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It seems more and more common, when you enter a page and start reading it shows a popup after ~10 seconds. Personally I just leave the page immediately and look for the content somewhere else. I can't imagine anyone likes being interrupted by some pushy message about subscribing or whatever. What is the intent with these things? Is there any reason to believe this is an acceptable "feature" to put on a website? Bonus: is there any data about number of people who leave the page right after the popup shows?

Sorry if this seems more like a rant than a question, but I'm really wondering why one would choose to include this on their website. I can't imagine any reason that outweighs the possibility of visitors getting annoyed.

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    It's to get naive people onto their spam list. – André Borie Jan 24 '17 at 12:50
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    Note that there are also purely technical reasons this might happen (in other words, its a mistake): if the popup content is lazy loaded or it comes after a megabyte of JavaScript then its entirely possible that the rendering engine is just then getting around to displaying it rather than any deliberate design intention. – Jared Smith Jan 24 '17 at 12:50
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    Are you asking why websites use popups or why popups don't show up on sites immediately? – Janet Jan 24 '17 at 14:22
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    still can't believe folks are still using popups in 2017. s'all like I go to the shops and as I'm putting something into my basket some one comes along and grabs it out my hand and smiles and is all like "HEY LOOK AT MY PEARS!!" – colmcq Jan 24 '17 at 16:03
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    More and more, I'm seeing mouseout popups, where it only asks for subscriptions, etc, when your mouse leaves the page, but I'm the same way, if a site drops a popup, I leave and will likely never come back. – SethWhite Jan 24 '17 at 16:08
74

It is about increasing the chance of the user having a look at the popup.

Task-completion mode

An American football player jumping over others

Users in task-completion mode are eager to fulfil their goal (eg, "Is the product/information/answer I'm after on this page?"). As such, they simply ignore anything irrelevant because it is an obstacle to their goal.

Obstacle placement

On-load pop-ups are typically dismissed because they show at the worse time possible - just when the user can start the journey to her goal.

Delaying the pop-up means some degree of progress towards the goal has been made (partial resolution, if you wish); so users are less likely to dismiss the pop-up.

Another strategy you may see is pop-ups that only show when you have reached the bottom of the page. At this point, you can make an assumption that the user has already concluded the relevancy of the page (full resolution) thus a pop-up is not quite an obstacle as it would be at the start or shortly after.

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    Good points on the delay. Other example is when the mouse cursor is going to reach the address bar. – Alvaro Jan 24 '17 at 10:21
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    It's all about engagement. If the popup comes immediately, I'll dismiss it (or navigate away). If I'm already engaged with the content, I want to stay on that page, so I tolerate the popup (or might actually interact with it if I'm that much engaged by the content). The only scenario that reeks of desperation is the mouseout one that @Alvaro mentions, which always makes me feel like the website is panicking that I'm about to leave. Unfortunately, it just makes me leave all the faster - especially if it was an accidental mouseout that triggered the popup in the first place. – flith Jan 24 '17 at 11:20
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    @flith "especially if it was an accidental mouseout that triggered the popup in the first place" which happens very often. – Alvaro Jan 24 '17 at 11:23
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    Indeed. Often I'm just going to switch tabs to cross-check some other information (while fully intending to return to the original tab) which triggers the mouseout popup. I have little patience for such fun and games, which means I will often close it out of disgust and choose to browse elsewhere. – flith Jan 24 '17 at 11:29
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    Personally, on-load popups get dismissed while on-load-with-delay popups turn me away from the website entirely. – Kevin Jan 24 '17 at 12:21
18

They want you to subscribe.

Because subscriptions or email marketing gives pretty nice return on investment (ROI) most of the web admins use extreme measures to capture users attention to users can potentially subscribe.

Return on investment per 1$ spent for digital marketing

Pop ups work well for increasing email subscriptions

They may be annoying but surprisingly, they work very well specifically for gathering email subscribers. There is a huge controversy on how to best pitch your users to subscribe to a newsletter. Whether the popup should be displayed when the visitor enters the site, or when she leave's it, or when n amount of seconds has passed. The important thing is to display it at the right time when users are more likely to subscribe on your particular site. The best thing to do is do user tests and try to identify when users are most pleased with your site/app and then fire the pop-up.

