It’s a well known fact that most people do not buy from you on their first visit. But what exactly does “most people” mean?

According to SeeWhy’s extensive research, “most people” means about 99%. Sure, they’re talking about eCommerce sites, but still, it raises a very interesting question, “If 99% of people won’t buy on the first visit… how then can we get them to return for a second visit?”

The good news is that, it also came out from the study that 75% of people who left have future intentions to return and continue the buying process.

visitors abandoing rateimage source

Whether you personally love it or hate it, the truth is, sticking a big ole pop-up in their face can be one of the most effective ways to jolt their attention & grab their email for a return visit.


It’s related to a persuasion technique known as the “pattern interrupt,” which is basically when something unexpected happens after the brain has become lulled into a rhythm. You’ll experience this frequently in negotiations, while watching movies & when watching comedians.

Dave Chappelle   For What It s Worth     YouTube

In the context of email & content marketing though, it’s particularly effective when the “interruption” proposes to solve the problem that the the reader has been tuned into, or programmed to expect given the nature of the service.

For example, our friends at offer a free £10 voucher in exchange for your email, because they know 1) everyone likes free money & 2) £10 is a small price to pay to have continuous contact through email. 


In fact, according to ExactTarget’s data “Email” is far and away the preferred permission-based marketing channel by consumers. A staggering 77% of consumers prefer e-mail over other channels.

So maybe pop-ups might not be a bad choice after all?

NO, NO… Popups Suck, Everyone Hates Them & They Don’t Work… Right Guys?

Don’t you just hate when you land on page and the first thing that happens looks something like this:

social triggers, automatic pop-up right off the batOr this:
quicksprout - neal padal, automatic pop-up

You may or may not know what’s on the site but are already bombarded with these popups. Not cool.

I would first like to know what you’re all about and then let me choose whether I want your “FREE Traffic Generation Guide”, “FREE EBOOK” or hop on your newsletter.

Personally I hate when that happens, and the arrogant language like “NO I have enough traffic” and “NO THANKS i’ll stick to my gut on how to grow on my subscriber base” is not helping anyone either.

Not cool you guys, not cool.

Or is it? What do the test results say?

Here’s a pure “no thanks” test. The only difference in the creative was the copy.

Email Capture – No Thanks Copy Unique Impressions Email Captures Capture Rate
No Thanks, I prefer to pay full price for my clothing. 165,416 9,928 6.00%
I am not interested. 165,625 7,961 4.81%
No Thank You. 165,021 7,616 4.62%
No Thanks! 166,072 7,433 4.48%

We’re looking at a lift as high as 34%. Variations all ran simultaneously to the same cohort of traffic, and for the same date range, at 25%/variation.

So… since this is an CRO blog, so let’s be a bit more scientific with this whole popup thing. Haters gonna hate, but numbers might have a different story to tell.

Let’s go ahead and see results from the ground of people who are using popups in various disguises and exactly what results they are seeing.

WPBeginners Experience With Using Popups

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WP Beginner is a beginner’s guide to WP and on a normal day they would get 70-80 new subscribers from their different lead generation efforts from around the site.

Still, as is the case with most other online business, the more subscribers you have the more successful you will  become. So they tried different lead-gen plugins until they found one that made a significant change to their bottom line.

So What Did They Do?

Using OptinMonster they designed popup with exit-intent – in laymans terms it means that the popup only displays when you are about to leave the site. It uses mouse tracking and other variables to figure out when you’re about to leave and then BAM, displays the oversized popup like this:

wpbeginner, exit intent

So.. What About Results?

Using exit-intent popups on only single posts and not site wide on every page they saw an increase of sign-ups by 600%. They went from typically 70-80 daily new subscribers to 445 – 470 new subs per day.

And they are not alone in this. Brian from Backlinko had an SEO training and link building blog that was getting a fair amount of traffic. The only problem was that conversion read for email sign-ups had dropped to an all time love if 1.73% . Not good, not good at all.

So he messaged a friend who he knew could probably help him – Noah Kagan, and help he did indeed! He suggested using List Builder app in SumoMe – essentially a hybrid of different popup plugins that includes exit-intent technology.

So Brian did, this is what visitors saw just before they were about to leave the site:

Remember how the conversion rate was hovering around 1.7% before using List Builder?

This is what the stats looked like after running for just 2 full days:
backlinko-list-builderimage source

Over just 2 days, conversion rate went from under 2% to an average 4.83%.

