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Pop-ups for Your Website: How to Make Them Effective Instead of Annoying

Email marketing
September 8, 2023
15 mins

Admit it, those intrusive pop-up ads on websites can be quite bothersome. They annoy everyone, starting from the 90s. They appear just when you're about to read an article or explore a product, covering the whole screen, and searching for that tiny closing 'X' feels like finding a needle in a haystack.

For any business, retaining and engaging users on their website is crucial. The longer a user stays on your site, the higher the likelihood of them making a purchase.

So, the concept of pop-up advertising contradicts these goals. Then why do businesses continue to use them?

Yes, in 2023, pop-ups still irritate website visitors, but now these "floaters" can be more than just obstacles; they can be effective marketing tools. It all depends on how you implement and utilize them.

What constitutes quality pop-ups and what differentiates them from annoying pop-ups  was explored by Svitlana Fursa, Head of Retention Marketing at Promodo, and Vlad Loboda, Team Lead Email Marketing at Promodo.

What Are Pop-Ups? 

Pop-ups, informers, web banners, "floaters" - digital professionals use various terms for messages on a website. For instance, online services like eSputnik and Claspo use the term "informer," while B2B platform Bloomreach calls them "web banners," although technically, all these are widgets. In this article, we'll refer to all these floating windows as pop-ups.

How do pop-ups work? So, a pop-up is a floating window of various sizes that typically appears on top of the main content of a website, sometimes from the side or bottom, demanding the user's attention.

Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, played a significant role in the development and popularization of pop-ups.

Over 30 years ago, he wrote the code for the first "floater." Interestingly, in 2014, Zuckerman apologized for his role in the development of pop-ups as the most obtrusive form of internet advertising.

Modern pop-ups are far from their ancestors of the 90s, and their usage statistically proved an increase in the conversion rate (more on that later).

But here's a spoiler:

The average conversion rate of pop-up windows is 11.09%.

Types of Pop-Ups

The most common type of pop-up used on websites is the "timed" pop-up. It appears after a certain time, usually between 3 to 10 seconds.

The second most popular type of pop-up is the "on entry" or "on exit" pop-up. The first window appears when a user enters the site, while the latter is aimed at retaining the user as they try to leave the site.

Here are the main types of pop-ups used, for example, in Claspo:

  • Popup

A widget that typically appears in the middle of the screen. It may block interaction with the website until a specific action is taken on the pop-up or until the user clicks the 'X' button to close it.

Pop-up ad

How to effectively use pop-ups to increase sales from the email channel is thoroughly explained in the Promodo case study on Retention Marketing for the WINETIME marketplace.

Pop-up ad example
Example popup for Winetime 

  • Floating Box

A sidebar pop-up that can be used for subscriptions. Sometimes, it may contain fields to collect contact information (email or phone) or information about discounts.


Pop-up ad example

  • Launcher

The default displayed bar, and when clicked, it pops up as a Floating Box. This minimizes the size of the element, causing less annoyance to the user, but it might slightly reduce conversion rates.

Pop-up best practices

  • Content Blocking Widgets

A pop-up that appears when a visitor interacts with a website containing 18+ content. The user is required to confirm their age. If they, for example, press "Enter," they confirm that they fully take responsibility for what they see on the site, such as alcohol-related content.

Pop-up best practices

  • Floating Bar

A bottom-anchored pop-up, which can be used for both subscription forms and user notifications. It is often employed for email collection. It remains static during scrolling until the site visitor closes it.

Pop-up best practices

In our experience, the most effective conversion-wise are Popup and Floating Box options.

The Purpose of Pop-Ups

Although pop-ups are used for various purposes, their primary goal is to collect information about visitors. For example, email addresses or phone numbers. They are also effective if you want to increase brand awareness, promote a new product, launch an advertising campaign, build a database for email marketing, boost sales, increase conversion rates, measure NPS, and more.

Often, pop-ups are used to gather NPS (Net Promoter Score) feedback regarding the website's performance. This can relate to various aspects, such as NPS for orders. For example, a user places an order, and the next time they visit the website, they see a pop-up with a call-to-action to rate their ordering experience: Liked it (👍) - Didn't like it (👎).

