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    On-Screen Pop-Ups: Annoying, But Are they Effective?

    Using on screen pop-ups is a controversial lead generation tactic.

    On one hand, many people find pop-ups annoying.

    However, the research shows pop-ups are highly effective and have a high conversion rate.

    For instance, the average pop-up converts at 3%, while a large number convert at around 10%. Some pop-ups convert as high as 50-60%.

    This apparent discrepancy is why pop-ups are so controversial – they’re annoying and effective at the same time. How can this be?

    The answer lies in the type of pop-up and how it’s presented.

    Many people find most pop-ups annoying, but not all.

    Some users just ignore pop-ups, while others see them as relevant and helpful.

    For example, when a pop-up offer is interesting, visitors don’t experience the pop-up as annoying.

    And if a pop-up isn’t too obnoxious, many users who aren’t interested have no problem closing the pop-up.

    So, what makes some pop-ups annoying?

    It all comes down to the way a pop-up is served and how easy it can (or can’t) be closed.

    What makes pop-ups effective?

    Let’s discuss!

    1. What makes a pop-up annoying?

    What makes a pop-up annoying

    Since not all pop-ups are annoying, it’s important to identify the specific elements that make a pop-up annoying to website visitors. Once you identify these elements, you can avoid incorporating them into your pop-ups.

    The following elements can make pop-ups annoying:

    • Videos that play automatically. Most visitors don’t like videos to play automatically, but videos in a pop-up are worse because they’re entirely unexpected. If someone is at work, on a bus, or in a public place, a video that plays automatically can be embarrassing or a disruption to others.
    • Obnoxious or startling sounds that play automatically. Sound effects aren’t a good match for pop-ups. Just like videos that play automatically, sounds that play automatically – even a quick pop or whistle sound – can startle and/or annoy visitors. This is especially true for neurodivergent visitors who are highly sensitive to unexpected sounds.
    • Flashing animations. Turning your pop-ups into a disco party isn’t a good idea. Flashing images can be extremely irritating to visitors, and can be dangerous for visitors prone to seizures.
    • The “X” to close the pop-up is hard to find or non-existent. Some visitors aren’t annoyed by pop-ups they’re not interested in – they just close them out. However, when your pop-up is hard to close out, people will become annoyed fast. Nobody wants to be presented with an advertisement they can’t ignore.
    • It takes multiple clicks to close the pop-up. If you’re using software that requires a visitor to click multiple times to close your pop-up, you’re annoying your visitors. Yes, you can get software that intentionally makes it hard for people to close a pop-up in hopes that they’ll give in and sign up for your email list, but it’s not worth annoying people. You’ll lose more people than you’ll gain.
    • The pop-up can’t be closed without entering an email address. People don’t like being required to enter their email address to view a website. Don’t use pop-ups as a barrier for accessing your content. You’ll lose traffic and you won’t get many sign-ups. This is similar to how people don’t want to create an account just to check out. Every sign-up requirement is a barrier to your content. Content barriers kill conversions.
    • The pop-up takes up the entire screen. Visitors like to see your website underneath your pop-up. Even though they can’t access your site until they close the pop-up, seeing your content makes them feel better about visiting your site.

    When a pop-up takes up the entire screen, visitors start to wonder if they’re in the right place. Full-screen pop-ups are seen as a barrier to your content rather than an option to get more content. Full-screen pop-ups are also perceived as spammy.

    • The typography and/or color scheme is hard on the eyes. When a pop-up isn’t aesthetically-pleasing, visitors will start looking for the “X” to close it out before reading the headline. However, the handful of visitors who would read an obnoxious pop-up might close the pop-up if the typography is hard on their eyes.
    • The pop-up appears immediately, before the visitor can see your website. A pop-up that appears immediately before your webpage loads is almost guaranteed to annoy your visitors. People want to know they’ve landed in the right place before being hit with advertisements. Even the most well-intentioned pop-up designed to help visitors will be seen as an annoying advertisement when served intrusively.
    • The content delivered in the pop-up appears to be spammy. You can put anything in a pop-up, but that doesn’t mean you should. When pop-up content appears spammy, visitors will close it out and probably never return.
    • The pop-up gets delivered to every visitor on every visit. Serving a pop-up to every visitor is acceptable. However, once a visitor closes your pop-up or signs up for your email list, you don’t want to deliver a pop-up to that visitor on subsequent visits. Visitors will be annoyed if they need to close a pop-up each time they visit your site.

