Ever since the dim and distant dawn of online marketing, people have complained about popups. From interrupting user flow to concealing content to slowing load times, popups have suffered more than their fair share of criticisms. In 2004, the Nielsen Norman Group even went so far as to label them the most hated advertising technique ever.

The good news is that more than a decade later, the disorienting, badly designed popup is on its way out. As popup design has evolved and marketers have gotten better at using them, a lot of the things that annoyed users—blinking, sound effects, deception tactics—have effectively been eliminated. These days, popups can be tailored to the viewer, set to appear only after a certain amount of time, and designed to complement your site instead of clash with it.

And they work! Really, really well according to most sources. In one study, Aweber found that switching from a sidebar form to a popup increased email signups by 1,375 percent. Another website tested an opt-in popup and saw their conversions increase tenfold. As the straight-shooting Derek Halpern puts it: “If you don’t use popups, you’re an idiot. If you’re offering something that people want, a silly little popup isn’t going to stand in their way.”

To help you get the most engagement from your popups—and to celebrate the launch of our beautiful brand new Shopify app, Pixelpop—today we’re going to cover a few best practices for using popups in your online store. Follow these guidelines and pretty soon you’ll be creating the kind of popups that drive traffic, grow mailing lists, and increase conversions without disrupting your store’s customer experience. Let’s pop to it!

Popup frequency: There is such a thing as too much of a good thing

Even if you have the most beautiful, enticing, value-packed popup in the world, you shouldn’t be having it show on every page to every user. Why? Because when you strip away all that makes popups great, what you’re left with is a barrier to purchase. Sometimes putting up that barrier is worth it—to educate or entice your visitors—but if you’re hitting them with the same popup over and over again, you’re effectively placing obstacles between your customers, your products, and your checkout (not to mention being super irritating).

Remember that the goal of popups is to promote your brand and products, not shove them down people’s throats. Asking a visitor to subscribe to your newsletter five times during a five-minute browsing session is overkill, and will likely result in a significantly lower conversion rate than if you’d played it cool and asked just once. Consider only running one popup per page, and not repeating the same popup across too many pages (this is where popup targeting come in—see below!).

Popup timing: Get your finger off the trigger

There are times and places where people enjoy being caught off guard—at haunted houses, in the final pages of a mystery novel, on their birthdays—but your online store isn’t one of them. Visitors need time to get a feel for your site before being asked to take action. Springing a popup on them right off the bat is the surest way to send them running for the exit.

Some studies have found that 60 seconds is the optimal amount of time before showing visitors a popup. Others have determined that just 5 seconds is enough to let viewers see your content and decide they want more. The sweet spot will vary from site to site, so it’s best to do some testing to see what works for you. Just keep in mind that the optimal delay for one page or popup may not be the same for another (Brazen Profit Lab has a good cheat sheet for this).

Popup content: Give them an offer they can’t refuse

When it comes to optimizing your popups for conversions, relevance and brevity are key. You need to make your message relevant to your visitors because you want to hold their interest, and you need to make it brief because, well, it’s the web. Everything is brief.

The real hinge on which your popup swings is the call to action. Visitors will often close popups because the CTA doesn’t clearly explain what clicking it will imply, or because it’s just not that inspiring. (How many times have you seen stores use the word “subscribe” to prompt visitors to action? Bo-ring.) Coming up with a clear, concise and compelling CTA can be tough, but if you think about what it is you really want your visitors to do—and then couch it in the most positive terms you can think of—you should be on the right track.

If you’re creating an email sign-up popup, another thing to keep in mind is how much information you’re asking for. While established brands can get away with asking for things like age, gender and location, when you’re just starting out, it’s best to stick to the only field that really matters: email address. If you think knowing their blood type or education level will really help you market more effectively, you can always follow up later.

Popup audience: The right popup for the right user

Here’s something you already know: people like to feel “special.” And although as an online merchant you’re never going to know all of your visitors’ names, likes and dislikes, you can still personalize the message you deliver—especially when it comes to the popups they see.

Most popup apps (including Pixelpop) allow you to target popups to different visitor segments. Want to thank your Canadian customers for their support by offering free shipping in Canada? Create a popup that displays only to customers with Canadian IP addresses. How about offering up some exclusive content to customers browsing your button-up shirt collection? Create a popup that displays only on the product pages for that category. Targeted popups like these draw a lot more attention than generic ones, while also encouraging sales.

It’s also worth noting here that people typically don’t like being asked to do something they’ve already done. For example, if you have a popup that’s designed to capture email addresses, it might be a good idea to switch it off for users who arrived at your site from an email link. Failing to do so will make you look amateurish, so take our advice and use the opportunity to show them something else!

Popup design: Be true to your school (or store, as the case may be)

While you want your popups to stand out and attract attention, you don’t want them to be so far removed from your store’s overall look and feel that customers mistake them for spam or a computer virus. It’s true that good popups “pop,” but we think the best ones also blend, matching the colour scheme and typography of your store and making visitors at home.

Done right, popups should visually reassure customers that they’re in the right place, while providing an experience that’s consistent with the brand. When we designed Pixelpop, we gave a lot of consideration to this fact in particular, including a collection of customizable popup themes to ensure that every popup looks great and on-brand.

Popup type and location: The devil is in the details

At this point, we’ve covered what’s going to be in your popup, who you’re going to show it to, when you’re going to show it, and what it’s going to look like. Locked and loaded? Not quite. One last thing to consider is which popup type you’re going to use—picking the right gun for the right fight, you might say.

For example, if you want to display a cookie disclaimer—which, if you sell to customers in the EU and use cookies, you’re legally required to do—do you really want to use a full-screen takeover? Or do you want to discreetly remind them using an unobtrusive bar or modal popup? If it were us, we’d opt for the latter and reserve the former for promoting huge, once-per-season offers and flash sales. But you do you!

Choosing the right popup for the job is key to minimizing the annoyance factor that many people still associate with popups. If you’re constantly commandeering customers’ browsers with popups that need to be dismissed before they can use the site, they’re quickly going to become frustrated and leave. But mix it up and offer them beneficial content in a variety of forms and you’ll keep your customers happy, engaged, and coming back for more.

Start popping!

Popups may be disruptive by nature, but when used correctly they can produce great results. If you follow the best practices outlined in this post, you should see an increase in traffic, better engagement with your visitors, and a serious boost in clicks, conversions and sales.

If you’ve never created a popup, or if you want to step up your popup game, we’re offering a 14-day unlimited free trial to new Pixelpop users. Give it a spin, and let us know what you think!

 

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