The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec


'Death by pop-up': fix it or watch your web visitors disappear



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

May 2, 2019 | 8 min read

Today, most of us have at some point closed a web-page because of annoying pop-up ads. With the emergence of AdBlock as a way for users to take back the power in the fight against annoying ads or pop-ups, it was perhaps inevitable that the advertising industry would respond.

Death by Pop-up

The ad-blocker movement has caused many websites to create stubborn, clunky, inescapable barriers to entry, which when partnered with a barrage of pop-ups to get user data (that are thinly veiled as content marketing), is pushing web user satisfaction to the brink.

According to recent Hubspot research, “91% of respondents agree ads are more intrusive today compared to two to three years ago.”

Truth be told, pop-ups have been around for a while, but this battle for attention has produced a resurgence in their use over the past 4-5 years. However, that doesn’t mean they’re being used effectively.

Eat cookies

Firstly, here’s an example of a cookies pop-up that won’t let you visit the website until you’ve amended your personal settings. Now, we live in a fast-paced digital age where we want information at a light-speed pace. You don’t need to take up half the homepage to force-feed your cookie policy to each visitor.

Cookies image.

What can be done? Feed them crumbs - make your banner compact. Ideally with just a line to explain what it is and two call-to-action buttons: ‘change/view your settings’ and a ‘close/accept’ button.

Read all about it

Next, here’s an example of a newsletter sign up pop-up (known as a lightbox ad — obscuring the page content) that I got served as soon as I landed on a travel website for the first time. Now, I’ve never been to Tuscany, but I like to think I’m a cultured man who would enjoy it. However, I’ve not come across this website before, nor have I looked at a single property yet. There’s been no validation that this website is of worth to me, but already they’re requesting my email address to send me emails of (potentially) irrelevant unfiltered holiday options.

If a user has to continuously battle site pop-ups, they won't sign up for your newsletter (even if it's something that could be of interest) because they would expect you to treat emails the same way.

newsletter pop-up

Pick the right moment to strike, or better yet, put a Newsletter sign up button on your header/homepage/footer/custom page. Nobody wants a pop-up that asks for information within the first couple of seconds, they'd rather read the article first, then be asked if they want to get emails from you.

Best case pop-up scenario, you design a relevant ‘subscribe for new properties’ or ‘create an alert’ pop-up to surface towards the end of the article. A necessary evil.

Your message is important to us

My penultimate pop-up from hell is automated website chatbot pop-ups: “Hi there! How can I help?”. You can help by not taking up more of my screen and distracting me from what I’m here to do.

Not to devalue the worth that website chatbots can offer your business — they are undoubtedly the future of lead generation and customer support, moving away from the days of long wait-times with crackly hold music. However, they should be adopted in a non-invasive manner.

Do include a ‘live chat’ sticky button on the side of your website, or a linked button in your header/footer- letting the user get in touch at their own comfort. Don’t presume every visitor under the sun needs help.


Pushed to the edge

Introducing: the Browser Push Notifications. My least favourite pop-up. You’ve likely all seen it, but personally, it’s the most frustrating one of the lot from a user experience perspective.

If you didn’t know — it’s a pop-up that appears on the user’s desktop or mobile device via Chrome browsers (also available on Firefox and Safari) since 2015. A ghastly alternative to sending an email. Once a user clicks the ‘allow notifications’ option, the website gets access to the users desktop and mobile devices where Google Chrome is installed. They start to get the notifications continuously (yes, continuously) until manually blocked. The problem is they aren’t being used well when they are turned on.

How confident are you (as a website) that the content you share will be continuously interesting and relevant to each and every subscriber? If the answer is “not very” - then forget about it. You’re opening yourself up to receive an angry tweet or email. You could be turning off your potential web visitors from visiting organically again.

pop up

There is truth in the argument that pop-ups in a broad, tactical sense can be useful for marketers when done right but, unfortunately, they rarely are.

You may think you’ve ‘nailed’ the customer journey, funneling them at any opportunity to make an action or to convert: sign up to your email, subscribe to your newsletter, get page notifications. All you’ve really done is waste people’s time by getting in the way. This, in turn, could lead to them abandoning your website altogether.

Pop ups all

How to use Pop-Ups

The vast majority of web visitors want pop-ups to disappear. Ask yourself why you need to use pop-ups. If you have the content, the resources, and the customer journey planned out efficiently, you shouldn’t need them.

If all else fails, then follow these simple steps:

Interesting not interruptive: Don’t immediately spam your page visitors with any old whitepaper report. Only use pop-ups when you have something useful and of value to offer to that specific visitor that can be easily closed (example: for online property sites - create an alert of your recent search).

Bring down the walls: “28% would stop going to a website if they were blocked from accessing it because they were using ad blocker.” [Source]. Consider how to integrate unobtrusive adverts on your website to give visitor’s confidence in your brand.

Get the message: Seamlessly integrate a chatbot/live messenger button in the corner, header or footer — don’t automatically open the chat with automated intro messages and assume people want to talk straight away.

The way the cookie crumbles: Cut down your cookies bar size to be absolutely minimal on the screen (especially on mobile).

Don’t push me: Browser Desktop Notifications are invasive, users often consider them ‘spammy’. Use them at your own risk.

By design: If they must be used, ensure all pop-ups are well-designed, clearly legible, engaging and easily offer a way of minimizing/closing.

Testing, attention please: Use Google Analytics to understand the average time of site to set appropriate release times for your relevant pop-ups. If the bounce rate is high, rethink your strategy or stop entirely.

Pop-up advocates will argue it can be a great tool for marketers (and even beneficial to the reader), but here’s the important bit — when they are used sparingly and well! Done right, they should be relevant and helpful - otherwise, you’re just getting in the user’s way.

Rob Carter is senior social media manager at AgencyUK


Content by The Drum Network member:


We’re an independent brand communications agency voted Ad Agency of The Year 2019 and Brand Strategy Agency of the Year 2020 by Drum Recommends. Our services span...

Find out more

More from Technology

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +