Inbound Marketing & Sales Development Inspiration

Using pop-ups effectively [FB Live]

Posted March 30, 2017
16 minute read

In the latest episode of WebStrategies Live, we discussed those pesky things that probably drive many of you crazy.

We're talking about pop-ups, also known as call-outs, interstitials, slide-ins and opt-in forms, and yes they have a bad rep, but when used properly they can actually add value for your site visitors and improve the user experience.

Not to mention that they actually work to generate more online leads. But there is a right and a wrong way to approach them.

Watch the broadcast below for guidance.   

If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to me at



I'm Chris Leone.

I'm Phil Woods.

And we are broadcasting live just outside Richmond, Virginia, at WebStrategies headquarters. Thanks for being with us today. Our topic for today is pop-ups. Interstitials, convertibles, those annoying little things that you see pop up on websites. We're going to talk about that today and why we think that's actually a pretty good play for people who are trying to market their business online.

We're going to talk about convertibles, pop-ups- we're going to use those words a little bit interchangeably here. The different types of pop-ups that you could use, how not to use them, because as you know personally, they can be pretty annoying when they're not used correctly. Why you should use them, we have some data that supports why you should be using these. Creative uses for convertibles- we want to show you some real-world examples of how they're being used in some interesting ways, and then the tools that you can use to implement these yourself.

The first thing we want to cover are what are we talking about when we say convertibles? Again, we're using this term convertibles or, as you may know them, pop-ups.

These things come up onto your screen when you're trying to visit a desktop or a mobile site. Why don't you, Phil, just explain some of the different types, the different ways that these can slide on or move onto a page and then the different things that they can do?

Yeah, definitely. So, we have here on the slide for you-- there's different types. And what we mean by this are different placement on the page. You'll see there are some that slide out from the top or slide out from the bottom. Those are pretty common. There's some that just pop up in the middle of the page in your face and then there are some that behave differently under different circumstances. One of the most popular versions of those is Exit Intent. So, when a user moves their mouse up the page as if they're getting ready to leave your page, then you get a box of some sort that pops up and we use a lot of those.

The other thing that we talk about are different behaviors or we might say different outcomes that a user might have after using or interacting with one of these. Some of those different behaviors or different outcomes would be some of these. So, you could kind of consider this as different purposes from a marketing perspective. Are you trying to generate a click through? If so, your box is not going to have your popups going to have any kind of opt-in box. There's not going to be a form embedded on it, you're just using it to click through to another page. Are you using it to capture email addresses or to build a list? Are you using these popups or convertibles to survey users? Or lastly, are you trying to get them to take some sort of specific action like fill out a form or to request a download of some sort or something like that?

Again, a lot of people may think of this as you're just trying to get an email address or you're just trying to get them to click through, but there's actually a lot of other things that we can get them to do. Even surveys, I think have a similar behavior where they slide up and that can be a great way to get more qualitative feedback from users on what they think of the page, what they think of the information, and that can become actionable content to use. So, these convertibles or popups can do a lot of different things for building lists, for getting someone to take an action, or to try and get feedback.

Before we start recommending the types that you should use, let's talk about the kinds that you should not use and what that behavior looks like. And this is probably what you sympathize with quite a bit, right? Convertibles where it's hard to find the X. They pop up on the screen and then you've got to search for it and the x is not actually near the popup, it's in the upper top corner of the page, and you've got to go find it, and it's tiny so you misclick it, and you end up clicking through, and that stuff is super annoying. The other ones that are timed, and you can't eliminate them, so they stick onto the page and they prevent you from seeing the content that you came to look at, and it holds it there for like five seconds before it goes away and you can't do anything about it.

Other types of convertibles that can be really annoying and that we wouldn't recommend using are ones where you have too many per session. You have one as soon as someone comes on the page, then you have one that slides out, and there's more and more and more and more, and it becomes a major distraction for the user who's on the page to try and find information or to figure something out. And then as more of an overarching goal to this whole thing are slideouts or callouts or popups that are simply not empathetic to the user's interest. One of the things that we're going to talk about, how to make a really effective convertible or popup, is that you have to be really empathetic to their purpose on the site, their why. Why are they there? What information are they trying to get? And if you have a popup or a slideout that's building off of that need and that desire, that's when it can be really effective.

