To pop up or not to pop up, that is the question

April 18, 2017

Pop up ads are a controversial subject.

On one hand, they’ve been shown to double some people’s conversion rates. Pretty amazing, right?

But, on the other hand, they can be really damn annoying.

 Visiting a page only to have a pop up thrown in your face is like someone at Verizon greeting you the moment you step in the door. Nobody likes that.

So how do you strike a happy medium? Should you even use pop ups? And if you should, when?

First, we’ll discuss the principles of great pop up ads. Then, we’ll dive into interviews with other store owners who have decided to install (or avoid) pop ups.

To pop up or not to pop up, that is the question… that we’ll be answering!

8 Principles of Great Pop Up Ads

I’ll start by saying this:

Pop ups really work, and you should probably be using them.

That’s the cold, hard truth. Just look at these case studies:

But in order to avoid annoying your visitors, you should follow a few key principles.

Eight, to be exact.

Principle #1: Make it easy to close.

A pop up you can’t close is like a salesman you can’t shake while you’re just browsing.


There’s a lot more wrong with this pop up than the lack of an exit button. But ignore that for now.

If you try to force a visitor to sign up, they’ll probably leave. And they might even hate you a little bit.

Principle #2: Keep it simple.

One of the secrets of great copy writing is using simple, easy to understand language.

Unsurprisingly, this rule also applies to pop ups. Keep it simple!

Make the benefit immediately apparent, include one simple image at most, and only ask for their email, not their name and birthday and everything else. (Unless you absolutely need that info for some reason.)

For inspiration, check out the pop up that Pure Lamb used to get those thousands of subscribers:


Principle #3: Don’t use multiple pop ups.

Too many pop ups can feel spammy.


That’s easy to avoid, though. Stick to one, simple pop up.

And to avoid annoying people with that one pop up, adhere to…

Principle #4: Give your visitors some time to breath.

By default, most pop ups display immediately on arrival.

That’s bad, m’kay?

You want to give your visitors some time to actually see your site. I like to display pop ups after, say, 30 to 60 seconds. Or base it on scroll-depth.

Devil’s advocate: What if they don’t stay on your page that long?

That’s when exit-intent pop ups come into play. These kinds of pop ups don’t display until someone goes to leave your site. And it’s the only time I recommend more than one pop up.


Principle #5: Make it match your brand.

All too often, websites have pop ups that totally break the user experience. They look like they’re from a whole different world.

Fixing that is simple. Ensure the pop up uses your brand's colors, font, and image style.

Speaking of colors...

Principle #6: Use color contrast.

If you use the same color on your pop up as your site, it won’t draw the eye very well. Instead, I recommend you use a contrasting color for the call to action button.

You have a few choices for this:

  • Pick the color on the opposite end of the color wheel.
  • Pick one of the other two colors in a tertiary color combination (see below).


So, if your color is red, your CTA should be yellow or blue if you’re picking a tertiary color. Or green if you’re picking the opposite color.

Of course, this is just a simple rule of thumb. You can also use complementary colors and different shades of the same color. Point being, make your pop up POP!

Principle #7: Place it wisely.

Your pop up shouldn’t take over your customer’s screen. Nor should it be so small it’s unnoticeable.

Normal sized pop ups are still fine. However, there’s also nice little slide up pop ups that come up in the corner, or circles that open up when you scroll.

For example, PixelUnion shows this when you scroll down and it disappears when you scroll up:


And CoSchedule has a little box pop up in the bottom left:


Principle #8: Offer something useful.

Your pop up can be pretty, simple, relevant, and timely. But none of that matters if you don’t offer something your visitors actually care about.

You can always give a generic “sign up for our newsletter” pop up. But it probably won’t convert that well. Here are some alternatives:

Whatever you offer, make it good!


Of course, these seven principles aren’t the end all be all of pop up conversion optimization. But, they will help to keep you from making any major errors.

Now let’s see what other store owners feel about pop ups.

Interviews with Fellow Store Owners

I don’t want you to blindly follow my advice on putting a pop up on your store. So, we interviewed over 100 store owners about their thoughts and experiences with pop ups.

The result was mostly positive, but there are a few who had bad experiences. Here are a few of the responses we got.

Andrea Marks of Aphrodite and Antoinette:

“We had a pop up upon landing on our web page and we used it to not only promote discounts but get subscribers to our mailing list. It really helped us generate a good sized subscriber list, and people were able to find out about our discounts. We have had very few unsubscribe from our mailing list.”

Brian Dale of Run Run Run:

“We use them and never had a single complaint. We use only to ask for emails though.”


Lewis Philips of The Pommier:

“We’ve been trialing a mix of pop-up and embedded email sign up forms. Our pop-up is triggered to appear after 1 minute of the customer visiting the website, which we found to be the optimal time. By then, the consumer would be comfortable with our website and have probably found something they are interested in so a discount offer becomes relevant.

We also embedded a discount form at the bottom of each collection page. Our popup form received 300x more sign ups than our embedded form. Even when we took the pop-up up away, embedded sign ups stayed the same.”


Andy Thomas of 5col Survival Supply:

“We refuse to run pop-ups on our store.  Our goal is to meet our customer's' needs, not for them to meet our needs.”

Andrew Bulpin of Elite Titles:

“We have a popup only on the shopping cart side, once they have added to the basket, which shows only if the mouse hits the edge or they go to leave the page. It offers 10% to complete the purchase. It works for us and I am sure we have saved many sales as a result of this ‘tipping point’.”


Abe Buchinger of Whole Sale Home Imp:

“From my consumer viewpoint it is annoying and I usually exit a website if I get a popup ad. Therefore when I developed my website I try to put myself in the consumer's shoes and generally try to avoid using popup ads.”


As you can see, while pop ups tend to work well when done right, some still feel they’re just too annoying to use. Whether or not you decide to use pop ups will come down to how you feel about them yourself…

And how badly you want those emails. :)

Off to you. Will you use pop ups on your store? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

Ready to add a pop up to your Shopify store? Try PixelPop free for 14 days.

Topics: eCommerce News

Bill Widmer

Written by Bill Widmer

Bill is an eCommerce content marketing and SEO consultant. He's run several stores and worked with many well-known brands including A Better Lemonade Stand, SaleHoo, and Lifehack.

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