The Problem with Pop-ups on Websites

The Problem with Pop-ups on Websites
This isn't the site I was visiting.

This isn’t the site I was visiting.

An interesting link about curating content appeared in my Twitter timeline so I clicked on it to check it out.  The site was professional, the first paragraph of the article interesting, but I lost interest almost immediately.  Why?  An overlay pop-up appeared asking me to sign up for their email newsletter.  There was no time to really read the article and I had to click out of the pop-up before I could read the article.

And I did that.  And read the second paragraph.  As I scrolled, another overlay pop-up appeared, asking if I wanted to learn more about something – I didn’t finish reading the pop-up or the article. I just closed the tab.  Why keep reading if I’m going to keep getting interrupted?

Why Use Pop-ups?

Pop-ups are a good way to get some important information in front of your reader’s eyes.  They can also be a good way to collect emails for your newsletter; according to this 2012 article the author saw a 14.47% conversion rate for popups.

Pop-up Haters

There is a significant number of people who detest popups on websites.  As Copyblogger says:

Your audience came to read your content (and, if it’s good enough, spread it to their friends and colleagues), not be instantly blocked from it by an offer they may not understand.

I would say add “…or be sold something they don’t want”.

Using Pop-ups Effectively

Now I’m not an absolute pop-up hater.  I actually like them, especially if I found the content engaging and want to learn more.  I do, however, object to pop-ups in overlays that block me from continuing with what I was doing.  Here are my rules for using pop-ups on your site:

1.  Pop-ups shouldn’t cover content or keep the reader from reading.

Alternatives include pop-ups that slide in from the side or bottom, covering white space or non-essential parts of the page.

2.  Pop-ups should go away automatically after a short period.

If you ignore the pop-up it should gracefully fade (or slide) out after a maximum of 8 seconds.  That is plenty of time to capture anyone that is interested.

3. Only show pop-ups to new visitors.

Marco Monetti on Flickr

Marco Monetti on Flickr

When they return later the same day or week the pop-up should not appear.  I’ve seen pop-ups on a home page that appear every single time the page is accessed, even during the same browsing session.  This is beyond annoying, this is rage-inducing.

The method of tracking who has/hasn’t seen a pop-up is done through cookies, so if the user has cookies turned off they are always going to see the pop-up.  That is okay and the user should expect that.  You can usually set the cookie to expire after a set time – a month is good – after which time the visitor is seen as new again.  That is fine too.  If they are only visiting your site once in a great while you do want to give them the offer again.

4.  Don’t show pop-ups to people who have already signed up.

Once the visitor signs up for your service a cookie should be written for years in the future so they don’t have to see that cookie ever again.  Again, this is only going to work as long as the visitor doesn’t delete her cookies, but at least you are trying to minimize your pop-ups behavior.

5. Limit the number of pop-ups on your site and only one pop-up per page!

As you saw above, numerous pop-ups on one page or pop-ups on all of your pages are going to drive your readers away.


Be thrifty and graceful with your pop-ups and you might just see your conversion rates jump.  Let me know what you think about pop-ups in the comments, below.

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