    2. What elements make a pop-up successful?

    Pop-ups aren’t inherently successful – you have to make them work. Once you identify the elements that support conversions, you can incorporate them into your pop-ups.

    The following elements make pop-ups successful:

    • Your pop-up presents a relevant, irresistible offer. Every successful pop-up begins with a relevant, irresistible offer. To create this kind of offer, you can’t just use any offer that comes to mind. You have to create an offer centered on what your target audience prefers – and then you have to make sure your SEO campaign targets the right visitors.

    A relevant, irresistible offer shown to the wrong market will fail. For example, if your offer is solid, but you’re targeting the wrong demographics, you won’t get many sign-ups. On the other hand, when your offer is solid and you’re targeting the right demographics, your conversion rate will soar.

    • Your pop-up is easy to close and the “X” is obvious. When a visitor lands on your website and encounters a pop-up, a clearly visible “X” will make them feel comfortable. When your visitors feel comfortable upon arrival, they won’t desperately look for a way to close your pop-up before reading the headline.

    Visitors want to know they are in control of their web browsing experience. When the “X” is immediately visible and obvious, visitors will know it’s just a pop-up and not one of those spammy ads that takes over the entire website and blocks access to the content.

    • Your pop-up isn’t full-screen. Pop-ups should be contained in a smaller window in the middle of the screen and should not be full-screen. A full-screen pop-up serves as a barrier to your content and makes visitors wonder if they’re in the right place.

    On the flip side, a small, unobtrusive pop-up box positioned in the middle of your webpage will still allow visitors to see the general outline of your content. They’ll quickly know if they’re in the right place even when they can’t read the content on your page.

    • Your typography and color scheme are fantastic. Attractive pop-up imagery is powerful. You want your imagery to be aesthetically-pleasing and your typography should be easy to read.

    When visitors have an immediate, positive impression of your pop-up, they’re more likely to read your marketing message and sign up for your email list.

    • Your pop-up uses a time delay. An App Sumo study found that time-delayed pop-ups are most effective. For instance, pop-ups that appear after 4 seconds outperform pop-ups that appear immediately or in less than 4 seconds. This makes sense considering people don’t want to be bombarded with marketing messages.
    • You’re using an exit intent pop-up. Exit-intent popups are highly effective. These are the pop-ups that appear as a visitor navigates away from your website. Part of the reason exit intent pop-ups work so well is because they are time-delayed.

    Exit intent pop-ups are time-delayed until the visitor is ready to leave. Instead of serving your pop-up after four seconds, you serve the exit intent pop-up when the visitor moves their mouse away from the browser window or tab.

    This type of pop-up is effective because you’re not intruding on your visitor’s browsing session. Also, they’ll be more familiar with you and your content by the time they see your pop-up. If you’ve been able to build any amount of rapport with a visitor through your content, they’ll be a “warmer” lead than when they first arrived.

    If you haven’t created an exit intent pop-up yet, now is a great time to get started. For ideas, check out Campaign Monitor’s list of 60 exit intent pop-ups that convert.

    3. Why use pop-ups at all? Wouldn’t a static sign-up form be enough?

    Why use popups

    You might be wondering if pop-ups work, wouldn’t a static sign-up form also work? Why go through all the trouble of programming a pop-up and annoying some visitors just to get sign-ups, if a static sign-up form would do the trick?

    The short answer is that pop-ups are more effective at generating conversions. However, you shouldn’t rely on pop-ups alone for your conversions. It’s important to have a variety of email capture strategies in play, including pop-ups, static sign-up forms, and any other method you’re using.

    Even though you really need to use both, here’s why pop-ups are more effective than static sign-up forms.

    • Pop-ups convert more than static sign-up forms, plain and simple. Pop-ups put your offer directly in front of your visitors. Static sign-up forms, on the other hand, must be noticed to be effective. Sometimes people notice static sign-up forms, but their attention is divided, so they keep scrolling. A pop-up can’t be ignored.
    • Pop-ups get high conversion rates. The average conversion rate for a well-designed pop-up is around 3%. However, don’t let the single-digit number fool you. If you get 50,000 unique visitors each month, a 3% conversion rate amounts to 1,500 sign-ups. Imagine generating 1,500 new email subscribers each month. After one year, your list will grow by 18,000 subscribers. Those are good numbers!

