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November 19, 2003

Interesting Commercial Usability Insight

Let's briefly sidestep the traditional popup debate, but imagine you're working on a commercial content site.

You should never put *content* in a popup. Of any form.


Because your audience are so used to closing popups - even on your own site - that they may have already shut the content window by the time they realise it's content.

Posted by Tom Dolan at November 19, 2003 10:11 AM

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I'm not sure about this. (Wild untested speculation follows)

Users are used to closing popups that appear *while they're doing something else*. On the other hand, help-content popups that appear when clicking a link in an order form page are still wildly popular, even with Amazon (who are pretty good at testing these things to the limit). The reason is that the user clicks a link and waits for something to happen. The pop-up is the only thing that happens - it's the obvious source for that information. So the user will most likely *not* close the window because it's a clear cause-effect relationship rather than something additional happening on the side (which is how most ad popups manifest themselves).

Do you have any test experience for this?

Posted by: Yoz at November 19, 2003 02:23 PM

No, sadly I have data to back this up whatsoever. It was just something someone said in a meeting at The Big Commercial Broadcaster that I currently work for.

It's flagged here as more of a 'hmmm, heres a thing you may not have thought of' to my, er, public service readers.

Completely agree with you that cause-and-effect *should* apply, but perhaps it doesn't quite as much as one might hope. Maybe when dealing with more mainstream audiences?

Anyway, it's mentally noted as 'unchecked data', so I'll keep an eye out for proof...

Posted by: Tom Dolan at November 19, 2003 06:43 PM

hang on a minute..how come anybody is reading this then?

(in a pop up if you just click on comments not on the date)

Posted by: Jem at November 21, 2003 04:51 PM

Jem, you kind of missed the point. The old-skool Jakob arguments are the ones I was previously acknowledging.

This is a noncommercial site - at the most I might have a crappy adlink sharing banner. So under these circumstances, Yoz's well-made cause-and-effect rules definitely apply.

However, and this the reason I was posting this, there's another axis to the problem I'd not previously considered. A commercial content site (as opposed to say an ecommerce or business-brochure site) exists purely to bring in cash. It'll mainly do this through sponsorship and advertising; the content is there merely as bait to bring the eyeballs in. And the pressures brought to bear by advertisers mean that most commercial content sites will be riddled with DHTML, popups, rich media and other such nastiness. After all, your competitors will do it...

As a result, you've already partially thrown away your audience's trust of popups. It they are used to you opening unexpected windows they didn't want, their reflexes at closing things are that much higher. They may already have those reflexes from general net use, but you've previously told them that they apply *on this very site*.

Hence, if you have any ads over and above flat banners on your site, probably best to avoid popups.

Yoz still has a good point, but I think there's a spectrum to be considered.

Posted by: Tom Dolan at November 22, 2003 12:34 AM

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