Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Open Letter to Web Designers


When you pop up a giant "LOVE ME!" box on top of an article to which I've been linked, then I'm instantly and completely uninterested in whatever's under it. Time to close the browser tab.

If your article is worth liking, then I will click the LIKE link at the bottom of it. If it's not worth liking... as in, you put a giant freakin' fence in front of it... then I won't.

If you post a LOT of really good articles, then I'm very much inclined to subscribe to your feed. If you put a giant freaking fence in front of the first thing I see, I guarantee I will NEVER subscribe to you.

That's how it works. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, either. The Internet's a big place, and nobody really has time to indulge your self-absorbed fantasy of being the sole-source-of-really-cool-shit.

Look, I get it... I really do. Your website is a business, and more "likes" means more clicks, and that means more views, and that means more revenue from advertisers. You don't use banner ads anymore because people say they don't like them, and because people Adblock the hell out of them. But you've replaced them with something a thousand times worse. Instead of displaying something ugly, you've decided to actively chase off readers by acting in equal parts desperate and pushy.

Instead of Adblock, their response will be a new blocker -- a tease blocker -- which will warn them of sites that do exactly what yours does. I can say with confidence that you will lose this escalation of arms.

Perhaps you should look at the examples of people who don't piss off their audience. Randy Cassingham is a pioneer in the commercialization of the Internet with his newsletter, This is True. Every issue of This is True is delivered with an ad, not separately linked or embedded, but within the body of the text. It's boxed in its own paragraph, and the box is labeled "Advertisement". I read those.

Going back further to TV and radio, shows like Burns and Allen found ways of earnestly thanking their sponsors, and working a small testimonial into the body of their show. People didn't mind because back then, audiences were composed of adults who knew that what they were watching on the stage was a play, and not reality. Here's a playlist of 99 Burn and Allen episodes. At the 14 minute mark in episode 1 you'll see what I mean. That's the setup. Four minutes later you get the payoff for that joke.

Your audience don't mind a bit when you acknowledge sponsors in your content. And we love it when you post genuinely interesting things that people will want to re-post and link. We will work to bring you traffic willingly if you're worth it. But this in-your-face nonsense just tells us you're not.


  1. I wonder if anyone with this type of pop-up has done any serious investigation of their website analytics. There's also been an increase in "sign up for newsletter/mailing list" pop-ups that have a similar effect - i.e. instant closure of the offending page. If I enjoyed your article _I_ will look for the like button or the sign-up link, thanks. This is the current generation's auto-playing website MIDI files and shows a complete lack of thought for the reader.

  2. Thank you for saying succinctly what so many of us feel. The advent of the scrolling pop ups make reading some content impossible! Very frustrating.

    1. I suspected I wasn't alone. Thanks for confirming it.