But if you're not doing that and you're trying to bait them in with one thing, and then you show them something else, or you're trying to get them to do something else, a likelihood for success is going to be really low, it's going to be a really bad user experience, and it's going to reflect poorly on the brand. To that point, Google has taken note of this and they're starting to lay the smackdown a bit on sites that abuse popups. And they've done something a little uncharacteristic for Google, which is they very explicitly said, "Here's what we like and here's what we don't like. What we consider to be okay and what's not okay when it comes to these types of popups on websites." So, what they've said is not cool is-- first of all, this is on mobile. We're talking specifically about mobile here. Any kind of popup that takes over the entire screen and pretty much makes it difficult or impossible to initially see the content that someone came to view. They use the word intrusive a lot in this blog post that came out a few months ago on this.

Examples of intrusive pop-ups: again, ones that take over the entire screen. You can't see anything else behind it. They hide most of the content that's on the page. Google said that's not cool. We don't want you to be doing that. They also see it as an issue if it happens immediately once you come on to the site. And again, this is specific. This Google blog post was specific to mobile. And they even went so far as to say that if you do this, starting in 2017, your rankings could be affected negatively because of that type of behavior. So, Google is not cool with that. But there are some cases where Google says it is okay to use these pop-ups on mobile. So, Phil, what is that detail?

We have a graphic here. This is also from the same blog post that Chris mentioned. Some of these examples are-- and you've probably seen these websites that have to cookie users. Especially for the European Union, websites that have to announce that they are cookie-ing their users. That's an acceptable use. They've said that banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space, and that's kind of an interesting way to phrase it, "They're being deliberately vague." But you've probably seen some where it just takes up a small percentage of the top of the screen or a small percentage of the bottom of the screen. And I'll put up here Google's graphics, so you can see some of these examples that I'm describing. But this is what Google said would not be affected by this new signal that Google's looking for, these intrusive-type ads. So, these are examples that are not intrusive.

And so, if we need an opt-in or an acceptance from someone for announcing the cookie usage, if we need age verification for certain types of age inappropriate or appropriate content or these other types that are less intrusive that take up less screen space or a reasonable amount of screen space. And that largely is the only kind of direction that Google has supplied. Beyond that, they just say basically don't be intrusive. And they do give a few other examples that say don't have your opt-in pop up immediately or don't have your opt-in obscure the content. So as long as you're using a reasonable amount of screen space and you're not obscuring your content and you're not being very disruptive to the user's experience then Google has said it's pretty much safe to proceed?

Okay, so let's talk about why you should consider using these types of pop-ups on your site. First and foremost, they work a lot better than you think that they would work. And I'm totally guilty of this. Phil proposed this idea that we do this on our own site a couple years ago and I said probably what you would say, those things are annoying, I hate them, and I don't want to use them. But we have a culture of testing and trying and failing and experimentation so we said, "Let's go for it." Right? This is what our traffic and our downloads looked like before we introduced these convertibles onto our site. That blue line is our traffic trend and you see it's kind of moving up slightly up over time. And then that light blue line was the number of people who are downloading something from our website. That was the baseline. Then we introduced these pop-ups calling out our e-book, at the time our 2015 digital e-book. And this is what happened. Crazy, crazy growth. It was a 10 X increase in people who downloaded our content once we introduced these popups. Now, interestingly too, our bounce rate was not affected by this. You would think that you throw something onto the site, and this was like in the early days of it when these were starting to become more popular and ours was probably a little intrusive.

Yeah, for like the first three seconds it was pretty aggressive, but when we looked at the bounce rate before and after, it really didn't change. You would think that it would if all of a sudden you're introducing something kind of annoying, more people are going to get out of there and not stay on the page as long, but that actually wasn't really affected. People kind of X-d out of it and went about their way.

Yeah. And I think we're going to get more into this, but there's a specific reason why it didn't impact bounce rate, but we're going to get into it in a minute. Basically, you've just got to make sure that you've got to deliver value with these popups. If you just think you're going to start selling something with these, or you're just going to start capturing massive amounts of leads by introducing this but you're not really offering any value, then I wouldn't expect similar results to this.

