We Need to Talk About Ad Etiquette

Websites are built to convert and a lot of web content is specifically designed to engage users and get them to, basically, do what you want. I should know, it’s part of what we do at Venn. Sometimes it’s hard to get people to notice what you want them to notice and just like a needy child you have to jump up and down in front of their face.

Hello pop-ups. Those little boxes that appear on your screen, blurring and obscuring what you’re trying to read and generally getting in the way. The full page adverts that flaunt their wares before you even get to the page you were looking for. Many websites use them and I’m sure a lot also lose visitors because of them. Yes, I may enjoy what I’m currently reading on your site and I may like and follow your brand, but that doesn’t mean I want more of your content shoved under my nose.

A pop-up on flightmedia's blogFigure 1 A fun little article on the FlightMedia blog about being a marketing nerd

I recently got sent a link to the FlightMedia blog as it had a funny listicle about being a marketing nerd, my colleague enjoyed it and thought that I would too. Except, there was a pop-up. No less than 30 seconds after I arrived and had started reading through the content I got the above pop-up.

Why did they think that this pop-up would be a good idea? They’ve obviously gone to some trouble to create a post that would interest me but then they decided that I would actually be more interested in an eBook about generating leads. Nope. Not interested. Please get off my screen.

All this pop-up achieved was encouraging me to click off the site. However, a near instantaneous pop-up isn’t quite as annoying as one that happens before you’ve even got to the content you’re looking for, cue Forbes, possibly one of the largest news outlets in the world:

An example of Forbes' infamous thought of the day adsFigure 2 This is what you get when you visit Forbes' website

Whilst the ‘Thought Of The Day’ may sound and look like a nice little touch, it is actually an interstitial ad. These adverts appear before whatever you’re visiting the site to see and basically block full access until they are closed. Despite being unavoidable, this is a rather sneaky way of serving an ad to visitors without giving them a chance to avoid it.

While some may find the ‘thought’ inspiring or interesting, they are only there to draw attention to an ad and boost revenues rather than intellects. I guess they’re just relying on their reputation to push users through these ads.

In a bid to find some cold, hard evidence to back up why I think pop-ups are a bad idea, I took to Twitter to conduct a highly scientific study to assess people’s thoughts on the matter.

Generally, they were hated by everyone, even marketers:

But there were a few people brave enough to own up to liking the annoying kid at the back of the class or even seeing some results by harnessing them:

Some even suggested a tweak so that you can sneak friendlier ads in if you really have to:

Some websites have apparently had the nous to realise that pop-ups really are annoying and probably don’t help that much. Having great content and actually interacting with your customers on a personal level is a much better approach, but this means that some websites have become clever in sneaking their pop-up adverts in.

These websites now track your cursor on the screen which means that when you move it out of the viewing pane it triggers a pop-up asking you to stay, subscribe or carry out some other action. This is still slightly annoying, but at least it doesn’t get in the way of what you’re trying to do on that page. Contently is one website that does this: 

A clever pop-up on ContentlyFigure 3 This was an article I found through Twitter on Contently

I went to close this article as I’d finished reading it, but moving my cursor to the close tab button  triggered a little pop-up, encouraging me to sign up to their mailing list. Trouble is their message of ‘become a better content strategist’ seems a little condescending and doesn’t offer me anything specific – what would they actually send to me if I did subscribe? If it’s the content that’s already on their site then, no thanks, I can just check back when I want to without getting my inbox clogged by electronic mail.

A smart pop-up on probloggerFigure 4 This also happened on Problogger

The same thing happened when I was reading an article on Problogger; I went to change tabs back to Twitter and it prompted this little box to appear. At least this pop-up told me a little more about what they would be flinging my way, but it was still wholly unhelpful for the purpose of my visit to that website.

It’s not just me that finds pop-ups annoying, it seems most of Twitter and Venn’s own designers don’t like them either (one called them ‘so bloody annoying and disruptive’), but can they actually be helpful? Yes, when they’re super targeted and actually offer something that is useful to the user (shops take note, people like discounts) but otherwise, they mostly seem to do more harm than good for the user experience.

Creative Commons Image: Unsplash