Popups – the good, the bad and the ugly

I’m not a fan of autoloading popups. I low-key hate popups actually. One is more than enough. Two is too many. And three? Forget about it! Allow me to rant about why I don’t like popups and I’ll even try to back up my strong opinions. Popups do have their place and sometimes are good convert well. Mostly they’re bad though. And sooooo many popups are hideously ugly and off-brand. Let’s talk about them all*.

*Ok not all, just autoloading ones. Click-activated popups are a whole other thing and not covered here.

The Good

When used well popups can be really effective marketing tools. They can get peeps to sign up to your mailing list in exchange for your lead magnet. I think the best usage of popups for mailer signups are exit intent popups for service-based businesses. They work by triggering when the cursor moves out of the window (when visitors are going to open a new tab or close the page). I’ve added one to this page. Try to leave and see what happens…

These are really effective because they don’t annoy visitors new to your site. They idea is that you use them as one last chance to grab their attention and get them to give you their email address so you can nurture them to a sale. A popup at this point assumes that they are leaving the site anyway so any irritation caused by the popup is not gonna make a difference. I’ve never been annoyed by an exit intent popup. How about you?

Exit intent popups for mailer signups are clever.

The Bad

Too many popups that load immediately spell certain death to your site. DEATH.

No matter how badly I wanna read your blog posts or view your services, if I have to close more than two popups on page load I’m gonna rage quit. I will close your site immediately. And I’m definitely not alone in my feelings. 

Too many popups also hurts SEO because search engines, like Google, punish sites that have multiple auto-loading popups because they know that it hurts user-experience. So they punish sites with too many so that those sites don’t get to the top of organic searches. And the more people like me arrive and then swiftly exit your site the more Google punishes your site.

You think popups are going to make it impossible for peeps to ignore your special offer or mailer signup, but instead they just annoy visitors into leaving your site. You don’t wanna wave a huge big billboard in front of someone’s face constantly screaming at them, you wanna seduce them with your awesome content and gorgeous, user-friendly site.

So just don’t do it. Don’t have too many popups on your site.

Using too many popups is website suicide.

But how many are too many?

I think two is too many. One is the maximum number of autoloading popups I will build into any site – and only build one if I HAVE to. Because anything more than one is too many. For seriously. Everyone agrees. Just don’t do it. Don’t add popups to your site that load immediately. Don’t. Do. It.

ONE immediate, autoloading popup is too many!

The Ugly

Remember when the EU made that law about data privacy and so sites had to disclose that they use cookies and collect data from their web visitors? Everyone suddenly put popups on their site to announce this and get people to accept the use of cookies and shit (even tiny little local South African businesses that defs don’t have customers in the EU because they literally sell sand locally in a tiny town in the middle of the Karoo).

So some free plugin was downloaded and the popup was added to the site. Zero design consistency. Fonts and colours and button shapes and sizes so far removed from the design of the rest of the site that it hurts your eyes. It looks super amateur and instantly makes the site lose credibility – especially because these popups trigger on page load. They annoy me, but are necessary in some cases. And when necessary make sure they look consistent with the rest of the site design!

They aren’t necessary in all cases though. And can often do more harm than good to user-experience. So make sure to do your research before jumping on the “cookies popup” bandwagon.

Make sure your popup maintains design consistency (please).

Context Context Context

Seeing that word three times in a row like is weird right? I digress. Back to the amtter at hand: popups.

Context is very important when creating popups. You don’t have the same one popup that triggers on every single page. You can craft multiple popups to collect mailer signups with different led magnets that have been carefully crafted to entice an individual page’s visitor the most. Think about when you visit a website. Do you go through every single page? Every blog post? No. You’re selective. You choose which blog post to read.

So blog posts about popups (for example) could have an exit intent popup that offers a “5 Bullet Proof Rules to Follow for Incredible Mailer Popup Conversions.” The person reading that post is clearly interested in popups so offering them something specifically about popups will be most likely to get them to take action and give them your email address.

Create different offers for popups depending on the context.

So Many Options

There are so many different kinds of popup design as well! They don’t have to take up the whole screen. They don’t have be at the top of the page not the exact middle. 

Some very effective popups come in from the side and stick to the side like in the middle (height-wise) of the screen and they trigger as you scroll down the page.  So for a long blog post you could create a popup that triggers when someone gets to 75% of the total length of the page. And that one could just sidle in from the right and gently ask the visitor if they want to learn more about “insert topic here.”

A great option for ecommerce sites, in my opinion, is to trigger a popup with a discount offer after someone views like three products or whatever. So they are clearly interested in buying, but haven’t done it yet so you can entice them into a purchase with an offer here or at the very least get them to add themselves to your email list so you can nurture that sale y’all.

Think about size, screen placement and entrance animation.

Now I want to link to some sites here that have what I think are really great popups. But I’m tired and I’ve had this post in draft for like 4 months now so I’m just gonna hit publish.  Be back laters (maybe) to do some sleuthing and add the links (hopefully).

Stay tuned for some links to great examples (maybe).

Popups can be really effective in helping you build your email list. But they can do some serious damage to your user experience as well.

So be careful. Be thoughtful and put in some effort. Make sure you think about the context and what should trigger the popup and when.

Never use a popup that triggers immediately on page load. They are the absolute worst, annoy the shit out of people, are the lowest converting popups, harm SEO and make people leave your site. So don’t use them.  Be better.  Put in more effort.

And remember that an effective popup has a really great and contextually appropriate offer/magnet. People aren’t gonna give you their email address without something tasty in return. Which also means creating that thing you’re offering and setting up an automation in your email marketing platform.

In conclusion: use popups properly or don’t use them at all.


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