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Why Your Visitors Hate Your Pop-Ups (+What You Can Do About It)

August 9, 2019

Pop-ups. Everywhere you go on the web they...well, they pop up.

Pop-ups have always been a controversial form of visitor engagement.

Most people seem to fall into one of two opposite camps: site visitors who argue that they destroy the user experience and marketers who say that they work and are worth the risk.

Exploring pop-ups

We chose to approach why so many people hate pop-ups from a different angle using qualitative analysis.

We ran an exclusive survey with three objectives:

  1. Measure the proportion of web users who find pop-ups annoying
  2. Understand what it is that they don’t like about pop-ups
  3. Discover what can be done to address their concerns

And here’s what we found out!

Do web users really hate pop-ups? 


Rand Fishkin Twitter

Source: Rand Fishkin

This guy really thinks so.

Well, there’s not much data about pop-ups that are used as a form of engagement.

The most popular study is from the Nielsen Norman Group. It describes pop-ups as the “most hated advertisement technique on desktop.”

The problem? It approaches pop-ups as an advertising form, not an engagement tool. It’s embarrassing because there’s a big difference between models used to display ads and pop-ups used by website owners to engage their visitors.

That’s why we decided to run our own survey (using the Google Survey platform): we wanted to have a clear understanding of web users’ positions towards website pop-ups.

To do so, we targeted a random sample of 400 Americans.

Website Pop-Ups Survey

We then asked the following introductory question: “How do you feel about website pop-ups asking for your email address?”

And while we expected some strong reactions, we were surprised by this resounding response: a whopping 82.2% of the sample declared that they hated email pop-ups!

Website Pop-Up Suvery

(Note: From a sample of 402 respondents, Google kept only 324 to better meet their idea of “equal representation”; more on the matter here.)

We can conclude from this first question that the vast majority of web users do hate pop-ups.

What are the main concerns about pop-ups?

Now that we know that most people don’t like pop-ups, the next logical question for a marketer is: Why so much hate? What do people have against pop-ups?

What do people dislike most about pop-ups?

To find out, we asked a second (somewhat obvious) question: “What do you dislike most about pop-ups?”

What do people dislike about pop-ups

Let’s break down the results together:

  • They’re everywhere (45.6%): We asked the question because we wanted to see if the omnipresence of pop-ups had an impact. It turns out, it does have a huge impact.
  • They appear as soon as I land on a website (28.6%): For web users, the timing matters. This result is not surprising, either, and it’s a good reason why Google started penalizing some forms of mobile interstitials.
  • I see them every time I visit a website (19.2%): When we surf the internet, we’re used to having our settings memorized by the websites we visit. Pop-ups are still an exception for many websites...they don’t “remember” who they appear to - first time visitors or visitors on their hundredth visit.
  • Their design is boring (5.7%): While only a small minority of the sample found the design to be an issue, it is still worth noting.

Is there anything that can make people like pop-ups?

To look for a solution, we also asked our survey respondents what might soften their position towards pop-ups:

Email address pop-up survey

Again, the results were interesting...

Almost three-quarters of the respondents were inflexible: nothing could convince them to leave their email address in a popup. This is a key to learning: no matter what you do to improve your pop-ups, they may still anger a majority of your visitors.

It’s also in line with the results we’ve obtained with our clients. The conversion rate of our clients’ best performing campaigns seldom exceeds 20%.

How can you address these concerns (and increase conversions)?

You might view these results as a good excuse to stop using pop-ups. But you could also interpret them as an invitation to create better pop-ups.

After all, 27% of the sample indicated that they’re likely to share their email address if at least one of the 5 suggestions that we included are present in the overlay.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can leverage the data from this survey.

Test your pop-up’s timing

Let’s tackle the first takeaway of this study: pop-ups that appear right away are the most frustrating for your visitors.

The worst part about this? Most pop-up tools include an option to delay your pop-up after your visitors have been on your website for more than X seconds.

Options to trigger the pop-up on scroll - or even better, just before they leave your website (it’s called exit-intent) - are also very popular.

