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The smartphone has completely transformed my experience of the internet. So long as there is a half-decent connection I can access information whenever I want, and wherever I am. Apart from the carnage it causes during pub quizzes, you’d have to say that the mobile web is a very good thing indeed.

However there is a problem. Most brands are still playing catch up, with regards to the user experience (including Econsultancy). 

Some have launched standalone mobile sites - not a good move, in my view - while others have created apps for mobile users, of varying quality. But it’s still relatively early, with mobile in the ascendency. There is much to learn.

Progress is being made, however. The more forward-thinking brands are undertaking responsive design projects, so their existing websites will be rendered in a friendly way for all kinds of screen sizes. Some brands are doubling down, by launching apps as well as transforming their websites for mobile usage (there shouldn’t be an ‘either/or’ argument if you’re in a position to do both).

But here’s one thing that I think needs to change: the monstrous pop-up overkill that is happening across the mobile web

It’s a little bit like it was in 2003. Back then you couldn’t visit a major - or minor - news site without being beseiged by pop-ups. Everybody hated them and gradually browser technology evolved to include pop-up blockers.

Yet the pop-up format wouldn’t die. ‘Overlays’ started to appear, some of them whizzing around the screen and automatically playing sound, with the ‘close’ button nowhere to be found. Absolutely loathesome. 

In my view, the very worst ad format of all is the interstitial, which is a dedicated page that the user must click past to reach the actual page they were looking for. You cannot visit Forbes without seeing one, replete with an ad and half-witted ‘thought of the day’ message. Here’s a thought, Forbes: why are you keeping your users waiting?

A link should be a promise: you click one to be taken to a specific page. That’s just how it is, and it’s what every web user expects (unless programmed to expect something different, e.g. Forbes, which I no longer visit). Websites that lead you down the garden path before fulfilling the promise only serve to disappoint users. Some mobile sites run the risk of making it onto the shitlist, and if I start avoiding them - as I've done with Forbes - then you can bet that lots of other people might avoid them too.

So here are 10 mobile websites that immediately push a pop-up in front of a visitor, to inform them that they can download their mobile app. Some of these are so bad they’re not even pop-ups, they’re interstitials. These sites are serial offenders. Obviously the goal is to generate lots of new app downloads, but is it really worth consistently bastardising the mobile user experience to achieve that goal?

It’s 2013, not 2003, after all... 

The Daily Mail

Telegraph

Herald Scotland

Holy Moly

Gumtree

Rightmove

Map My Run

Yelp

Easyjet

The Free Dictionary

My thanks to all on Twitter who suggested the above examples.

If you’ve spotted other mobile websites that do this then by all means leave a comment below...

Chris Lake

Published 8 February, 2013 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (23)

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Sadie-Michaela Harris

Mobile web browsing... I really can't abide all that scrolling up and down, and in and out on a smartphone ... I'm busy I want the information fast with no messing about!

Businesses that do not have a mobile friendly website loose customers like me instantly. I leave the site as soon as it opens up and that really is awful for a website's bounce rate too!

Sadie

about 3 years ago

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Nigel J Britton

Why aren't stand alone mobile sites a good move in your view?

Just curious.

about 3 years ago

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Maggie

What makes this worse is that you already have their app!

about 3 years ago

Simon West

Simon West, Chairman at Nett Sales LLP

@Nigel. I agree that stand alone mobile sites are not the way forward. I don't know Chris' reasons, but my own is a simple one.

You end up managing and updating two sites with the same content. Use one database with two different front ends on it - mobile and desktop, IMHO.

about 3 years ago

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Marcus Webb

What I find particularly galling with these interstitial pop-ups is you are asked to consider devoting space on your Smartphone for an app that in most instances adds NO VALUE WHATSOEVER to the site experience. If it did, then I'd be less likely to complain and more likely to engage with the supplier. As it stands it's simply a way of gouging the market with little if any added benefits.

about 3 years ago

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Peter Drakes, Business Analyst at Session Digital Ltd

The one that really got my goat was the Huffington Post, and those of that ilk (Forbes already mentioned) - the 'big on twitter' news services - the pop-up lightbox keeps arriving to prompt me to login with Twitter, blocking content and was actually impossible to close!!

The close option on the box is off my mobile screen, which makes it impossible to see the content I was interested in and / or action the window.

After just checking now, I would like to hope my constant tweets prompted them to remove it, but more than likely their GA showed massive amounts of mobile users drop off..

about 3 years ago

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Alexander Croucher

Simon and Marcus, you've hit the nail(s) on the head there.