Yes. All right, another reason. Second reason why you should consider using these on your site. They can actually, believe it or not, enhance the user experience. This goes back to empathy. I think empathy needs to be the starting point for any time you're considering a convertible on your site, which is understanding the purpose and the reason that someone is there, what they're looking for and then delivering something that speaks to that point. So, when we used our digital eBook, we were getting a lot of traffic from our target persona who is marketing managers, it's small to medium size businesses who are doing research. We knew that they were coming in on blogs that was related to research about digital marketing and what they should be doing, what they should be trying, and our eBook was written in a way that addresses those specific topics in a lot more depth. So, it's like if you like this blog post and you came here to find an answer to this question, here's a long piece of content that goes into more depth that will help you answer that question even more.

So, it's empathetic to their needs and that's why we saw such massive conversion rates off of it because we were in tune with what they wanted and what they were seeking. There was a lot of other instances where you can tie those two together that we're going to get into in a second. But again, we think of websites kind of as two-dimensional when they don't have these, and a lot of things can get lost in the design or in the mix. But these convertibles, these pop-ups, are meant to kind of break that wall and get someone's attention on something specific. So as long as what you're trying to get their attention for is relative to what they came for, you'll be good.

The third reason you should consider using convertibles is they can help provide more insight into the user's interests. And this is where the surveys come into place. I'm a huge, huge, huge advocate of surveys on your site. And I'm not talking the surveys where they pop up and says, "Hey, this survey takes five minutes. Please answer it at the end of your visit." I'm not talking about that. I'm a huge fan of surveys that ask maybe one or two questions. They pop up in the corner and say, "Hey. Quick question. Are you looking for this type of service? Yes or no." And that's it. If they were to answer yes, no, and you see that 30% said yes and the other 70% said no, then you know that 70% of the people on your website are not in the market for what you have to sell. So you have maybe a traffic quality problem. But you can also ask questions like, "What's the one thing we could do to improve your experience on this site? And people are going to do one of three things. They're going to close it out. They're going to give you an honest response about what they're looking for that they can't find. Or they're going to say, "Remove the pop-up, improve the experience." But either way, you're going to get really good feedback about-- it could be someone saying, "I'm trying to find this, but I can't," or "it's hard to figure out where things are on your site." Those are the things you can take back to your web designer or your marketing agency, and say, "Let's address this over the next month."

So I think those are three powerful reasons why you should consider using convertibles. Let's jump over to creative uses. Let's look at some real live examples of convertibles. Phil, I'm going to turn it over to you for this.

Before we get into the uses, let's talk about some of the tools that we can use. We use several different ones within our agency. We put a list of them here. Optin Monster is probably the biggest and easiest one. We use that one with at least a dozen clients actively. Sumo is another popular one. We use Hotjar for surveys. We use Qualaroo for surveys. Active Campaign, which is an email marketing and marketing automation software has popups built into it and so does Unbounce for convertibles on some of their landing pages within their platform. So, I think there's plenty of tools out there. This is a short list, there's probably dozens more. They're widely available and many of them are not very expensive.

So if you're in that position where you're thinking, "Okay, I could figure out a way to use this for my business but how do I employ that?" These are some of the tools that you could go out there and explore. Some of the uses that we've seen-- getting away from the normal opt-in examples because I think that's the obvious one like how do I use these to increase my subscriber list, is probably the most heavily touted use of this. Probably the most overused use of popups, right? But how else can we use these to deliver value? We've got a couple of examples of this.

Yeah, as Phil said, the common one is to grab an email address or try to get a clickthrough, but here's some ways that we've implemented them that we've seen really good results and results that we're actually able to measure. So, the first one, here's a client that sells rubber tracks, replacement rubber tracks.

They have an e-commerce site So, you can go in and you can find these different brands of tracks. You're looking for a specific track for a very specific type of machine. But maybe you don't know exactly what you're looking for or you get a little lost. We have a search button in the top right corner, but not everyone sees it. But here's what we did. We have an exit intent pop-up running. So when you move your mouse to go away--

So what happens here is we have a pop-up that shows up on exit intent when it looks like the mouse is about to move off the screen. It pops up and it says, "Hey, you couldn't find what you were looking for? Search for it here." And this is the same search feature that is in the top right of the site on the header of every page. But we're putting it in front of someone's face as kind of a last-ditch effort to try and find their track before they leave and what the data has said on this is that the percentage of people who use that feature on exit intent - they were going to leave, so we were going to lose them completely - but when we show it to them, I think the chance of them getting to the contact page or making a purchase is like double digits higher, which, of course, any improvement is better than what you had before, because these people were going to leave. All right, so that was a custom-implemented pop-up that we used.

