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How to Use Popups Without Hurting the User Experience

  • Conversion Rate Optimization

Popups are the ultimate double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re grab attention and motivate visitors to take action.

Maybe you want them to sign up for your newsletter or check out a particular product. Popups have been proven to get results time and time again. 

Toyota, for instance, found that a popup form increased bookings by 50 percent when they added a campaign to their booking page. That’s an impressive number and clearly shows the potential of a well-designed popup. 

But on the other hand, popups can be obnoxious. 

One study found that 50 percent of people rate popups as either “very annoying” or “extremely annoying.”

That’s not ideal when you’re looking to build trust and rapport with visitors and move them through the sales funnel. After all, you don’t want to create friction or do anything that could turn potential buyers off. 

So what’s a marketer to do?

For this post, I’m going to discuss a critical aspect of CRO—using popups without hurting the user experience. How do you create the right balance where you’re responsibly using popups to increase engagement and conversions without irritating shoppers?

Let’s get started. 

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1. Get Your Timing Right

One of the first things to consider when adding popups is when to show them to visitors. 

Do you want them to appear the second someone lands on your e-commerce site? Do you want to wait until they scroll past a certain point on your site before displaying a popup? Or do you want to wait a little while and used a timed popup to give them time to get settled?

These are some key questions you’ll want to ask yourself because timing is critical. So what’s the best strategy to use? Well, it depends. 

Many CRO experts warn against instantly hitting visitors with popups the second they arrive on your site. And I generally agree because visitors usually need some time to get oriented and get a feel for your site, and using this technique can make you come across as being a little too pushy. 

However, there are exceptions. 

Say you’re running a limited-time promotion that will be ending shortly, and you want to share the news so visitors can take advantage of your offer. 

This offer from dog mat company, Soggy Doggy, is a good example. 

In that case, an instant popup may make sense. 

Otherwise, I generally recommend using scroll popups that don’t appear until a visitor has scrolled past a certain point. In fact, in one split testing experiment we ran on our blog, a scroll-based trigger outperformed a time-based trigger by 61.83 percent.

Scrolling ensures that visitors have had enough time to get their bearings and that they care enough about your e-commerce store to be interested in what you’re offering. 

That’s what men’s gear and fashion provider GearMoose does on their site, and it works quite well. 

Their popup doesn’t appear until after I’ve scrolled down past the above the fold content. 

As for timed popups, these can be a little tricky. You don’t want to blast visitors too early, but you don’t want to wait so long that they’ve already left your site.

If you do decide to go this route, most experts recommend waiting for 10 to 20 seconds. But to perfect it, I suggest looking at your analytics data to see how long the average visit duration is and basing your timing on that. 

I think recipe meal kit service, Blue Apron pulls the timed popup off well. 

They gave me time to catch my breath (about 10 seconds) before displaying their offer.

2. Make Popups Easy to Exit 

A common complaint people have about popups is that they can’t quickly get out of them. For example, the “X” icon may be in an inconspicuous area or have minimal contrast with the popup background, making it difficult to spot. 

If a person has zero interest in what you’re offering in your popup and can’t quickly find an exit, they’ll likely leave your site never to return. Not only are you losing out on a potential customer, you’re also creating bad blood that can dilute your brand equity over time. 

Either way, it’s not a good situation. But can you avoid much drama and create a fluid user experience by making popups easy to exit. 

I think beauty and skincare brand Estee Lauder does a great job of this. 

Here’s what you see when initially landing on their site. 

It’s a fullscreen popup, which would be classified as an interstitial because it covers the entire interface of the site. 

But check it out. 

Estee Lauder makes it super easy to exit the popup. First of all, the “X” icon is huge and displayed in the most conspicuous area possible—the top right-hand corner. 

So finding and clicking on it requires a very minimal cognitive expenditure.

But even better, you can click anywhere in the blank areas on the left or right side to exit the popup. 

Do so, and it instantly vanishes, and you’re free to explore their site. No sweat. 

The point here is that you can usually add popups and keep the user experience positive by not making visitors jump through a bunch of hoops to exit. 

So I suggest using a strategy like Estee Lauder’s where visitors can exit using different methods and without having to overthink it.  

3. Incentivize an Action 

Let’s face it. Popups can be disruptive. One second a visitor is browsing through your e-commerce site checking out products, and the next, they’re hit with a popup. 

But not only can you assuage any resentment, but you can also actually get visitors excited by adding an incentive for taking action. 

This popup from sports gifts company, Fanchest is a great example. 

Visitors can get $5 off of their first order by signing up for Fanchest’s newsletter. So the situation could go from a visitor thinking, “Oh no, not another popup,” to “Sweet, I can save $5 on my order.”