I totally agree with Simon that from a content management perspective, having one website which adapts to the device is a sensible approach. We're currently in the process of designing a new site to replace our decrepit beast of a site. Our new site will feature full responsive layout i.e. different experiences for desktop, tablet and mobile.

And Marcus, you're comments mirror my own views. I use a number of the site mentioned in this article and, like most people, when I'm searching for information I just 'want it now'. I'm not interested in installing apps and I certainly cannot stand the spammy nature of the pop up message.

about 3 years ago

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Richard Hamer

And what about those sites (usually media ones) that have a video which starts playing as soon as you go to the page? Move to another page and it starts all over again. Grrr!
Okay I can turn my volume off, but should I really have to?

about 3 years ago

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Andy Hards

Um, this seems to be an iPhone problem. I don't seem to suffer the same on my Android. Or maybe I do and just never go back to sites that do this.
For sites that I regularly visit on my PC I want the same experience on my phone, not a mobile version that only shows me half the content. The Guardian allows me to select the desktop version for my mobile and so I only see their mobile version occasionally.
Surely we have evolved far enough for the site to recognise the device yet still give the experience the user is used to.

about 3 years ago

Matt Naughton

Matt Naughton, Head of Digital Marketing at Lights4fun

@Nigel J Britton

From an SEO and link building perspective it's better to have a responsive design for your domain.
For example, if you operated econsultancy and m.econsultancy you are, as @Simon West says 'managing and updating two sites'. However let's say you send an email communication out to your customers, they open on mobile and go through to the m.econsultancy domain. Any interaction such as comments, facebook likes, sharing will be using the m.econsultancy domain rather than the usual URL.
If I forwarded a mobile URL link to a desktop, they would see a mobile site on a desktop resolution, which isn't very pretty.

Also from a backlinking SEO perspective, having 2 sites essentially means any site with high domain or page authority linking to your mobile site won't be giving your main site the benefits. Based on the way Google is going, responsive is the way forward.

about 3 years ago

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Matt N

@Nigel J Britton

From an SEO and link building perspective it's better to have a responsive design for your domain.
For example, if you operated econsultancy and m.econsultancy you are, as @Simon West says 'managing and updating two sites'. However let's say you send an email communication out to your customers, they open on mobile and go through to the m.econsultancy domain. Any interaction such as comments, facebook likes, sharing will be using the m.econsultancy domain rather than the usual URL.
If I forwarded a mobile URL link to a desktop, they would see a mobile site on a desktop resolution, which isn't very pretty.

Also from a backlinking SEO perspective, having 2 sites essentially means any site with high domain or page authority linking to your mobile site won't be giving your main site the benefits. Based on the way Google is going, responsive is the way forward.

about 3 years ago

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Davide Scalzo

@Simon, @Alexander

Sorry, but what you are talking about is the lazy approach (or can be read as such).
Desktop and mobile content should NOT be the same, not the same images, not the same amount of text, videos etc..

A responsive website is not that much less work if done properly and there is the risk to not have it optimised for the one or the other...in the end of the day depends on the project in my opinion and there is no right or wrong yet.

Which in a way is what the article is saying, some interactions are OK for a desktop experience but definitely are NOT on a smartphone.

So I'll join Nigel in the question, what's the author for saying that a launching a standalone mobile site is not a good move?

about 3 years ago

Simon West

Simon West, Chairman at Nett Sales LLP

@Davide. Not sure I agree with you. Can you really see a business with a large product database duplicating this database and updating it separately in order to offer up a mobile version of their website.

Surely far better to define different text in the same backend for display on a mobile site (and maybe different images) but all held in the same backend just served up to different users in different ways depending on the presentation layer required.

about 3 years ago

Matt Naughton

Matt Naughton, Head of Digital Marketing at Lights4fun

@Davide, I simply cannot agree with your train of thought here.
"Desktop and mobile content should NOT be the same, not the same images, not the same amount of text, videos etc.."

Responsive design, 1 database, style sheets that deliver different content specifc to mobile and desktop and benefiting from all the SEO linking on one URL.

Plus what business wants to be 'less' efficient managing data....it's a no brainer.

about 3 years ago

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Ken Smith

@Simon, I tend to agree with @Davide on this. While responsive website design is better than trying to cram a full website into a mobile phone screen, it's still not the perfect experience for the mobile user - it usually just looks and feels like a compromise.

Wouldn't it be great to have your mobile website show up on the mobile phone looking just like a mobile app? That's what users really want, and it's absolutely possible to deliver.

However, I agree with you Simon, the fact that there may a back-end database involved is a definite factor.

