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The Great Pop-Up Debate


A Pop. Held up. Pop-up. Get it?

One of the things I took away from BlogWorld Expo 2010 was that I need to give some more thought to pop-ups. People mentioned them in some capacity at about 75% of the sessions I attended. The problem is that I got conflicting opinions from every direction. The two main schools of thought are:

  • Don’t use pop-ups, ever. They’re extremely annoying and will only drive your readers away.
  • You’re an idiot if you’re not using pop-ups. They convert better than any other type of sign-up box or advertisement.

To be clear, no one was really talking about those traditional pop-ups with flashing smilie advertisements or adult friend finder promotions. That’s all a little 1995. What we’re talking about here is those float-over ads that suddenly appear over the text you’re reading as the rest of the screen dissolves to black. People hesitate to call them pop-ups, but come on. That’s basically what they are.

The “Don’t Use Pop-Ups” Argument

My knee-jerk reaction is to agree with people who preach that pop-ups are bad. I don’t like having to click the “close” button when I’m in the middle of reading something, so why should I put my readers through that? Not only are they annoying, but they’re also irrelevant to me over half of the time. I appreciate that someone has a free report available or even has an ebook for sale, but until I read your site and you earn my trust, I don’t want it.

The “You’re an Idiot if You Don’t Use Pop-Ups” Argument

The business person in me wants to agree with the people who promote using pop-ups. It’s hard to argue with the numbers, and time after time again, bloggers who use pop-ups talk about their high conversion numbers. Sometimes, I think we’re a little too immersed in the blogging industry to understand how other people read blogs. We spend a lot of time thinking about things like whether or not to use pop-ups, for example, but the general person doesn’t. They just see it and either sign up or don’t. And according to reports from other bloggers, more often than not, they sign up.

So Where Do I Stand?

I don’t know. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m not shy with my opinions. At all. But when it comes to the great pop-up debate, I simply don’t know where I stand. I can tell people that they should do what is right for their audience, but I don’t even know how to determine what is right for their audience or for my own audience for that matter. Here at BlogWorld, that’s something that I personally don’t have to worry about – other people make the decision about whether or not to use pop-ups…but on After Graduation, it’s my choice whether or not I want to use pop-ups. And I don’t know. I’m not using them right now, but only because I don’t know whether or not I should, so I’m erring on the side of caution. I can see both sides of the argument, so I don’t know which side is right. Perhaps they both are.

Do you use pop-ups on your site? Why or why not?


  • PoeWar

    The increasing use of pop-ups lately has really been annoying. As a user, I hate them. As a site owner, I can’t think of a reason to be that mean to my readers … yet.

  • Mamacita

    I can’t offhand think of a single post worthy enough to stick around and finish reading once a popup has intruded into my life. It’s as if I’d been lured into a den of telemarketers, intent on FORCING me to hear them out. The very second something pops up, I’m out of there and will probably never return.

  • Ric Dragon

    I’d put this into the category of “Best Practices”. I’d say it is NOT a best practice to have pop-ups.

    OK, but they can be effective sometimes. True. But have you really tried to find alternatives that are as effective if not more, or have you just reached for the EASY (and annoying) effective?

    Or, if you really have come to the conclusion that you need to use a pop-up, are you making it intelligent – so that a user who has already experienced the pop-up doesn’t see it again?

    A lot of things work that shouldn’t be done. Spam, for instance – actually WORKS for the people doing it. They only need a 1-in-2-million conversion rate. Are they creating long term business value? Nope. So maybe that’s where the distinction lies – long term value versus short-term results.

  • Judy Helfand

    Hi Alli,
    I remember a lot of discussions at BWE10 regarding pop-ups. Particularly one session about monetization, the panel included Anita Campbell, Darren Rowse, John Chow and Jeremy Shoemaker. It was pretty interesting. It seemed that the majority on this panel had come recently to the conclusion that pop-ups were ok and beneficial to them. It seems they have their code configured so that the site knows if you are a “unique” – first time visitor and then and only then does the pop-up occur. They seemed happy with it.

    Here again, browsers can play havoc with the best plans. Did you ever notice in IE8 that some new windows from pop-ups drop immediately to your menu bar? Or sometimes you get that annoying message in IE8 or FF that says pop-ups need to be enabled.

    My bottom line is this: if I like the site – NY Times, TIME Magazine, BLOG WORLD…I will tolerate a lot of annoyances. My guess is it is like friends, you tolerate a few shortcomings because you like them and care about them.

  • Danny Brown

    Hate them with a vengeance. I’ve unsubscribed from blogs that have started using them. I also did a quick survey on my Facebook Page and Twitter, and both times it skewed about 2/3 of people hate them.

  • Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    I can’t speak for everyone else but for my itty bitty blog that isn’t flooded yet in traffic, raking in the dough with advertising income from their site, or joint ventures with people with massive buyer lists, I’ve used email marketing to monetize my site.

