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Popups Are Dead. Wrong. Here’s What We Found from Analyzing 1+ Billion Popups (Original Research)

  • Conversion Rate Optimization

If you’re an online retailer, you’re likely using popups to grow your email list and recommend popular products.

But what you might not know is how to optimize those popups for maximum conversions…

That changes now.

In this article, I’ll share how to create a high-converting popup, element by element. 

The best part? We based our findings on real numbers we pulled from our top-performing customers, which, all in all, accounted for 1+ billion popup views. (That’s not a typo.)

Let’s get started.

New to Sleeknote?

Book a 1:1 call with one of my talented colleagues, Sofie, Morten, or David, and learn how you can apply these insights and much more to your business.

1. The One Element Your Popup MUST Have

We all know images can increase conversions. 

They’re why online retailers use them on their product pages and why we, at Sleeknote, include them in our email campaigns. (Often, to hilarious effect.)

But can images increase popup conversions? Put another way, can adding an image to a popup without one increase conversions? That’s what we hypothesized and attempted to answer.

To test our hypothesis, we first looked at 20+ million popup views. Then, we filtered out any popups with 2,000 views or less to ensure our overall conversion rate was valid. Finally, we analyzed (1) popups with images and (2) popups without images.

We found that popups with images (3.80 percent) convert better than popups without images (2.07 percent) by 83.57 percent.

So, if you’re currently using a popup without an image, test it against a popup with an image relating to the offer you’re promoting—you’ll likely see a slight bump in conversions. (Provided, of course, you’re following good copywriting best practices).

Real Coffee, a brand that offers affordable, high-quality Nespresso® and Dolce Gusto® compatible coffee capsules, use an image of a milk frother, (its signup bonus), both, in the teaser—what comes before the popup—and in the popup itself, to invite visitors to learn more about its monthly subscription.

Here’s the teaser:

And here’s the popup zoomed in:

Popups with an image convert better than those without one.

2. Use This Underused Element to Get More Emails

Like images, urgency, when utilized ethically, also increases conversions. No matter the occasion—a seasonal campaign, a Black Friday promotion, a limited-time offer, the fear of missing out moves on-the-fence buyers to take action.

While urgency is common in email campaigns and on landing pages, we wondered whether creating urgency in a popup had a similar effect. However, rather than look at popups creating urgency in copy, we looked at another, often underutilized element: countdown timers.

For this test, we first reviewed 20+ million popup views. Then, we filtered out any popups with 2,000 views or less to ensure we had a valid overall conversion rate. Finally, we looked at (1) popups with a countdown timer and (2) popups without a countdown timer.

We found that popups with a countdown timer (8.07 percent) convert better than campaigns without a countdown timer (3.79 percent) by 112.93 percent.

Not all popups need a countdown timer, of course. After all, there’s no urgency for a website visitor to join your email list. But if you’re running a time-sensitive campaign like an on-page giveaway or seasonal promotion, test adding a countdown timer to your popup. 

Adding a countdown timer to a popup communicates urgency and moves visitors to action.

3. Input Fields: What You Need to Know 

If you’re growing your email list, you likely experience the following:

  • You want to acquire more than an email address from new subscribers;
  • But you also assume that more fields mean more friction and fewer conversions.

The question is, is that assumption correct? Do fewer fields really mean fewer conversions? Or is it a rule of thumb that’s now obsolete? That’s what we attempted to answer in our next test.

For this test, we looked at 1 million popup views. Then, we filtered out any popups with 2,000 views or less to ensure our overall conversion rate was valid. Finally, we analyzed the conversion rate for popups with one, two, three, four, and five input fields.

Our findings were fascinating.

First, we found that popups with five input fields have the lowest conversion rate (0.81 percent), but only marginally less than popups with four input fields (0.90 percent).

Second, and most interestingly, we learned that popups with two input fields (3.31 percent) convert better than popups with three input fields (1.08 percent) by a whopping 206.48 percent.

Third, we found that popups with two input fields (3.31 percent) convert better than popups with one input field (3.20), but only by a marginal 3.32 percent improvement.

There are a few key takeaways here.

  • If you’re using five input fields, consider limiting your popup to three fields (e.g., first name, last name, and email OR telephone number). Or, if essential, add the remaining two fields to the second step of a Multistep popup (see section 4);
  • If you’re using three input fields (e.g., first name, last name, and email or telephone number), consider testing your popup against one with two fields; and
  • If you’re using two input fields, you won’t see a big drop in conversions if you decide to limit it to one.

4. Multiple Steps: How to Enrich Lead Data (The Right Way)

As mentioned above, enriching lead data without hurting conversions is a problem for many marketers. That’s why, at Sleeknote, we created a feature called Multistep.

With it, marketers can get a visitor’s email address in the first step (what we call the “form”), and then get more information in the followup step—without losing the visitor’s email if they close the popup.