Mobile sites can be programmed with PHP and similar languages to access the back-end data, while on the front-end jQuery Mobile can layout that data in a beautifully formatted manner that looks just like an app.

Is it not worth it to deliver your best possible front to your users?

Sorry Simon, but I don't believe that responsive sites are "best".

about 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Matt - Totally agree. The potential for tech / management hassles aside, SEO is a very big reason for not launching a standalone site for mobile users.

about 3 years ago

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Peter Drakes, Business Analyst at Session Digital Ltd

@all - now Google has removed the split of search terms between mobile and desktop, surely there is *more* reason to have one site, in a responsive manner, rather then less..

Besides, you can have a responsive site that changes behaviour under a certain resolution, so you could still have what appeared to be two sites, whilst having only one DB / backend / CMS, architecturally..

about 3 years ago

Simon West

Simon West, Chairman at Nett Sales LLP

@Ken. I think that's what I said (but maybe not very well) at the start Ken. Different UI but same backend database.

This is what (eg) Amazon and ebay do and, as you say, there is no reason not to do similar.

about 3 years ago

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Davide Scalzo

Not sure I follow, having two different front-ends is different from a responsive site. A stand-alone website doesn't mean that you look up a different product database (but you look up different things in the same database, for example short vs long description).

Also seems like you mostly focus on E-Commerce, but even in that case you surely don't want the same checkout flow on mobile and desktop..Now SEO is a fair point, you might be diluting your efforts with two sites, but is that worth trading a better user experience in favor of that? Perhaps, but to me still depends on the specific case.

about 3 years ago

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Peter Drakes, Business Analyst at Session Digital Ltd

As Simon says (no pun intended, but kept as it made me laugh..) the assets are the same, however you have a slightly different UI for mobile, tablet and desktop.

I think there are two parts we need to ensure we define:
A responsive site is one that scales dependant on the size of the screen.
Just because a site is for mobile, doesn't mean it 'has to be the same as the desktop site but smaller'.

Many good sites filter out superfluous data (images, text, adverts, etc) to provide a better UX as the screen get smaller.

A responsive site uses the same *architecture* and *assets* (previous comments about DB and SEO) however it renders to suit the screen.

Whether it be news, video or eCommerce, part of the design in a 'responsive design' is to filter out the non-relevant content and only display what the exactly what the user wants at that specific moment in time - which perhaps should be referred to as the Verucca Salt display - 'I want it now'.

about 3 years ago

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Jon Buss, Managing Director, Experian Marketing Services

This article highlights irritations that many consumers have with mobile internet, and reminds me of an IAB study last year where 70% of customers said they were dissatisfied with mobile sites and apps. It is now such a crucial channel that all businesses – be they trying to sell a product or give access to content – should really think about what the customer wants and ensure that they are giving this to them.

Mobile email is another bugbear for many, with people receiving emails that are not correctly formatted to the device that they use. One of the comments above references scrolling endlessly – this is a commonly cited annoyance for many recipients of marketing emails, and something that also needs to be addressed by businesses looking to reach their customers on mobile.

By not optimising both websites and emails for mobile users, businesses run the risk of missing out on significant amounts of revenue as growth in mobile email and browsing continues to increase rapidly. CheetahMail clients are seeing 100 percent year on year growth in emails read on mobile, and finding that the majority of opens take place on mobile devices. Eventually, taking no action will result in business activity as a whole being undermined, as a wide section of customers will be missed.

about 3 years ago

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Chris Harpin

There is a huge difference between the tactic shown above and pop ups of yesteryear as these messages are relevant to the user.

Each of your examples show companies looking to promote their own apps. Chances are a significant amount of resources have been invested in production of the application and understandably companies want to promote their app without having to insert banners all over their websites when shown on the small screen.

I think this tactic is great with one slight tweak, do not show the message again until a user clears their cookies, I presume this is possible as I’ve not used this style of notification personally.

If you’re a fan of Forbes and want to install the app, then you will think the pop up/notification is great. If you don’t want the app you can simply discard the notification which is a standard behavior for these devices.

As a one off notification it shouldn’t be annoying, in fact it could actually be quite useful.

about 3 years ago

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Lee Putman, Consultant at Deloitte

Nothing frustrates me more than 'allow cookie' pop ups. I've not seen this implemented well on a mobile site, that I can remember anyway, it pops around the screen, jolts around when you scroll, loads a few seconds after you're on the page - nightmare. No one cares about cookies (broadly) so stop shoving it in my face :)

almost 3 years ago

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