We’ve all seen them. Clicked them. Declined them. Ignored them. And then got pissed off by them.
So many damn distractions; from a welcome mat to a pop-up to a slide-in, before another F-ing pop-up takes over your screen again.
All before you can even read a single sentence of that blog post you came here for originally (which you already forgot what it was about).
So… what gives? Does their performance override how annoying they are? Let’s see.
How Pop-Ups Became a ‘Thing’
The nineties were known for many things. Chief among them: ugly denim, bad music, and Birkenstocks. (Wait – why are 90’s happening again?!)
Tripod.com was one of the early ‘dot com’ companies who relied almost exclusively on advertisements to bring visibility to their college graduate content and services.
‘Cept one day, things got… messy.
Here’s a direct quote from Wikipedia that explains where the inspiration behind the banner ad came from (to make sure nobody thinks I’m making this up):
“After one of [Tripod.com’s] major advertisers complained that one of their banner advertisements had appeared on a page that celebrated anal sex.”
So the guy in charge of the site at the time wanted to come up with a way that delivered an ad, but did so without being associated with the content on the page (in this case, for obvious reasons).
The workaround was a new window that would fire and direct the user, successfully getting someone’s attention, while also disassociating the message from the page.
This technology wasn’t new per se, but this context definitely was.
Pop-up ads are now credited to this dude, Ethan Zuckerman.
There you have it. Now you know who to hate. Here’s his Twitter handle if you want to get even.
In his defense, he later apologized for creating them. He wrote in the Atlantic:
“Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad.”
“I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”
Yeah. Whatever, Ethan.
Since that time though, a lot’s changed.
Online ads have come to rule the world, yet their effectiveness is under fire.
Consumers have developed new behavior, like completely ignoring anything that resembles an ad online, diverting their eyes just as quickly as the creative loads. Today 86% of peeps are ‘banner blind’.
Preventative ad blocking technology is also on the rise, quadrupling in the past few years to now reach 47% of consumers, too.
In other words, people are actively avoiding static, untargeted ads on a page. The effectiveness and performance and ROI of those things then are waning.
Beyond better targeting though, the race-to-the-bottom solution is by inserting more distraction. You use animations and timing and overlays to grab the user’s attention (whether we like it or not), forcing them to look at your thing until you hit the passive aggressive button to close.
And unfortunately for us all, the results back up these tactics.
CrazyEgg shows that “websites with pop-ups consistently outperform websites with no pop-ups.” Even more depressing, is that OptinMonster says they can “increase conversions 2100%.
Ok. Ok. 2100%?! Now we’re listening.
Websites with pop-ups consistently outperform websites with no pop-ups, and can even increase conversions by 2100%.
Static, passive sidebar opt-ins might only convert around 0.4%. Pop-ups, slide-ins, overlays, etc. work because they introduce pattern interruption.
Aggressive, yes. But effective.
In one Inbound.org comment, Bryan Harris from Videofruit reported:
“We did in-depth analysis of our revenue last year and found pop-up, welcome mat and slide box opt-in subs accounted for just over $250,000 in revenue.”
He went on to mention that without “an active campaign” (referring to these tactics), “I’ll lose 50% of all my potential sub[scribers] to my list”.
There you have it. Case closed. Let’s look at them in detail.
Tactic #1. Welcome Mats
“Go to Facebook logged out”
“What do you see?”
“Yup, a landing page”.
“Twitter? That too. Gmail? Same.”
“Once you login you never see it again. That’s the same with Welcome Mat and most landing pages in general.”
Noah Kagan’s concise response in defense of welcome mats told the story well. And he should, as the mind behind SumoMe which specializes in many of these tactics.
AppSumo was on this Welcome Mat bandwagon years ago, following in the Dropbox or Groupon-esque fashion by using a static, squeeze feature upon an initial visit.
When they first added it to AppSumo, they quickly discovered that it was “three times more effective than any other page we’ve ever built”.
SumoMe reaches millions on a daily basis, powering over 10 million pop-ups in just a single month. Holy crap that’s a lot of annoyed visitors.
After analyzing their data, they discovered that the Welcome Mat is the King of annoying lead capture tactics (converting almost 1% higher than anything else).
Sujan Patel backs up this performance, stating:
“Welcome mat works well for me. My opt in rate ranges from 1.8-2.3%. I’ve had that performance for 3-4 months.”
While average Welcome mat conversions might hover around the 2% mark, some of the best websites are closer to almost 7%.
Blogger Matthew Woodward offered similar results, hitting 5.9% at one point before settling in around 4.42%.
The trick he recommends?
