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Pop Up Power: Conversions, User Experience, and the Return of Pop Ups

Pop ups are making a comeback. That’s somewhat surprising news given that the pop up had been relegated to the underbelly of the internet after a run as one of the internet’s more dominant forms of advertising. The pop up peak came a little over ten years ago when the number of pop ups served grew from 1.2 billion in January 2002 to 4.9 billion in September 2002. At about the same time, a Gartner study revealed that 78% of people found pop ups to be “very annoying”. As a result, most credible websites eliminated pop ups from their ad inventory, in spite of the excellent conversion rates they offered to advertisers.

The resurgence in pop ups is still about conversions, but for many marketers, today’s pop up is less of an advertisement and more of a feature that’s integrated into a website. As a result, pop ups are able to strike more of a balance between achieving high conversion rates and offering a good experience to the visitor.

There are a handful of dynamics that are turning pop ups from ads into useful features. First, marketers have figured out how to integrate the pop up into the overall experience that a website provides to visitors. For example, a blogger might use a pop up to promote newsletter sign ups. This is different than a blogger using a pop up to promote Viagra. Second, marketers are now utilizing pop ups that are functional in nature. In the blogger example, the pop up would provide visitors with a field to enter their email address. Third, designers are creating pop ups that are aesthetically appealing and a far cry from the blinking, flashing ads of yesteryear.

There are a handful of common applications or use cases that use pop ups to achieve high conversion rates. Most of these applications aren’t ad-centric and the pop ups that support them are designed to present a visitor, prospect, or customer with a contextually relevant offer. Here are five examples of applications that depend on pop ups:

1. Newsletter sign ups

For the last couple of years, advanced bloggers have been using pop ups to drive newsletter sign ups. You will find pop ups used for newsletter signups on other content/media sites as well, but it’s really cutting edge bloggers who have driven adoption of this tactic. It’s a great example of making the pop up seem like a seamless part of the blog or website. After all, visitors to a blog are there to consume content and a newsletter is just another way to consume that content. For the blogger or marketer, the newsletter sign up is inherently more valuable than a visitor because the anonymous visitor is now identifiable via their email address. The numbers can be compelling, with most blogs converting from 1% to 3% of their traffic to sign ups when using a pop up.

newsletter popup

2. Targeted offers

Marketers are also using pop ups to present targeted offers to site visitors. For example, if a visitor is browsing a selection of shoes on a shoe retailer’s website, a pop up might present related products such as the most popular shoes in that category or belts that match the shoe style. A more advanced use case involves targeting certain customer segments with specific offers. By using a combination of pixel technology and pop ups, some retailers are presenting highly targeted offers to known customer segments. In this case, the retailer might use a pop up to present members of the frequent shopper club with a two for one offer for being a loyal customer.

3. Exit pop ups

The exit pop up provides marketers with an opportunity to derive some value from visitors who are about to abandon a web site. Exit pop ups have become so sophisticated that some technologies are able to anticipate when a visitor is going to leave a site by looking at things like cursor movement. By detecting mouse gestures, cursor velocity, and when the mouse leaves the browser plane, marketers are able to serve a pop up immediately prior to a visitor leaving the website. Many visitors find exit pops particularly intrusive so it’s important to offer a good user experience. Try to make exit pop ups contextually relevant to the page and make them easy to close.

exit pop up

4. Contact forms

There are a number of different ways that companies are using pop ups so that prospects and customers can contact the company. Some sales and marketing organizations are using pop ups to present chat functionality to prospects as they are browsing the companies website. Others are using pop ups to display contact forms when a visitor is looking at the “About” section of the corporate website. It’s a simple, but powerful use case that allows site visitors to connect with a company in a more straightforward manner.

5. Incentives and promotions

Many companies are using pop ups to offer customers incentives. E-commerce companies are at the forefront of this movement. They’ve been using pop ups to present offers like free shipping and coupons to site visitors. In this scenario, a pop up presents an incentive to a shopper at a critical point in the shopping experience. A common tactic is to present a visitor with a monetary incentive during the shopping cart experience to reduce abandonment rates. It makes sense. A recent study by Forrester found that 44% of online shoppers abandon their carts because of high shipping fees. Presenting shoppers with an incentive designed to keep them in the funnel is an effective use of pop ups.

free shipping pop up

While pop ups can greatly improve conversion rates in the aforementioned use cases, marketers need to remember to deliver a good experience to the customer. That’s exactly why traditional pop up advertisements suffered a painful death ten years ago – marketers and advertisers forgot about the overall customer experience. Fortunately, there are some simple rules that can improve pop up conversion rates and create a better customer experience at the same time.

First, marketers should only present contextually relevant information via a pop up. If a visitor is browsing the “About” section of your website, then it’s fine to display a “Contact Us” pop up, but you shouldn’t serve that pop up everywhere on the site. Second, consider the business logic that will govern when a pop up is displayed. For example, you might choose to display pop ups only to first time visitors and only after they have had five or more seconds to read the page they are on. Third, make sure that the pop up is well designed. It should be aesthetically appealing and offer basic functionality like the ability to close the pop up when the user desires.

Developing a custom pop up for your website is fairly straightforward and there are plenty of code examples available online. At the same time, there are a number of off-the-shelf pop up tools that make it easy to get started in a matter minutes. Some of the more popular pop up tools include:

PopUp Domination – The de facto pop up standard in the internet marketer blogging community.

Bounce Exchange – A new startup focused on serving pop ups based on a visitor’s “exit intent”.

Steelhouse – Steelhouse offers retailers pop ups that target specific visitors with specific offers.

vCita – A tool that makes contact forms available via popups on websites.

Do you have experience using pop ups as part of your marketing efforts? What are some pop up best practices you recommend? What’s been your experience with pop up conversion rates? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author:  Scott Albro is the CEO and founder of TOPO. TOPO is a research, advisory, and consulting firm that believes in a really simple, but powerful idea – that all revenue can be distilled down to a series of conversions. By connecting everything we do back to this core idea, we help sales and marketing organizations exceed their revenue targets. You can connect with Scott on Twitter.

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