I have a popup that will show every time the user navigates through different sections of the website, with hints like 'how to find feature X'. The popup can be disabled by clicking in a checkbox.

I was wondering how useful these popups are and if there are better ways to help the user find the features they want.

  • As long as they're not native popups... Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 22:23

8 Answers 8


Popups are good as long as:

a) they're not obtrusive

b) you can easily dismiss them (the Stack Exchange model is to dismiss them by clicking anywhere on the popup itself)

c) the user has some way of turning them off permanently. This could be either through a configuration switch or, as in the case of Stack Exchange, they disappear once you reach a certain level of "knowledge".

Option c) is probably the most important consideration and as it's a website you need to make sure that the settings persist for users.

  • 2
    The user's definitely need to be able to turn them off. I would also recommend looking into an alternative to actual popups, since they can be blocked. If it's available, I have made use of tooltips via jQuery that are attractive and don't get blocked. I would also add that you should make sure all of the tips are essential. It's just garbage if you show tons of tips all over the page. Best way to draw a user's attention to a feature? I generally feel popups should be avoided whenever possible. Color can be effective in drawing a user's attention to something important. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 22:51
  • @LoganGoesPlaces - by "popups" I assumed that the OP meant the sort of thing Stack Exchange displays when you try to comment too often (for example).
    – ChrisF
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 22:54
  • It should also be clear how to find the information again, in the case that the pop-ups can be permanently dismissed. Plenty of times I've accidentally nuked an info pop-up before I've read it and struggle to find the same information again - I'll either resign myself to having to burrow through reams of help documentation, or (more likely) just wing it and hope it does what I think it does. This is of particular importance when pop-ups appear during a work flow process - I'm likely clickng/tabbing my way through as quickly as possible, so the risk of an accidental dismiss is that much higher.
    – Kai
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 8:22

You may be better served by offering a rollover tooltip that appears on hover after a delay rather than using a popup or dismissable tip. MooTools and jQuery both have multiple implementations, as do most JavaScript libraries. The advantages of a tooltip are that they are unobtrusive and progressively disclosed. The trick is finding a delay that isn't so long that it never gets discovered while not being so short that it interferes with a click or normal mouse movement.


I think that popup with hints are good for novice users, when they start using new application, and don't know how to use it. But when they know, hints are not needed anymore, and only will be distraction. Maybe you could "bind" hints to functions, and when user used one function, then hint to that function should be turned off.

  • That's a good suggestion, but this is a web site so you'd need some way of tying the information to a specific user.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 21:53

Most evidence I've seen suggests the user won't read them. If you need a popup to help users locate the functionality, the functionality is probably too hard to find. Focus on making feature X easier to find; if the user needs a popup to find it then the feature does not exist for 99% of users.

"Tip of the Day" used to be a dialog seen in many desktop apps; I haven't seen one in years (or read one... ever). I don't think the feature is any more useful/noticeable on the web.


I probably wouldn't use pop-ups themselves, however, what I tend to do is use little hint boxes in the page itself, which the user has the option of disabling.


I find tool tips (those tiny popups that appear above links and such) invaluable. They can be used to explain a column header in more detail, or help a user better understand an input field.

To remain unobtrusive, however, I use jQuery and some tooltips plugins that have a delay before they appear. In this way, when a user is confused, they have 'hover' over the confusing area and get more info in about a second or so.

More experienced users can simply avoid those areas and not see the tooltips at all.

There are alternate approaches for hints, for example, the hint overlay plugin for jQuery http://jdeerhake.com/inputHintOverlay.php that puts the hint inside the text area to begin with.

None of these hints should be confused with full-blown popups or dialog boxes. Those things are just pure evil.


Pop-ups are probably the easiest to program to tackle such issues but they are also most likely to be dismissed and ignored. If you do want to use them, keep them short and and make sure there is an alternate way to access instructions from within the site.

If you want users to find features, you should first ensure that your design enables users to find critical features quickly and easily and then use other methods for discovery. If you have the capability to track which features have not been used by a certain user before, you could show a tip inviting them to use the feature. Based on the user's activity, you could also suggest or highlight through UI, features that they might find useful.


I personally try to avoid popups at almost all costs. My biggest reason is popup blockers: there will always be someone that has disabled or enabled something that causes the popup not to appear, likely a popup blocker. If you're using the popup for something that isn't going to stop the user from using the site, then it won't be a problem, but they may still get a warning.

I would instead use a dialog or an "help" area that appear within the page. Both of these can be done with JavaScript (avoiding one problem) and won't be blocked by a popup blockers, although they could be blocked by scripts within specific browsers, but less likely.

  • 1
    For standard web sites the argument with popup blockers is valid. However, there's also the option of developing a site with other technologies (Silverlight, Flash) where popups won't be blocked. However, I agree that a lot of time it's not the ideal solutions. I would probably recommend a help button or area that displays information, either on user interaction or right away. Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 4:34

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