What’s your reaction to a pop-up box that appears over a blog post or article you’re trying to read?
In my opinion, there are few things in the online world more annoying than pop-ups advertising the latest trendy widget, free report, email list signup, or other offer.
Now, there’s no doubt that pop-up ads “work.” Many readers will sign up for free offers when they appear in pop-ups. And, because they do work so well, pop-ups are practically irresistible to web publishers.
Trouble is, pop-ups also have at least one huge downside, and you should face it directly before deciding whether or not to implement them on your site.
Let’s take a look at the benefits and risks right now …
The appeal of the pop-up offer
When used in smart ways — like giving away a free report, tip sheet, or other useful freebie — pop-ups can radically accelerate the number of opt-ins you get to your email list.
Your conversion rate goes up because more people are seeing your offer … and they’re seeing it very clearly. They can’t help but notice your opt-in box, because you’ve placed it right their faces.
Implementing a pop-up form on your site seems like an easy shortcut to building a huge list. Simply add one to your site, create a compelling, benefit-driven offer, and watch the money roll in.
The dark side of using pop-ups
After you implement a pop-up (and noticing the predictable spike in your opt-ins), you may think you’re sitting pretty. You might think to yourself, “World domination is now only a hop, skip and a jump away!”
But here’s the thing — pop-ups really push people’s buttons, they just get under people’s skin. And they’re annoying enough that they can actually drive people away from your site.
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.
And pop-ups aren’t merely annoying — if they’re not working properly, they can actually interfere with your site’s functionality. Some pop-ups that aren’t rendering properly can create a huge floating box over your posts and pages that people can’t exit out of — which means they’re going to get intensely frustrated because they’ll need to close their browser completely to get back to what they were doing.
Do you want to be responsible for that kind of experience?
You also have to consider whether the increased opt-ins you get with a pop-up offer are actually the type of people who will stick around on your list (and eventually buy from you). There’s a strong possibility that many of the additional subscribers you gain with a pop-up will abandon you just as quickly as they came.
I’ve tried pop-ups on my own site. A few years back, I used a well-known and well-respected plugin to add a time-delayed pop-up offer (for a useful free report). My opt-ins soared, and I was thrilled. But then I noticed something weird — people were writing to me to complain about the ad. In the history of my business, I received more negative comments about that pop-up than any other aspect of my website. I actually received hate mail.
Eventually, I took it down. On balance, the benefit didn’t feel like it was worth the cost.
Is it worth the risk?
Here’s the unofficial Copyblogger pop-up policy:
There is no question that pop-ups “work” — but to what end? We’re not willing to risk the relationship with our audience for a spike in opt ins.
As a website owner, you have to decide whether the benefit you get from pop-ups is worth the possible risk of harming the relationship with your readers — or with making your site just a little less appealing to link to, or share on social networks.
If you’re playing the long game of content marketing, you need to consider whether it’s worth potentially harming your relationship with your prospects and customers, just for a couple of extra names on your list.
Smart pop-up alternatives
If you decide against using a pop-up on your site, what are your other options for increasing your opt-in rates without risking your relationship with readers and prospects?
Here are some possibilities:
- First and foremost — keep your focus where it belongs. If you consistently create good content and actively promote your site, organic opt-ins will follow.
- Use (really) prominent sign-up forms. There are great places to put large opt-in forms on your site that really stand out. Try using a large offer box in the header area of your site (hint: the StudioPress themes Balance and Generate are excellent choices). Or try putting a sign-up box in the footer of each of your posts that says, “Like this post? Make sure you don’t miss our next one — sign up here to stay connected.”
- Consider upping the ante on your free offer. Copyblogger just made a major change to the way our online sign-ups work. We restructured and redesigned the site so that people can sign up for access to a massive library of incredibly useful e-books (as well as online messages dripped out via email). When we shifted to this stronger offer for our readers, our opt-in rates jumped by 400% (Brian and Tony spilled the beans on this strategy inside Authority). So make sure your offer is incredibly compelling for your audience — you’ll notice a big difference in your sign-up rates!
- If you absolutely must use a pop-up, use one that’s delayed. Most pop-up software will let you customize when a pop-up will appear. You can create a pop-up offer that will appear only after a reader has been reading your content for a few minutes. This is far better than hitting a new reader with an obnoxious pop-up offer two seconds after landing on your site (before they even get the chance to look around).
It’s (of course) your call …
You’ve got a decision to make. Do you use a pop-up, and reap the rewards … but also accept the consequences?
Or, have you found a good alternative?
Tell us about your experiences in the comments …