Last updated on
February 8, 2023
I’m not gonna lie to you:
Pop-up messages can be annoying.
You know it. I know it. Even those who use them on their websites know it.
Of course, this begs the question:
If everyone agrees that pop-ups—such as lightbox overlays and exit intent forms—are usually annoying, why would we even think about using them in the first place?
The answer lies in a single word in that previous sentence:
The truth is, pop-ups aren’t inherently annoying; they’re only so when designed and implemented poorly. Pop-ups that fall into this category do so because they detract from the visitor’s overall experience and provide little to no added value.
On the other hand, done well, pop-up forms can lead to big things for your organization.
For one thing, they can cause your mailing list subscriptions to absolutely skyrocket. Case in point, within eight months of implementing pop-ups on her site, craft blogger Nikki McGonigal had seen a remarkable 1,375% increase in the amount of emails she captured.
Additionally, sales-focused pop-ups and overlays can lead to an increase in average order value and overall conversion rate, as well.
These results aren’t exactly typical.
They’re not even probable.
For your site’s pop-up and overlay forms to be effective, they need to be created in a way that adds to your user’s experience rather than detracting from it.
In this article, we’ll go through the best practices to adhere to when creating pop-up forms to capture emails and boost conversions. As we do so, we’ll provide examples from a number of industries to illustrate how these practices look when implemented in the “real world.”
Let’s get started.
Before we dive into a discussion about the actual content of your pop-ups, it’s important to recognize that the timing of your message is often the determining factor of whether or not a visitor will actually engage with the pop-up in the first place.
In other words, if your timing is off, your visitors probably aren’t going to want to engage any further with the form in question.
At any rate, when it comes to timing the appearance of your pop-up, you have two main options.
The first option is to set the pop-up to appear after a user has been on your site (or a specific page on your site) for a certain amount of time.
The idea, here, is to give your visitors enough time to engage with—and become invested in—the content on a given page. As your pop-up should essentially be a prompt to dive deeper into the content in question, you want to time it to appear at the exact moment your reader is ready to dive deeper.
(Note: If your pop-up appears too early, it may disrupt your visitor’s concentration and engagement—potentially causing them to navigate away from your site entirely. If it appears too late...well, your visitor might not even be on the page long enough for the pop-up to be triggered.)
To determine the optimum moment to trigger your pop-up, you first need to know how long your visitors typically spend on a given page. Once you’ve determined the average Time on Page, you’ll want to set your pop-up to appear at around the 50-60% mark. For example, if you discover your average Time on Page to be 120 seconds, you’ll want your pop-up to appear after around 60-72 seconds.
While this might seem like a rather long period of time to hold back your pop-up offer, the logic here is that those who spend such a significant amount of time on a given page will almost certainly want to engage further with your brand. On the other side of the coin, those who navigate away before this 50-60% threshold probably wouldn’t be all that interested in engaging further, anyway.
(As we’ll get to in a moment, though, you certainly can target these less-engaged individuals via pop-ups.)
You can also program a pop-up to appear after your visitors take a specific action on your website (or, again, on a specific page).
One way of doing so is to set the pop-up to appear after a visitor has scrolled past a certain point on a given page.
In similar fashion to the time-related trigger discussed above, the idea here is to allow the user to become fully-engaged with the on-page content, then offer them additional value via the pop-up message. Like with time-based triggers, though, you don’t want to set the pop-up to appear after the user has completely finished consuming the on-page content and is ready to navigate elsewhere.
When implementing scroll-based pop-ups, you want to determine the point at which your visitors are likely to be most engaged on a given page. Typically, you’ll want to wait until the user has read at least 50%—and potentially as much as 70-75%—of the on-page content, as this is a clear sign that the reader has more than a passing interest in what you have to say.
We mentioned earlier that you can also use pop-ups to keep disinterested visitors on the hook, as well. In this instance, you’ll want to implement exit-intent pop-up messages, such as the following:
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As the name implies, exit-intent pop-ups are triggered after a user takes an action that shows they’re about to navigate away from the page. Such actions include:
Exit-intent pop-ups serve as a last-ditch effort to keep a user engaged before they leave your site—perhaps for good, for all you know. That said, your exit-intent pop-ups need to provide a huge amount of value—even more so than usual:
Beats completely losing a potential customer, right?
Speaking of the actual offer within your pop-up…
Now that we’ve hammered out when to make your pop-ups appear, we need to talk about what to actually include within it.
The short answer is, quite simply:
Whatever you have to offer that can add value to your visitor’s experience.
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, though.
Your main concern when creating a pop-up for a given scenario (i.e., to be displayed on a specific web page) should be to provide an offer that your user will find valuable at that specific moment.
If they’re reading a post on your blog, you’d want to prompt them to sign up for your newsletter - allowing them to keep up to date with your content:
If they’re on your Features page, or any service-focused page, you might provide them with an ebook or a similar content upgrade:
Or, if they’re on a specific product page, you might use a pop-up to upsell or cross-sell to them:
In each of these cases, the triggered pop-up directly relates to the initial content the visitor had been engaging with. While it’s still not a certainty that your visitors will appreciate the offer in question, the more relevant the offer, the more effective the pop-up will be. On the other side of things, if the offer within a pop-up seems to come out of nowhere, it will almost certainly detract from the visitor’s overall experience with your site.
