Put Some Pop In Your Pop-Ups

Pop-ups are annoying. I know it. You know it. We all know it. But they’re still, well, popping up all over your favorite websites. Heck, one or two is probably popping up right now on a site you own or manage. So let’s pop the question: How can marketers make pop-ups less intrusive and more effective?

First things first, a proper pop-up definition is in order. In this case, we’re not referring to the original pop-up that opened into a completely different browser window or tab, making them impossible to miss and difficult to close. The pop-up we’re most interested in is the “pop-up 2.0” that opens onto a web page in a lightbox-style format like this:

While they’re often more polished than earlier iterations, these modern pop-ups are still impossible to ignore since they obscure on-page content. Needless to say, this intrusiveness makes them potentially annoying to your customers.

So as a marketer, how do you drive engagement (collect email addresses, encourage signups, etc.) while still giving your customers an optimal online experience? Here are 5 ways to put some pop in your pop-ups:


Slow Your Roll

The worst thing you can do is rush your pop-ups. Don’t hit your visitors with messaging the second they land on your site; let them spend some time on the page. Giving them a chance to browse the page before intruding is not only courteous, it’s effective. As a case in point, a recent study from Sumo of 2 billion pop-up examples found that “Of the top 10% of pop-ups, only 8% had pop-ups appear in the 0-4 second mark. And the majority of those 8% were on pages where the pop-up was expected to appear quickly — as in sending someone to a download page.

So how long should you wait to pop the pop-up? There is no magic number but timing all depends on, well, timing. Use Google Analytics to align your pop-up time with the average amount of time visitors typically spend on the page containing the pop-up. For instance, if visitors typically spend 30 seconds on that page, trigger the pop-up around 15 seconds. This gives them enough time to absorb your content and increases the likelihood of pop-up engagement.


Just Dim It

Once you’ve determined the ideal time to introduce your pop-up, don’t take over the entire page when you do so. Slightly dim the page to bring your pop-up to the foreground. This not only makes your pop-up the main focus, it places it within the context of the page it’s been uniquely designed to occupy. For instance, if your pop-up messaging encourages a case study download, showing visitors a dimmed out representation of the case study is far preferable to seeing nothing at all.

Here’s a great example of a pop-up existing in harmony with the page it’s been designed to occupy:

Imagine how far less effective this pop-up would be without the motivational imagery that already exists on the page.


Don’t Take Hostages

The entire dimmed area of the page should also close the pop-up, not just the “X” or “No Thanks” message. After all, the whole idea is to minimize user friction as much as possible. Yes, getting visitors to engage with your pop-up is important, but if they choose to pass on the offer make it simple for them to do so. What you’ll lose in conversion rates you’ll more than makeup for in goodwill.


Keep It Simple

Speaking of simple…don’t overthink it. Try not to twist yourself into knots devising the most amazing piece of creative work this side of Don Draper’s sketch pad. Keep your messaging simple, clear and to the point. Make it instantly understandable and plainly tell your audience exactly what they’re going to get in exchange for their valuable personal information (name, phone, email address, etc.). Also be sure to offer something of enough value that your visitors feel like they’re getting the better deal.

This pop-up from Madewell is a good example of simple messaging that sells:

Yes, the messaging is clever, but it also gets straight to the point and clearly explains what visitors will get access to once they sign up: Special Sales, New Arrivals, Exclusive Finds.


Pass On Passive Aggressiveness

Lately it’s become trendy to include passive aggressive language on pop-ups, particularly when it comes to opt-out messaging. While I’m all for pushing the copywriting envelope, the negatives of this approach outweigh the positives. Sure it can be attention-grabbing (and sometimes a little funny), but it can also be downright cruel – is that a risk worth taking?

For example, check out this pop-up messaging from WordPress:

I’m not convinced the passive-aggressive language helps here. If visitors don’t want to sign up that doesn’t mean they’re outdated – it means the pop-up messaging and/or offer isn’t strong enough. Try again WordPress.

ELLE Magazine takes a similar low road:

Again, guilting someone for not caring to protect their skin isn’t the best strategy. Perhaps ELLE should focus on protecting their brand voice instead.


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