This particular popup is nice because it also encourages visitors to go ahead and make their first purchase. If someone was interested but on the fence about completing their order, saving $5 could potentially sway them to go through with it. 

The bottom line here is that you can lessen the blow and even excite your visitors by incentivizing an action. 

4. Don’t Overwhelm Visitors 

Simplicity is essential for enhancing the user experience. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm visitors with too much information. Or, give them too many choices when showing a popup.

This goes back to the 2004 book Barry Schwartz wrote called The Paradox of Choice.

TechTarget explains, “The paradox of choice is an observation that having many options to choose from, rather than making people happy and ensuring they get what they want, can cause them stress and problematize decision-making.”

Let me give you an example.

Here’s the popup I got once arriving on Old Navy’s website. 

Now I will say that they have some great offers. The 20 percent off deals are an especially nice touch. But I found it a bit overwhelming with four different offers with so much information to digest, and it’s likely many other people feel the same. 

I’m certainly not knocking Old Navy’s marketing abilities. They know what they’re doing. But in this particular situation, it could throw some of their visitors off and create anxiety or confusion as to what the best move is. 

A better approach is to keep it ultra simple.

Online print and design company, Moo is an excellent example with their straightforward newsletter popup. 

There’s no thinking involved. Just enter your email address to receive free shipping. That’s it.

5. Personalize Your Popups

Personalization is huge these days. Customers crave personalization and are more apt to engage and buy from brands that fulfill this desire. In fact, “78 percent of U.S. Internet users said personally relevant content from brands increases their purchase intent.”

So I’m a proponent of personalizing as much as possible throughout the customer journey, including popups, if possible. 

Personalization is something apparel company REVOLVE does well. 

When offering a 10 percent off coupon for signing up for their newsletter, they give prospects the option of choosing whether they’re interested in women’s clothing, men’s clothing, or both. 

That way, they can ensure the future content and deals subscribers receive are what they’re looking for and fit their needs.

6. Don’t Use Popups on Every Page 

One of the quickest ways to disrupt the user experience is to barrage visitors by hitting them with a popup on every single page. 

Say, for example, they land on your homepage and see a popup but aren’t interested and exit. Then they move on to another page of your site for further exploration and see the same popup. This is a super annoying tactic and is likely to create resentment with many visitors, where they’ll leave and go elsewhere. 

To prevent any ill will, you’re better off showing popups on the page a visitor first sees. Once they’ve exited the popup and moved on to another page, they should be free to browse without being annoyed by any further popups. 

REVOLVE follows this approach as well and ensures their popups don’t pester visitors on multiple pages. 

Once I click on their men’s clothing section, I’m able to browse freely without having to deal with any additional popups.

7. Be Smart About Displaying Popups to Returning Visitors

There’s another issue many people find annoying—seeing the same popup after returning to your site in a short period. Say someone checks out your e-commerce store in the morning. They see a popup, aren’t interested, exit out and spend some time browsing your site. 

They’re not ready to buy at that point but come back a few hours later to take another look. They would likely find it irritating if they’re hit with the same popup when they’ve clearly shown they’re not interested by exiting out earlier in the day. 

At best, it’s going to create some friction. At worst, it’s going to cost you a sale. So be cautious when displaying popups to return visitors. 

Luxury fashion brand Mansur Gavriel has good etiquette with their popups. 

The first time I arrive on their homepage, I see this one.

But after returning a few minutes later, there are none.

Now the question is, how long should you wait before returning visitors see a popup again? The answer is subjective, of course, but I suggest sticking with a minimum of seven days. 

A weeklong interval between seeing a popup should usually be sufficient and prevent any major irritation for visitors.

8. Don’t Be Condescending

One type of popup that irks me is where it says something like, “No thanks. I don’t like great deals” or “No, thanks. I’d rather pay full price” just beneath the CTA.

Here are a couple of examples. 

Using an opt-out is taps into the fear of missing out (FOMO) psychology, which I can appreciate on some level. 

But the way it’s presented seems a little condescending and could potentially rub some visitors the wrong way. And that’s certainly not going to help the user experience. 

So I suggest staying away from this tactic and sticking with a basic CTA like this one from handmade leather goods company, Makr

It’s simple, gets straight to the point, and doesn’t make visitors feel bad about themselves for not signing up.

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Conclusion

There’s no denying the impact popups can have. Numerous studies have found that they can significantly increase engagement and conversions. And in many cases, they point visitors to offers and deals they’re interested in but wouldn’t have known about otherwise. 

So it’s easy to see why so many e-commerce stores use them. But it should never come at the cost of hurting the user experience. Following these tips should ensure you use popups responsibly and don’t drive a wedge between your brand and potential customers. 

Are there any particular popup tactics you find annoying? 

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