Pesky Pop-Ups!

24th November 2021

Pop Up Ads

Pop-up (adverts) refer to online advertising that takes the form of an interruptive graphical user interface display area that suddenly appears in the foreground and is used to drive traffic to (e.g., a website) with a view to generating enquiries and sales. Pop up adverts have been used extensively in online marketing for years and vary in design and size. The reason they have been used so much is that they can be very effective. For example, a Sumo study (2019) found that although the average conversion rate for pop-up is 3.09 per cent, the top 10 per cent highest-performing pop-ups averaged an impressive 9.28 per cent conversion rate. One of the big problems with them is, however, that people generally find them to be VERY annoying

How Annoying?

In a HubSpot survey of US and European Internet users, online pop-ups topped the list of the most disliked type of adverts (73 per cent), and 48 per cent of respondents agreed that online adverts are more intrusive now than they were 2 to 3 years ago.

Why So Annoying?

Some of the reasons why pop-up adverts are so annoying include:

– They slow things down. Back in 2019, for example, research by developer Patrick Hulce showed that around 60 per cent of the loading time in a browser is caused by JavaScript code that is used to place adverts or analyse what users do. The research found that if ad-placing and analytics JavaScript code are used together on a page this can add more than two-thirds of a second to loading times

– They are intrusive, and they interrupt what a user is doing. Pop-up adverts can also be obstructive and distracting.

– They create security concerns, both for the websites that host the ads for third-party suppliers, and for web users, particularly if users accidentally click on a pop-up advert e.g., fear of downloading malware.

Particularly Annoying Types?

A Coalition for Better Ads survey (2017) found that of all adverts, desktop users least preferred pop-up ads, and autoplay videos (especially with sound).

How To Stop Pop-Up Adverts

Some examples of ways to stop pop-up adverts include:

– Install a pop-up (ad) blocker. Ad blockers are browser extensions or other filtering software that block web requests to download content (e.g., pop-up adverts) into the browser. In addition to stopping annoying pop-up adverts, ad blockers can also stop annoying banners or video ads on YouTube and Facebook, help with security by blocking malicious adverts, and help privacy by blocking third-party trackers.

– To stop pop-up ads in Chrome, go to the three dots menu (top right) and select ‘Settings.’  Under ‘Privacy and security’, click ‘Site setting’s, click ‘Pop-ups and redirects,’ and choose the option you want as your default setting.

– On Android (phone or tablet), open the Chrome app. To the right of the address bar, tap ‘More’, ‘Settings’, tap ‘Permissions’, ‘Pop-ups and redirects’, and Turn off ‘Pop-ups and redirects’.

– On an Apple Mac, pop-ups can be blocked using the Safari browser. For example, in Safari, find and click ‘Preferences’ in the drop-down menu, click on ‘Websites,’ click ‘Pop-up Windows’ (left-hand menu), click on the ‘When visiting other websites’ menu at the bottom and select ‘Block’ or ‘Block and Notify.’

Cookie Policy Pop-Ups

Another particularly annoying pop-up for many users is a cookie policy pop-up. The number of these pop-ups exploded with the introduction of GDPR in 2018. Some of the main complaints about cookie-policy pop-ups are:

– Cookie consent alerts are now widely viewed as being pointless.

– The countless cookie pop-ups in countries where online tracking needs to be actively consented to by a user lead to ‘cookie fatigue’ which in turn, can make people give away more personal data than they would like to.

– Many companies use cookie banners that don’t comply with the PECR and GDPR requirements.

– On mobiles, half the screen can sometimes be blocked out by them, making it very difficult to navigate and proceed.

Examples of how you can stop being plagued by annoying, and sometimes incredibly large, obtrusive, and obstructive cookie policy pop-ups include:

– Turn off cookies in your browser settings.

– Use a privacy-first web browser such as Brave, Ghostery, Tor, and DuckDuckGo.

– Use a special browser extension/add-on, such as Privacy Badger, Consent-O-Matic, (which automatically fills in your preferences when cookie popups appear), Consent Manager, or Ninja Cookie (which rejects cookies by default).

Third-Party Cookies Being Phased Out By Google

One of the big pieces of ‘cookie news’ this year was Google’s announcement (in March) that it will be phasing out third-party cookies over two years before rendering them obsolete. The reason for the slow phase-out is given as allowing time to develop workarounds that address the need of not just users, but also of businesses, publishers, and advertisers.

Cookie Shake-Up Planned

Also, a planned shake-up in data laws by Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden (who favours ‘light touch’ regulation) and the introduction of the new Information Commissioner, John Edwards, could soon see an end to the annoyance of cookie pop-ups.

Email / Mail App Pop Ups

The email ‘Mail’ app on Windows 10 can be another annoying pop-up. For example, notifications of new emails can interrupt the user as the notifications slide into the screen from right to left, requiring the user to click on the cross to close each one (which only leads to more) or click on ‘dismiss’. Although it can be helpful if the emails are important, many emails are of much less immediate importance than the work that the email interrupts.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Pop-up adverts and messages can be effective because they are interruptive, are difficult to ignore, and can grab the attention, sometimes with the right offer at the right time. Online advertising is an important way that companies and publishers can help fund their business and the content they produce, and this is why pop-up blockers have become such a contentious issue. Nevertheless, research shows that pop-up adverts can be very frustrating and annoying to Internet users, particularly if they impede, bombard or divert the users who may accidentally click on them. Cookie consent may have a place from a compliance perspective, but the effects of ‘cookie fatigue’ and the change of Information Commissioner, coupled with a ‘light touch’ Digital Secretary mean that sea-change is on the way for companies and users as regards cookies, and although users value their data privacy, they also value a smoother experience of the web.