7 Website Popup Mistakes That Kill Your Conversions (And What to Do Instead)
By Sam Thomas Davies Head of Content
@ Sleeknote

Before you start reading this post, I want to address the elephant in the room: People hate popups.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Sleeknote, we’re a popup builder, so we live and breathe popups. But honestly, we hate annoying popups too — the ones that are intrusive, generic, and irrelevant. Those that hurt the user experience so badly that you reach for the close button and never look back.

People hate popups because most marketers misuse them, or unknowingly fall into the common traps that I’ll talk about today.

No matter how much or little experience you have with popups, you likely know that good design and copywriting contribute to a popup’s performance. This post won’t be about those two because Rikke and Sam already covered them in earlier posts.

I simply want to show you the seven most common website popup mistakes I’ve come across, why they hurt your conversions, and what you can do (better) instead, with real-life examples of high-performing popups.

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1. Condescending Call-to-Action Buttons

Nobody wants to be treated with disrespect, especially while looking for a place to spend money. Yet, many marketers use condescending call-to-action (CTA) buttons in their popups, hoping to persuade more visitors to take action.

The main idea is to make the opt-out button unattractive so the visitor wouldn’t want to choose that option, like in this example:

(Disclaimer: We use this software every day and love it. But that’s not the point.)

While the first opt-in button cleverly focuses on the value and reads, “Get More Time,” the second CTA that closes the popup is “No, I want to waste 1 day per week.”

What used to be a highly popular practice among SaaS companies and bloggers, this type of negative copy that reads, “I want to lose customers” or “I don’t want to make money,” is still common in website popups.

The e-commerce equivalent of these buttons is usually “I hate discounts,” or “I don’t like free stuff,” while the idea is the same. With this much negativity and belittling in your copy, you risk annoying your visitors, or worse, losing them to a competitor.

If a visitor doesn’t want to follow your CTA, consider other possible reasons behind it—maybe they don’t have the time or aren’t ready to take action. I have two better ways to frame your opt-out buttons without irritating your visitors, the first one by Wool and the Gang:

In this email popup, the company invites you to “join the gang,” but if you’re not feeling ready yet, you can simply click the opt-out button “Not Right Now” and close the popup.

Similarly, Georg Jensen Damask uses a double CTA in this cross-sell popup where they recommend an extra pillowcase when a customer adds linens to their cart:

Georg Jensen Damask’s first CTA button takes you to pillowcases, while the second button reads, “No thank you, take me to my cart.” If the customer simply isn’t interested in Georg Jensen Damask’s suggestion, they can close the popup and complete their purchase.

It doesn’t take much to reframe your negative CTAs and correct this critical popup mistake.

2. Too Many Input Fields

It’s a challenge all online marketers face: you want to learn more about your visitors, so you add more questions to your popups. But with more input fields comes more annoyance and fewer completions.

Our data suggests that conversions drop significantly when popups have more than two input fields.

When they see a lengthy opt-in form, many visitors close the popup or maybe even leave your site. And you lose an opportunity which might have otherwise been interested in your offer.

One solution to this conversion-killer is, unsurprisingly, to limit the number of input fields in your popups. Try to capture the essential information (e.g., email address or phone number) and consider if you can survive without a first name, like in this example:

An even better alternative to the above is to ask your questions in multiple steps. This way, you can collect rich lead data without hurting your conversions.

Check this multistep popup example from Joyous Health, where the company collects emails for its business program:

In this first step, Joyous Health simply asks for your name and email address. When you click the CTA button “Learn More” to submit your information, you see the second step where the company asks if you’d like to receive some of its promotional emails:

If you’re in e-commerce, you can use the second step to segment your new signups, and ask for gender, age, country, or interests, and easily grow a segmented email list without hurting the user experience.

3. Bad Popup Timing

While your CTA buttons and input fields have a huge impact on popup conversions, when and where you show your popups are just as important for their performance.

Think about the product recommendation popups asking you to check out alternative products while you haven’t had the time to look at the items you were considering in the first place.

Intrusive popups and untimely welcome mats might help you convert a small portion of your visitors—but often at the cost of annoying a bigger percentage.

To prevent this common mistake, you can use different triggers on different pages to decide when visitors should see your popup.

For example, if you have a popup on pages with long content, such as blog posts or product listing pages, you can use a scroll trigger and set it to show after a visitor scrolls 35 percent of the page. (Hint: According to our data, 35 is the magic number.)

We use a scroll trigger on our blog because we know that if a visitor is interested enough to read through a blog post, they’ll likely join our email list too.