    It’s also worth noting that a large number of pop-ups convert at a rate between 10-60%. Exceptionally high conversion rates can be achieved by fine-tuning three things: your offer, the way your pop-up gets delivered, and your target audience. If you’re not sure how to accomplish these things, contact us at SEO.co and we’ll help you get your pop-up marketing on track as part of our landing page optimization services.

    • You can present a better offer through a pop-up than a static sign-up form. While it’s possible to present identical offers through both static and pop-up email sign-up forms, a pop-up will give you more canvas to work with. You won’t need to sacrifice any of your webpage real estate to create a stunning advertisement.

    For example, you can make good use of influential imagery in a pop-up. Images increase conversions across all marketing channels, including pop-ups. In fact, Sleek Note performed a study looking at 20 million pop-up views and found that pop-ups with images converted 83.57% better than those without images.

    If you created a sign-up form on your website using large images, it would be a distraction for visitors while browsing your website.

    • Exit pop-ups are highly effective. Exit intent pop-ups are something special. Exit intent pop-ups are designed to catch someone’s attention when they attempt to navigate away from your page. Placing a pop-up in front of someone before they leave is a great way to present an irresistible offer they wouldn’t see otherwise. For example, you can serve a pop-up that says, “Wait! Don’t go! Use this code for 10% off.” You can’t achieve this with a static sign-up form.

    While there are plenty of benefits to using pop-ups that make them more effective than a static sign-up form, make sure to use both.

    4. Is there a secret to creating effective pop-ups?

    Any effective lead generation strategy is worth using. However, just because pop-ups can be effective doesn’t mean any pop-up will be effective. If you’re going to use pop-ups, they need to be designed in a specific way.

    Do you want to create effective pop-ups that add hundreds or thousands of leads to your contact list every month? If so, you’ll need to do five things:

    1. Determine what you want visitors to do through your pop-up
    2. Learn how to create effective pop-ups (the technical aspect)
    3. Craft the perfect marketing copy and call-to-action (CTA)
    4. Avoid pop-up features that annoy users and don’t support conversions
    5. Test, test, and test your pop-ups

    What action do you want visitors to take through your pop-up?

    The first step to creating effective pop-ups is pinpointing exactly what action you want visitors to take through your pop-up. While there are plenty of different actions, these are the top 6:

    • Enter their email address to sign up for your newsletter (with or without a free download)
    • Click to play a video
    • Click to play an audio file
    • Click to visit another webpage
    • Connect with a live representative for support
    • Review or rate a product or service

    Once you determine the action you want your visitors to take inside your pop-up, then you can begin crafting the appropriate marketing message to elicit that response. You’ll start by crafting a strong headline and then work on creating compelling copy.

    How to craft pop-up headlines to elicit specific user action(s)

    Here’s a breakdown of each targeted user action with tips for writing headlines to elicit that specific user action.

    • Enter their email address to sign up for your newsletter. When your goal is to get someone’s email address, your headline needs to tell them entering their email address will give them exactly what they want. However, people want different things and you’ll need to figure out what, exactly, your target market wants.

    This is where split-testing will come in handy. Split-testing is the ultimate tool for optimizing your conversion rate. By testing variables on your pop-ups, you’ll narrow down what elements work best, including offers and lead magnets.

    For instance, some people want access to information immediately in the form of a free download, while others just want to be updated when you post new content. Which offer is right for you will depend on your content and audience. For example, your content exists for entertainment purposes only, you’ll have a hard time getting people to sign up to receive a free download.

    If you’re going to offer a free download with helpful information, here are some sample headlines you can copy:

    How a Newbie Marketer From California Accidentally Created a Million-Dollar Business From His Basement In Six Months

    You Might Be New To PPC Ads, But You’ll Get A Flood Of Leads If You Sign Up For My Newsletter

    Start Generating Leads Without Any Marketing Experience In The Next 30 Minutes – Guaranteed!

    While the above headlines are powerful, only make promises you can keep. For example, if you can’t teach people to generate leads in 30 minutes, make a different promise. Write powerful headlines, but make sure your content delivers on your promises.

