Should you use website pop-ups in 2021?

Pop-ups seem to be the constant subject of marketing discussions, as they have been since their inception. On one hand, they’re effective; marketers see undeniable results using them. In fact, you might have already noticed that we at Digital Dot use our own. On the other, they’re often disruptive; when asked, “annoying” is on the majority of internet users’ lips or fingertips. Yet, and even despite the raging battle around adblockers, the two somehow coexist. So, should you use website pop-ups in 2021? Let us explore the subject in some depth.

Should you use website pop-ups in 2021?

Starting with the core question, the basic answer is simple; since they do work, you certainly should. That doesn’t begin to cover the more crucial question of how and when you should use them, however.

It is no secret that internet users find pop-ups distinctly annoying. HubSpot’s research firmly confirms this; 73% of them dislike online pop-ups.

A graph on types of disliked ads.

So, are pop-ups a dead marketing trend your business should avoid? No, by no means.

A graph on popup conversion rates.

 

As you can see, research by Sumo finds concrete evidence that pop-ups yield conversions. The top 10% converting pop-ups enjoy an impressive conversion rate of 9.3%, while average-performing ones still yield a respectable 3.1%.

So why is that? Returning to HubSpot’s research, we may begin to uncover how the two coexist. First, the two main reasons why users resort to ad blockers are because ads are annoying (64%) and because they’re disruptive (54%). Then, 68% of respondents spell it out; they’re fine with seeing ads, “but only if they are not annoying”.

Therefore, it is not a matter of using pop-ups at all – users are fine with them, and some do convert. Rather, it’s a matter of how they affect your page experience.

Crafting effective website pop-ups

Thus, to use website pop-ups in 2021, you need to do so smartly. As a starting point, consider a simple set of questions:

  • Are your pop-ups disruptive? If they are, they’ll likely drive leads away. An unpleasant page experience doesn’t encourage engagement, let alone conversions.
  • Are they timed properly? Present visitors with pop-ups too soon, and you’ve hampered their page experience. First impressions matter, and intrusions may very likely discourage your new leads from staying.
  • Are they relevant? If your pop-ups don’t relate to your pages or your visitors’ intent, you’ve presented them with boring, inconsequential material. Even if they do stay, they will ignore it and not convert – defeating the purpose of using pop-ups at all.

To address these questions, then, you will need to consider 4 key factors that comprise your pop-ups and their delivery.

#1: Pop-up placement

First and foremost, consider where your pop-up is located. This point does not concern which page types use which pop-ups, but where pop-ups go onto any given page.

Visitors will typically not take kindly to pop-ups that cover the entire screen or obstruct page headers. That’s simply because those constitute textbook disruptions, and diminish your page experience. This is particularly troublesome for mobile users, due to less screen real estate compared to desktops. In fact, Hubspot’s research cited above highlights this as well, noting that 73% of respondents found “ads that pop over [their] entire screen” “highly annoying”.

On this subject, Google provides some very helpful guidelines – which, affecting page accessibility, also affect SEO. First, they provide examples of obstructive placement:

  • “[A] popup that covers the main content[.]”
  • “[A] standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.”
  • “Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.”

Then, they pinpoint ideal pop-up qualities as regards placement; “[using] a reasonable amount of screen space and [being] easily dismissible”. So, should you use website pop-ups in 2021, those are the first criteria to adhere to.

#2: Pop-up relevance

The second crucial aspect of effective pop-ups is relevance. This is a fairly broad term, but the key concepts to note here are:

  • Page relevance. Pop-ups should match their pages’ content. For example, informative landing pages should offer resource-based pop-ups or newsletter pop-ups.
  • Search intent relevance. Overlapping with page relevance and pop-up timing, pop-ups should match your users’ intent. For example, proposition pop-ups should emerge when visitors are actively scouting your other propositions.
  • Customer journey relevance. Lastly, visitors perceive personalized pop-ups as more relevant and, by implication, less intrusive. Thus, pop-ups should cater to the customer journey, nudging visitors along to desirable actions subtly instead of forcefully.

For an example that showcases the above in action, consider the following exit intent pop-up by Hootsuite:

An exit intent popup promoting a social media course.

This easily dismissible pop-up is specific to its page’s content. It has identified the relevance of this proposition in relation to the customer journey and attempts to promote it as the user leaves. That’s a very effective, enticing way to use website pop-ups in 2021, and its endearing copy only enhances it further.

#3: Pop-up timing

But before discussing copy, let us explore timing. Exit-intent pop-ups offer an excellent example of pop-up timing as regards user intent, but does actual time matter too? According to Sleeknote, it does:

A graph on how many seconds one should wait before showing a popup.

As you can see, waiting 8 seconds before showing a pop-up yielded the most conversions. That’s not a number to apply universally, however, as they themselves note. Rather, timing should depend on each page’s content, each pop-up’s purpose, and your own audiences’ criteria and behaviors. Thus, you may use your analytics tools to determine when pop-ups will likely pay off best, on a case-by-case basis.

#4: Pop-up copy and form

Finally, copy and form also undeniably matter, and visibly affect your conversion rates. To prove this, we may first cite Hubspot’s research again; they found that, of those who clicked on ads, 40% did so because it interested them. Even if they didn’t consciously find that “the ad was compelling”, that’s strictly due to a combination of the above:

  • Non-intrusive placement
  • Relevance and timing
  • Compelling copy

Thus, as regards copy, it is vital that you tap into your audience analytics. Deduce if they prefer strict professionalism or humor like Hootsuite’s example employed, and then A/B test your pop-ups over time.

Then, as regards form, Sleeknote’s research above finds two crucial elements, among others. One is the number of input fields:

A graph on the optimal number of input fields on a popup.

In line with the overall concept of simplicity, then, it seems ideal to limit your pop-ups to one or two input fields. Any more and your conversions decrease visibly.

The other is the use of countdown timers, as we’ve also argued for in the past:

A graph on the perfomance of popups with and without countdown timers.

This tried-and-tested practice of inciting urgency also seems to apply perfectly to pop-ups. For that matter, Hootsuite’s exit intent pop-up example also uses a countdown timer at the bottom left.

Conclusion

In conclusion, then, we can safely assert that yes, you should use website pop-ups in 2021 – and likely for years to come. They are demonstrably effective, as much as their infamy as annoying might supersede them. To reap their benefits, however, you should balance their purpose with your page experience. Offer your visitors well-placed and non-obstructive, simple, relevant, well-timed, and compelling pop-ups, and you may see your conversions increase in kind.

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