In addition to providing relevant offers via your pop-up forms, you also need to ensure the value of said offer is obvious to your visitors.
Let’s take another look at one of our previous examples:
There’s absolutely no confusion as to what you’ll receive in return for your contact info, here. In this instance, anyone who has even a passing interest in creating webinars would likely have no problem signing up to receive this free guide.
So, now that we have the logistics of what to offer your visitors—and when to offer it—through your pop-up forms, let’s discuss how to optimize their design in order to maximize their effectiveness.
Whether your goal is to get your visitors to dig deeper into your brand’s content, or to get them to increase the value of their pending order, you’ll only accomplish this goal if your pop-ups are attractive and engaging.
As with all other areas of your website (and any other marketing-related materials you create), the way in which the message of your pop-up is worded can make a world of difference.
Like we said earlier, you want to be crystal clear with regard to what your pop-up offers. Remember: pop-ups are inherently disruptive, so it’s essential that you get your message across as quickly as possible.
While the above example does add a bit of quirkiness to the message, the overall message of the pop-up is received loud and clear.
Additionally, the language you use in your pop-ups should be extremely positive, and should focus on the user:
Notice that the previous two examples both use the word “best.” Obviously, they’re both biased (the first one even states this explicitly)—but the point is that the language used is meant to instill a sense of positivity within the audience in question.
Furthermore, both examples include the user in the overall equation:
As we’ve alluded to throughout this article, pop-ups aren’t meant to be used as a hard-sell technique; they’re meant to provide extra value to your audience. By putting your users at the center of the message within your pop-ups, you make it perfectly clear that your main focus is on helping them achieve their goals.
Another effective tactic when creating pop-up copy is to focus on the benefits or results your audience can hope to experience upon engaging with your offer:
In the example above, Brian Dean of Backlinko doesn’t just offer any ol’ SEO checklist that might work for you; he offers “the SEO checklist (he) used to rank #1 for ‘SEO techniques.’” There’s little doubt here: use this checklist correctly, and get the results you desire.
You can also use pop-ups to provide exclusive content and/or deals like Old Navy does here:
In this example, not only does the user immediately receive a 30% discount, but they’re promised more offers in the future as well.
Along with exclusivity, you can also create a sense of urgency with pop-up offers:
In this example, the user is presented with a discount that expires at a time relative to when that specific user engaged with the site in question (rather than one that expires for everyone at, say, April 15th at midnight). While anyone who visits this site will, of course, receive the same offer, it certainly does provide a sense that the company is providing individualized service to each of its customers.
One last thing to note, which we briefly mentioned earlier, is the copy within your pop-up’s call-to-action button. Your goal, here, is to ensure your user knows exactly what they’re signing up for:
In this example from Spotify, you have two options: to “Get Premium,” or to sign up for free service.
(For the sake of argument, imagine the main CTA button simply said “Sign Up.” This would potentially cause confusion, as users would be unsure of whether they’re going to need to open their wallets or not.)
A quick word of advice: When it comes to your CTA, try to avoid using “submit,” “register,” or any word that insinuates the user is giving something up. Instead, focus their attention on what they’re receiving by using phrases like “Sign me up for awesome emails” or “Yes, I want a discount,” as in the examples above.
Remember in the intro when we agreed that most pop-ups are generally annoying and/or ineffective?
Well, it’s because most of them look like this:
Literally, everything about the above example is generic—both the copy and the design. But, even if the copy was creative and engaging, there’s a strong likelihood that this pop-up would fall well short of its intended goals.
Now, take a look at this example:
In comparison to the generic example above, this pop-up from Under Armour clearly matches the theme of the brand and its website.
(The above pop-up does leave a bit to be desired in terms of explaining what the user gets in return for signing up. Aesthetically speaking, though, it’s on point.)
As for the actual form within the pop-up, you should only ask your visitors to provide personal information that’s absolutely necessary to the situation at hand.
Take a look at the following example:
Now, given the circumstances, it may be necessary for the service provider in question to know the customer’s phone number and company name - but this isn’t always the case. For example, if you’re offering your newsletter to your visitors via pop-up, you almost certainly don’t need their phone number—and asking for it will almost certainly cause them to think twice about signing up.
Finally—and this probably goes without saying—your pop-ups need to be responsive to mobile devices. If filling out and submitting the form (or closing it out) is even the least bit difficult on your user’s end, they’re simply going to close out their browser window entirely, and probably won’t come back any time soon.
To review, the main contributing factors that determine the effectiveness of your pop-ups are:
As with all other marketing initiatives and promotions, you’re going to need to revisit and reevaluate these aspects of your pop-ups from time to time in order to maintain (and improve) their overall effectiveness.
It’s incredibly important, though, that you focus on improving only one aspect at a time. By A/B testing each specific improvement you make separately, you’ll be better able to identify which changes make the biggest difference with regard to your overall opt-in and conversion rates.
This post about email popup strategies is a guest post written by Anthony Capetola, a 10-plus year veteran of the digital marketing industry, Anthony has built and managed successful SEM and Social PPC campaigns for hundreds of small to large-sized businesses in various industry verticals including national franchises and eCommerce. As the current Marketing Manager for Sales & Orders, which provides management software for Google Shopping, Anthony manages the entirety of paid search and inbound marketing efforts.