Modals: The Worst of the Web

Do you know what a modal is? Probably not.

Don’t worry, I didn’t either. I can almost guarantee that you’ve encountered one (if not hundreds) on the web already though. I actually got so sick of them that I had to ask Quora their name so I could attack them accurately.

A modal is that box that pops up over top of whatever it is you’re trying to view, often dimming the rest of the page, in an attempt to get you to do something. The attention-seeking box will ask you to sign up for their newsletter (don’t worry, we won’t spam you!) or register as a member of their website (ONLY $14.99/month!) or to check out other content/social media pages (like us so we can interrupt your time on a personal level). No, it’s not an advertisement, it’s worse.

Okay… maybe not worse. But also maybe it is. I really can’t decide. It behaves just like an advertisement, but it was built-in to the site by a developer at the consent of the website owner, which is one of the most abhorrent things I can think of when it comes to web development.

Sure, they’re usually well designed and match the theme of the site which is more than I can say for advertisements, but you must understand… your modal is committing an egregious crime of user experience: you are interrupting the user and blocking content that the user is trying to see. Your modal is unexpected and obtrusive. Unwanted and annoying.

A modal is a lot like the guy at your doorstep trying to sell you his religion. Anyone who has the displeasure of opening their door to this personality understands the unique frustration for this kind of tactic. Everyone except… (you guessed it) the guy selling religion. The people who employ this sort of method will assure you its worth, spouting statistics and conversion rates… sound familiar?

Modals are no different and neither are the people who purport them. Aside from the fact that modals block content the user is there to view, here’s their biggest problem: Modals are triggered unknowingly by the user. That trigger could be reaching a certain point in the scroll window (often the bottom of the article), moving the mouse to the top of the window to close the tab, or simply loading the page itself only to be greeted by a virtual sticky note in the center of the screen. How is this okay?

The Secret

Do you want your reader to subscribe to your newsletter? Do you want your user to become a member (or even a paying subscriber)? Do you want them to like your Facebook page or explore more of your site? Let me tell you the secret to getting your users to one or even all of these things:


It’s really that simple. Stop worrying about what your newest modal is going to look like or what triggers have the best conversion rates. You’re wasting time. Spend your valuable time on providing worthwhile content. None of those things you want your user to do are bad things, mind you. It’s the method that’s the issue. You are deceiving them at worst and annoying them at best.

I’ll say it one more time because it makes me feel better… provide good content. Please…

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