Pop-up Ads Create Accessibility Issues – Here’s How to Use Them Effectively

Published May 15, 2023

You are scrolling through your social media feed and stumble upon an interesting article. You click on the link to learn one. Before you can scroll to the second paragraph, a pop-up ad covers your screen. Its appearance is unexpected, the bright colors or video auto-play make it difficult to look at your phone, and the close button is hard to find. By the time you click away from the pop-up, your enthusiasm for the article has declined. 

For people without disabilities, pop-ups are usually considered an annoyance. For web users with disabilities, these pop-ups can limit their access to important information. However, many companies highlight the value of pop-up ads for revenue and conversion purposes. You can still keep using these ads, but first, you need to make some tweaks. Here’s what you need to know from an accessibility standpoint. 

Why are pop-up ads so common? 

Pop-up ads are common because they work. This marketing tactic would have faded away years ago if they didn't. The team at OptiMonk says that pop-up ads average an 11 percent conversion rate – with a 42 percent conversion rate for the top performers. 

Pop-ups are a key part of mid-funnel marketing. The company brought you to the website through SEO or social channels. If the brand can get you to click on a pop-up and submit your information, it can keep marketing to you until you make a purchase. Pop-ups collect email information and send coupons. 

Blogs also used pop-up ads to generate revenue through affiliate marketing. If you are reading an article on a new health trend, you might see pop-up video ads for new gym footwear or a meal subscription service. Every click and conversion on these ads provides money to your favorite blogs or websites. 

While some pop-ups might be effective, many could be better done, creating an inaccessible web experience. Here are three improvements you can make if you want all of your customers to navigate your website easily. 

Avoid the tiny close button

Have you ever tried to click out of an ad but couldn’t find the small X that lets you return to the main page? Advertisers often disguise the close button by delaying its appearance, matching its color to the background, and making it nearly too small to find. The idea is that users will spend more time looking at the pop-up, but the reality is that the ad becomes even more frustrating to users. 

“When users cannot locate the X button to close the interstitial ad any other way, it usually results in the user hard-closing the app itself after several seconds of frustration,” writes the team at Confiant. “This is likely to cause higher bounce rates of an app and can lead to a permanent loss through app uninstalls if not managed.” 

A hidden X creates a bad experience for people with various disabilities. People who have low vision or who are color-blind might not be able to see the close button at all. People with physical or developmental disabilities might not have the fine motor skills to click on such a small part of the screen. 

The tiny X frustrates customers with and without disabilities. It also creates a poor brand experience and hurts your business. Stand by your ad. Developing a prominent close button because you want active conversions on your pop-up—not accidental clicks from people who couldn’t hit the right spot. 

Give users control over video ads

Some pop-ups are static images that briefly cover your screen, while others are video ads that play on the sides of the page or near the bottom. (Forbes often has pop-up videos with profiles of business influencers and startups.) However, these ads can also create a poor user experience. 

The ads can distract from the content on the page, while rapid movements can trigger users who might be sensitive to flashing lights. Users who are neurodivergent, have PTSD, and experience anxiety can feel annoyed or overwhelmed by video ads.   

“These videos also create an accessibility issue for users with attention or memory disabilities, who might find the page much more challenging to use,” writes Kevin Bauer for the Ohio State University libraries. “The Web Accessibility Initiative recommends limiting or allowing users to control interruptions such as moving content, but not every website does this.” 

Just like creating a larger close button can improve a pop-up ad, there is room for compromise. Bauer highlights how users should be able to control the videos they see. Adding pause buttons and closing the ads can eliminate negative experiences. 

Takes screen readers and voice controls into account

Web users need to be able to control their experiences. Otherwise, they will move on to other pages, apps, and websites. One demographic you might have overlooked in your pop-up ad implementation is users who navigate the internet with screen readers and voice control tools. These people have vision impairments or might not use their hands to access the web. They also might use a keyboard instead of a mouse

“Users who are not using direct pointer devices, such as a mouse, need to know when an element can be ‘clicked,’” says Navin Thadani, CEO of Evinced. “Users will find it challenging to use your site if it includes interactive elements with poor or no focus indication.” 

Using alt text to describe images and help users with disabilities understand what is displayed is also important, according to Thadani. “Click here” is not a sufficient alt text because it doesn’t tell the user what they are clicking on or why. 

The same user behavior applies to advertisements that aren’t navigable with screen readers. The user is more likely to give up on your site and move on to other parts of the web. 

Web users often find their way to block pop-ups

The main takeaway from this article isn’t that pop-ups as a whole are bad, but rather that so many companies create bad pop-ups that advertising tactic gets a bad name. Enough people feel annoyed by pop-ups and irrelevant ads that there is an entire industry for adblockers. 

According to Insider Intelligence by eMarketer, 40 percent of U.S. internet users utilize some for an ad blocker. Of those that do, 81 say they invest in these tools to avoid annoying or interruptive ads. Industry experts expect the user base to grow, as younger web users are more likely to install web blockers. Roughly 60 percent of web users ages 18 to 24 use an ad blocker on their desktop or laptop.  

As you work to make your web design more accessible, consider how pop-up ads and auto play videos can negatively impact users. Not only are you making your website inaccessible for users with disabilities, but you are frustrating most users on your page. By increasing accessibility, you can create a better experience for all customers and grow your business. 

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