Popups Are Bad

I’m getting involved in a debate on the uk-netmarketing email list on the value (or otherwise) of web page popups. Another of the people in the discussion works for Eyeconomy who I’ve mentioned before.

Like all people I’ve discussed it with, I hate unrequested popups on web pages. When one appears I close it down immediately without reading it. Proponents of popups point to data proving how much more effective they are than plain banner ads. I say that this just proves that it’s impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the average web user :)

So we have a situation where most web surfers still see popups as an unavoidable annoyance on the web. About 90% of surfers still use Internet Explorer and I suspect it’s a very small percentage of those who have installed any kind of popup blocker. These are the people who are still providing data which encourages the use of popups.

But there is another (smaller) group of people. These are the people who have installed a decent browser that has a built-in popup blocker. Or have installed popup blocking extensions for their browser. These people know that they don’t like popups and have taken the decision to do something about them.

This action annoys the people who use popups. Popup blocking is, they think, attacking their livelihood. Less people are seeing their popups and therefore they are making less money. So they devote time and energy to writing “super-popups” that get past the popup blockers. And in many cases they succeed.

But I think that they are missing a fundamental point. The people with popup blockers installed have, as I said above, taken the conscious decision that they don’t want to see popups. Before installing a popup blocker they saw popups as an annoyance. Now, if they see popups they are very likely to get far more pissed off as someone has overidden their choice. These people didn’t like popups before (that’s why they installed popup blocking software). They were never going to click one the adverts. Why waste time and energy developing these super-popups when they are only going to further annoy people who already disliked popups?

But I don’t think that this kind of logic has any chance of working with these marketeers. I think that our only hope is to convince their clients that using super-popups is doing nothing but annoying people. I’ve now decided that every time I come across site that serves me super-popups through my popup blocker, I’ll email the webmaster explaining what has happened and telling them that I won’t be using their site again. I’d encourage you to do the same. Maybe if enough of us tell them then the message will start to get through.

5 Replies to “Popups Are Bad”

  1. I had a look and they do pop-unders not pop-ups. I don’t mind those. I think you are being over vexed on this issue Dave and perhaps you should give both sides of the debate you are having. If it was my site, one I needed to pay for to keep it going I’d have no problem with taking ads. Blimey, these are small fry to the dominance of Google and its SuperCorp it’s building. They are who I’m worried about. Them and eBay. These media owners I’ll be beholden to in many ways in teh future and they’ll know my browsing habits inside out. I think you need to concentrate on the bigger fish.

  2. There is a realistic problem with your line of reasoning that, unfortunately, marketroids predictably like to emphasise:

    If the browser comes with a popup blocker built in, and you didn’t download it with full awareness that it would provide such a feature and have it enabled by default, you didn’t make a conscious choice to avoid popups.

    Of course, right now, that covers a minority of the demographic. But if better browsers became standard, it could well be a significant portion. Unfortunately, with regard to media in general, and especially with regard to computers, many people have a very passive, disempowered mindset. They won’t look for solutions to annoyances, even though they would readily abandon the medium entirely once it became too painful.

    I don’t know what to do here. Maybe the browser should bring up a dialog the first time you run it and explicitly ask your permission for blocking popups, so this argument would be preempted.

  3. Jericho,I’m not sure that I see a difference between popups and pop-unders. Ok, so I know what the difference is, but I don’t see that it matters. Sure, pop-unders are less visible than popups, but they are still there and still need to be closed down individually. And they’re sneaky. It’s like the advertiser is saying “well we want you to read this, but we know you’re not going to want to so we’ll just hide it for you to find later.”Aristotle,The default installation for Firefox does warn people when it blocks a popup and it’s simple enough to change the configuration so it stops blocking them. I think that the problem is that whilst most people don’t think about popups, if you were to ask them if they wanted them blocked then they would say “hell, yes” so although Firefox makes it easy to unblock popups, very few people ever do it.

  4. Oh, and the other side of the discussion I’m having seems to boil down to “the popups must get through” and “the web needs advertising revenue”. Of course, I don’t disagree with the second of those statements at all (witness the Google ads on this site).I’d post a link to the archives, but they don’t seem to be online anywhere.

  5. Hah, I totally forgot that “blocked popups” bar. That tears down most of the argument.

    And of course I expect most people will say “hell yes” – it’d just be nice if they had to do so explicitly, to shut up the marketroids with their “well maybe they did want the ads” stance.

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