As web design matures, so do the tools used for web pages. As with any industry there are standards that are widely accepted and used. There are also trends that become popular over time. Modal boxes have recently become a popular tool for Internet marketing websites.



Internet, network and MLM marketing is big right now. With the recent recession, more people are either out of work or looking to make extra income. This business model revolves around offering expertise or informational products that are easy and cheap to reproduce – to others for a fee. The way to really make money in this type of business to not only increase traffic to your website, but also to convince people to ‘opt-in’ to your email list. This basically gives Internet marketers permission to advertise, instead of spam, a large group of people.

The main reason modal boxes are such a trend right now is that they offer an easy, fast and in your face way to encourage web page visitors to sign up a site’s marketing list.

Modal Box or Window

facebook connect MODAL ANON

So what is a modal box exactly? Basically, it is a mini window that comes up when a user visits a website that requires the user to do something before the main page is accessible. They can be used for a variety of purposes – including asking for the user’s personal information, stating emergency or error messages, or to show an item more closely and with greater detail.

Modal vs Pop Up

Of course, the modal box probably sounds very similar to the dreaded pop up boxes scammers and Internet advertising companies are known for. The pop up is such a dirty word in web design that all the Internet browser companies now include features that will block all of them for you.

So, what is the difference between a modal box and a pop up? Technically, they are both miniature windows that ‘pop up’ when you visit a website. However, annoying pop ups are typically used to force advertising onto web traffic or to keep a person at a website longer than they intended to stay. This is why they are so dreaded – the pop ups are distracting, unwanted, time wasting elements of web design.

A modal box, on the other hand, can be welcoming and effective if planned and used to benefit the visitor and not the site owner. For Internet marketers, it is used as a way to encourage visitors to sign up for their email lists. A great Internet marketer then uses these permission based lists to send valuable information to those who signed up. Or a modal box can be used to better display inventory so that customers shopping online can get a real sense of their purchase before committing. Maybe there is an important part of the website that the owner wants to draw attention to? It can also be used to protect a page by requiring a user ID and password before permitting access. A modal box should not pop up randomly and should have purpose.



In order to create a modal box, many users incorporate Javascript, CSS, XHTML and AJAX programming. This means the new web designer will need to have a bigger understanding of design than just basic HTML to pull off a good modal box.



Of course, user traffic has a limited time span. With statistics stating that the average Internet surfer spends mere seconds on a web page – incorporating a box that requires interaction to go away could mean the website will lose traffic. No matter how well a web designer and site owner justify the modal box – some people will cruise on instead of interacting with the box to make it go away. Some users argue that the modal box is just a fancy upgrade from the pop up and is still undesirable. This is a drawback to using the modal box in your design.

Also, overuse of the modal box on a website will make users naturally compare them to the annoying pop ups of old. The overuse of any design element is unappealing and will affect your site in a negative manner. On top of that, spammers have caught on to the appeal of the modal box and are increasingly using this tool to trick visitors into believing what they offer is more legitimate or interesting. As time goes on, the modal box will become just as offensive as the pop up and something new will be created to fill this need instead.

How do you feel about modals windows how do your feel they are better or worse than traditional pop-ups, please discuss in the comment we would love to hear your perspective.

  • Luke

    I’ve always hated Modal Boxes that don’t have scroll bars. This means when you get those absurdly large modals, then if you are on a low resolution screen, you can’t access half of anything inside the Modal.

  • Chris

    In a good post for there isn’t any difference between modals and pop ups.. it really depends on the intention of the intrusion and the quality of the site in question,

  • Pingback: Modal Windows – Good Practice or Just Glorified Pop Ups? | Lively Design Tuts()

  • Ivan

    I hate those things. I click away whenever I see one. Let me see the content first. The worst is when you are using the back and forward button to read more than one article. popup or modal as you call them over and over again.

  • Dave Land

    It’s all about intent and flow.

    I develop web-based applications. Modal dialogs are a natural part of the workflow, significantly faster than loading a whole new page just to collect a couple of pieces of information.

    Pop-ups (by which I assume you mean “pop-up ads”) are an act of theft: of attention, time and bandwidth. They are a crude, rude attempt to derail the intent of the user. The information in what I would call a “pop-up ad” is never relevant to the task that the user is trying to accomplish, so they’re vile.

    In between are the pop-ups that appear on the first page-load of many commercial technical support communities, advertising that you’ll get more value from the community by buying a subscription to the site. While they are intrusive, and border on pop-up ads, they are at least relevant to the user’s intent, which is to use the services of the page. Unfortunately, they inspire me to close the window and find another source for the information I seek, rather than subscribe to their community.

  • Tim

    Like any tool, modal windows or even pop-up windows have their place – and equally can be abused.

    If used in the correct context modal windows are much more effective than popups that may or may not be blocked or might appear below the current window etc. etc. Modal windows are very useful for providing info to users on a path towards a sale. You don’t want to lose that user if they need to check delivery charges so a modal window offers a chance to provide the info but return the user to exactly where they were.

    It could be argued that pop-ups achieve the same goal, but they feel much less part of the process and because of their abuse in the past users are wary of them.

    Unfortunately, modal windows are bound to be abused in similar ways. So I guess in the end modal windows will be detested just as much – as we see already from Ivan. It’s a shame.

  • sagar

    i was looking for, how to add this type of popup windows to blogspot?

  • Zachary Kraft

    This pretty much sums up what needs to be seen around some parts of the web today, and even I could benefit from some of it

  • David

    I think that as long as the users knows that a modal is going to appear, (ie the user has to consciously do something to make it appear), then they are fine.

  • R. Moczarski

    I definetly dont like popups so i say thumbs-down :P