Pop-Up Ads: Effective or Just Annoying?

The notorious Pop-Up Ad made its first appearance in 1997 on a site called tripod.com. It was soon employed by thousands of sites, much to the chagrin of unsuspecting users. In its original iteration, pop-ups opened an ad in an entirely new page, significantly interrupting browsing and forcing users to interact with irrelevant goods and services. 

Today, we are more familiar with a less-interruptive version called the “lightbox” or “modal” popup. This is a small box with information that appears in the middle of the page you are browsing and blurs the content in the background. These are often used to prompt users to “click and subscribe” or “download now” and are very common on blogging and news outlet sites.

It’s no surprise that soon after the first pop-up ads began appearing, the first browser-based pop-up blockers followed suit. That’s because pop-ups are annoying. After all, no one likes to be interrupted. 

In a very telling turn of events, the creator of the original pop-up ad himself publicly apologized in 2014 for the “millions of hours lost to pop-up ads.” 

That was 8 years ago and, I assure you, I am still met with at least ten pop up ads per day. Haven’t we established that these are annoying? Is it not bad for SEO to direct users’ attention for entire seconds away from useful content?

There must be some merit to them, if people keep using them. Let’s take a closer look.

Cons of Pop-Up Ads

The main drawback of using lightbox ads on your site is, indeed, poor user experience. If you Google “pop up ads,” one of the first results is how to disable them in Chrome. People have become so averse to this kind of advertising that most major web browsers have built-in pop up blockers. 

Optimal user experience is crucial if you want to increase your rankings in Google search results. However, as you will see below, pop up ads can be an incredible way to increase click through and subscription rates. But you don’t want to sacrifice user experience either. Reach a middle ground by disabling pop ups on mobile versions of your site or utilizing a format that is optimized specifically for mobile.

Pros of Pop-Ups

It turns out, pop up ads work. Despite being universally annoying, the data shows that they are very effective at driving conversion rates. 

By conversion rates, we mean users taking action when they see the ad pop up. If a pop up invites you to “subscribe to the blog” for example, and a user fills in the email form, that is considered a “conversion” 

Not all pop ups are created equal, but Sumo found that the top pop up ads had an average 9.28 percent conversion rate. That is massive. Think of it in terms of user numbers: if you have 100 visitors per day to your site and a popup invites them to subscribe, 9.28 percent means you’d have 9 sign ups per day, or 120 per month!

What Are the Most Effective Pop Up Ads?

So, what are the “top” pop up ads? What makes them so successful? In one word: context. Just as images and video should be relevant to your site’s content, so should your pop ups. Certain prompts for “giveaways” or “downloads” should not appear on every page. They should appear only on pages where they offer something of additional value to what a user is already experiencing.

Let’s say you are reading a recipe for “Easy Baked Chicken.” After a few seconds, a pop up ad invites you to subscribe for the “Easy Weeknight Meals” newsletter. That might come in handy if you find yourself searching frequently for quick and easy recipes. Why not? You put your email in. Converted!

On the other hand, say you are trying to read a news article and, before you read the first sentence, a pop up ad appears inviting you to enter a sweepstakes for a vacation to Scotland. It takes you a full five seconds to locate the minuscule “X” in the bottom right corner of the ad. By this time, you are too annoyed to continue and you leave the site for a different one with the same info, but no pop ups. 

We see that pop ups can be successful when they meet certain requirements, namely:

Pop-Ups Should Be Contextual

Offer something useful that goes hand-in-hand with what the user is already looking for. Don’t interrupt their browsing by advertising something completely irrelevant or that is so out of context it appears scammy.

Pop-Ups Should Have Good Timing

You can time your pop ups to appear whenever you like and under certain triggers. You might schedule a pop up to appear when someone has stayed on a page for more than 15 seconds, for example. You can also set a scrolling trigger for the ad to appear if they have scrolled down more than halfway. Both signify great user interest in the content, so a relevant pop up is less likely to be ignored.

This pop up on 40aprons.com, for example, appeared only after I had clicked “keto recipes” and only after I had stayed on the page for 30 seconds. It would have had no business popping up the minute I arrived on the home page, but here it is relevant and useful-two words Google particularly likes.

Pop-Ups Should Have Emotion

Your users are human beings and want to be treated as such. The reason many people despise ads is because they feel they are being “targeted” based merely on data like demographics, not individual interest. It is, in other words, a dehumanizing experience. 

You can circumvent this by offering pop ups that use warm language and a simplified call to action. Interrogatives work well in place of commands, and it should be as straightforward for the user to complete the action you are requesting of them.

For example, pop ups can be a great way to collect customer feedback. The one below from carmax.com is easy to read and uses polite-yet-familiar language. The added “thanks for your help” is especially noteworthy, since it elevates it from a generic survey prompt to a genuine request. 

In the end, user experience is the most important feature of your website. While pop ups tend to interfere with this, they can be created in such a way that they actually lend to the overall browsing experience by truly offering something of value. The numbers are compelling enough to suggest that a pop up strategy is certainly worth a try. 

If you are new to digital marketing, a good digital agency can help you start your pop up campaign. Serenity Digital is a local agency in Denver, and we would love to discuss ways to increase traffic to your site through pop ups and lots of other strategies

Have you found success with pop up ads? What type did you use, and what were your results? Let us know in the comments!

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