For instance, let’s say you want a visitor’s email address and dietary preference (e.g., Paleo, Vegan) so you can send them relevant emails. One approach is to ask for both in one form, like this:

A better approach, in our experience, is to ask for the visitor’s email in one form, and then, ask for more information after, as with this example promoting a giveaway:

Building on our earlier hypothesis on input fields, we wondered whether subscribers would continue inputting information after inputting data (e.g., their email address) in the first step.

To test that hypothesis, we analyzed more than one million leads generated by a popup with our Multistep feature. Then, of those one million leads that converted in step 1, we looked at the number of leads that also converted in step 2.

We found that popups that have a second step see a staggering 76 percent of its subscribers input more information.

What does this mean for you? Well, with that many subscribers inputting data in the second step, there’s ample room to enrich your lead data—without adding more fields or, most importantly, seeing a dip in conversions. 

For instance, if you’re running a giveaway, you could ask for the user’s email in the first step and their gender in the succeeding step. Or, if you’re conducting a survey, you could get their name and rating in the first step and ask for additional comments in the followup step.

5. Use a Timed Trigger? Read This 

If you’re unfamiliar, a Timed Trigger lets you show your popup based on how much time a visitor spends on a webpage. When the page loads, it starts a timer, and it triggers the popup when the timer reaches the seconds you choose in the settings.

The problem for many brands using popups, though, is knowing when to set the trigger. Without knowing how visitors engage with certain pages, it’s impossible to get accurate insight, save using a metric like average time on page in Google Analytics. 

We wanted to find the optimal time to show a popup. So, to do that, we looked at 10+ million popup views. Then, we filtered out any popups with 2,000 views or less to ensure our overall conversion rate was valid. We had a lot of results with timers ranging from one second to 200 seconds. So, we filtered out the top 10 highest-performing timers by seconds to give us the following (not in order): 30, 4, 3, 6, 5, 8, 7, 15, 10, 20.

We found that popups that are shown after eight seconds (3.62) convert better than popups shown before or after.

If you’re using a popup with a Timed Trigger, our recommendation is to use eight seconds as an anchor point. You won’t necessarily drive more conversions (your page’s content will influence much of that), but it will give you a good foothold. Unless, of course, you’re using a Scroll Trigger.

6. How to Optimize a Scroll Trigger for Maximum Conversions

One way many online retailers frighten visitors off is by asking for their email too early. Unless visitors are already committed to your brand, being too pushy can push them away.

With a Scroll Trigger, you can ask visitors for their email when they’ve demonstrated their interest by scrolling down the page. However, much like a Timed Trigger, it’s hard to know when to set a popup to show.

We wanted to find the optimal time to show a popup. So, to do that, we looked at 10+ million popup views. Then, we filtered out any popups with 2,000 views or less to ensure our overall conversion rate was valid. Similar to the above test involving Timed Triggers, we had a lot of results with timers ranging from one percent to 99 percent. So, we filtered out the top 10 highest-performing timers by scroll percentage to give us the following (not in order): 35, 50, 40, 15, 10, 20, 30, 45, 80, 25, 70.

We found that popups that are shown after a visitor scrolled 35 percent of a page convert better than popups that are shown before or after.

Like a Timed Trigger, a popup’s conversion rate will vary from page to page and website to website. But if you’re starting from scratch, setting a Scroll Trigger at 35 percent is more than a going starting point.

7. Desktop vs. Mobile: Which Is Better? (The Results Will Surprise You)

A few years ago, you might recall Google announced they were cracking down on intrusive interstitials. 

And if you do, you might have experienced the following: 

  • You knew you wanted to capitalize on the rise of mobile traffic; but
  • You wanted to give visitors a good browsing experience, and above all, meet Google’s interstitials guidelines. 

For our final test, we wanted to know, even though the number of mobile users is growing, does it convert better than desktop?

To test that hypothesis, we looked at 3+ million campaign views. Then, we filtered out any campaigns with 2,000 views or less to ensure we had a valid overall conversion rate. Finally, we looked at (1) popups on mobile and (2) popups on desktop.

To our surprise, we found that popups convert better on mobile (5.8 percent) than they do on desktop (3.11 percent).

The takeaway, then, is not that mobile is better to desktop, but rather it’s worth having device-specific campaigns. 

For instance, if your desktop popup has a lot of copy, you might want to create a mobile-specific popup for better readability. Or, if you want fewer input fields for a mobile popup due to limited screen space, you could differentiate it from its desktop counterpart.

New to Sleeknote?

Book a 1:1 call with one of my talented colleagues, Sofie, Morten, or David, and learn how you can apply these insights and much more to your business.

Conclusion

Popups are ugly, intrusive, and above all, hurt the user experience…

But only if you ignore the best practices I’ve outlined above.

The popup statistics in this post have shown you how to optimize your popups for maximum conversion.

Now it’s time for you to make the changes, or get started with your first popup.

What was the biggest takeaway from this blog post? Leave a comment below.

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