Rage against the popup

I grew up in a time when popups were bad. Browsers allowed the opening of popup windows and there was no protection against it. Everyone hated them, so they invented popup blockers the battle the plague. Then it all went away. Almost.

Almost, because in recent years popups are back and are advertised to e-commerce companies as tools to increase conversion. Popular now are exit intent SaaS products that display a popup window when the user tries to leave a website. Why care about leaving users UX anyway, right?

Besides that fact that they are annoying, they always trigger at the wrong time. For example I trigger them every time I browse a site on multiple tabs and try to switch between the tabs. Usually if I got thrown a modal in my face in a webshop I rage close the window anyway, so I have a question..

Why are these called marketing tools now and when they were called a virus 10 years ago

There are several potential answers to this question. Let's try to answer by searching for the pain of the buyers of these tools: Lack of conversion maybe?

True, the average person who browses the internet changed over the years. We are less likely to subscribe to newsletters now than we were 10 years ago. So when we get a limited offer to purchase a product 10% off if we give the seller our email, we might go for it. Of course these offers are a smokescreen most of the time, but the seller website still has your email, so it can send you promotions in the future that potentially make you buy stuff. It looks like a win-win, but it's mostly just buying your info with the potential great deals.

But the problem is not about the content, but the way it is displayed. Let's get into this mindset. We need to grab the attention of the leaving users, so what better way is there than a popup? Sure, you grabbed my attention and now I add you to my list of annoying website and never visit again. Are better off this way?

And don't get me started on those popups. You know which ones. The ones that annoy you while you are reading an article or browse a website. Because I don't care that much about a garbage website that buys exit intent products, it's their loss. But if I care enough about a website to read and article on it then it just throws a modal in my face, it's just betrayal.

Why the hate? If we make more money, why is it bad

I'm all about the better and usable web. And these things made browsing the internet a nightmare. My only hope is that it will die out as the other wave of popups died. Until then you need to block them. Adblock Plus sadly allows them to exist, but uBlock Origin is smart enough to detect them and block them if needed, so that's a plus uBlock. I hope all browsers will add a more smart way to block those pesky bastards like Firefox did and they will die out finally and stop annoying once and for all.

What should I do then

Usually there is a better way to display information than using modals. Only use modals to deliver crucial information at critical moments. Don't use them otherwise.

Use tooltips, snackbars, toasts to display simple information. These can contain feedback mechanism too, like an OK button.

The user wants to leave your website? Please let them. And please stop this annoying trend.

This post was written over 2 years ago.

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