I’ve Heard They’re Effective, But Pop-Ups Annoy Me…

“But pop-ups are annoying!”

No one wants their marketing to be annoying. And some marketing tactics get a  bad rap for being obtrusive. The humble pop-up, for example!

But the reality is that any marketing tactic can be annoying. What matters is how you implement it. And what may feel annoying to you may be barely enough to grab your target audience’s attention. 

The average person sees between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. You can’t just send a message once and expect results — consistency is key for people to remember you and what you do. 

So let’s talk about the pop-up for a bit. Why it’s powerful. Why some people think it’s the worst. And — most importantly — how to ensure you implement it in a way that’s not annoying.

First Things First: Pop-Up Power!

If pop-ups are so annoying (and they can be), the first thing to do here is make our case on why they’re still worth it. In other words, sell their effectiveness to you.

You know what that means — throwing numbers your way!

Feel free to do some quick research yourself if these seem too good to be true, because quite honestly, they do. Like email, pop-ups are shockingly effective. How effective?

  • The average pop-up converts at 3.1%. Compare that to a marketing tactic that is much more expensive: PPC ads. They convert at an average of only 2.3%.
  • There are many studies that show changing to or adding pop-ups can increase conversions: by 100% to 400% to almost 1400%.

So, Why Do Pop-Ups Get Such a Bad Rap?

Though I promise I will dive way more into specifics, I can sum up why so many people hate pop-ups in two words: poor implementation.

Many sites think the difference between the success and failure of a pop-up lies in some kind of “trick” to get you to convert. And when you think of pop-ups, it’s probably these tactics that you visualize, because those negative experiences stuck with you. Things like:

This is probably the top annoyance with pop-ups. One comes up on your screen, and you just want to move along and view the content you intended to. But you can’t find the %$# “X” to close it.

Sometimes this is intentional. An advertiser decides to be tricky by moving the “X” or otherwise hiding or obscuring it — as though that is going to convince someone to make a purchase or hand over an email address.

Other times, the pop-up wasn’t properly tested on different screen sizes, and that “X” is prominent for some users… and totally off the screen for others.

Pop-ups that take up the full screen are bad for a couple of reasons. 

First, most people like to see that there’s an actual site under the advertisement. Covering it up can confuse people and even make them feel like they were sent to the wrong place. This is particularly true if your pop-up loads before they even get to your site. 

Second, fullscreen pop-ups have a higher chance of exceeding the screen for some visitors — especially those on phones — making it literally impossible for them to close out the pop-up to your site.

A pop-up is already attention-grabbing. But some advertisers think they need to add obnoxious colors or flashing images to really capture your attention.

But no one wants to be subjected to flashing images. They’re obnoxious and irritating. And if someone is susceptible to seizures, even potentially dangerous.

Spin the wheel to earn a free vacation! Critical alert: virus! Don’t leave now — this offer is only available for 30 more minutes! 

If the content of the pop-up is deceitful, wastes the user’s time, or puts pressure on the user, of course they’ll hate it.

A pop-up can be set up so that once a unique visitor sees it and takes an action, it won’t show up for them again — or won’t show up for a designated time period. 

If someone is forced to close your pop-up every single time they go to your site, it will get annoying fast.

Any kind of an autoplay on your site is generally a no-no, because:

  • This can cause the site to take forever to load and even make the site appear to be broken.
  • You don’t know where they’re accessing your site. If they’re in public and loud, unexpected sounds start to play, it can be incredibly disruptive and embarrassing.
  • We like to choose what we watch and listen to, thank you very much. Forcing video or audio on someone feels much more intrusive than static text or images.
  • Unexpected sounds, in particular, can be really startling for neurodivergent visitors.

What Makes a Good (Read: Not Annoying) Pop-Up?

First off, don’t do any of the above. That should help you eliminate most of the frustrations the majority of people have with pop-up ads. 

Beyond this, there are really just three big things to focus on:

Make an offer that is both relevant and irresistible. 

I know — easy, right? But really what this means is knowing your audience. Don’t waste their time with an offer that isn’t right for them.

What are their pain points? What do they need? What price is most likely to attract them? What offer is worth giving up their email address for? The same things you would focus on for any offer.

Be consistent.

If someone lands on a page about dog training tips and gets a pop-up for a cat food subscription, they’re not likely to be in the right frame of mind to make a purchase — even if they do have cats.

Make sure there is a connection between the content on the page and the pop-up itself. Then the pop-up is not obtrusive. It’s just a reminder: “Hey! Did you want to buy this dog training toy we mentioned?” And since you’ll make sure that “X” is clear and easy to use, that’s your way of saying, “Not a fit right now? Cool. Come back later if you change your mind.” 

Consider the timing.

Remember earlier how we were talking about pop-ups that appeared before the site even loaded and how frustrating that was? Yeah. Well, people don’t like to be bombarded with advertising the second they get to your site, either.

What’s the sweet spot? Waiting at least four seconds. Pop-ups that wait at least this long to show up outperform faster-appearing ones. Again, it comes back to respecting your users.

Another great time to display a pop-up is when they show “exit intent”. These types of pop-ups are designed to show up based on specific actions taken by the visitor which make it seem like they are about to navigate away from your site. Before they can do that, you hit them with a pop-up. 

Why is this better? By waiting until the end of their interaction with you, the idea is that they will be a warmer lead because they’ve had time to peruse your content and become more familiar. In other words, you build up goodwill by letting them browse, then ask for what you want before they leave.

Still not convinced pop-ups are for you? 

Well, they might not be! There’s no marketing tactic that makes sense for all companies. 

But don’t totally ignore pop-ups as an option just because some spammers gave them a bad name. They can be used in a way that’s helpful if you keep your audience’s needs in mind.

That’s something to remember when considering any marketing tactic. 

Getting an email or a text or a social media post or an ad or a mail flyer or… pick-your-poison. All of these things can be annoying when they’re wasting your time

But when they are relevant to us? They feel like useful ways to connect with the brands we love, find a company we need, or discover something new.

Marketing itself gets a bad rap as being annoying because too many people think the key to getting a conversion is employing some “trick” or “hack.” In reality, it comes down to understanding the people you wish to serve.