In a world where we’re seeing case-study after case-study of 100% lift, 200% lift, 1300% lift a measly 3% doesn’t even seem something that should be mentioned really.

Let’s dig a little deeper and see what that 3% really means for Brian Dean & Backlinko.

3% Increase, Pffft… So what?

First off, Brian understands that by having his own email list, he has direct access to his customer base. With direct access he’s able to create content that serves his readers, & occasionally pitch a product or a service here and there.

That last bit is crucial, those occasional products and services he pitches makes his average list subscriber worth $15.

So a little math tells us that by adding 15-ish more subs every single day thanks to popups they are making $225 every single day which otherwise would be lost.

How I made an extra  82 125 per year

Stretched out over a year that makes $82,125 more. Not bad for something that took 2 minutes to set-up…

Read the full Backlinko story HERE.

Clearly I Was Wrong, But I’m Not Convinced Yet

I was clearly wrong about popups not working and bringing results – but surely there are also other people complaining and sending hate mail and what not.

Things like bounce rate and the impact of those popups to the UX – I’m still not fully convinced, so let’s dig a little deeper.

Popups Impact On Bounce Rate And Overall User Experience…Right?

One of my first thoughts when it comes to popups used to be that surely they will increase bounce rate – more people will simply close the window and move simply because of the popup.

What the guys over at WPBeginner discovered though was that their bounce rate stayed the same with or without the exit-intent stuff. So no change, interesting… Same story with Brian from Backlinko – no change in bounce rate.

In fact, Dan Zarrella came to the exact same conclusion running tests with or without popups on his own personal page:
Dan-Zarrella-popup-bouncerate-image source

The only thing that really changes was that he got around 50% less subscribers thanks to not running any popups

And When It Comes To User Experience…

…. Visitors don’t seem to really care about it at all. “We had absolutely zero user complaints” said the guys from WPBeginner.

Businessportraits Brian“NO ONE cared about the nano-second interruption. I’ve had the form on my site for almost a month now and no one has said a word about it.” added Brian from Backlinko.


And when you think about it, it actually makes sense. Yes, it is  frustrating to see something like this when I click through from Facebook to
mashable popupscreenshot of

But it is not frustrating enough to make me go “THIS IS BULLSHIT!!!” and leave. I close the damn popup and browse on on the site.

Plus if I’m really smart I can actually use popups to enhance UX like Vero does. When you stay for longer than 30 seconds on their landing page and don’t take action a popup in the right corner of your browser window will appear asking “What is the main thing preventing you from signing up to Vero at this point?”

vero-question-popupimage source

Popups can even be used to give the user an even deeper experience than they could have on their own. In this study on Kissmetrics,Garret Moon of talks about how he created even more in-depth material for the high traffic/high bounce pages on his site.


Having this in place allowed Garret to have even more alignment with the user’s intent & resulted in him doubling the conversion rates.

Imagining this from the user’s perspective, this would actually be a pleasant experience, because this guide could very easily say “your search for this information is over.” especially if the quality of other information out there is lacking.

How To Ruin Your UX With Popups

Still, you can’t just put any old popup over a page and think it will convert. When you don’t make the popup clearly visibly from the rest of the page, it will ruin the user experience:
evergage-screenshotscreenshot of

I was about to leave their site and BAM! Can anyone tell me what just happened? It looks like their devs properly messed up their site – a CTA button in the middle of the page. What’s going on here?

Aaa, it’s actually a popup overlayed on a page that is not dimmed out. Not good. Funny thing about EverGage is that that popup appeared on an article that is talking about making popups clearly visible. Funny people those EverGage guys…

When you don’t make the popup clearly visibly from the rest of the page, it will ruin the user experience – as simple as that.

I Was Wrong, And It’s Ok

So yes, turns out  I was wrong about popups and as annoying as they can sometimes be, when done right they are damn effective. And there is no denying that if something makes you more successful and  brings in more money with little to no work then you should definitely be using it.

So let’s see exactly on how to have success with popups. Which services to use, timing, size and everything else. Let’s have some fun now ;)

How To Make Popups Work For You

Before we go into the inner workings of popups, let’s first see what are the different types of popups one can run.

In general there are two bigger groups of them:

  • Big ass overlays
  • User scrolling triggered popups

Big Ass Overlays

spyoptic-popupscreenshot of

These look like the above one – they take over the whole screen, dimming the background and making the popup the only clearly visible element on the page.