Svitlana Fursa
Head of Retention Marketing at Promodo

Using pop-up best practices on your website should be aimed at achieving essential KPIs and business goals:

  • Increasing sales (offering a purchase with a discount, bonus, or other advantageous proposition).
  • Lead generation (ebooks, courses, or discounts in exchange for contact information).

Typically, pop-ups for lead generation are subjected to A/B testing.

  • Customer support (enhancing user experience through pop-ups with chatbots).
  • Encouragement to take action (encouraging users to subscribe to social media, join a referral program, reminders about abandoned shopping carts, and more).

The conversion rate for pop-ups with information about abandoned shopping carts is 17.12%.

  • Targeted offers (each message for the pop-up is tailored individually based on user behavior. For example, a woman spending several minutes on the cosmetics section of the website may be motivated to make a purchase with a time-limited popup offer or a floating window displaying previously viewed items if she revisits the page).

The effectiveness of pop-ups

  • Promoting cross-selling (pop-ups targeting users who have added items to their cart but left without completing the purchase due to something hindering them, such as high delivery costs).

However, the highest conversion rates are observed in brands that offer users a specific incentive to complete the purchase, such as free delivery, a discount, or interactive elements.

In gamified pop-ups, the conversion rate is higher than in regular ones.

We conducted an in-depth analysis of how gamified pop-ups work in our case study for Stylus.

Roulette or 'Wheel of Fortune' is a gamified pop-up that allows visitors to 'play' in exchange for their email addresses. The mechanics are classic - an informer with a CTA to try their luck appears on the site. The user clicks and goes to the game page.

Svitlana Fursa
Head of Retention Marketing at Promodo

Pop-ups for Desktop and Mobile

With over 5 billion mobile device users having internet access, your pop-ups need to be adaptive.

The number of internet and social media users statistic

This is the case where size matters.

In the mobile version, a pop-up may not be displayed at all or may operate with a different mechanism. Therefore, Promodo's SEO experts have noted the following trend: to maintain a good SEO ranking, pop-ups should not occupy more than 25% of the screen.

Pop-up conversion rate

How quickly should a pop-up appear on the website?

It's all individual, but it's better to set a delay for displaying pop-ups to 10-15 seconds from the moment the user lands on the website, depending on the type of pop-up. If it's about a subscription, you can extend the interval to 30+ seconds.

Firstly, this allows the website enough time to fully load. Secondly, the pop-up might, for example, offer a discount on an order, and the user, who is on the site for the first time, hasn't made any decisions yet, and they are immediately presented with a subscription, discounts, and more. It can be irritating!

The closure of pop-ups indicates:

  • An irrelevant offer.
  • Uninteresting content.
  • The pop-up obstructs the website page and content.

Tracking the closure of a pop-up can be a separate element to monitor. This refers to when users don't click on it but simply close it.

If the average time spent on the site is 20 seconds, you can show the pop-up after 10 seconds. The user enters, starts exploring the site, looks at something, and we offer them a proposition. Alternatively, instead of a pop-up, we place a Launcher. This small element is always visible but not annoying. The user can subscribe to the newsletter at any time, regardless of how long the session lasts.

Vlad Loboda
Team Lead Email Marketing at Promodo

With the correct display, a pop-up can reduce the bounce rate. Suppose a user decides to leave the site.

In Claspo, you can choose the frequency of displaying the pop-up to the user—once per session, once every few days, minutes, hours, without limit, and so on. For example, if a user decides to close the tab after: spending 20 seconds on the site, exploring content on one or more pages, being inactive on the site for over a minute. They move the cursor towards closing the tab. At the moment of crossing into the URL bar area, according to the preconfigured display rules, a pop-up with a message like 'Don't go, leave your email, and we'll give you a discount and anything else just for you to stay and make a purchase' can appear, thus distracting the user from exiting the website.

Vlad Loboda
Team Lead Email Marketing at Promodo

Additionally, you can choose after how many displays the presentation of a specific pop-up should be completely stopped or replaced with another widget. Furthermore, it's crucial to configure the intervals between pop-up displays correctly.

One pop-up within a certain time frame. In general, there can be as many as 100 on the site, but not all at once. For instance, in our Stylus case, there is a game widget with a subscription form and 3-5 pop-ups, each with a configured display priority system. How does it work? Users wouldn't see promotional pop-ups until they left their email in the game or in the subscription form.

Svitlana Fursa
Head of Retention Marketing at Promodo

So, the bounce rate can decrease because there is user engagement on the site through a unique message in a pop-up.