Exit intent pop-up example


Moreover, A/B tests consistently show that delaying a popup always improves its conversion rate. Here’s an example from one of our clients:

Client data example

The conversion rate is +104% greater for the popup that’s displayed after two pages.

Let me insist on one point here: adding a delay won’t help you collect more emails (usually it’s the opposite), but it will help you increase your conversion rate. In other words, it will increase the willingness of your visitors to give their email address and minimize the proportion of your visitors who are annoyed by your popup.

Use reasonable frequency and capping settings

Is there any point to bugging your visitors with the same pop-up over and over?

No! So before starting a pop-up campaign, make sure to select reasonable frequency and capping settings. As a rule of thumb, we recommend showing the same pop-up no more than three times to a given user and space out displays by at least one week.

HubSpot pop-up app

Source: Hubspot

Even basic pop-up builders now include frequency options. 

Include a convincing incentive

Pop-ups must include something relevant and valuable.

The results of our survey should help you pick an incentive that works. According to our survey, these are the kinds of incentives that appeal most to web users:

  • A discount (11.9%)
  • A chance to win something (4.8%)
  • Exclusive offers (4.4%)

Our experience confirms that discounts work great. Sweepstakes are pretty efficient as well. At least, more than these results suggest.

The two examples below show a real-life measure of their impact on an e-commerce website. When the retailer activated the second popup on May 8, the conversion rate immediately increased from 2.5% to 7.4%.

E-Commerce Pop-ups


Subscription Rate Evolution

Source: WisePops internal study

Choose an engaging design

Even though only a few respondents selected design as one of the factors that affect their motivation to share their email address, we think it’s still an important element.

Why? If you remember the second question, 45.6% of the respondents replied that they disliked pop-ups because they’re everywhere… Of course, you can’t prevent other websites from using pop-ups.

But you can use a pop-up that doesn’t look like the pop-ups they’ve seen everywhere else. Here are a few options to make your pop-up stand out.

Related: Unsure how to make your pop-ups... well... pop? Check out this roundup of the best graphic design software on the market.

Find the best Graphic Design software on the market. Explore Now, Free →

Use visuals

Visuals are one of the easiest ways to make your pop-ups look original. You can use pictures of someone in your team, a visual of your product or even textures to make your pop-ups more catchy and entertaining.

MeetEdgar blog pop-up

Source: MeetEdgar’s blog

Try unusual shapes

As you may have noticed, most pop-ups have a rectangle shape. Why not be different and try something else?

A rounded pop-up, for example, will have more impact visually than a classic rectangle-shaped popup.

Wisepop blog pop-up

Source: Wisepops’ blog

Give email bars a try

Email bars are less intrusive than pop-ups, yet are still quite visible. Why not test them on your website?

Chameleoon blog pop-ups

Source: Chameleoon’s blog

Before we leave the topic of pop-up design, let’s insist that making a good pop-up doesn’t take much longer than creating a bad one. Most of the elements we highlighted can easily be implemented using any popup tool.


73% of our surveys’ respondents said that nothing could convince them to share their email address in a popup. 82% said they hated pop-ups.

These stats prove that using pop-ups can be risky.

They also show that web users are expecting smarter pop-ups. By following the best practices we’ve shared in this article, we’re confident you can convince a good fraction of the 27% who are open to website pop-ups to share their email address. And 27% is quite a significant proportion.

We’re also convinced that better pop-ups can reconcile people with pop-ups: People hate bad pop-ups; smart pop-ups can make a difference.

So if you’re ready to create a “smart” popup, give them a try! You can even start by using a chat template popup. See what a difference they can make in your business - and share with us what you learn and accomplish!.

And if you're still not convinced that pop-ups are the right solution to engage your visitors, why not try alternative options such as live chats, browser notifications ,or surveys.

In order to make sure your pop-ups are cohesive to your website, check out these must-have web design elements for 2019.

Why Your Visitors Hate Your Pop-Ups (+What You Can Do About It) There is a right way and a wrong way to use pop-ups. Learn why your visitors hate your pop-ups and how to make the most out of conversation rates.
Greg d’Aboville Greg d’Aboville has helped dozens of brands with their lead generation strategies at WisePops, a popup app.

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