The trend has been to use as big as possible popups and they are the ones that you see most often. Still, Dan Zarrella uses one that dims the background but is not as big as one might expect:
dan zarrella popupscreenshot of

User Scrolling Triggered Popups

User scrolling triggered popups are the ones you see on blogs most often. They show up when the user has scrolled down on the page to a certain extent. They’re ridiculously effective.

Thinking behind that is that the user has had the opportunity to see the quality of your work and then it appears on the left hand side.

We use them on ConversionXL. About half the subscribers join our list this way.

When you have gone through about half the article it will appear like this:

Depending on the software and/or plugin you’re using to display it, it’s possible to experiment with the scroll depth – e.g. how far or long the user must reach for it to appear.

Another way for triggering popups is by time on site. But instead of triggering on some random, arbitrary time interval, check your average time on site for “non-bounce” traffic, and trigger the popup at the “sweet spot” in the data.

Engagement   Google Analytics

For us, this would be be somewhere right around the 6o second mark.

This is where most people make the decision whether or not they’ll leave or stay, so by triggering the popup right at the moment of truth, where people are either engaged or disinterested, we can capture the attention of those who might want to build a relationship with us, and not even bother with those who wouldn’t sign up anyways.

What Should The Button Copy Say?

Data from AppSumo (makers of SumoMe) and eConsultancy show that benefit driven headlines and button copy do the best in terms of getting people to take action on your popups: of

Everything we wrote in the Mastering The CTA article applies here since, well, all an popup really is an CTA to get more leads/subscribers/customers. So do yourself a favour and read that one before you go into testing your own popups.

Is There A Best Time To Display Popups?

In this section will cover mainly timings for big ass overlays as they have more options and possibilities to play with the timing. With user scrolling triggered popups it’s pretty straight forward – you simply choose the time and that’s that.

how-soon-show-popup-appsumoimage source

When it comes to testing timing of big ass overlays – data from SumoMe shows that with their users find that the best time by far is 5 seconds. Meaning the overlay appears after visitors have been in the site for 5 seconds.

WhichTestWonscreenshot of

When WhichTestWon started experimenting with overlays they tested showing it 15, 30 and 45 seconds after the visitor had landed. In their testing the winner was 15 seconds which beat 30 seconds by 11% which beat 45 seconds by 50%.

And if they would had tested showing it even earlier they would have seen ever better results – right???

No “Best” Time For Popups. Test It, Stupid

As with pretty much EVERYTHING in CRO – there is no substitute for testing it out on your product/service on your visitors.

Unbounce says that best time is 60 seconds so I should use the same? No.

Mashable shows popups right away when I click through from Facebook but not when I land from other sources so I should do the same? Wrong again.

Their data might work for you, it most likely will not. Test it.

And while we are on the subject of testing, one obvious thing to test to start off is if the damn popups even work for you or not.

Dan Zarrella did that and found that not running the overlay cost him half of his email subscriptions:
bounce-rate-subs-dan-zarrellaimage source

How Many Times A Day/Month Should I Show Popups

Everything I said about when to display popups also applies to the how many times question.

Data from SumoMe might tell you that there is no significant difference between showing it all the time and showing it once per month but in reality it again depends on too many variables to give you any real insights.

At best those “best times” for anything are a good starting point for running your own tests.

sumome-time-before-showing-popup-againimage source

Almost The End – Software Options For Running Your Own Popups

So far we have covered everything from types of popups that exist down to timing after visitors land and how many times to show it during a session.

So now, finally, let’s list sumo of the most notable providers of software that make it all possible.

When it comes to free options, here are 2 to check out:

First one is as straightforward as adding a line of code or alternatively using an WordPress plugin. The second option needs a bit more work and you need to understand a bit more coding.

On the paid side you have a bit more choice:


Pop-ups can work, very well. For us at ConversionXL they account for 30% more subscribers each month. That’s ridiculously huge amount of additional subscribers every 30 days. Open rates, CTR rates are the same for people who joined through a static form.

Another interesting tidbit – the more email capture mechanisms, the better. We already had static forms and scroll triggered boxes. When we added popups to the mix, we got +30%. It’s insane, I know.

Do they work on every site? Of course not. Do your own testing. But they can work v e r y well.

featured image source