8 key principles of a great pop-up


Pop-ups are a controversial subject. So much so that the inventor even apologized for them.

However, it's probably fair to say that the worst of the stigma has worn off. The days of playing whack-a-mole on endlessly multiplying pop-ups have come and gone, and it's now common to use them for newsletter sign-ups, and even upsell offers.

They've been shown to double some people’s conversion rates for lead generation (pretty amazing, right?). But, still pop-ups can be really obnoxious if you don't do them right.

Visiting a page only to have a pop-up thrown at you is like being harassed by those mall kiosk sales people. Just because you're shopping doesn't mean you want someone in your face.

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-ups

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 when you’re just looking.


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 one thing, like their email — not their name and birthday and their favorite color.

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



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

Too many pop-ups can feel spammy. Don't remind shoppers of those early days of the internet when you clicked the wrong link and got a never ending onslaught of unwanted new windows.


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

And to avoid annoying people with that one pop-up, be sure to adhere to the next principle.

Principle #4: Give your visitors some time to breath

By default, most pop-ups display immediately on arrival.

That’s bad, alright?

You want to give your visitors some time to actually see your site. I like to display pop-ups after 30 to 60 seconds or base it on scroll-depth. Most platforms, like Wix and Squarespace, have apps with built-in options about when your pop-up activates.

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 feel totally different than the rest of their store. Having the same look, and even using the same tone of voice in the copy can really improve the experience and entice visitors to take action.

So ensure your pop-up uses your brand's colors, font, image style, and brand voice.

Principle #6: Make sure it works on mobile

It's no secret that mobile browsing is set to overtake desktop.

More than ever, people surf the net using their phones or tablets. Even if they are more likely to actually make a purchase on their computer, they do research about who most deserves their money while they're on the train or eating lunch. So your pop-up need to look and work great no matter what device your audience is using.

Creating a great mobile pop-up is an art in itself — for example, you need to make sure it follows certain rules so you don't damage your SEO — but at the very least, double check that your pop-up doesn't disturb your mobile site's user experience. 

You spend a lot of time driving traffic to your store, so don't scare anyone away because your pop-up is impossible to close on somebody's phone, or the "enter email" box is way too small to click into.

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 eight principles aren’t the end all and 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 results were mostly positive, and only a few had bad experiences. Here are some 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 opts against using them:

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

But let's hand it off to you. Will you use pop-ups on your store? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

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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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