A Pop Up Window Sucks But Doubles Conversion Rates

According to usability expert Jakob Nielson, 95% of website visitors absolutely hate with a passion unexpected or unwanted pop-up windows, especially those that contain unsolicited advertising. In fact, it is the Number 1 Most Hated Advertising Technique!

It is inconvenient to find, however, that pop-ups can increase signup subscription conversions on a blog like this one, by over a whopping 50% when used, as I do sometimes.

Creating a new browser window should be the authority of the user. Do not try to pop-up new windows to clutter the user’s screen.

All links should open in the same window by default. An exception, however, may be made for pages containing a links list. It is convenient in such cases to open links in another window, so that the user can come back to the links page easily.

Even in such cases, it is advisable to give the user a prior note that links would open in a new window.

Pop Up Window Tips:

  • Tell visitors they are about to invoke a pop up window (using the link <title> attribute)
  • Popup windows do not work in all browsers.
  • They are disorienting for users
  • Provide the user with an alternative.

UK Government recommendations:

‘All links must open in the same window by default’

Guidelines for UK Government websites
Illustrated handbook for Web management teams

Further Reading

A TEST With Using A Pop Up Window

Pop ups suck, everybody seems to agree. Here’s the little test I carried out an experiment to see if pop ups work on this site to convert more visitors  to subscribers.

I used this WordPress pop-up plugin (aff) on my blog, and I actually tested it out a few months ago when I didn’t blog for a few months and traffic was very stable.


Testing Pop Up Windows Results

Pop Up Window Total %Change
WK1 On Wk2 Off
Mon 46 20 173%
Tue 48 23 109%
Wed 41 15 173%
Thu 48 23 109%
Fri 52 17 206%

That’s a fair increase in email subscribers across the board in this small experiment on this site. Using a pop up does seem to have an immediate impact.

I have since tested it on and off for a few months and the results from the small test above have been repeated over and over.

I’ve tested different layouts and different calls to actions without pop-ups, and they work too, to some degree, but they typically take a bit longer to deploy than activating a plugin.

I don’t really like pop-ups as they have been an impediment to web accessibility but it’s stupid to dismiss out-of-hand any technique that works. I’ve also not found a client who, if they had that kind of result, would choose accessibility over sign-ups.

I don’t really use the pop up on days I post on the blog, as in other tests, it really seemed to kill how many people share a post in social media circles.

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3 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    It’s unanimous that pop ups suck but they do stall the web page and give you a way to get a small message into peoples faces fast like the pop up in your image above. As the human eye is naturally pulled to the left side of a page having a message like: Try my FREE course gets read long before they see the cross icon to close the window. as you mentioned there are times this sort of tactic work great like prolonged periods of no new content where people just fly by the site.

  2. Greg McGuire says:

    Did you notice an appreciable increase in bounce rate as well? Interesting post, thanks for sharing the results of this experiment!

    • Shaun Anderson says:

      Actually I started looking at that just before my server meltdown at the weekend – I will look into it :)

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