Note: This article was inspired by Mark Traphagen's discussion.
Dear WebMeUp user, what is your attitude to pop-ups?
On the one hand, they bear a lot of resemblance to interruptive ads, because they arrive unannounced and don't ask for your permission to manifest on the screen.
On the other hand, they are much easier to mute. And, as the marketing industry matures, pop-up messages are getting more discreet, and tend to whisper rather than shout.
So, while an average Web surfer largely dislikes pop-ups, can they still be effective to spur conversions?
Some key statistics on pop-ups
OK, presumptions aside, let the numbers shed some light.
- 70% of Americans say they get annoyed by irrelevant pop-up ads
- The #1 reason why people would block a site is annoying ads
- There are 2,000+ threads in the eBay community dedicated to annoying pop-ups
At the same time…
- Pop-ups can double your subscription rate
- Entrepreneur.com increased their sales by 162%, subscriptions by 86 % thanks to pop-ups
- Visual Website Optimizer upped sign-ups by 50% with a pop-up form on the site
So, are pop-ups a curse or a blessing? How do you find the happy medium that lets you get the honey without annoying the bees?
Types of pop-ups
As you may have noticed, the stats that speak against pop-ups mostly concern irrelevant and annoying ads. Can it be that, if you manage to make your pop-ups enjoyable, you may see benefit from them without putting your visitors off?
But first thing first, let's see what types of pop-ups exist on the Web, and organize them on the scale from unbearably annoying to largely agreeable.
Irrelevant pop-up spam
Have you ever seen those "You just won $1 billion!!!" messages that flicker so vigorously they make your eyes hurt?
That is what I mean by pop-up spam. Obviously, they stopped working or got extinct around the time pop-up blockers appeared, because one doesn't see them as frequently anymore.
Irrelevant pop-up ads
When it comes to ANY ads, relevance is key. Irrelevant pop-ups that (A) try to sell you something and (B) have nothing to do with the content of the page are not likely to get clicks.
These days, one mostly sees irrelevant pop-up ads on sites with pirated, adult or other "restricted" info, because fly-by-night sites still build sustainable relationships with visitors while utilizing their specific means to monetize.
Relevant pop-up ads
This group of pop-ups includes messages that (unlike those from the two previous groups) do not open a new dialog box, but are usually implemented as hover ads that appear as an elegant overlay that slightly overshadows the content one's reading and is easy to close.
An example from Search Engine Journal:
Another characteristic typical of such pop-ups is that they are highly relevant to the content they show up for, and thus they can be effective conversion boosters.
Pop-up email forms
These are the ones I've been seeing on the Web the most. Many blogs have a pop-up form that would ask one to subscribe for updates from the said blog. We have a form like that, too.
We launched the WebMeUp blog nearly 2 months ago, and 95% of all blog sign-ups arrived via the pop-up form so far, though there's a stable sign-up widget on the right as well.
Relevant content suggestion pop-ups
Content marketing is currently the new buzzword, and so is the new type of pop-up messages – relevant content suggestion forms. Sometimes, you'd be reading a blog post and, after a minute or two, get suggested to either get a relevant whitepaper/e-book to your email, or read a piece of content you could be interested in.
Here is an example from Blog Growth:
And here is another one from Goedeker’s:
Pop-up best practices
As statistics show, pop-ups can be effective; one only has to follow certain best practices born out of many marketers' experiences.
Include a clear buy-in
That is, don't just tell people "Sign up now." Let them know in more detail what they will get if they sign up for updates, or leave their email to get your ebook. Here is AWeber promising readers more profitable email campaigns:
Make the pop-up unobtrusive
Most successful pop-up use cases I've come across involve just one instance of the dialog box appearing every 24 hours or even less frequently.
Another nuance that can make your pop-up aggressive is the missing "Close" button, or even worse – a confusing "Close" button (that's situated not where you’d expect it to be) or a "Close" button that's humiliating to push (such as, "No, I'm a loser cause I don't need your help").
Give visitors something unique
A pop-up form is a mini sales page. Hence, it needs a unique selling proposition that makes it stand out among dozens of similar pop-up offers on the Web.
For example, Dan Zarella’s hover ad seems to be a paragon of how pop-ups should be implemented:
As you can see, you are promised to be told "scientifically proven ways to get ReTweeted" – that’s as clear as it can get. So different from the run-of-the-mill "proven social media secrets" and similar pitches one sees everywhere.
Timing is critical
The time delay (or no time delay) that you create for the pop-up can either make it or break it. Some websites use no time delay at all and display their hover messages right away. Perhaps this is what works for them.
At the same time, a case study published on MarketingSherpa indicates that 60 seconds is the most effective time lag to use (they also tested 30, 45 and 75-second delays). But you'd have to test and discover the timing that is best for your very site.
And, the best way to get started testing pop-up time periods on your site would be to check the average time-on-site in Google Analytics (or any other analytics service you use).
Test, test, test
The most important stage in creating a great, highly-functioning pop-up would be its testing. You never know what will work for your particular site until you try it.
Besides changing the time intervals, and the frequency with which the pop-up appears on your page, other parameters you can (and should) tweak are:
- The pop-up's design (its size, colors, the size of the click button, etc.)
- The pop-up's copy (as well as the call-to-action it includes)
- The size/color of the close button
Also, to avoid drawing inaccurate conclusions, make sure you test one variable at a time.
So, do your pop-ups actually work?
All that said, what would be the ultimate indication that the pop-ups are doing more good to your site than damage?
You would want to measure the following metrics before and after the pop-up, and see whether the slight loss you may experience in some areas would be made up for by gains in other aspects.
Traffic to the site
It's hard to talk in general (without knowing what's happening along all of one's traffic channels), but in the good-case scenario, direct traffic to your site should increase once you start implementing the pop-up. In general, that should occur thanks to a larger number of people on your mailing list.
The bounce rate is the first metric to watch for red flags. If it goes up dramatically, its means something is wrong with your pop-up. By the way, if you use click-tracking or session recording software (such as MouseFlow, for example), this can give you even more insight into what exactly people have a problem with on your site.
Average time on page
Again, this would be your second-most vital metric to pay attention to to diagnose problems with the pop-up. It's also wise to see how time on page matches up to the time delay you use for the pop-up, or whether people leave exactly around the time the pop-up appears.
Pages per visit
You can see this metric in Google Analytics. Thing is, the fact that they saw a pop-up on your site may prevent some visitors from clicking through to other pages on your site, although the decision may be a subconscious one.
The number of subscribers
This is a pretty straightforward metric. You need to see how the number of email subscribers changes once you start using the pop-up.
It may be that the use of the pop-up leads to better-targeted traffic to your site, hence your conversion rates increase. At the same time, if your pop-up form itself is a conversion driving mechanism, conversions may improve because of the form itself (let’s say, if you use a relevant pop-up ad).
All in all, you should see if the improvement across the important metrics trumps any deterioration that may be observed through other vital performance parameters. For example:
This is how you will know if a pop-up has a negative or a positive effect on the site's performance.
Even though generally perceived as annoying by web surfers, pop-ups nevertheless can be a powerful tool that helps you increase the return on the time and effort you invest into the site.
To minimize the negative impact pop-ups may have on the site's engagement and to increase their effectiveness, it's important to make them relevant, spot-on and unobtrusive, with a straightforward way to close them if one wishes to do so.
It's also crucial to test the performance of pop-ups and see how your site’s key performance indicators change after you implement hover ads/forms on it. Eventually, you may discover people don't hate all pop-ups – just those that interfere with their browsing experience in a crude and irrelevant way. After all, It's advertising that keeps the web free, isn't it?