“In my testing I have found that if you present the welcome mat the first time a visitor lands on your site, it doesn’t have the best effect.
But if you show it on their second page view or just on the home page (most of my traffic lands on an inner URL before navigating to the home page) then it works very well indeed.”
✅ Revamp your offer. Especially as everyone’s first response is to kill your pop-up ASAP. But as we’ve learned before, your offer is everything.
✅ Keep visits in mind. Test based on number of visits, and consider suppressing it on initial visit.
✅ Test on specific pages. Or just make your homepage a landing page.
✅ Disable it for existing subscribers. Duh. Connect with your other marketing automation techniques so you’re marketing smart, not dumb.
Tactic #2. Lightbox Pop-Ups
The pop-up has gone through many iterations, from opening a new browser window to now blocking out your screen or dimming the background content so all of your attention is devoted to the message in the foreground.
These have been around for awhile, but they’re also getting new life by slide-ins from the corner of your screen or drop-downs from the top.
And, unsurprisingly, they’re pervasive ‘cause they work.
The results are so good that the biggest email marketing software tools, like MailChimp and Aweber, now carry them out-of-the-box.
Case in point: They helped Brian Dean from Backlinko pull in an extra $82,125 per year. His email conversion rate literally doubled after only two days (from less than 2% to over 4%).
Gael Breton at AuthorityHacker saw similarly fast results in just a few days after setting up their own lightbox pop-up (so much so, that they “don’t even bother putting opt-ins in the sidebar anymore” of their sites).
The top lightbox pop-ups can see a 7% conversion rate, while average ones hover somewhere between 2-4%.
Not workin’ for ya?
A couple things to try:
✅ Message match. In principle, this is the same damn thing to an advert. Show someone a message related to the topic of the post/page they’re trying to read. Context is key.
✅ Un-suck your copy. Beyond a strong value prop, experiment with clever wording and show some personality that fits your site’s tone.
✅ Play with triggers. You have (1) on exit, (2) time-based, and (3) scroll depth. Unfortunately for consumers everywhere, aggressive seems to show results. So reduce the time or decrease the scroll depth required.
✅ Try animations. Thrive Themes saw a conversion lift with a ‘rotational animation’ (as the pop-up enters your screen) vs. a ‘zoom’ one. Weird. But test your own.
Tactic #3. Push Notifications
Push notifications originated on mobile devices, with their SMS-style updates.
What’s unsurprising though, is that the vast majority of consumers find them annoying. According to a Localytics study, 52% of consumers said they were “an annoying distraction”.
Some genius then, decided to extend that same technology application to websites so that you can present ‘clickable’ notifications to people to send them content, new offers, or shopping-related messaging.
Why on Earth would someone do such a thing?
Because it works.
Buy Whole Foods Online is a UK-based eCommerce site that wanted to capitalize on the immediacy of a visitor’s site experience. So new users saw the customary opt-in request using PushCrew:
After agreeing to the opt-in, users proceeded to receive special offers, like this one for coconut water:
According to PushCrew, this offer saw a:
15.2% click through rate
71 people (out of 97!) made a purchase
Which brings us to our first takeaway:
✅ Start with a tripwire. An offer that’s too good to refuse, and gets people to spend that all-important first dollar (which immediately separates them from all the other freeloaders on your site.
That’s what Buy Whole Foods Online saw:
“Once people were on the website, apart from the coconut water which was on offer, they also browsed through other products – adding them to their cart, to qualify for free shipping.”
In other words, once you got them over that initial hump, they kept on browsing, buying, and driving up their average order value.
✅ Treat like SMS. Website push notifications are modeled after mobile. So how would you / do you use that medium (in relation to all of the other messages you’re pushing)?
✅ FOMO. Anand Kansal recommends you pull from Cialdini’s scarcity effect and use messaging that emphasis potential loss (rather than gain), like an expiring flash sale or example.
So there you have it.
Whether we like it or not, these all annoying trends are here to stay.
And it’s partly our fault. Well, it’s Ethan’s fault.
But we’re contributing to what he started. We’re not looking at sidebars. We’re ignoring banners. We’re creating and installing technology that prevents this stuff from showing up ever again.
Marketers and advertisers are like cockroaches though. No matter what you try, you can’t get rid of them. And they always find a way to get what they want.
The final caveat for making these annoying things work comes from Sujan Patel, who said:
“I’ve found the winning formula is a combination of a few tactics. My overall opt in rate is 5.5% with my ebook, welcome mat & list builder. I’m always testing to improve that.”
In other words: cohesion, not isolation.
Welcome mats, pop-ups, and push notifications don’t have to suck when they help lead someone to something they were already looking for.