Why Everyone Hates Popups

Learn how to do popups right with these easy-to-implement tips

Popups. Among the email community it’s a controversial topic. It’s actually what inspired me to write this post in the first place.

This very tweet in fact.

Elliot Ross hates popups tweet

This isn’t the first time Elliot’s mentioned he hates popups to me. We operate in slightly different vertical markets, so perhaps he hasn’t faced as many of the challenges I see everyday with trying to grow your list in an organic way. And organically is THE ONLY way I would recommend growing your list.

So why then, do people hate popups so much?

I think it comes down to the fact that there is widespread use of poorly executed popups. Too many, deployed at any given opportunity to grab an email address. The #1 irritating popup for me is the one that is trigger the moment I arrive at a site. Especially if it’s a new site I’m visiting. I mean hey guys, I haven’t had a chance to see whether I like any of the products and you’re asking me whether I want to hand over my email address. It’s annoying and will hinder your signup conversion rate.

Not only that, but there are still so many websites putting themselves at risk of being penalised by Google for having full screen popups on mobile devices. I still see so many sites not paying attention to this and potentially risking their search rankings.

Finally, it’s not just the actions but the words that can annoy us. Ever heard of manipulinks? They basically try to guilt trip you into signing up by making the “No thanks/close dialogue link” option really unappealing e.g. popup is “Sign up for 10% off your first order” and the No thanks link would be “No thanks, I don’t like discounts”.

How do we make things better then?

Firstly, we need to make popups less intrusive, so setting a delay on it so that you can actually view the site and see if it’s of interest to you before being asked for an email, should be the very minimum that we should be doing to look like polished and professional outfit.

Another one of my pedantries (of which there are many) is that if you click through from an email, you should never see an email subscription popup. Yes, there is the minutest chance they’ve clicked through from a forwarded email, and for that reason, it’s good to included at least one of the following:

  1. A message at the bottom of an email saying “Been forwarded this email and enjoying it? Sign up here”.
  2. A static sign-up on the site (usually the footer) so people can always have the ability to sign up if they’ve suppressed the popup.

In addition, we can try to be smarter with popups, and tailor them to the section of the site being browsed – it’s more intelligent and I’ve had much better subscription rates doing this. Let’s break it down with an example…

I’m a site selling luxury handbags – I don’t have many SKUs, so I can be a little more picky and spend more time on each item. I’ll pick my top 3 handbags and make a popup specifically for each of them. If a customer spends a while looking on that product item page, it’s a sign they’re interested. I want to offer them a discount so I’ll make a popup with some messaging as follows:

Specific Product targeting email popup example

Obviously this idea is no good for sites with thousands of SKUs – but you could target categories rather than specific products in this situation. Either way, you should test this on your most popular categories or products and keep a fallback standard subscription popup too.

Being honest about why you want their email address is also a good way to get signups, like this popup recruitment example from Really Good Emails.

Email popup honest newsletter signup

Or this example from Usersnap which focuses on what you’ll get as a result of providing your email address too (even though we might be frustrated by the popup)

Usersnap pop up focusing on goals

What about exit popups?

Like any form of popup, they should be used with due care. And they should be used carefully in the popup mix. For example, I would avoid having a delay popup and an exit popup asking for a subscription. They’ve said no, why would they change their mind when they leave?

There is one HUGE and what I believe to be underrated use case for exit popups, and that is cart abandonment, specifically if the basket value is big. The idea is that if the intended purchaser has a significant basket value and tries to exit during the checkout process, you’ll offer them a discount to stay and complete the process.

Quite a few of the e-commerce platform popup apps allow you to target basket value so you don’t lose a sale. I think grabbing people at this point is more successful than chasing them up via email (and also guarantees you can contact them vs needing their email address for abandonment). A car salesman knows if you leave the showroom without buying the car, they’ve almost definitely lost the sale and this is the same theory.


In my view, popups are good way to grow one’s list, but it needs to be done right. Less is more. Take babysteps and add in complexity once you learn what works and what doesn’t. Test, revise, test again.

In order to do popups really well, a business should:

  • Definitely delay popups to allow the site visitor time to browse the site
  • Suppress the popup for email click-throughs
  • Create special popups for popular items with targeted messaging
  • Use combinations of popups with care and thoughtfulness
  • Try a basket value exit intent popup to reduce cart abandonment

Share your thoughts

  1. > The #1 irritating popup for me is the one that is trigger the moment I arrive at a site. Especially if it’s a new site I’m visiting.

    Interesting statement, given that your site triggered a popup instantly upon my arrival.

    > Another one of my pedantries (of which there are many) is that if you click through from an email, you should never see an email subscription popup.

    Two strikes: I arrived via a link from a subscription email.

    1. Hi Bob

      Thank you for your honest feedback.

      I took a look (as I didn’t set these popups up) and we actually only have exit intent popups on, so you must have triggered it that way, by exiting the browsing area and moving your mouse (or finger if on mobile) into the address bar.

      I will be sure to rectify the email click-through on future emails.

      Best wishes

      1. You might want to re-check that, I also had a laugh when it popped up as soon as I opened the page. It definitely wasn’t an exit-intent pop up.

  2. Great advice, thank you! I’ve always hated manipulinks and feel like I’m being strong by clicking “no, I’m a bad person” despite the language. I see it recommended to do all the time though so I’m happy to see it’s frowned upon by others.

  3. Hello, I received a pop up upon arriving as well. Just thought you should know. I am irritated with pop ups and was intrigued to read your article about it, and then pop up appeared! I can’t make time to read everything coming in from these sign up forms. It’s just too much.

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