What was the other example that we talked about?

Well, we had one that just came down recently- a hiring now box. So an issue a lot of local service providers are having these days is finding good talent-- plumbers, technicians, that kind of thing. And they almost want to back off on marketing because they don't even have enough people to fill their jobs. So what we've done in some cases is we've had a little hiring now pop-up slide up under the bottom of the site in the chance that anybody who's looking around might be interested in working for them. And that's been a nice little recruitment piece for us-- for some of our clients, I should say.

One of the most effective trends from our own site, especially in recent history, has been our calculator, which if you've been to our website you've probably seen it. But it looks like this, and this is actually the very same size and style to the hiring example that Chris just shared, that we've had success with. So you can just embed a simple image or, in this case, an animated gif that portrays whatever message it is that you're trying to do. And in my opinion, this style is not intrusive at all. And in fact, it doesn't cover any content on most sites, unless your site goes full-width. Ours does not, so, in that case, it does not cover any content, it doesn't interrupt the experience at all. Though your eye certainly wanders to it, but that's kind of the point, right? So, in this example, this just drives clicks to our landing page where our user can download this calculator. And, in our case, this has been a very high value. We've gotten very positive feedback from this. This is something we've built ourselves and we give it away for free. And the response has been really great, and it gets a lot of downloads.

Can we hit up another site? This is

Yeah, what's happening here is a little slide out on the bottom as you scroll down. All right? Yeah, there it is. Three locations, get directions. And if you click on one of those, it's going to open in Google Maps and it's going to input the address and then you can just put in your own address and it will give you directions. So, this is another example of where we're not taking them away from what they're trying to do. There's a high likelihood that if someone is on that site, they're considering going to a showroom. They may already have been committed to doing that and they're just trying to find directions. And instead of making them navigate throughout the site to try and find that, we have it pop-up on the bottom.

Again, we're empathetic to what we think people are looking for and we make it more accessible to them. So, another pretty simple use case there. Other ones that we don't have examples to show you right now but are very common. E-commerce sites, having a pop-up to give you a percentage off. Super, super common, right? And that's one where I think is probably one of the least annoying ones because who does not want 10% off? Who doesn't want 15% off, right? I give you my email address, you give me a percentage off. I'm more inclined to make that first purchase. And then if you're an e-commerce site that can really show lifetime value by emailing people over a long period of time, email can be the biggest single channel for an e-commerce site, but they have to get that first email. And that can be done by giving some skin up front, in exchange for a little, you get the percentage off, we give you an email address.

More commonly the messaging might be get 10% off your first purchase. So you're implying I don't need to buy today, but if I put in my email, I'll get a code, and I can purchase later, which can also help drive more conversions. Because otherwise, if someone just leaves your site and they don't give you any information, you don't necessarily know if they're ever going to come back, and you don't have a way to communicate with them, so that can be really powerful for e-commerce sites.

And you see a lot of big retailers do that. does that like crazy. A lot of the big ones who you have to think are measuring things pretty deeply are doing this all the time.

All right, so let's do a summary of what we learned today. We learned that convertibles can be very effective when used the right way. That you have to practice empathy. Know the user. You can not know your user too much. All right, know them as much as possible, and then make sure whatever kind of popup or convertible that you're using is being empathetic to that persona. Mobile has stricter rules on this kind of stuff. So if you're going to use popups on mobile, be careful. Look at Google's blog post on this, they're very clear on what they like and what they don't like, and just practice a little more safety there.

And then get creative in how you use these things. Don't just try and build a list, or don't just try and get someone to click through. Look at the analytics data, look at where people are trying to go. Try and get inside their heads and create an easier way for them to do that in the form of a pop-up. I think you'll have a lot of success.

Topics Digital advertising, Digital Marketing, Lead generation

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