Picture this: You’ve just arrived to a website and you’re about to start navigating around when — pop! — a floating box obscures your view of the screen. Why? To tell you about some benefit you’ll receive later, if you’ll only surrender your email address now.

Though pop-ups have been annoying visitors for years, marketers still use them. But should you? If so, how can you deliver successful ones?

Long-Term Brand Image vs. Short-Term Conversions

A 2017 study by Nielsen Norman Group found that pop-ups are the most disliked type of advertising on both desktop and mobile. This should come as no surprise. They’re intrusive and sometimes infuriating, but they’re also impressively high-converting. But like any tool, they’re neither good nor bad until they’re applied.


It goes without saying that this pop-up could have been more effective.

One thing is clear, a page with a well-designed and thoughtfully implemented pop-up will convert better than one with a bad pop-up.

A bad pop-up can drive a large proportion of your audience away and tarnish their perception of your brand. Be sure to avoid these pop-up pitfalls:

  • Pop-ups with hidden or inactive exit buttons make your audience feel deceived
  • Including too many fields on a pop-up form — every additional input field discourages someone from completing it
  • Extra large pop-ups that occupy most or all of the reader’s screen
  • Pop-ups styled to look like browser dialog boxes — they are underhanded and mistrusted
  • Multiple pop-ups at once — they scream “spam”

Two pop-ups at the same time is definitely a bad user experience.

Getting this right isn’t merely a matter of balancing a bad user experience or bad brand image against a good conversion rate. The ideal is to create a win-win in which a pleasant (or, at least, inoffensive) user experience supports a conversion rate increase.

Simply put, your pop-up must offer something your reader believes is worth the interruption. The best way to do this is with a careful focus on relevance.

Focus Targeting and Messaging by Relevancy

Interrupting a visitor with irrelevant content will not be viewed as beneficial. If you’re browsing a recipe blog and a pop-up appears offering you an eBook of recipes, that’s relevant. But if you’re looking at the meat-free recipe selection and the pop-up offer is a collection of carnivorous cooking ideas, that’s not so clever.


In another example, this pop-up promoting “dinners for one” appeared on a page for “date night recipes.” That’s certainly not relevant.

The more you do to make your offers relevant at the individual reader level, the higher you can expect your conversion rate to climb.

For example, you can use a subtle pop-up to recommend a blog post a reader should check out next. But don’t just recommend any blog post, pick one that’s relevant to her interests. You could promote the most recently published article in that visitor’s preferred blog category that she hasn’t viewed yet, for instance.


This pop-up slides in after a visitor has scrolled a certain percentage of the way down the page and algorithmically presents a relevant blog post recommendation.

The most relevant pop-ups are those that contain content selected for each person based on all you have learned about them. All of that information (including a person’s geolocation, demographics or firmographics, behavior across channels, past survey responses, attribute data sitting in any database across your company, and much more) can be brought together and stored in a customer data platform with an individual profile for each person (whether named or anonymous). Then, your personalization platform can use that information to make a decision about which message is the most relevant for each visitor.

For example, if you want to promote an eBook to your visitors as they leave your site, you can make a decision in real time about which one to promote to each person. You could also avoid pop-ups that ask visitors to sign up for newsletters they have already signed up for, and either suggest another relevant action in that pop-up, or avoid a pop-up altogether!

With behavior-based analytics guiding your marketing and user experience decisions about pop-ups, you can make well-targeted offers that your readers are happy to receive.

The Importance of Measuring and Testing

Even if your pop-up content is personalized for each visitor to your site, you still need to test, measure and analyze the effectiveness of your pop-up campaigns. After all, there are many ways to design and implement a pop-up, so testing is the only way to make sure you’re getting it right.

Some of the elements to test include:

  • Your pop-up’s headline copy. Clear, relevant and specific usually works well. Test several different headlines and then go with the ones that perform best.
  • Headline design. Once you’ve identified a good headline, try a few variations of the headline font, color and line breaks until you settle on one that stands out and reads cleanly without causing eye strain.
  • Pop-up box design and images. Find out what colors, dimensions and imagery perform best on your site. Simply adding a relevant, appealing image to your pop-up can make a big difference to the conversion rate.
  • Pop-up form field labels. Test different fonts and placements — inline, above the field, or on the left? Make sure they’re correctly aligned after each time you move them — a messy or cluttered-looking form discourages visitors from signing up.
  • User escape routes. Should your pop-up have an exit button, a “No Thanks” link, or something else? Do your users want to close the pop-up by clicking on the background outside it? You won’t know what makes your visitors happiest until you test.
  • Body copy. Should you describe benefits and features, or offer social proof? Don’t assume that you can nail the best option by instinct or guesswork. For example, one surprising split-test on a DIY Themes opt-in form showed that removing all of the body copy entirely resulted in a 102% lift in conversions.
  • Call to action copy. Don’t stick with the default “Submit” button copy. Test some more specific copy options like “Get Your Free Report,” “Download Now” or “Sign Me Up.”
  • Timing. Pop up too soon and you prevent your readers from ever seeing your content, and they’ll probably feel like you’re jumping the gun with any CTA. Pop up too late and you’ll miss them entirely. Often, the smartest way to time your pop-up is based on individual behavior. For example, only show a pop-up to encourage visitors to sign-up for your blog after they’ve visited a minimum of two articles.
  • Display rules. Think about whether your pop-up is relevant to only a specific audience and set rules to show that pop-up only to that audience. For example, you should absolutely set your pop-ups so that visitors you’ve already converted never see that pop-up again.

Even after considerable testing, it’s never a done deal. Re-test elements from time to time if you think there might be room for improvement. Test different pop-ups for different audiences. There’s always room for improvement somewhere!

Ask Yourself, Does this Need to Be a Pop-Up?

Finally, with each new pop-up you deploy, ask yourself: does this need to be a pop-up in the first place? It can certainly be tempting to default to pop-up messages because they catch attention and are relatively easy to set up, but most messages shouldn’t be pop-ups — particularly if you already have several running across your site. Pop-ups are best when used sparingly.

Inline content — content that appears directly within the page rather than sitting on top of it like a pop-up — is just as easy to create and deploy. Consider the different types of personalization messages and experiences to determine whether a pop-up is actually right for each message you’d like to share.

So What’s the Secret to Pleasant Pop-Ups?

Relevance, on an individual scale. To deliver good pop-ups, you need to find out who you’re talking to and then make your offer as personalized as if you were consulting with that visitor face-to-face.

The other big secret is to test, evaluate, iterate, then test some more. Making a single well-chosen change to your pop-up could potentially double its effectiveness, so test each element to find out which are the keys to your pop-up’s success.

And, of course, don’t overdo it! Pop-ups can be effective when done well, but always keep your end customer experience in mind. You don’t like to be overwhelmed with pop-ups, and neither do your visitors.

This article has been adapted from an original post authored by former Evergage employee Rob Carpenter.