Should I use pop-up windows?

Pop-up windows are everywhere on the web these days. They appear just as you’re reading an article, asking you to part with an email address in exchange for a special offer or a subscription to a newsletter.

Photo by Absolutvision on Unsplash

I once worked in a marketing department at a large organisation and when anyone requesting work from the web team mentioned “pop-up windows” they were bundled into the back of a Cadillac, driven out into the middle of a corn field and never seen again. Well maybe it wasn’t quite that bad but let’s just say they very rarely got a positive reaction! So, are pop-up windows still considered the devil’s work?

The case for pop-ups

Judging by how much pop-ups are used these days I think people are generally a bit more relaxed about using them. There are plenty of businesses who successfully use pop-ups to capture email addresses and build up their email lists. This suggests that there’s a good case for how successful they can be, when they’re done properly.

And this is where the problem arises because there are still an awful lot of people doing pop-ups badly. Here’s a little advice on how you can use pop-ups without irritating people and losing visitors.

Timing the pop-up

Don’t hit people with a pop-up window the minute they arrive on your website. If you’re trying to build relationships it’s probably not a good idea to ask for someone’s email address before they’ve even got to know you. Imagine if someone in the street asked you for your phone number or email address the first time you’d met them.

Recently I visited a marketing website for the first time, I was on it for a few seconds and immediately got a pop-up asking about my experience of using that website.

You can build a time delay into your pop-ups or even better trigger them as someone moves through your website. Personally, I tend to find pop-ups that appear as you’re leaving a site the least irritating and they can actually be a nice way of interacting with people.

Make sure all screen sizes are catered for

If your website is responsive and adapts to smaller screen sizes, make sure your pop-ups do too! Last week I was looking at a marketing blog on my iPhone and the pop-ups were hidden off screen. I couldn’t get to the close button, couldn’t pinch my screen to bring it into view and tapping the background wouldn’t close the pop-up. As a result I just had to leave the site and try again.

Don’t hide the close button

Make it easy for people to close the pop-ups. Don’t be tempted to make the close button tiny or even worse hide it in the hope that it will force them into doing something. That’s really not going to help you gain their trust.

Don’t trigger it more than once

If someone has closed the pop-up on one page of your website, don’t trigger it again when they visit another page during the same visit.

Keep forms inside a pop-up short

If you’re asking for people’s details keep the form in the pop-up window short. Ask someone to enter more than two or three fields worth of information and you risk losing them. Make sure the call-to-action is clear so they know what to do and thank them once they’ve performed the task.

Brand it properly

Make sure the pop-up looks like it belongs to the rest of your website by branding it properly. If it looks wildly different to the rest of your site people might thinks it’s spam or even worse malware.

Watch your language!

Consider the language you use inside the pop-up, no one wants to feel pressured into doing something. I recently saw a pop-up which said “Don’t miss out, do it NOW!!!” which immediately made me feel like stepping away from it.

Check your web stats

If you do start using pop-ups on your website make sure you check your website statistics before and after you implement them. That way you can see how successful they’ve been and if they’ve led to any unusual activity like a drop in the amount of time spent on a particular page.

Alternatives to pop-ups

Lastly, maybe consider an alternative to a pop-up like Hellobar sits right at the top of your page, is easy to implement and doesn’t obscure your content.


So, perhaps pop-up windows aren’t the all pervading evil they were once considered to be. In some cases they can be really successful in helping you capture email addresses and build up your email lists. If you are planning to give them a go on your website just make sure you think very carefully about the best way of using them.