Edinburgh Web Development

No future for pop-ups?

by Iain Wilson

30 September 2007

It used to be a great way to get attention - when a visitor comes to your site, pop up a new window on top of the page that highlights some special information.

Some people had to overdo it though, plastering the screen with pop-up windows and driving the visitor crazy. Pop ups have become associated with dodgy sites and spamming. So firewall and virus checking software started to provide blocking software which stopped the popups. These days Google and Yahoo toolbars come with pop up blockers and Internet Explorer 7 comes with a blocker set up by default to block popups.

So is the pop up dead?

We would never advise web design that made extensive use of pop ups, but there are some areas where a pop up could still be used.

The first thing that must be dealt with is Internet Explorer 7. If the most popular browser is blocking your pages, then you have a problem. By default, IE7 will stop any popup that occurs automatically when you visit a page, so don't even think of using that kind of popup. IE7 by default at least, won't block popups that occur when the visitor clicks on a hyperlink it may be ok to use that kind. However, users can amend their settings to block this kind too, so you aren't guaranteed a satisfictory outcome. Also, they may have other anti-popup software.

If you think popups are essential for your design, there are some other downsides to consider:

  • Clutter - windows all over the place are an annoyance to most surfers.
  • Losing the visitor - your visitor might not be able to find the page they started with amongst these popups and may leave your site
  • Professionalism - are pop ups consistent with the image you want to project

So what are the alternatives to using pop ups? Well, you could just open a new window using a target attribute in your anchor mark up. The downside of this is that just like popups, you can end up with lots of window orphans. You also don't have control over the window size etc like you do with a javascript pop up, unless you code it into the new page.

Our preference is to put the pop up information in a div with visibility set to hidden, then make it visible when required (probably a click from the visitor). The pop up remains part of the page and there is no clutter - for the visitor, they are still in control of the page.

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