Rant: Modal Popup Calls to Action

If you’ve done much web browsing lately, you’ve likely noticed the latest advertising scourge on the landscape: modal popup windows. While many people argue the effectiveness of these calls to action (CTAs), I think they pose a major problem for most people, and the solution to that problem might cause further issues down the road.

Modal CTAs Frustrate Many Users

What are Modal Popups?

Modal popups a different from the popup windows that plagued the internet in the late nineties and early two-thousands. Rather than opening a completely new browser window, they simply open a new frame on the existing window, on top of the content that you are viewing.

These typically show up immediately after the page has loaded, after a short wait to allow the reader to start reading the content, or when leaving the site.

Why People Use Modal CTAs?

It’s a well-established sales and marketing fact that the vast majority of people will not make a purchase on their first visit. Therefore it’s extremely important to build a relationship with customers to get them to return to a site until they proceed through the sales cycle.

This is why most websites have CTAs. The problem here is that many people train themselves to ignore the parts of a website that don’t directly tie to what they’re doing, rending the CTA as a sort of white noise.

The beauty of the modal popups is that they are impossible to ignore. Readers have to interact with them in some way – even if it’s just to close the window – in order to continue reading the content. As a result, these popups tend to increase the effectiveness of the call to action, sometimes dramatically.

Why I Hate Them

The most obvious reason for disliking these popups is that they’re annoying. It doesn’t matter if they show up right when the website loads, or when I’m already browsing the content, it’s a huge distraction. This if often exacerbated by the fact that many sites make the close button very small – another trick to increase the effectiveness of their CTA.

Of course, there is a major benefit to the owner of the website, but that comes at a trade-off. You’re also irritating a lot of your users, which doesn’t do much for building trust – another important factor in the sales cycle.

Finally, these popups create a very real barrier between your content and the user. You do want people to read your content, right? Then why make it any more difficult than it needs to be?

Dangers of the Modal CTA

In addition to my other complaints about these popups, I also worry about ways people will find to defeat them. As I mentioned before, traditional popups were a huge issue not too long ago. Because of this, companies developed a number of different popup blockers. These became so effective that they’re now bundled into every major browser.

The trouble with these popup blockers is that they’re too effective; they’ll often block the popups that you actually need to see too.

Imagine this applied to modal popups. There are a myriad of use cases where a modal window is useful to the end user, so a tool that indiscriminately blocks everything is going to take the good with the bad.

Call to action popups might be effective, but it won’t be long before people come up with a way to kill them. Don’t count on these tricks, and don’t put barriers between your content and your readers.

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