Is there still a need to stop pop up ads?

Popups have been annoying users since the dawn of the internet, maybe even before that.  Many of us thought that the publisher’s process to stop pop up ads would be natural.  We thought that when designing for user experience became a priority for the web, that it meant the death of the pop up.  As many readers of Forbes will be familiar with the example below, the death of the pop up was greatly exaggerated.

Forbes please stop pop up ads

Just as the first wave of viagra promoting insanity boxes finally began to vanish from the internet, they were replaced by the second generation of popups.  These popups were more aesthetically pleasing, and they let go of the contrasting colors and often blinking text. The new pop ups focused on being a normal advertisement but they blocked you from the content you were looking for.

This article isn’t just about how horrible pop ups are or how to stop pop up ads. It is about why pop ups were created in the first place.  How have pop ups have evolved with the web?  And what will come next to fill the void when popups leave?

Pop up ads are not evil.  They are simply a bad solution to a problem that every website owner has. This article is about what happens after we stop pop up ads.

Why businesses need to use pop up ads.

Popup ads have been used by websites to help grow their email list, promote their services, or in any way imaginable to monetize the content that brought you to their site.  The worst popups actually will get in the way of a user who is trying to buy a product on the site, by distracting them and trying to get them to look at a different product. This is something you still see commonly on Shopify websites that are run by small businesses who don’t have experience in customer experience design.

It’s not easy to get a user who has come to read an article to give you their email address for repeated interaction. Forcing them to give you their email address to view the content is actually a viable strategy to achieve that result in the short term.

The problem is that it’s similar to forcing someone to give you their wallet by pointing a gun. The user has two choices, they can give in to your demand or they can run away. The gated content exchange also doesn’t look at the relationship from a long-term perspective. Just because you have someone’s email, does that mean they really want you to email them? What do you think the difference is in rates of fake email address and spam reports from emails gathered through forced popups vs freely given email addresses?

Pop Up Gif

The response to the pop up

Popup blockers like AD Blocker have grown like crazy in an effort to stop pop up ads.
  • Ad blocking estimated to cost publishers nearly $22 billion during 2015.
  • There are now 198 million active adblock users around the world.
  • Ad blocking grew by 41% globally in the last 12 months.
  • US ad blocking grew by 48% to reach 45 million active users in 12 months up to June 2015.
  • UK ad blocking grew by 82% to reach 12 million active users in 12 months up to June 2015.

This is a disaster for publishers. These blockers are installed to block intrusive and unwelcome advertisement, but they also block out all the good faith efforts that marketers are making to present a well designed and relevant ad experience to the users.

Newspaper publishers are trying to figure out how to make their businesses viable online. These blocked ads can make the difference between continuing to exist or failing completely.  In the end the website visitor wants the content of those websites and they do not want them to go out of business.  The email exchange just needs to reflect the relationship both parties want to have.

Proposed Solution – Google punishing websites

Google is now going to be ranking websites based on how those websites use of obstructive popups. Google calls pop ups “interstitials”. They will actually not penalize websites for using them for very specific reasons, like age verification for alcohol brands.  This is great because it may make browsing the web better for the end user, and it may also reduce the number of users installing ad blocking software. (This is probably the long term reason Google is doing this)

There will still be really great ways to remind the user to give you an email address if they enjoy your content. Products like HelloSign lead to users who sign up and are excited to hear from you! The main difference is that the website owner must actually take the time to think about their customers. What emails they will be sending to their list? Why would a customer want to receive these emails?

Websites will then sell the idea of joining an email list for a certain benefit.  Which is much better than exchanging an email address just to view the content of the page you are already on.

Confession: this article was written by a former pop up ad creator and abuser.

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