If you want to build a successful website, user experience is fundamental.
As well as great content, you need eye-catching web design and a site that works properly — including quick load times.
However, there is one aspect of web design that flies in the face of this conventional user-experience-driven approach: pop ups.
Despite a near-unanimous agreement that pop ups are detrimental to user experience, many popular sites continue to use them.
Why? Well, the answer is obvious: Money. Pop ups are a proven way to increase a website’s subscriber rates, and therefore its bottom line. For some, everything else is irrelevant.
Today, I want to look into the pop up debate in more detail: their pros and cons, best practices, and, should you choose to, the best WordPress plugin to implement them on your website.
Pop Up Cons:
They Are Annoying
In short: Pop ups are annoying. They are frustrating, aggressive, and intrusive.
What makes them so annoying? They are completely irrelevant from a visitor-perspective. If your website encourages subscriptions in the sidebar and below content, any visitor who wants to subscribe will know exactly how to do so, without being bothered by a pop up.
Less Engaged List
The number of subscribers to your email list is a vanity figure; the only thing that matters is how well subscribers convert.
If we assume the real fans of your content find their way onto your email list with or without pop ups, the only extra subscribers your pop up attracts are the non-fans you are encouraging to make an impulsive decision.
While the extra subscribers won’t do any harm — and more subscribers are generally better — they are significantly less likely to become paid customers at any point in future, and many will unsubscribe after a few days. In other words, attracting non-converting customers is not much of a win at all.
Pop up plugins today are highly sophisticated; you can set the exact moment a pop up is displayed, whether using a time delay, or a specific point of an article as the trigger.
This misses the point: In an ideal world, your visitors will be totally immersed by the awesomeness of your content. When you trigger a pop up to display during an article, you completely interrupt the natural flow of the visitor reading the article.
After breaking their concentration, some readers won’t bother continuing, while others won’t get into that same immersed state again — you’ve ruined the article for them.
In a worst-case scenario, misusing pop ups can damage your brand.
Everything on your website influences how visitors perceive you — too many pop ups and visitors will view your brand as aggressive and manipulative. Having formed this opinion, your content’s credibility is destroyed, and visitors are unlikely to remain on site, let alone make a purchase.
Consider a pop up that prevents your audience from leaving the site. This last impression of your website sours their experience, and ends their visit on a low point. Are these visitors likely to come back?
Pop Up Pros:
More Subscribers, More Money
Of course, all of the cons we’ve covered can be forgiven for one simple reason: pop ups add more subscribers to your list, and from these subscribers we can generate more revenue.
That’s the only metric that counts: If your website makes more money with pop ups, isn’t the minor annoyance caused to visitors a small price to pay? Most would agree this to be true.
How effective can pop ups be at generating more subscribers? Well, obviously this depends
A recent case study by Matthew Woodward saw a 45% improvement in his subscriber conversion rate — not bad, right? Then there are the more eye-catching statistics, such as WPBeginner experiencing an uplift in daily subscribers of a whopping 600%. These staggering figures aren’t an isolated case, either: KISSmetrics reported the University of Alberta website generated 500% more subscribers after integrating pop ups.
With eye-watering numbers like these, it’s little surprise that many major websites decide the pros of using pop ups far outweigh the cons.
Obviously, there are other advantages: they’re easy to implement, they can be tested and tweaked to gain maximum results, and they require no upkeep. However, with pop ups, it always comes back to profit.
Pop Up Best Practices
Having looked at the pros and cons, I wouldn’t object to any webmaster using pop ups on their site — as long as they are used correctly.
In fact, most Internet users themselves won’t object to pop ups when they are used inoffensively — unfortunately, too many websites go overboard and completely misuse them.
In this section, I want to help you minimize user disruption, while at the same time maximizing subscribers. Here are eight pop up best practices.
The most important thing to get right is the timing of your pop ups.
Many websites set their pop ups to display the moment a visitor lands. While this does guarantee maximum views, it creates a terrible first impression for your website, and many users will click away as a result, before even glancing at your content.
Another common tactic is to display a pop up when a user tries to leave a website — this is the most annoying method of all from a visitor-perspective. Some might argue that when a visitor is leaving, you have nothing to lose. Unfortunately, by creating a sour last impression, that visitor might never return, and are they likely to subscribe when they are leaving?
There are also websites that configure their pop ups to display at specific points — say, after 60 seconds, or when a visitor gets half way through an article. However, this breaks a visitor’s concentration, and this makes your content less effective.
Looking at these three points, it is easier to get the timing of a pop up wrong than right! The best approach is to display your pop up when a visitor reaches the end of an article—or even the end of a third or fourth article. Not only will this avoid interrupting a reader’s flow, but by reaching the end of an article that visitor is likely to be more engaged, and therefore more receptive to subscribing.
Due to the intrusive nature of pop ups, you should only display them once to visitors — therefore making it crucial that you get the timing spot on.