On the other hand, if you’re promoting bestsellers or recommending similar items on your product pages, you can use a timed trigger and show your popup after a visitor spends, say, eight seconds on the page, as we do on our feature pages:

This way, you allow the visitor to browse through your products before interrupting their shopping experience.

4. Impossible Close Buttons

Many marketers underestimate the importance of close buttons in their popups and resort to tiny, invisible, hard-to-click “X”s that frustrate visitors and even cause them to leave for good.

Or worse, some marketers decide to abolish the close buttons altogether, hoping that visitors will figure it out by themselves.

While some visitors can close your popup through the escape key or by clicking outside the box, it ruins the user experience for many.

As this is one of our pet peeves at Sleeknote, we don’t allow our users to publish popups without a close button. Here’s an example of how one of our customers, RushOrderTees, uses a visible close button in its popup:

In another example, Just Spices uses a close button that’s both easy-to-see and blends in nicely with the popup design:

It’s a small but important point many marketers ignore in their popups. Remember, if visitors can’t close your popups, they’ll likely close down your website.

5. Poor Targeting (Or No Targeting at All)

I’m not sure which one is worse: a popup that targets the wrong visitor segments at the wrong time or a single, generic, irrelevant popup that shows to all visitors on all pages.

Maybe you’re asking your existing subscribers to opt in to your newsletter again and again, or informing American customers about shipping delays in the UK, or worse, you’re showing the same popup on every single page.

Take this example where I clicked through one of this company’s emails and landed on a page where they asked me to join their newsletter again:

I’m not only on the company’s email list, but I also arrived here straight from one of their emails, as the UTM tells.

Take another example, when I visited this website for the first time and was immediately asked to join the company’s loyalty program.

I’m not sure how I qualify for a loyal customer, as a first-time visitor, but I simply closed the popup and left this store because I wasn’t the right person and it wasn’t the right time.

A better way to approach popups is to differentiate between first-time visitors, returning subscribers, and existing customers, and create multiple popups that target each visitor based on where they are in the buyer’s journey.

For example, you could target new visitors with a giveaway popup…

…while promoting new arrivals to returning subscribers:

More targeted popups mean higher conversions and happier visitors, and they don’t take much.

6. No Teaser

Most website popups appear out of nowhere, the minute you visit a page. This often creates a bad user experience, especially on small mobile screens.

What’s more, with this approach, marketers miss out on a huge opportunity. They overlook what happens when a visitor closes your popup to take a look at your store, decides that they’re interested in your earlier offer, yet, they can’t find it again.

The solution? Use a teaser.

If you’re unfamiliar, a teaser acts as a preview of your popup and shows before and after visitors see the full version of your popup.

In other words, when a visitor sees your popup and closes it, the form minimizes to the teaser position and stays there. So when a visitor is ready to claim your offer, they can easily reopen the form and interact with it.

By using a sticky teaser, you give control to the visitor, so they can engage with your popups as much or as little as they want, and that guarantees a better user experience.

7. Deceptive Popups

Gamification is popular among marketers, and website popups are no exception. Spin-the-wheel type popups often frustrate users with small, predetermined discounts, and they disappoint marketers with more spam leads than ever.

It’s not that all marketers knowingly deceive people. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of failing to deliver on your word. For example, if you’re inviting visitors to contact you on a phone number when your support team is already home, you likely let your prospects down.

By creating two popups that show at different times, you can easily solve this problem—one popup inviting visitors to call you during office hours…

…and a second popup asking prospects to fill out a form to be called when you’re back:

The best part is, you can set up a recurring schedule for your popups and automatically activate and disable them without lifting a finger.

If you’re offering discounts or free shipping for orders over a certain amount, you might already be writing it in your popups with small letters. However, these footnotes are easy to overlook and create disappointment among your new subscribers who don’t fulfill the requirements.

A better way to prevent frustration is to show your discount popups only to visitors that qualify for it. With SiteData, for example, you can show your popup to visitors that have a cart value of $50 and above. This way, your popups will be more targeted and less frustrating.

Want to Create Better Popups?

Get access to our personal swipe file of 15 top-performing popup examples, popup copy templates, and more (includes resources not found in the blog post).

Download Swipe File Now →


Whether you’re guilty of one of these seven website popup mistakes or you want to improve your popup conversions, you can grab these low-hanging fruits no matter what popup builder you’re using.
If you’re feeling limited by your popup tool or want to test a more powerful alternative, you can start a 7-day free Sleeknote trial and play around as you wish.