• Scott Herring

Popups SUCK and How to Fix Them

SUBSCRIBE NOW. GET 10% OFF ON YOUR FIRST ORDER. DON'T MISS OUT! Popups...They're everywhere. And if you ask site visitors, they're annoying. So why do so many sites, including this one, employ such an annoying tactic. Well, despite the impression that popups suck, statistics from a number of sites show that they often work. And if you're a regular Renegade reader, you know we espouse building your audience one brick, er, user, at a time. Let's take a look at what makes popups suck and what you can do to make them suck less, and even better, work more often.

What Makes Popups Suck

I'll describe these from my own perspective, but I've heard it from hundreds of colleagues and experts over the years.

First, as a new visitor to a site, I may not know your brand yet, and when you -- BAM -- ask me to subscribe to your newsletter, I'm immediately put off. In many cases, I just bounce off the offending site. I need you to hold my hand before you ask me to get married, OK? Let's get to know each other a bit first.

Next, as a search-focused visitor to a site, which is most likely what got me there, I'm focused on my research. It's jarring and disruptive to get slapped with a modal popup. It's friction, an annoyance, which initiates a negative influence on the relationship. I may have read some great information in the first paragraph, so I'm drilling in to get what I need -- supporting data -- and I've now lost my focus on the task at hand. Like any task switching, it now adds time to the original task being performed because I have to read something unrelated, make a decision, and then reset.

And that reset creates additional friction. If it's obvious, I close the popup. If it's not obvious, now I have to figure out how to close it. Here is where I think popups suck most. As Steven Krug taught us a decade ago, DON'T MAKE ME THINK. If you're going to interrupt me, make it easy to end the interruption. Hint: an obvious CLOSE button works wonders, not just clicking off the side.

My least favorite tactic in popups is that little negative selling approach. You know, that little "No, I don't want to improve my life by subscribing" button to opt out. Talk about a negative UX. Don't insult your visitors, people.

How to Make Popups NOT Suck

Since we see from the data that they indeed help conversion, there are ways to circumvent some of the friction I've described.

First and foremost, OFFER VALUE. If your popup tackles friction, it's worth the tradeoff. Give 10% off the first purchase. Offer a free guide to the topic being covered. The more relevant your offer is, the more conversion you'll see.

Next, make the popup interesting and attractive. Strong value propositions, striking images, appealing colors, and clear calls to action help immensely.

In addition, I'm a big fan of holding back the popup in time. You could use an "exit intent" version that appears only when the user tries to leave -- that is, after they finish reading. It could appear too late, but it's also not as disruptive to the user experience. You can also use scrolling triggered popups, which only appear when a user gets to the bottom of your content. Again, less disruptive. Or you could base popup timing on a longer period of inactivity, say 10 seconds. That's what we did at Renegade Blogger.

Finally, it's about experimentation. Your audience may be different than ours. Your offer may be great, or not great. Measure before & after. Try different popups on different posts. Then do more of what works, and less of what doesn't...


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