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The pros and cons of pop-ups

The internet's most 90s attribute has never gone away. They're still used today, and for more than just spam. But do they actually work?

Blue Pixel Top Left
Posted by Michelle
5 July 2017

Interstitials like pop-ups are a form of interruption marketing. They are short pieces of content that load between two pages, making the website user stop what they were doing and take a different action (for example, click a button or close the box). But what's the general perception of ads when it comes to the user?

It's mixed. PageFair's 2017 Adblock Report found that 615m global devices are blocking ads, but despite the rise in adblocking from users, the same report also found 77% of Adblock users are willing to view some ad formats - highlighting that if the content is right, they are more receptive.

If you're intending to use pop-ups on your site, you'll need to weigh up these pros and cons first.


Pros of using pop-ups

Pop-ups draw your website user’s immediate attention to what you want them to see. By displaying pop-ups relevant to the content they're reading, you can keep them on the website for a longer period and draw them down the marketing funnel.

It’s widely acknowledged that pop-ups have higher than average click-through rates, although research is quantitative, rather than qualitative. It is clear that content relevance impacts results. The average pop-up conversion rate is 3.09%. Looking at the data, they work.

Pop-ups that work

  • Email subscriptions. Social media expert Dan Zarrella found that displaying a hover-style pop-up doubled his subscription rate, without affecting his bounce rate, although it has to be noted that his audience could be very different.
  • Premium content. If you’re promoting a new whitepaper or ebook, a pop-up may be a successful way to draw attention to it and increase conversions.

Cons of using pop-ups

User experience
If you’ve developed a carefully crafted user journey, this could easily be disrupted by pop-ups if they aren’t very carefully chosen and timed.

Pop-ups force your user to stop what they are doing and look at what you want them to see, rather than what they’ve chosen to see. You probably know the frustrated feeling yourself – pop-ups can breed resentment and annoyance, and can be viewed as being spammy. The number one reason a user would choose to block a website from a search is too many ads.

Pop-up Blockers
Software can be downloaded that blocks some types of pop-ups from appearing, either through browsers or extensions. It’s telling that pop-up blocker Adblock Plus has been downloaded close to a billion times.

As of January 2017, Google is penalising sites that use mobile pop-ups. For the most part, Google is targeting overlays that grey out the content beneath them to prevent you from reading a website page on a mobile.

Download our guide to creating an effective user experience


Mitigating the negatives

Your customers must come first. We would advise user testing at each stage - from determining the effectiveness of pop-up used on your site, to content and style testing, as well as defining frequency. Your users should leave your site more informed than before, with a good feeling about your brand, not frustrated!

Users are looking for a consistent experience, but if used fairly, there is less of a backlash. The research seems to show that if you are providing users with quality content, they acknowledge that they may have to take an additional action (like click off a box) in exchange for access to the free content.

Depending on the type or content of each pop-up, cookies can be used to ensure they only appear the first time a user goes on your website (as long as the user has cookies enabled).

Google penalising the practice on mobile only applies to those pop-ups that cover a certain area of the page, so ensure that you keep within the stipulated limits to avoid any negative impact on search.


Alternatives to using pop-ups

Pop-ups can take various forms. This Mackey article does quite a good job of explaining the different styles.

There are a few other ways of introducing CTAs without using pop-ups:

  • End-of-page hover ads. Successful hover ads are those that load when visitors are part-way down a webpage, for example a certain percentage down the page, or at the bottom of an article, very similarly to pop-up ads. The amount of the screen covered by the hover ad or lightbox needs to be carefully chosen to ensure it does not mean the page is penalised by the same Google rule mentioned above.
  • Embedding ads within content to make it unavoidable, for example, introducing a page-width ad after the first half of an article, meaning the user has to scroll past it to continue reading.

So... should we use pop-ups?

Do pop-ups work? Yes, they do. User feelings and actions are two different things, and pop-ups are a quick win, if they have a clear value proposition and are used in context.

They can be contentious - there is a reason why pop-up blockers are big business and come as standard in most browsers these days. However, the perception of ads versus the reality of carefully placed content (of the right size, at the right time…) cannot be disputed.

If you want to talk pop-ups, or any other aspect of digital marketing, then please get in touch! 

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