    And with a list that’s nowhere near the size of the guru’s out there, I’ve supported 3 families doing so which ain’t a lot but these three families don’t sneeze at it.

    Opt-ins = list you can build a relationship with = income.

    As most pro bloggers are aware of, something like .5% of your total subscriber count/visitors to your site will ever engage in a conversation with you in your comments section.

    But what we’ve found is that a lot of these same people who won’t speak in public, will email back and forth with you all day long telling you their concerns and giving you praise.

    Email is still a private mode of conversing. It’s you and I talking. Not me putting something in front of your jillion followers on twitter or facebook or your blog and being judged for it. Next to getting a customer on the phone, email has been the number one way we’ve kept our finger on the pulse of what our buyers really want.

    So when we talk to our buyers in the medium they like and feel comfortable talking in, they open emails from us and buy. A lot. Consistently.

    And the hover opt in has massively crushed any other method we’ve used to get emails. I don’t like hover ads and unless I’m interested in getting on someone’s list so I can keep up with their marketing, I just x out as fast as I can.

    In our little world, subscriber count is almost meaningless. Yeah, it’s cool to have a ton of people following you but the offers sent to the email list is what pays the bills week in week out. And of course it’s been a process learning what works with email and how to do it so it’s effective but it’s been our savior.

    Long live the most effective method for getting email addresses today… and whatever that evolves to in the future!!!

  • Riley Harrison

    Any marketing strategy that is so transparent and so irritating just cannot be sound. And any studies that say otherwise are suspect in my mind and will not over rule what seems obvious to me.

  • David Leonhardt

    I hate pop-ups as a user. So count me as one of the people who don’t sign up from pop-ups, although I suspect they don’t deter me from reading on. But am I as receptive once I’m pissed off? Probably not.

  • Rick Calvert

    People are really arguing two different things. If Anita Campbell Darren Rowse, John Chow and Shoemoney all agree they are effective and generate sales I have no doubt they are right about that. These people are very smart and their business is built around monetizing their content.

    But that is not the argument people who hate pop ups are making. We (and I am definitely part of this group) are saying we hate pop ups with a passion. It’s not a mild annoyance, its not an inconvenience, it is an intrusion on my experience. I HATE THEM!!!!!!

    Anyone who subjects me too a pop up is far less likely to get me to come back and ever read their blog, newspaper, website ever again period.

    Now if a majority of people feel that way, then what does that mean? It means publishers who employ these successful tactics monetarily are angering their customers and sometimes even losing them.

    They are shrinking their audience and going for the lowest common denominator “stupid people” who will tolerate any form of intrusive marketing. It is no different than direct mail, or telemarketing. Most people just throw the “junk mail” in the trash. They hang up on the telemarketer, the ask to be put on a do not call list. But the stupid people still fall for it and buy whatever crap they are selling so it makes all that wasted paper, and all those no’s pay off.

    It’s the same reason every TV show, radio program, magazine, and newspaper in America find some excuse to talk about Charlie Sheen, or Lindsay Lohan, or Jersey Shore. They know some certain amount of idiots are going to tune in and listen to their ads to hear this irrelevant non news bullshit gossip.

    This is one of the things that breathed life into blogs in the first place. We were trying to escape this lowest common denominator crap.

    So before you employ pop ups on your site ask yourself, do you care about your audience more, or do you care about making money more?

    Trust me I like money but I prefer content creators who choose the long term payoff by not breaking the trust of their community over a the quick buck.

  • Jen

    Personally, pop ups make me want to poke my eyes out.

    Here’s what I would like to know: how often do people collect data on their subscribers/customers (the people who have bought at least one product from them) and asked what they think of pop ups? I get that it’s more time consuming, but isn’t better practice to gather intentional information about your subscribers/customers, so you can provide them better services/content? If the point is to find more folks who like your work and want to buy your services/products, a good baseline for determining strategies would be to start with the people who already buy something from you. If they overwhelming don’t like popups, I would get rid of them.

  • Benjamin

    I really believe it is not about pop up being bad or wrong. Pop up ARE a great tool, with great ROI, and great impact. Actually their impact is so strong that IF you use them badly, or abusively, you will have a bad user experience and bad results. On the contrary, if you use them wisely, in a way that it help the user with a relevant information at a good time, then you can have great results. It is clearly to me the best tool I have ever tested in 5 years of intensive e-commerce. http://wisepops.com/2013/01/08/200-sign-ups-in-one-day-part-two/ (my results, on my former website GreenRepublic.fr) So much that I have decided to start a blog about it, and more ! You can also check at website such as Everlane or Shoptiques that use great and very simple pop-ups. Far from those advertising disturbing pop ups from the XXth century 😉

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