The more often a visitor sees your pop up, the more annoyed they will become. Even so, some websites still display a pop up on every page visited. This makes your website seem pushy and desperate; if this is how visitors view you, what credibility do you have to drive subscribers?
3. Eye-catching Design
Because of the negative impact on user experience, when you commit to using pop ups, you should at least try to get the most subscribers out of them.
Pop ups are effective when they immediately grab a visitor’s attention — make sure you use an eye-catching design. That means bold, bright colours, relevant images, and clear headlines.
You should also consider using a lightbox pop up. These darken or blur everything outside the pop up, so your pop up stands out even more.
4. Persuasive Headlines
The copy included in your pop up should be short and snappy; people aren’t going to read paragraph after paragraph.
The more persuasive your headline, the more subscribers you’ll get, it’s that simple. If you have copywriting skills, use them when crafting your headline: try to focus on the user benefits of subscribing above all else.
5. Easy to Use
If you want more visitors to subscribe, don’t make them jump through too many hoops. If you’re trying to grow your email list, you have no excuse for having more than two fields — and in most cases, just an email address is sufficient.
As well as this, filling the form in should be as intuitive as possible. Make it clear what information goes where, and make the sign up button stand out.
Don’t forget about the people that opt out, though: if you care about user experience, your pop up should be easy to close, too.
Many websites will try to lure visitors onto their mailing list by offering something lucrative in return for their email address.
If you decide to take this approach, and it is proven to attract more subscriptions, make sure you include the information about your sign up incentive in the pop up.
Even a relatively focused website will often have visitors with wildly different interests and personalities. For example, consider a sports website: readers of the golf section are likely to have a very different set of interests to readers of the boxing section.
The best pop up plugins allow you to target specific visitors with tailored pop ups. You can then configure which pop ups are displayed on which sections of your website, allowing you to use the buzzwords that your different audiences will respond to, by speaking to the different types of visitors directly, you can significantly increase subscriber rates.
8. A/B Testing
Finally, never rest on your laurels. Even if your pop up is converting at superhuman levels, never assume it can’t do better.
Continuously seek to optimize your pop up if you want to drive even more subscribers — most pop up plugins support A/B testing, allowing you to compare minor tweaks to your pop up design, layout, and copy.
Pop Up Plugin: OptinMonster (From $49)
Now that we’ve looked at why you might want to add pop ups on your website, as well as how to use them effectively, it’s time to think about how to integrate them.
WordPress users have a number of pop up plugin to choose from: there are a number of pop up plugins available. Because of their importance to your bottom line, I would recommend checking out one of the premium plugins to extract maximum value. My personal preference is OptinMonster, which can be downloaded from their website. The basic package supporting one website is available from $49.
OptinMonster can be integrated with all of the major autoresponder services, including Aweber, and MailChimp.
It allows you to build great looking pop ups by using one of the many templates available. Each template is fully customizable using the intuitive WYSIWYG editor — you can play around with fonts, colors, and layouts.
Because webmasters will disagree over what constitutes as too much when it comes to pop ups, there are a number of types to choose from. The most attention-grabbing is the lightbox, which sits in the middle of the screen and blurs the background out. There are a number of less intrusive styles, too, including a floating footer bar, and a slide-in style, which pops up in the bottom right corner. You can also use OptinMonster to design the subscriber forms in your sidebar and below your content.
OptinMonster supports targeted campaigns, by allowing you to select which pop up appears, and when. You can use a global pop up to display on every page, or, if you want to segment your audience, you can show tailored pop ups, depending on the category a page falls under. This feature also allows you to add visitors to different lists, depending on which pop up they signed up under. This is effective for building segmented lists, which allows you to market highly targeted offers.
The plugin also makes it easy to run A/B tests and monitor performance. You can select and replicate a control pop up, then make small tweaks using the standard editor. The plugin then splits which pop up is displayed to visitors, and their results collaborated for comparison.
The final feature — only available in the Pro version, from $199 — allows you to display a pop up when a visitor signals exit intent. We already know that displaying a pop up when a user clicks away is incredibly annoying, but OptinMonster uses a more advanced solution. The moment the plugin detects a user has decided to leave—which is done using sophisticated mouse-tracking technology — the pop up will appear immediately. This makes it far more visitor-friendly.
If you are serious about growing your mailing list, the OptinMonster plugin is the ideal solution. Don’t let the $49 price tag put you off; by significantly growing your list, you will more than make your money back.
Pop ups have long divided opinion among Internet marketers; some will argue we should always prioritize the visitors, while others will always put profit first.
However, if you do decide to add pop ups to your website, you should avoid being too aggressive with them — put yourself in a visitor’s shoes when deciding how much is too much.
By following the best practices included today, you can have the best of both worlds: your pop ups won’t distract and annoy your visitors, but you will still increase the size of your mailing list. Win-win!
What are your thoughts on pop ups? Let us know in the comments section below!
Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.