Web Trends

Revenge of the pop-up

Written by Ensmble Guest on Thursday 21, July 2016
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Is it worth increasing subscribers if it means annoying users? by Alex Fox

You’re halfway through an article, in the middle of a sentence and—

[Shitty photoshopped pop-up image that reads, “Hey, look at me! I’m an attention-seeking pop-up that really, really wants your contact information!”]

Look, I get it. I really do. You want that user data bad. But your users likely found your site on a search engine or social media by searching for a very specific thing, and if you make them jump through hoops, they’ll simply hit the back button and move onto the next link. Let them live their lives.

When I started writing this piece, it was about features that clients always seem to ask for on their sites that are actually terrible for the user experience. Things like, “I want five rotating slides with three lines of text that animate in and are layered over the images.” But as I started researching emerging trends and alternatives to landing page layouts, I noticed that a disturbing number of online publications force a lightbox or subscription pop-up halfway through their articles, all of which interrupted my experience by visually shouting at me and demanding my email address, name, and firstborn children.

Is this actually 2016? Because I have a sneaking suspicion that we all found our way back to 2004 without realizing it. If only. The reality of the situation is much scarier than those Limp Bizkit-dominated days of yore.

Pop-ups. Actually. Work.

Aweber posted a case study on their site that found lightbox subscription forms actually increased sign-ups by 1,375%. They’re not alone. Thanks to pop-ups, Entrepreneur.com increased their subscription rate by 86% and their sales by a whopping 162%. But it’s Copyblogger’s recent experience with pop-ups that deserves our attention the most; even though implementing pop-ups worked from a traffic perspective, writer Beth Hayden received hate mail from her readers.

This is the ugly reality we have to face: do we use something that undeniably works, even if it’s universally hated? If yes, I think the first step has to be mitigating the frustration these ads cause for users. With that in mind, here are some tips to make your pop-ups effective and tolerable:

  1. Subscription pop-ups only. If you allow or implement pop-up ads on your site, you’re going to drive users away in record numbers.
  2. Timing. If your subscribe form doesn’t appear toward the bottom of the article and is instead on a timer, give users a minute or two as a buffer. If they’re still reading after that, they’re probably interested. Pester them right away and you might find your bounce rate going up.
  3. Consider only showing pop-ups after users have viewed a few pages on your site. At least let them get a sense of what they’re subscribing to.
  4. If a user has already seen the pop-up and closed it, there’s no need to show them it again for at least another 15 – 30 days. Some wonderfully kind sites even bump that number to 90 days without seeing any negative effects.
  5. Provide an easy escape, and make it really obvious — like a great, big X in the top right-hand corner.
  6. Use a headline and copy that will attract your user, but not put them off by trying to hard. Offer them something legit, and do your darndest to make the pop-up look as clean and safe as possible.
  7. Limit the information you ask for. Keep it simple for the user: name and email is enough!