How to determine the effectiveness of a pop-up?

The effectiveness of any pop-up is measured by revenue. The attribution model is crucial here. In our case, we use the last-click attribution model. If there's a click, there's an order. Additionally, there's the aspect of cannibalization of other traffic sources. For instance, if a user came from contextual advertising and encountered a pop-up, you can attribute that interaction to the pop-up.

For instance, for, we configured an informational pop-up without a form but with dynamic content through Bloomreach. How did it work? For example, when a user was browsing information about an event (concert), added it to their cart (or didn't), and then left the site without making a purchase. The next time they returned to the site, they would see a pop-up with information about what they viewed last time, their abandoned cart (if they had added something), plus a CTA to make a purchase or book tickets right away. For this type of pop-up, we used the following attribution model: revenue was only attributed if, within an hour of clicking on this pop-up about their abandoned viewing, the user made a booking. If there was no booking or if it occurred more than an hour later, it wasn't counted in the pop-up tool.

Svitlana Fursa
Head of Retention Marketing at Promodo

How to Make Pop-Ups Work Without Being Annoying

Start with optimization, namely:

  1. Use an attractive headline.
  2. Display only one popup at a time or set time intervals between displays.
  3. Offer something valuable in exchange for filling out the form.
  4. Maintain simplicity with a minimal number of required fields in the form. There should be no more than two:
  • email + phone number;
  • name + email;
  • just email.

Pay attention to the pages of the website where the popup is displayed. If in 90% of cases, users make purchases on specific pages, there is no need to distract them with popups. Conversely, on pages with a high bounce rate, it's a good idea to place widgets, information panels, popups for collecting emails, discounts, etc.

Svitlana Fursa
Head of Retention Marketing at Promodo

For example, popups related to alcohol should be set up only on relevant pages, specifically, on pages related to alcohol.

Relevance of the Pop-Up in the Case of "Wine Guide"?

When entering a page from the "Alcohol" category, the user would see the "Wine Guide" launcher.

Pop-up ad example

When the user clicked on it, a popup opened with the CTA "Do you want to become a wine expert?" and a form for the email address and questions. By answering these questions, the "Wine Guide" was sent to their email.

Pop-up ad best practices

When a user clicked on it, a popup appeared with the CTA "Want to understand wine better?" and a form for an email address and questions. By answering the questions, the user would receive the same "Wine Guide" via email.

Be sure to set up popup displays for users who are already in your database. For example, a popup that collects leads for purchase motivation should never be shown to users who are already subscribed to your list. Why? It can cause negative experiences. A user might try to subscribe to get a 5% discount but instead receive a message saying, "Sorry, you're already in our database, and the discount is not available to you." It's unpleasant, isn't it?

However, for collecting a database to notify about the start of sales on Black Friday 2023, you should do this for both current and new users.

And, of course, pay attention to the visual content of the subscription form and make popups visually appealing. How can you do that?

  • Use your brand colors and high-quality images.
  • Keep the layout simple.
  • Use fonts that are easy to read on both desktop and mobile.
  • Test different design variations to understand what works best for your audience.

A/B testing is crucial for optimizing the strategy of using pop-ups.

This optimization method helps identify where users hesitate or abandon the process, ultimately affecting the increase in conversion. For example, in Claspo, there is built-in functionality for A/B testing - users are divided into 50/50 across the entire site or a specific page, depending on the number of pop-ups that need to be tested. Typically, two variants are tested, with one element changed in them, followed by an analysis of the results.

To Sum Up

Users don't hate pop-ups; they hate irrelevant pop-ups. No one will object to pop-ups if they are personalized, offer value, and are visually appealing.

In 2023, pop-ups come with interactive elements: gamification and chatbots already have a higher conversion rate.

Lastly, a pop-up is a powerful tool for attracting potential customers and increasing sales, but it needs to be in skilled hands.

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Written by
Maria Kashina

Content Marketing Manager at Promodo

Written by
Svitlana Fursa

Head of Retention Marketing

I've been working in email marketing since 2016. I passed the way from a junior specialist with the thoughts "email is spam in the mailbox?" to the real jedi of retention marketing. I worked with the largest Ukrainian eCommerce projects. I'm keen of the latest technologies and non-standard technical implementations.

September 8, 2023
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