Before you start muttering I hate popups, hear me out. First of all, chances are you’re using them, or at least being engaged by them. If you’ve never interacted with a popup say so in the comments and I’ll send you the Popup Warrior Award.

We can all agree that popups are over-used. They’re like a celebrity that doesn’t know when to stop taking selfies. But, that doesn’t mean they are 100% bad for humanity. Not every word that came out of a Kardashian’s mouth has been harmful, but the accumulating effect is devastating. The lesson learned – moderation is key.

Real Quick – Why We Use Popups?

We use popups because it’s getting harder and harder to get website visitors attention. Shortening attention spans, overload of information, FOMO and heightened competition make it exceedingly important to initiate a connection immediately.

The overall purpose of popups is conversion. That’s why the vast majority of popups offer you something in return for your email address.

Is it the best way to convert anonymous website visitors? Maybe not, but it works and that’s why so many companies use them. It’s quick, painless and requires minimal effort.

Why So Many People Hate Popups?

The most commonly used word regarding popups is “annoying”. Popups are perceived as annoying because they are intrusive, they pop uninvited, they interrupt the browsing flow, they can block the entire screen, they are sometimes hard to close and some use cheeky, annoying language for the dismissal button – “No thanks, I know it all”.

(In the real world it is unthinkable that a company that wishes you to become a customer will talk to you in this manner; it’s curious that in the online world such an attitude is acceptable.)

Tell Me How You Really Feel About Popups


So yeah, popups are faced with an uphill struggle to becoming everyone’s favorite online conversion tool, but from the looks of it – and their ever-increasing popularity – they are here to stay. So let’s try to make the most of it and see how we can use them in a measured way.

Is There More Than One Kind of Popup?


Generic Popups

The generic kind is the one you’ve probably come across. What makes them generic? A few things:

  • They pop at every single website visitor
  • Every time they pop, promoting the same offer
  • They pop to predetermined actions: scroll, mouse movement, click

Which means – generic popups are made of a simple mechanism that reacts to website visitors’ triggers. They are rule-based, manually set, one-trick ponies.

Which is fine. Because as long as they serve a purpose they don’t need to be the greatest invention of all time.

This is where moderation should be considered. If a second after I landed in a site a full-screen popup offers me to register to their newsletter, well, that’s just silly. One second isn’t enough time to evaluate a site, to make a decision whether I would like to hear more from these guys, or if I find their content valuable. Even more silly is when I close the popup and scroll down another popup is triggered; maybe that’s just me, but that’s when I bounce and if this triggers a third, exit-intent popup, then I’m bouncing laughing out loud.

When & Why Should You Use Generic Popups

When you have a single message, offer, promotion or campaign you want to communicate to your audience.

Because they are cheap, common and simple to setup and use.

Personalized Popups

The personalized kind is less common. What makes them personalized? A couple of things:

  • They can accommodate more than a single message
  • They have targeting and segmentation capabilities

Which means, personalized popups can be custom-configured to target specific visitors based on user data and behavior, ABM, referral source and more – all while making various offers.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

If my company has two main service pages, I can configure a personalized offer for each, to be shown only to visitors who visited that page.

In the same way, I can configure my popups to correspond with the UTM URLs I create for my paid media campaigns. That way I make sure that whatever made them click will be further enforced when they arrive to my website.

Personalized popups demand a lot of work, laborious rule-setting and list-making. Not everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a lot of maintenance involved as well in updating your offerings and promotions.

When & Why Should You Use Personalized Popups

When you have many messages, offers, promotions or campaigns that you want to communicate to different segments of your audience.

Because they offer a much better return, and since they are more relevant they are less annoying.

First of all, they don’t have to be intrusive. They don’t have to block the entire screen. They don’t have to make it really difficult to close them.

They can be seamlessly integrated into the natural browsing flow, being suggestive, giving you the option to opt in, or not:

When you show an interest by clicking, it can still be suggestive, letting you make an informed decision whether to move forward, or decline:

Another thing you probably don’t know about popups is that, as the image above illustrates, they can act as content recommendations, not necessarily conversion hunters. More than that, they can be personalized content recommendations.

Introducing: Personalized Content Recommendations

The idea behind: your website visitors are made up of various personas with various needs at various stages of the funnel. How can they all be interested in the same content? They can’t. So you probably have various pieces of content on your site that address these personas, needs and stages. And probably, just probably, not all of this content is smack in the middle of your homepage, or your main two product pages.

All of us are asking our website visitors to invest a lot of time and do some serious digging in order to get to the content that is relevant for them. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be proactive and recommend it to them? Yes, of course it would. As long as we can figure out their needs.

Two More Things You Should Know about Personalized Content Recommendations

They are powered by an algorithm.
And this algorithm saves you a lot of trouble – it saves you the trouble of manual setup, configuration and maintenance. No rules, no lists.

In order to recommend content the algorithm ‘reads’ your entire site’s content and maps it thematically. Then, it analyzes visitor data and behavior and recommends them the most relevant content in real time.

They convert like crazy.
Some of the content being recommended is gated. It’s as simple as that. If I’m being recommended a relevant, informative piece of content, like a white paper, an eBook or a case study – after I had enough time to form a positive opinion about the site I’m visiting, then yes, I will leave my email in return for that piece of content.

Here as well, moderation is key. Gate 100% of your content and you are no less annoying than any-old, generic, full-screen popup.