It was late at night. Somewhere in the wired world, a man was surfing the Internet. Innocently, he clicked on a link. The page hadn't even finished loading when suddenly, he was assaulted by a barrage of assailants. They weren't armed with guns, or knives, or bats. No, their very existence was an attack on the innocent computer user. They weren't spiders, they weren't small children, they weren't even members of a boy band. Yet they provoked more fear and disgust in the man's soul than can reasonably be described. What were they? Pop-up advertisements.
Granted, the presence of pop-ups isn't usually quite so dramatic. But they (along with their cousins, pop-under adverts, which open in the background and appear when you try to close a window) do constitute a major annoyance to many people.
How Do Pop-ups Work?
Pop-unders, also called blur pop-ups, are pop-ups that are created behind the open browser window, so the user views them when he or she closes the window.
Timed pop-ups, like pop-unders, can be set to open several seconds after the page loads or is closed. They are used to interrupt the user in the middle of reading a page.
So, Who's at Fault?
Pop-up space is sold by lots of websites, most notably web-based email services and free webhosts. Tripod and Angelfire use pop-up ads heavily. Yahoo! and Hotmail, among other email providers, assail the user with ads once he or she is logged in.
Gator, a piece of freeware that automatically fills in forms and remembers passwords, generates pop-ups in the corner of the screen based on what the user is searching for. So, for example, if Bob is searching for beer online, an advertisement for Guinness might appear.
Creating Websites Without Pop-ups
Considering the high annoyance value of pop-ups, it's no wonder that they can be a problem for webmasters who don't want to discourage potential visitors by letting them be assaulted by pop-ups. But most free webspace providers, and some paid hosts too, generate pop-ups. So how does a webmaster avoid pop-ups? There are a few ways.
Find a host that doesn't use pop-ups. They often use less intrusive forms of advertising, such as banner ads.
Find a pay host with no advertising. (A list of ad-free webspace providers can be found here, or here.) Many free sites offer a few paid options with benefits including increased storage space and no ads. Ad-free paid hosting is usually sold for $5-$20 US monthly, and setup fees are sometimes charged as well.
Provide suggestions to anyone viewing your page on how to stop the pop-ups. You could link to the website of a piece of software that kills pop-ups, or recommend anything that you have found to work well for you.
Will They Ever End?
A couple of browsers also have the capability to block pop-ups. Mozilla, which can be downloaded at mozilla.org, can block popups if the user clicks Preferences in the Edit menu, opens up the Advanced menu on the left-hand side, selects the Scripts & Plug-ins item, and unchecks the box next to 'Open unrequested windows'. This instructs Mozilla to prevent scripts in websites from generating new windows, unless a link to another site that opens in a new window is clicked.
Abolimba Multibrowser is a browser that adds features to Internet Explorer, including an ad blocker and a pop-up blocker, both of which have to be configured. (This can be done by clicking 'Ad Blocker' and 'Pop-up Blocker' under the Tools menu and entering the domain names on which the banners and pop-ups are hosted, such as ad.doubleclick.com.)
A Few Redeeming Values of Pop-ups
Although most Internet users consider pop-ups to be a nuisance2, it is important to note that they do have a few redeeming qualities. Advertisers view the intrusiveness of pop-up ads as a positive attribute, since the most intrusive advertising is often the most effective. Advertisers have continued to purchase pop-up space for more than five years, so the format must generate some sales3. Occasionally, pop-up ads might expose consumers to a new, useful product or service. And importantly, revenue from sales of pop-up space is one way for some services to continue being free instead of becoming pay services4.