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Using Pop-Ups on Your Website: The Disadvantages

[Updated February 2017] Welcome back to this series on the renaissance of the pop-up; more specifically relating to in-page pop-over windows (or “interstitials”) which are now becoming increasingly common. Usually they’ll be a lot more relevant than the pop-ups of yesteryear, asking you to subscribe to the company’s email newsletter or to sign up for…

Code Using Pop-ups Disadvantages[Updated February 2017]

Welcome back to this series on the renaissance of the pop-up; more specifically relating to in-page pop-over windows (or “interstitials”) which are now becoming increasingly common. Usually they’ll be a lot more relevant than the pop-ups of yesteryear, asking you to subscribe to the company’s email newsletter or to sign up for a free resource. Just so we are clear that we are not talking about “Shoot the iPad for a chance to (not) win an iPad!”

Last week we discussed the positive aspects of using pop-ups for marketing purposes, but let’s be honest. When we first saw that pop-ups had returned (even though now they are in-page and relevant for the most part), it felt like a zombie scourge that was back from beyond the grave…


We previously acknowledged that there are some advantages to using pop-ups, but here are some of the reasons you may want to think twice.

The Bad Stuff

  • Interstitials can of course be seen as an intrusion and may drive people away, especially those not internet savvy or those of an impatient disposition. This makes the decision to introduce pop-ups a bit of a gamble, but writing and designing them well can improve your odds. However, with all of the best copywriting and programming in the world, some people will still really hate them! Automatically closing them is so second nature to a lot of people, that most of the time they may not even get read because this reflex is so strong.
    • The reason that this reflex may be so significant may be because we have received so many years of programming to automatically close any unsolicited windows in the past, especially those of us who have been using the internet for longer. Our programming is more entrenched due to how bad the pop-up scourge was back in the 90s and early 00’s.
  • The intrusiveness of pop-ups may be related to the fact that they require the user to make a conscious decision. If the user’s taking a merry, absentminded stroll through the interwebs and is suddenly presented with a decision, this may not work out in your favour.
  • Interruptions such as pop-ups can drive attention away from the quality content that you’ve gone to lengths to provide. Your expertly crafted blog post, video or infographic immediately plays second fiddle to an unsolicited request for interaction.
  • As touched on previously, poor copywriting, design and programming may lead people to give up on all hope of finding the information they were after because either:
    • A. the design of the pop-up does not telegraph how you’re supposed to use or close it
    • B. the webpage will not let them proceed without responding to the pop-up with a positive interaction due to poor programming, or
    • C. The written copy in the pop-up is so poor that it detracts from the value of your message, driving people away.
  • Using pop-ups can seem a little desperate and grabby, especially when used in an industry that doesn’t usually rely on them. Of course I would hate to dissuade you from being the first in your field if you have an innovative idea for how you can use them, but make sure they’re implemented correctly and appropriately. I notice that they seem to fit best in fields where trends come and go such as marketing, graphic design, web design, fashion, and home decor.
  • They can of course generate poor leads; people may fill in the form without thinking or because they can’t work out how else to close the window. This is another reason to make it obvious how it can be used or otherwise closed.
  • It’s all well and good saying that your customers can fulfil the desired action easily because the pop-up prompting them to do so is in their face, but it may not work out if you don’t give the customer chance to get to know your organisation first. This can be worked around by way of a timed pop-up, which we will discuss more in my next article.

UPDATE: Google’s New Rules

As some of us already know, pop-ups aren’t always displayed well on phones and tablets, and viewing an interstitial window on a mobile device can sometimes feel like playing a game of “hunt the x.” Google are well aware of the issues that come with mobiles and in-page pop-ups, and as of the 10th January 2017, they’ve changed their rules about how well pages with interstitials rank in mobile searches.

Those at the Big G want their users to access the information they’re after as quickly as possible, and are penalising the mobile rankings of pages with particularly invasive interstitials that obscure a large amount of the page’s content on mobile devices. Some responsible uses of interstitials will remain unhindered – such as those with age verification functions or an agreement to a site’s cookies.

Also, pop-ups that use a reasonable amount of screen-space (such as a small strip at the top or bottom of the screen) will also not suffer a penalty.

If you already use interstitials that show on mobile, all of this might sound a bit scary. However, Google reminds us that this is just a single signal out of hundreds that play into a site’s overall ranking picture, and it only applies to rankings shown on mobile devices – desktop results are unaffected.

For more information, please see Google’s Webmaster blog post, or this post over at Search Engine Journal. If you want to test your current webpages, please check out Google’s mobile-friendly test.

The Summing Up Bit

So if you’ve read my previous article as well as this one, we have learned that pop-ups might be annoying, but they can be very beneficial too. If you still don’t like them, that’s of course your perogative, and using them is by no means a must.

However, if you’re committed to the idea of installing pop-ups, you need to also be committed to make them – and the services they allow people to opt in to – the best they can be. Being able to analyse the results from your pop-up campaign and act on them accordingly is also part of this commitment. If you can’t realistically put your heart into any of these for the moment, then you are probably best off without for now, but it is still food for future thought.

If you are intrigued by the idea of how pop-ups can help you, please join me next time for a roundup of best practices, so you can keep annoyance levels low and make the most out of your online presence.

[bctt tweet=”Disadvantages of using pop-ups on your website? Who’d have thought?!”]

Do you think there are any further pressing disadvantages to using interstitial usage that I’ve not covered here? Or do you think they’re great no matter what? Please let us know down in the comments!

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