    You also don’t always need to tell people “enter your email address.” Many of the world’s top marketers don’t waste space by telling visitors to enter their email address. They just write compelling headlines and copy and visitors know what to do.

    • Click to play a video. Sometimes all you want people to do is play a video. It might be a trailer for your new indie film or it could be an informative video. No matter what kind of visual media you want people to view, be brief with your direction. For example:

    Click to watch Sam Smith explain how to pressure can ground beef

    Click to play the trailer for our new movie: Last Man Standing

    • Click to play an audio file. The same guidelines that apply to video also apply to audio. Anytime you want visitors to click to play a media file, just be brief and direct with what they’ll get when they click.
    • Click to visit another webpage. Most people aren’t going to use a pop-up to encourage visitors to leave and visit another website. However, sometimes that’s part of a strategic marketing plan. Some companies have in-depth marketing strategies that span across multiple domain names either owned by the company or owned by business partners.

    When you need to encourage someone to visit another website, make sure it’s clear why you’re asking your visitors to leave your site.

    • Connect with a live representative for support. Using a pop-up to encourage visitors to connect to your live chat is smart. However, make sure you only use this kind of pop-up on your contact page. That’s the only place this kind of pop-up would be relevant.

    To encourage people to connect with a live representative, use the following kind of message:

    Click to connect with a live representative

    Click for live support

    Click to talk with a live representative

    • Review/rate a product or service. When asking visitors to review or rate a product or service, it’s important to keep your request short and to the point. If you’re offering a reward for completing the review, state that in your headline. For example:

    How would you rate our services from 1-10? Answer and get 20% off your next purchase!

    How likely are you to recommend us to a friend? Answer and get free shipping on your next order!

    How to craft the perfect copy and CTA

    How to craft the perfect copy and CTA

    Now that we’ve covered some ideas for creating effective headlines, let’s talk about the call-to-action (CTA). Your call-to-action is a phrase that inspires visitors to take your desired action. For example, “buy Widget X now,” “click to learn more,” “contact us for a free consultation,” and “get your free report” are all calls to action.

    Writing a CTA sounds simple, but writing an effective CTA takes skill. Sometimes you can’t just tell your visitors to do something – you have to phrase it in a way that compels them to take the directed action. This requires extensive experience in the art of persuasion, which happens to be the foundation for marketing.

    Here are some tips for writing a CTA to generate a specific action from your visitors.

    • Consider marketing basics. Since an effective pop-up is essentially an effective marketing message, consider how you can best reach your target audience within the confines of an on-screen pop-up.

    For example, you’ll need to come up with a strong headline and some copy. However, your copy needs to inspire people to take a specific immediate action. For most business owners, that action will be signing up for their email list. For others, it might be signing up for a free download, which will also result in obtaining a person’s email address.

    The key is to create the most enticing, irresistible offer you can craft. If you don’t have an amazing download to offer, don’t offer a download. If you have a popular, outstanding newsletter

    • Create a call-to-action that speaks directly to your visitors. It’s easy to create a CTA, but you need something that will inspire your visitors.
    • Study A-list copywriters. Study content written by the following 5 master copywriters:

    1. Gary Halbert

    Gary Halbert is considered one of the best, if not the best copywriter in the world. His copywriting skills are legendary. As one of the top direct mail marketers ever to walk this Earth, Gary Halbert’s copy can teach you plenty about how to inspire people to take action.

    Check out his website – The Gary Halbert Letter – and you can read some of his newsletters for inspiration. His website is old school, but contains valuable information.

    2. John Carlton

    John Carlton studied under Gary Halbert for many years. John has written many successful ads for people in just about every business, including pro golfers, martial artists, and corporations. He teaches copywriting classes and has a blog called “The Rant” where he posts original content.

    3. Dan Kennedy

    Dan Kennedy is a legend in the copywriting world. Although rumors surfaced of his passing in 2020, he actually made a miraculous recovery. If you want to learn how to inspire people to respond to your directions, you need to get familiar with Dan Kennedy’s work.

    Dan Kennedy has published several books on marketing and his teachings can certainly help you create irresistible CTAs for your website.

