t need to be there:

  • Photos and bios of every single staff member. It may seem nice to do, but visitors don’t care, and it marks you as amateurish. Photos of key people – great, it personalizes your site. Moderation is the key. But maybe you promised your staff that you’d put up pictures of all of them, what they look like drunk, their pets, their favorite color, and so on. If you must do TMI, don’t make it a prominent part of your menu – maybe a discrete small link on a submenu, if at all.
  • Every sales brochure you have, regurgitated word-for-word on your site. Even worse, this is often a slew of PDF files, which can be even more annoying to open than just links going to a new window. Incredibly boring, and no one will read them. If they are interested in your product, they’ll call or email you after reading a good general description.
  • Technical minutiae of all of your products. Engineers are particularly prone to this. Being experts in their field, and often having a surfeit of testosterone, they are just dying to share their expertise with anyone who will listen. I’ve seen this lead to menus that go 5 or more levels deep, another usability no-no. This is useless unless your entire intended audience is also in your technical field. Monumentally boring. You want to sell, right? Just give a quick overview.

Sometimes site owners aren’t doing these things for hard-sell reasons. In many cases, I believe they’re just worried that they don’t have enough content on their site – simple insecurity. Add just enough content, not everything you possibly can. There’s another upside to that – your site will be done sooner, and you’ll likely spend less money having it built.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *