Everybody hates popups. Unfortunately, that stigma may be hurting your website’s conversion rates. I’ve written pro-popup posts before, and every time the comment section explodes with vitriolic anti-popup hate. This article will seek to address the reasons behind that hate, discern their legitimacy, take a look at examples from businesses who are still using popups despite the hate and come to a more informed conclusion. Are popups a good call for your business? Let’s find out.  

Not all Popups are Created Equal (A Preface):

I’m going to call ’em as I see ’em in this article, starting by calling popups popups, as “modal” or “lightbox” is a cop-out used by businesses ashamed of the negative connotation of something which shouldn’t have a negative connotation. Much of the stigma around popups is based on an experience which no longer exists. There’s a statistic going around from Nielsen, who found that 95% of research participants reacted negatively or very negatively to popups. …Except, if you actually read the report, the popup they’re reacting to is, clearly, an advertisement. I haven’t seen a popup advertisement in years, yet the stigma remains… Another belief is that popups are horrible for user experience. They interrupt a visitor’s ability to interact with a website. They “pop up” out of the woodwork and get in your face, yelling “Buy! Buy! Buy!” at the top of their lungs. The problem with this is that it’s no longer true. The popup people are thinking of is this one: bad popup example These don’t exist anymore. No marketer with any sense is using anything like this. And yet this is still what we think of when we think “popup.” Instead, let’s start thinking critically. Let’s take an analytical look at popups – breaking down how they can improve people’s experience of your website (yes you heard me right), and in the process improve your business’ conversion rates.  

Why Do People Hate Popups?

“They interrupt my visit to a website with something I don’t want to see.” Let’s address the first part of this sentence, first: “They interrupt my visit.” Feeling interrupted may be valid if a website is using straight up popups (which I’m by no means advocating against), but not every modern popup actually interrupts your website experience. For instance…  

1. The scrolling header or footer bar

The scrolling bar appears at the top or bottom of a page while still allowing you to interact with the page. Something like this, from Clearly Eyewear: scrolling bar example  

2. The overlay

The overlay doesn’t interrupt a visit because it is the first thing you see. Something like this, from helpdesk software Groove: overlay example   Or, for a B2C example, here’s a 10% off overlay from Greats shoes: overlay example  

3. The slide-in popup

The slide-in popup appears at the side of the page but doesn’t require visitors to engage. Something like this, from Aweber: slide-in popup example   So, now that I’ve introduced you to three popup styles which don’t actually interrupt the user experience entirely… Let’s address the second part of that sentence as well: “Something I don’t want to see.” If, as soon as you arrived on my website, I showed a popup saying “Congratulations. You win $1,000,000 and a puppy,” (and I was serious) you wouldn’t be bothered by the interruption. And that’s, really, the primary point of contention here: Marketers are using popups badly. They can be used to offer information or value or direction. And when they do, nobody complains. It’s only with the poor use of a popup that you get the increase in bounce rates, spammy reputation, and frustrated website visitors.  

5 Popup Use-Cases Which Actually Add Value to the Website Experience

You may still be skeptical of a popup actually improving your visitor’s website experience, so let’s take a look at a few real-world examples…  

1. Frame the buying experience with discount entry popups.

If your popup gives me 20% off my first purchase, I’m happy to be interrupted. And, more than that, I’m happy to have seen it upon entry. If you showed me a popup with a discount after I’d already bought something for full price, THEN I’d be frustrated. When women’s fashion ecommerce site ZooShoo added the standard “10% off your first purchase” entry popup to their website, overall revenue increased by 7.35% in the first two months. In the same period, they got over 5,000 extra subscribers, 1,129 of whom went on to make a final purchase. Here’s the popup they used: entry popup example  

2. Use timed or scroll popups to prompt related reading after people have shown interest.

If I’m reading an article about social media marketing, and you offer me a complete walkthrough of the subject, are you bothering me? Or is that, in fact, delivering relevant value exactly when I want it most? Something like this scroll popup example from Social Media Examiner: popup example  

3. Help visitors find their abandoned cart on the second visit with a scrolling bar

This kind of popup (or scrolling header bar) is exactly what I’m talking about with helping your visitors navigate your site. Say they’ve put something in their shopping cart and then left. If they return it’s likely that they want to complete the purchase. A popup like this makes it easier for them to navigate to the relevant part of your website. Here’s an example from ecommerce site Greats shoes: scrolling bar example  

4. Use popups to filter your audience into more relevant product-lines and promotions

Popups are a fantastic way to get in front of your website visitor to elicit information which will (honestly) make their visit easier. For instance, if you arrive on my site and I immediately ask you what you’re interested in or who you are, you don’t have to find the right pages yourself. I can do it for you. For instance, this overlay from Greats shoes prompting visitors to segment themselves: overlay example  

5. Offer a lesser conversion to people who aren’t yet ready to buy

If your visitors aren’t yet ready to complete a purchase, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested. An exit popup (though the most controversial of popups) can actually be used to help your visitors make a decision. For instance, this exit-intent popup, prompting a chat with a Wishpond rep, shows on our pricing page when people aren’t quite ready to convert: exit popup example Note: This is actually a timed exit popup, as it shows upon exit only if people have been on our pricing page for more than 10 seconds. This decision was made based on the belief that people who have looked over the pricing structure and plans for 10+ seconds may have questions that a Wishpond rep might be able to help them with. People who are on the pricing page for less than 10 seconds either went there accidentally or were immediately scared of our prices and bounced.  

Addressing bounce rate, engagement and reputation concerns

On April 6th, 2018, Matthew Woodward took an in-depth look at his implementation of subscriber-focused popups in an article aptly called “I Reveal The Ugly Truth About Email Popup Subscription Forms.” In it, he acknowledges that he increased his blog subscription rate by 44.71%. “However that comes at the cost of you guys dropping 9.29% pages/visit, 10.2% visit duration and 9.02% off the bounce rate.” So he needs to do the math. Is having the contact details of 45% more of your readers more valuable than a 9% drop in pages/visit? For us, and most subscription-based or longer-funnel businesses, the answer to this question is a resounding “Are you serious?! Of course it is.” Also, if you click on that link to Matthew’s blog today, and scroll about 25% of the way down the page… scroll popup example Just sayin’. But let’s move on to reputation…  

Brand Reputation Concerns

Surely popups will ruin your brand reputation, making people think you’re all about getting their contact information or throwing promotions in their face. Right? Unfortunately, we have to write and make business decisions in the real world, and I can’t find a single example of someone seeing that modern popups have hurt their brand reputation enough for them to feel it in the wallet. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people saying that this must be true, but there are dozens of case studies finding the profitability of popups and not a single one showing the opposite. In fact, the most relevant quote I could find was from SEO thought-leader Brian Dean, who said (referencing his entry popup), “NO ONE cared about the nano-second interruption. I’ve had the form on my site for almost a month now and no one has said a word about it.” But if you’re still concerned, let’s play it as safe as possible.  

How to play it safe while still improving your website’s conversion rates

1. Consider using the less-intrusive popup types above (scrolling bar, sidebar, etc). If you don’t take over a visitor’s browser window, they won’t have the instinctive reaction to close your popup no matter what it is. 2. Consider showing popups only to help people navigate your site. Try using them for things like notifying people of your sale, giving discounts, asking for information which will make their visit easier, etc. 3. If you’re concerned about annoying regular readers, drop how frequently you show your popup (say, showing a subscription prompt once every 2 weeks). Wishpond’s popup builder allows you to control where and when you show your popup to visitors with a simple drop-down menu. 4. Don’t use exit-intent popups without considering why your visitor may be headed for the exit. For instance, many people open multiple tabs at once so they can go between competitors to compare products. If you have an exit popup on one of those pages, you’ll annoy visitors. My recommendation is to avoid having exit-intent popups on product pages or directories – pages which people may be using to shop around. 5. Only show popups which clearly communicate the value of engaging – legitimate reason for subscription, valuable gated content, discounts, segmentation, etc.   Something like this, from Backlinko, which prompt readers to download a content upgrade using an overlay: content upgrade overlay example  

Final Thoughts

The fact of the matter is that a huge proportion of businesses are using popups already. They’ve implemented, run the numbers, and determined that the benefits outweigh whatever costs they’re going to pay. I hope, though, that this article has convinced you that the costs aren’t all too high, and the benefits can be massive. I’d love to get the conversation started in the comment section below!