Why JavaScript Pop Ups are Evil

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For over a decade of website design, Pop-Ups have been finding their way onto websites of all kinds. Anything from the giant click here flashing button that pops up a new window to embedded aggressive pop ups with questionable means have forced us users to constantly hit the close button. I have to admit, I have built my share of sites that have embedded pop ups. Why have I done this? Well because I was a party to a project where the client communicator, whether that be the project manager, or just their account representative was unable to steer them away, even though every usability fiber of their being was screaming “Bad Idea!”.
Today I arm you with the logic to build a successful argument against why poorly executed pop-ups are not only a bad usability experience but can negatively impact the user experience and quality conversion. And, if you are a client wanting pop-ups or some variant, listen up!

Poor User Experience
Autotrader, Amazon, Google, Zappos why have they all given up the landing page pop-up? It seems obvious doesn’t it? User experience. When a user lands on your site they have a very specific goal in mind. Every site is different, every site has its own set of goals, and its own set of needs that it can fulfill for the user. We know that for many inventory-driven sites, the user will go immediately to inventory and narrow inventory items into manageable chunks.  One user that lands on your site might be looking for the service phone number, while one user might be interested in the BMW 3-Series with the Sport Package. When a user lands on your site, you need to fulfill these needs as quickly as possible. You MUST organize what they see into manageable chunks of information (7 items or less if I had to put a number on it) so that they can get to where they are going with the least amount of resistance. This basic philosophy is what increases conversion and fulfills the overall goals of the site.  This has been proven time and time again.

When pop-ups are used on a landing page as an onLoad event, this throws all these fundamentals right out the window. When you take over the page, or pop-up a layer that forces the user to interact with whatever comes into the forefront you are not satisfying the users needs. It is merely a distraction for over 80% of the people that have a different goal in mind than what you are popping into their face. Yes, if you pop-up, say, a car special, into someone’s face, you will get more leads for that specific special, but at what cost? You will be passing up a much better and more important conversion when a user finds exactly what they are looking for. You are also going to lose a lot more people when they bounce.

Some Stats on Pop Ups and Bounce Rates
So here is the nitty gritty. In March (of 2010) I started tracking the amount of time it takes for users to close pop-ups across thousands of sites that we run at Dealer.com. The result? 7 months has shown that the most common time it takes to close the pop-up is 3 seconds. This is basically (with the load time included) the amount of time it takes for the user to find and click on the close button. We can see from this observation that we are creating a barrier to satisfying the users needs.

Recently I ran a test to prove another hypothesis. That the bounce rate would actually increase when adding a pop-up. I ran the a/b test over the period of a month and found the following:

Test: A/B pop-up
Bounce Rate without the pop up: 28.62%
Bounce Rate with pop up: 31.75%

So we can see that there was a 3.13% increase in the bounce rate while the pop-up was added.

Just Pop-Ups?
You might hear a lot, “well this implementation is different.”. Lots of other proposals occur around taking over the page with an interactive advertisement etc. Remember, these are pop-ups in disguise! In fact, they may be worse because it will take the user longer to find the close button! Take some time and think about the user experience and conversion. Apply the understanding of the stats and the arguments above to come to the right conclusion that benefits everyone.  A great replacement to the pop up is allowing for a promotional area on the site to feature the appropriate item of interest AND MAKE SURE IT LINKS TO SOMETHING.  That way if the user does like what they see, they can click and find more information, but they don’t have to click to close it to get to where they need to go.

Conclusion
Pop-Ups will get you more leads for a specific event at the cost of impacting other conversion areas and impacting the user experience. Do your best to help your client realize this before they make a mistake that will cost them money. As the web developer or project manager you want to make sure that you advise your client to make positive strides toward their online marketing presence.  Don’t be afraid to suggest alternative approaches such as a promotional area on the landing page.  As a client, web developer, project manager, and anyone involved in making an online marketing presence: put the user first and how your site helps them, conversion and great success will follow!

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  1. Pingback: Randy Taylor | 5 Features That Will Sink Your E-Commerce Site

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