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Pop-Up Boxes Annoy Visitors While Getting Clicks

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The online industry seems to go through phases with online pop-up boxes. They have them for a while, they go away and they come back again.

Pop-up boxes appear on top of the browser window. Some float and some are anchored at the bottom of a page. Because they lay over the main browser window, they demand attention and some kind of action by the site visitor.

The action usually involves clicking into the box to see more about the subject or clicking on an X in the corner of the box to make it go away.

They had a life with advertising for a number of years before finally fading away. Now they are back again, usually as an anchor ad at the bottom of the page.

They get high click rates while annoying the heck out of users who didn’t want to see them at all. They discourage return visits, pages per visit and time on site.

The industry then went to pop-under ads, which appear under the main browser window and which annoyed website visitors only a little less.

Eventually they too went away, although some vendors and a handful of sites still push them. Both advertisers and site publishers realized they were counter productive.

After a few years of peace and quiet, the pop-ups are back again. But this time with a difference.

Pop-Up Content Boxes

In the latest version, pop-up boxes don’t have advertising. Instead, they promote site content rather than advertisers. They suggest to the reader that a click will take them to more useful or relevant content on the site.

But here’s the trick: This new version doesn’t appear automatically. It often appears when the site visitor scrolls down a page and then moves the cursor back to the top to click on the back button, enter a new website address or take some other action that potentially will result in the visitor leaving the site.

When the visitor triggers the reaction, a pop-up window appears on top of the browser window with content that appeals to the visitor to stay on the site.

Some sites also have brought back automatic pop-ups without the visitor doing anything other than clicking on a link to read an article. For example, they place a video window in the lower left corner of the site page. Oftentimes it blocks part of the page article and requires the visitor to click on the X in the corner of the box to get rid of the window.

In all cases, the site publisher is hoping the box with relevant content will have more appeal and less annoyance for the site visitor than pop-up advertisers.

Why Content Pop-Ups Are Still Risky

Website visitors are not like other media consumers. They harvest sites for information like birds in a cornfield. They rarely read an entire article. They rarely stay on one site for than a few minutes before jumping to another one.

It means they want speed and simplicity when they visit a website. They get annoyed with pop-up boxes, regardless if those boxes promote content or advertisers, because they get in the way of what they want to read and because they require an extra click to get rid of them.

Despite the annoyance, site publisher embrace the boxes because a small but meaningful segment of the site visitors usually click on them. They are a mixed blessing.

If publishers want to try the boxes, I do know from experience that they should appear using an ad management system, not a content management system, and follow these rules:

  • Appear only once for a visitor.
  • Appear only to a segment of site visitors.
  • Have a short lifespan.
  • End quickly if it doesn’t have at least a 2 to 5 percent click rate.

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