Why You Shouldn't Popup a Modal Dialog When First Loading a Page

Ildikó Tuck
March 14, 2014

Both as a 8-10 hours per day user of the internet and as a UX professional, I wholeheartedly agree with the ongoing internet outrage regarding popping up images/promos/whatever else when you first load a page. I also believe that is a fantastic initiative. I didn’t think I needed to join the chorus in championing how horrible this practice is right up until the point someone said that they’ve been to this conference where this famous UX person was going on and on about how much revenue these things generate and what a brilliant idea they were. I’d love to have a 1-1 chat with this famous UX-er, but I’ll have to settle for this blog post instead.

For the sake of this blog post, I’m assuming that your overlay is written properly and it works on every single mobile, tablet and desktop device. Technical difficulties resulting from mobiles not loading them properly, putting them off screen, so on would require a separate post. In this one, let’s pretend they’re working as they should.

So, Why Shouldn’t You Use Modals?

I was going to write up a lot of reasons of why you shouldn’t do it, but really, there is just one: it hides your content.

If I say the world of internet content is a world of choices that sounds like a massive cliche. I’ll go with the retail example instead. People advertise “try-before-you-buy” schemes everywhere, because knowing what you get before you decide on spending the money is crucial to drive sales. So why would you ask your customer to hand over their wallet at the door of the clothes store before even laying an eye on the merchandise? Or quiz them about their shopping habits before they even know what you’re selling. Or ask them a bunch of personal details they really don’t need to give out if all they’re doing is browsing a little

Asking for Likes

Likes are not money, you say? I strongly disagree. At the point when employers and recruiters started to look people up on social media, as soon as romantic relationships kindled and broke down on the very same platforms, the moment it became the key point of contact for many families and friends, a simple “like” becomes a currency of sorts. It’s a recommendation from me, the user, to another ~500 people. How much would you pay to reach that crowd in a traditional advertising setting? That’s the monetary value of the like. It doesn’t make sense to ask for it “for free” now, does it?

ux_example Screenshot from:

Register now! Sign up to our Newsletter!

Okay, so you’re not asking for likes, you’re asking for registration or newsletter signup. You want to make it clear for users that this service requires registration or is behind a pay gate? That’s admirable, however why not build a full webpage? Why limit yourself to this nasty little interstitial, where you can’t adequately describe what you’re selling? Newsletter signup? Let people browse your online content before suggesting they should get an email about it.

ux_example Screenshot from:

Fill Out our 2 Minute Survey… Okay, it’s only 3 seconds. Fill it out. Now.

You’d like your users opinion of the site, so you decide to have a survey jumping at them every time they load the page? Please don’t do it. Not everyone is a returning user, a new one wouldn’t have any idea about what to say. As for the returning users, if someone cares enough about you and your brand, they will answer a survey even if it’s not that obviously front-centre. And if they don’t care, you’ll either drive them away or they’ll skew your marketing data by giving bogus answers.

We Know Where You Are, but Will Not Serve You Localised Content Just Yet.

Last example, the most forgivable, yet still just as annoying one: - something about your country - overlays. I understand you need to know where someone is, because you’re marketing different things to different countries. Even so, I encourage you to default your users to whatever the country they seem to be coming from and allow them a very easy way of changing this. Have a country selector somewhere, and call attention to it when you first load the whole front page. After that, people will learn it’s there and use it when required. As for all the new shipping offers and promotions just for the lucky residents of country X? Leave that until after they’ve seen your content.

ux_example Screenshot from:

These overlays are spreading like the plague because they work: many people click them to get rid of them, and many people think it’s normal to have them around. There aren’t yet mainstream plugins or embedded browser functions to prevent them - as it was a few years ago with popups vs popup blockers - but that won’t be the case forever. I’m convinced that every single one of these likes / registrations etc. obtained through overlays is making your users more and more disgruntled. You may not be able to measure this cost, as accurately as the likes, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.