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    Can you put a source to your graph? – hd. Jan 24 '17 at 13:17
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    The "Direct Marketing Association's" data says that direct marketing has the highest ROI -- what an amazing coincidence – Daniel Beck Jan 24 '17 at 13:31
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    Why are keyword ads mentioned on two bars with totally different numbers? – Palu Macil Jan 24 '17 at 20:43
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    The user is likely never pleased, just more or less receptive. My advice, sign up rate be damned, is to place the subscription box somewhere prominent on the site, and then give incentive to use it such as an initial discount coupon for your products. – Ben Jan 25 '17 at 5:47
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    @PaluMacil: Because they'd be second best if combined, and somebody hates them – Mark K Cowan Jan 26 '17 at 0:05
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Because most such websites have nothing to lose. They are typically free and don't get any money when someone visits them, only when someone subscribes. Observe:

  • A user who didn't want to subscribe is annoyed and leaves: $0 loss
  • A user who didn't want to subscribe is not annoyed, or is annoyed but subscribes nevertheless: $0.1 earned (or whatever they charge their customers to send you their spam)
  • A user who wanted to subscribe is annoyed: why would he be? Anyway, he'll subscribe nevertheless, after all, that's what he wanted in the first place.

Things change drastically on websites which earn money elsewhere, and use subscriptions to promote their own products. Anecdotally, I just booked an airplane ticket with a company I never used before, and instead of the usual subscription e-mail I got a mail stating that I'm not subscribed to their promo mailing list, but there was a button to click right there if I wanted to. They sure lost a subscriber, but they did earn themselves a rather loyal paying customer.

Of course, the above could only happen if the word paying is present.

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    What is also possible: A user who didn't want to describe is annoyed, leaves and never comes back even if they are made aware of an article on your site that might be of interest to them, costing you ad revenue: 0.01$ loss. – Nzall Jan 26 '17 at 12:10
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    @Nzall But the next time you're googling for related articles, will you really avoid going back to this domain? Or will you click the link with the promising headline in search results, and not realize it's the same domain until after you get hit by the same annoying ad a second time? As far as the advertisers are concerned, the latter is still mission accomplished. – Steve-O Jan 26 '17 at 15:27
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    @Steve-O After a couple of bad encounters, I would probably add the domain to Ublock origin so it warns me when I try to go there. – Nzall Jan 26 '17 at 15:35
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    @Nzall If everyone used ABP, then everyone would have to pay to visit websites in some way. Ads make the internet work, and ABP admits that it is a bad program for the internet and actively shows its trying to improve the internet as a whole with acceptable ads. Also, they allow you to turn that off and block the ads anyway if you really want to screw over even the good websites you like that don't have subscriptions/donation methods. – Ryan Jan 26 '17 at 20:32
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    @Ryan blocking ads for me is purely a UX and security concern. On one hand, advertisers have resorted to increasingly drastic measures to show ads, with such gems as redirecting me from a T-rated game fansite to a fake App store page showcasing adult content, showing ads on videos that are longer than the video itself, and hiding the content I want to see behind a popup that doesn't have a close button. On the other, ads have been used to spread malware, ransomware and similar nasty things. Until ad companies only show responsible ads, I will keep blocking ads. – Nzall Jan 26 '17 at 20:49
5

Generally when sites include such popups, on behalf of good user experience, it's because they achieve their goals, which are lined up with subscriptions. Users that stay, even if they don't subscribe in that moment, know that there is a subscription newsletter.

Even if most users go away at first, some stay and from those some subscribe later. So in the end they get those few subscriptions although they lost most users, which might not be potential subscribers anyway.

4

Just thought I would drop in some info on the last/bonus part of your question, to do with data, as the other parts have been sufficiently answered already.

On a subscriber-supported blog I am involved with, we saw a first-month increase of 42.3% interactions (that includes just immediately closing the popup, pretty much anything other than straight up closing the page/tab as soon as the popup appears) when swapping to a 60-second delayed subscribe popup from an immediate load one, and an 8.9% increase in conversions (subscriptions entered directly into the popup).

3

Google just started penalizing some of these types of pop ups. So I think you will be seeing lees of them, or seeing them in another form.

The penalty is a lower page ranking, and therefore a lower placing in the search result. Which is something web designers have to respect if they want users to find their site.

https://wptavern.com/google-to-penalize-pages-with-intrusive-popup-ads-starting-january-2017

2

Delayed pop ups are mostly used nowadays in blogs and websites which has a lot of articles. If you really like the content in the website, as you reach the end of the article, a pop up pops out asking you if you'd like to receive their newsletter. In this case, it is quite useful as your intent to follow the website is only if you like the articles published. You can also close it Incase you didn't like the articles. Pop-ups has to be used where it is more tolerable unlike how we see in most websites.

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