    4. Harlan Kilstein

    Harlan Kilstein is one of the only A-list copywriters who includes NLP in copy. Although some people say NLP doesn’t translate to the written word, it really works. If you want to learn the art of persuasive copywriting, Harlan is your guy.

    5. David Deutsch

    David Deutsch is a great copywriting resource for just about everyone, but his work will be especially helpful to those in the food or supplement industry. He’s one of few copywriters to master these challenging industries.

    5. How to deliver effective pop-ups that aren’t annoying

    To use pop-ups on your website, you’ll need an application to serve your pop-ups to your visitors. While you can certainly find stand-alone solutions that you have to install and configure on your web server, it’s easier to use a plugin.

    If you’re running a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, for example, you can find a good pop-up plugin right in your admin panel. Like all other plugins, installation will take one click and you’ll only need to perform a minimal amount of setup.

    If you’re not using WordPress or another CMS that uses plugins, you may want to consider switching. There are plenty of benefits to using a CMS over plain HTML and CSS websites, so if you make the switch you’ll benefit greatly.

    Applications and plugins that deliver pop-ups

    Here’s a list of the top applications and plugins people use to deliver pop-ups.

    1. Popup Builder for WordPress

    If you’re running WordPress on your website, you’ll love the Popup Builder plugin. While most plugins cover only the basics, this one has additional extensions and app integrations. For example, you can integrate with applications like Mailchimp, AWeber, and WooCommerce, and you can create exit intent pop-ups, serve video pop-ups, support chat pop-ups, and more.

    2. Elementor Pro

    Another WordPress plugin is Elementor Pro. This plugin will allow you to make completely customized plugins through a visual WYSIWYG editor.

    3. Popup Smart

    Popup Smart is an online pop-up builder that has both free and paid plans. You can use Popup Smart on any website and it doesn’t require any coding skills. All you do is use the web interface to design your pop-ups and embed the generated code into your webpage.

    Even though it’s not a WordPress plugin, you can still use it on a WordPress website when you use a plugin that allows you to insert header/footer code.

    4. HubSpot pop-ups

    HubSpot pop-ups

    HubSpot offers pop-up forms to their customers that work on standard websites and content management systems like WordPress. If you haven’t signed up for a HubSpot account, you may want to check them out – they’re an amazing resource for marketing.

    5. How to test your pop-ups

    Once you’ve been generating leads for a short while, it’s important to start reviewing your data and create a plan to test various elements. This is primarily done through split testing, also known as A/B testing.

    To split-test your pop-ups, you’ll want to test only one element at a time. For example, you’ll create two different versions of your pop-up with only one change between them. You might start by writing two different headlines or CTAs. However, only change one element at a time.

    When split-testing your pop-ups, make sure to test the following elements:

    • Headlines
    • The copy/your marketing message
    • Your call-to-action (CTA)
    • The color of your buttons
    • The placement of your signup form’s text box
    • Your typography, including font face, color, and size
    • The timing of your pop-up’s appearance

    There are other elements you can test over time, but these are the most important. Split-testing is a long-term, ongoing strategy that will help you discover what your visitors respond to best.

    In direct marketing, this concept is known as “beating the control.” The idea is that your most effective marketing piece is considered your “control” piece and your job is to come up with new ways to beat the results of your control piece. Once you create something that outperforms your control piece, that becomes your new control and you start the process over again.

    Would you like help creating effective pop-ups to grow your email list? We can help!

    Effective pop-ups are essentially effective marketing messages wrapped in an aesthetically-pleasing package. The actual on-screen pop-up is just the delivery method for your marketing messages. If you can create a good marketing message, you can get sign-ups to your email list through pop-ups.

    If you want effective pop-ups, you need effective marketing messages. Our marketing experts can help you craft powerful marketing messages that speak directly to your target market and inspire them to sign up for your email list.

    At SEO.co, we have extensive experience helping our clients grow their email marketing list through advanced SEO marketing strategies.

    When your goal is to increase conversions, you need to increase your traffic. Fully-managed SEO services are the best way to generate that traffic. Contact us today and we’ll help you get the targeted traffic you need to grow your list.

    Chief Marketing Officer at SEO Company
    In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. As a technical SEO strategist, Sam leads all paid and organic operations teams for client SEO services, link building services and white label SEO partnerships. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.
    Samuel Edwards