Thoughts

Delayed DHTML Pop-ups: Best Practice or Annoyance?

Once upon a time (just over a decade in internet time), the internet invented the pop-up window. JavaScript allowed web developers the ability to open browser windows. This ingenious bit of code brought small content, say a sign-up form, to the visitor without having to go to a new page.

But advertisers and marketeers got ahold of this technology and discovered that pop-ups actually forced visitors to act. To either clickthrough, or close the window.

I say this again, FORCE visitors to remove it, lest they end their day with 1,000 windows open. Pure genius for ad agencies and dating websites. Pure evil for the rest of us. Within a very short time of this epidemic, pop-up blockers were developed to save us all from the greatest scourge of web development since the “blink tag”.  All web browsers now block JavaScript popups by default.

So we thought the war against disruption was over.

Enter DHTML. Web pages are no longer a single layer. Enter AJAX. You can make calls to a webserver without having to go to a new page. Fantastic for entering forms, creating carousels of photo galleries. Drop-down menus make the web just like the programs that run on our operating systems. Websites are more like applications than they are like pieces of paper.

Now we can pop-up a signup form or a larger photo without having to reload the page. Wait…. did i just say ‘pop-up’?

Recently this scenerio happened to me:

I visit what looks like a great blog with some good development tips. I see an interesting video and start to watch. I settle in…… and then i am STARTLED. The screen goes dark. There’s a micro pause… and then a LARGE FORM appears begging me to sign up for their FREE stuff.

AHHHHH! What just happened? HEY! I was in the middle of watching a video!

This is the days of the wild wild west of pop-ups all over again. There are no pop-up blockers for this new form, because it’s not a new browser window.

A savvy marketer will tell you it’s brilliant because the user has no choice but to look and act.  They’ll even give you guidelines to reduce your visitor’s likelihood of being scared away.

1. Readers need some time to trust you with their contact info. Do not blast them with your popup before you’ve gained their trust. Set your popup to delay for 60 seconds.

2. If you’re going to force your readers to stop what they’re doing and look at your popup, at least put some effort in making the popup interesting and presentable. Don’t force your readers to stare at plain rectangular box with bright red, yellow, and blue dotted borders. This might induce a seizure in some cases.

VISITOR EXPERIENCE RULE #1

NEVER provide an experience that they do not have control of. Visitors do not want the unexpected. Don’t interrupt them. We tell our children not to interrupt conversation at the dinner table; your visitors expect the same kind of respect.

So if you have a form you really want acted on, simply draw attention to it. Use a pleasing contrasting color or font. The most effective way to draw attention is to create a splash page, like the one we have for the first time you visit us. Do make sure your splash page is properly enabled so repeat visitors don’t have to go through that extra step again.

Happy Web Making!

— Rick