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To pop-up or not?

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Is it stretching things too much to say that nobody likes pop-ups on web pages?

Well, some people must like them, because they’re very common. At times they seem to be baked into half the pages on the Web. And if you’re a developer wanting people to stick with your site, they must seem like a very good idea. You put something right in front of the reader that they can’t ignore, making it dead easy for them to increase their interaction with you. Sign up and get free stuff! What could be easier?

From the reader’s point of view, things are different. What they were actually doing was Googling how to open a jammed padlock, interpret a Windows error message, cook tagliatelle or some such task. They saw your article in the search results and clicked on it.

So looking at it from the user’s perspective, you have rudely interrupted their task with a loud demand to do something irrelevant. This does not foster goodwill.

Respect your model

Many sites are built on an ad-based model, so it’s understandable that they want to drive as much traffic to their site as possible, keep it there and encourage it to return. They also need you to turn off your ad blocker when you visit, so they can show ads and collect a small fee. In a way, that’s fair enough. You can’t give everything in your business away for free. If the site is your whole business, you’ve got to make some money somewhere, even if it’s just occasional donation requests to pay for the hosting fees.

What we are doing is different, though. We are using the site to support the rest of the business. Consequently anything that hinders or discourages visitors from reading your articles is a bad thing. By all means have a contact form visible in the sidebar or at the bottom of the page. By all means have links to pages where you make sales (not by hyperlinking every third word, though, that’s far too early-2000s). And by all means include a sales pitch in your articles. Just not too much of a hard sell.


Consider this thing called goodwill. If you’ve ever read a large company’s accounts you will probably have seen it as an item. It appears on the list of assets and it has a monetary value. Millions of pounds in some cases. It represents sales that the company’s clients haven’t even ordered yet, but which they are fully expected to. The company – and its investors – can have confidence that those orders will be placed because it has acted reliably towards its customers in the past and they are known to have a degree of loyalty.

You aren’t perhaps quite operating on this scale, but yes, goodwill has real value to a business. Sales reps used to give out all sorts of free stuff – pens, calendars, samples – partly to get their brand out there, but also to create a spark of goodwill with new clients. Now we hand out the free stuff online in the form of information. No sales rep would ever have got a second call answered if their calendar had been plastered with sales stickers you had to peel off before you could see the pictures. And you shouldn’t use pop-ups if you have any goodwill to gain.


…except perhaps for GDPR? (Groans all round). Unfortunately GDPR is a legal requirement, so sometimes you will have to ask people what they want. However, it’s not a law that says websites have to implement pop-ups: it’s about getting consent to collect personal data, and what you have to do depends very much on what you actually collect. This article explains WordPress users’ options quite well. Warning: it does feature the dreaded pop-up signup box, but at least it has the decency to wait a minute or so before it launches it.

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