A guest post by Trace Anderson.

Many businesses think the route to increased readership is through pop-up ads. Pop-up ads are online ads that "pop up" in front of your website visitors. The pop-up ads actively engage your visitors, which is good, but the ads can also annoy them.

Pop-ups are a distraction that interferes with whatever your users were doing on your site. Many users are ignoring ads found on websites, and an increasing number of users are using pop-up blockers and other ad blockers. An entire industry has been created just to get rid of these things.

Bad in Theory


When a user lands on your site, and you have a timed pop-up, it signals to your user that you may be trying to trick them into doing something that they otherwise wouldn't do. If information was that important, it would be on the page in front of them instead of requiring a pop-up.

Another reason not to use pop-ups is that over the years, users have built up what is called "ad blindness." This is a phenomenon in which users don't even see the ads you are displaying. They are completely ignored. The worst offenders are the flashing banner-type ads that appear at or near the top of the page. However, even text-based ads are being ignored. Pop-ups or pop-unders, whether done upon entrance to or exit from your site, are often viewed in the same way as banner advertisements. And because they are slammed in front of your user, the visitor is forced to look at them. This should increase clickthrough rate, right? Wrong.

Even when many users do click or fill out their name and email, pop-ups are more often closed out before they are ever fully loaded. A visitor then leaves your site thinking that the site is trying to install malicious software on his computer or is trying to sell him something. In a way, the pop-up is like an aggressive used car salesman. It screams "I'm desperate. Please look at me." It also comes off as being somewhat unprofessional.

User Studies


According to web-usability consultant Jakob Nielson, users hate pop-ups. In one study done back in 2004, a total of 95% of 605 users reported that they hate pop-ups in front of their browser window. And 79% of respondents hated pop-ups that float across the screen. Another 93% hated when pop-ups covered what they were originally viewing. Across the board, users hated things that tricked them into clicking on something, having things obstruct their view, causing content to move around, or lacking a close button.

What's surprising is that companies today still violate Nielson's guidelines about ads and pop-ups. Nielson's latest research, done in 2011, suggests that websites still employ pop-ups as a marketing tool---and users still hate them.

Alternatives


Nielson suggests that companies simplify the site rather than use pop-ups. In a study of users viewing ABC news' new website layout for mobile devices, site users thought it was "cool." However, when given the option to switch to the regular, simplified view with just one story dominating the screen, users chose the simpler view over the "fancy" view. Translation: Simpler is better.

Again and again, users--on desktops and mobile devices---prefer simple layouts with no ads and no pop-ups. Instead of annoying users, place the most relevant content front and center. Don't allow users to take more than four or five different actions on a page. Remove banner ads and place links to products and services in the navigation bar or showcase them on the homepage like Apple.com does.

If you must use pop-ups, make sure the user understands what will happen. Make it obvious that they are viewing a pop-up, and what will happen when they click links that trigger them. Don't just randomly or unexpectedly throw a pop-up in your site visitor's face.

Trace Anderson is a freelance writer working  for Aimcrm.com.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Annoyed Boy)

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