Website pop-ups often have the opposite effect of your intention.

Visitors find them irritating, intrusive, or annoying. All too often, they prioritize your objectives above the interests and experience of the audience.

But you can do both. With a considered design and thoughtful implementation, your website pop-ups can remain an effective marketing tool that doesn’t frustrate your visitors, disrupt their browsing experience, or tarnish your brand.

What is a pop-up?

Website pop-ups are display boxes that appear “on top” of a page in various formats. They provide specific information, promote a particular call to action, collect visitor information, or all of the above.

How can pop-ups be helpful? They can:

  • Share contextual information on a topic of interest to visitors on that page
  • Demonstrate an additional value you provide
  • Allow visitors to provide their contact information for your marketing and sales purposes
  • Deliver attention-grabbing messages and focused calls to action
  • Keep visitors browsing on your website longer

How can pop-ups hinder? They can:

  • Disrupt the visitor’s experience and navigation of your site
  • Presume incorrectly on how users interact with you
  • Facilitate suboptimal experiences across different device types
  • Cause visitors to exit your site and increase your bounce rate

With so much upside, yet so many things that could go wrong, it’s essential that you understand how to mitigate these risks and promote the opportunities.
Pop-ups can be helpful and hinder. It’s essential to mitigate the risks and promote the opportunities, says @EvianGutman via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

1. Make them contextual

In the real world, what you sell, who you sell it to, and how you go about selling it matter: You wouldn’t sell Ferraris to people in nursing homes.

Customizing your pop-ups is no different. After all, your website is your virtual showroom. When done correctly, you increase relevance, decrease any annoyance, and maximize your conversion rates.

Pop-ups have come a long way from their one-size-fits-all origins. You now can provide deep customization around factors such as:

  • Which visitors sees the pop-up
  • What information those visitors see
  • The pages upon which visitors see them
  • The times the pop-ups are displayed

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For example, a pop-up asking visitors to sign up for your newsletter on an informative content page makes far more sense than making the same ask on the privacy policy page.


Make pop-ups relevant to the #content page. You wouldn’t put a newsletter subscribe pop-up on a privacy page, would you? @EvianGutman via @CMIContent Click To Tweet
TIP: You don’t – and probably shouldn’t – use a pop-up on every page of your site.

Takeaway: Ensure relevance around the who, what, where, when, and why for any pop-up that displays on a page.

2. Timing is key

You didn’t ask your partner to marry you on the first date, and you shouldn’t smack your website visitors with an invasive pop-up the instant they arrive on a page.
You didn’t ask your partner to marry you on the first date. You shouldn’t smack new website visitors with a pop-up the instant they arrive, says @EvianGutman via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Visitors are far more likely to appreciate your pop-ups if presented at opportune moments throughout their browsing experience.

Various studies have been done on the optimal timing to wait before displaying your pop-up. A better criterion is adapting the time to be relevant to the specific page. Hop onto Google Analytics (or any other web analytics tools you use) and do a page-by-page analysis of the average time spent by visitors on each of your web pages.

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Different pages attract different times spent on each page. Having a clear understanding of how long a typical visitor spends on a given page, combined with consideration of the page’s actual content, will be your best guide for when to display your pop-up.

Takeaway: Implement your pop-ups’ timings based on data-driven hypotheses. Test, then review conversion rates and average time spent on-page. Make incremental adjustments until you find your pop-up display timing sweet spot.

3. Be different

One factor that drove early growth of pop-ups was the increasing tendency of visitors to ignore banner advertisements. In much the same way, your audience is becoming increasingly immune to pop-ups too, closing them the instant they appear without reading the details.

How do you counter this? By being different.

At Ringcommend, we sought to offer something more than just your typical 10% discount, free e-book, or opportunity to join our newsletter. We asked ourselves: What is this person here on our site for? Most are looking for a ring to propose to their girlfriend. So, we created a different pop-up offer to help them do that:

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Takeaway: Captivate the attention of visitors by presenting them with something that isn’t just like the countless pop-ups they’ve most likely ignored.

4. Be clear in your offer and its benefits

There’s a cheeky presumption about pop-ups that they amount to saying something along the lines of: “I know that you’re busy reading about something else, and that this is the reason that you came to the site in the first place, but I couldn’t help but interrupt that experience, because I have something that I am POSITIVE you’re going to be happy I told you about at THIS VERY moment!”

If that’s the assumption, you better have something good to back it up. How? Provide your visitors with:

  • An unmistakable offer
  • Clear-cut benefits
  • A simple call to action

Takeaway: Keep your pop-ups simple. Clearly communicate the value you want to provide.

5. Limit the ask

Of these two pop-ups, which one are you more likely to complete?

Every additional form field you ask a visitor to complete is an additional friction point that makes them less likely to complete the form, more frustrated by the user experience, and increasingly likely to leave your website as a result.

In a study of more than 1 billion pop-up views, Sleeknote found that two fields converted better than three fields in pop-ups by a staggering 206.5%.
In a study of more than 1 billion pop-up views, @Sleeknotecom found that two fields converted better than three fields in pop-ups by a staggering 206.5%, says @EvianGutman via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Remember you also can offer something without asking your visitors to give you something immediately like Backlinko did with this SEO toolkit. Here’s the first pop-up:

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It captures the attention of the visitor with a compelling offer that provides them with a quick way of indicating their interest.

Only once that interest is established (i.e., a click on “Download the Free Guide”) is the visitor then presented with a simple form to complete to obtain the content:

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Takeaway: Be considerate in your ask. Limit the number of form fields to the absolute minimum necessary. Remember this is only the beginning, not the end, of a relationship with the visitor.

6. Be multi device-friendly

A few years ago, Google cautioned it would penalize websites that adversely interfered with the mobile-browsing experience. Intrusive pop-ups can make web pages less accessible:

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Before you publish pop-ups, test them to understand how they’re viewed on desktop and mobile browsing experiences.

Takeaway: Create “lighter” mobile-friendly pop-ups in addition to your regular desktop pop-up designs.

7. Test, test, then test some more

A pop-up has many components: headline, copy, images, offer, form fields, size, display timing, placement, etc. Getting even one of these things wrong can be the difference between having a pop-up liked by your visitors and having one that turns them away.

Like any good marketer, develop evidence-based assumptions on each component, but never rest your laurels on their definitive accuracy. If the pop-up isn’t working, what elements can be improved? And if the pop-ups do work, how can they be made even better?

Takeaway: Many pop-up creation tools allow for A/B testing. Take advantage of that feature. Either way, run multiple tests, making small tweaks to individual elements over time until you land on the optimal pop-up with the highest rate of conversion.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Create High-Converting Content

Pop up and up and up

According to Sumo, the average conversion rate for pop-ups is 3.1%, with high-performing pop-ups averaging a 9.3% conversion. What could you do with a 3% conversion rate? What about a 9% rate?

Such exciting opportunities need to be counterbalanced with safeguards that prevent these same aspirations from driving visitors off your website with annoying pop-ups.

Following the principles above will ensure that you not only mitigate the risks of displeasing your treasured website visitors, but also optimizing their experience to provide maximum value and a pleasant browsing experience.

Pop up this fall at Content Marketing World in person or online to expand your content marketing skills. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute





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