Common mistakes with website popups

Website popups have divided opinions for a while. Some think they’re an excellent way to get users to subscribe to newsletters or take the next step in the buying process, while others think they kill the user experience. Some people really don’t like popups, so much so that they avoid sites that use them.

Whether you see their benefits for lead generation and conversion or despise their existence entirely, website popups are likely to be a feature on many websites for the foreseeable future. It is possible to create popups that don’t ruin the user experience by making them more subtle, or by making the perfect offer.

All businesses should strive to nurture their website visitors and make the experience as easy as possible. This can be done by offering fewer disruptions and only offering things of value to the user. And there lies the basis of bad popups. Here are a few common mistakes with website popups and how to avoid them:

Poorly timed popups

Timing is crucial for popups. Too soon and the visitor has no idea what’s going on yet, but too late and they become an annoying distraction. Too often, websites trigger popups immediately. The visitor hasn’t even had time to read the headline yet and they’re being assaulted by calls-to-action.

These immediate popups put the user in a bad mood straight away, making them likely to exit the website altogether. They haven’t had time to explore the site or take in the context of an article before a full-screen hijacking takes place. The next step is often to close the tab and leave the site.

Similarly, a popup that interrupts you mid-sentence halfway through an article is just as annoying. It makes you lose your train of thought and forces you to re-read the paragraph to remember what is being said.

Fixing poor timing is easy. You should aim to trigger popups at a time of strong user engagement, which can be established by looking at your analytics. For long blog posts, trigger popups once a user reaches the bottom of the article. These popups are useful for getting visitors to subscribe or check out other articles on your site.

You can set the triggers to activate when a user scrolls through a certain percentage of the page, or after a specified time period. Although this may slightly reduce the chances of visitors seeing your popup, it is better to time it properly than to bombard your users at inconvenient times.

One of the only times an immediate popup can work is when a first-time user visits the site and you offer them a discount of some sort, whether it’s on your products or a coupon code for a service. Think about the context and how to leverage it to your advantage.

Poorly targeted popups

Like bad timing, if you target the wrong users, your popup will be worthless and seen as a nuisance. Try to target your popups based on user attributes, such as marketing new product releases to repeat visitors and discounts to first-time visitors. Repeat users will know what products you already have on offer, so showing them new ones will be advantageous.

Another common factor with poor targeting is using a popup to offer something completely unrelated to what’s on the page. Popups should always be relevant to the content on a page – a user will click on the page because they want to know something specific, but showing them an irrelevant offer is a waste of time.

Similarly, if a user follows a call-to-action (such as subscribing to a newsletter) but they still get the same popup every time they visit the site, this is a major targeting problem. In these instances, you need to offer your visitors something more, such as courses, access to specials or once-off product demos.

The premise behind targeting is to align your offering with the viewer’s interests and awareness. Keep offers relevant to what’s on the page or to your user’s location. For example, offering a course held in Johannesburg to users from Cape Town is pointless. Use cookies to keep your popups relevant to the user.

Poorly valued popups

Simply asking users to sign up to a mailing list offers no value to them, especially if they don’t know what kind of content you’re going to be sending to them. Repeat visitors may love your content and would be interested in your newsletter, but the majority of your traffic is probably going to be first-time users.

The best popups have a tangible value for the user – they offer discounts, coupons, special codes to access something unique. These types of popups capture the attention of the user because of their inherent value.

Unique offerings also have more value. Copying the style and purpose of other website popups is not going to invite more attention from your users. Think outside the box for creative ways to get your users to sign up. For example, some sites give away a small product every 24 hours to users who sign up for their newsletter. These creative offerings are more appealing and valuable to a user.

Poorly designed popups

The internet is awash with badly-designed popups. The first job of a popup is to be eye-catching, yet subtle. Ideally, your popup should reflect your brand in style and colour; users should know that they are looking at your popup straight away.

Believe it or not, design is linked to trust on the internet. Badly designed sites are seen as unprofessional or outdated, so how can a user trust what these sites have to offer? Trust is key for conversions, so a well-designed site or popup is critical.

Design is also a major influencer of perceptions. Initial perceptions must be consistent with the brand image. No matter what impression you’re trying to make, stick to the basic rules of design. Keep your popups simple, easy to read and avoid clashing tones or obscenely bright colours.

Poorly worded popups

One of the easiest and quickest ways of attracting attention is through wording. Working in conjunction with the design, your popup text should be easy to understand and quick to read. Simpler is always better.

Avoid over-wording your popups as they become boring, vague and confusing. Keep text to the essentials and make your offer clear and compelling. Address your users needs and make your offer’s value stand out. Sometimes highlighting what the user stands to lose is a good way to grab their attention.

Remember clear copy always trumps clever copy – don’t try to be too smart with your words if it’s going to detract from your offer. Don’t overload your popups with quirky text either, and choose a typeface that is easy to read.

Summing up

It doesn’t matter whether you see the value in popups or find them annoying; if you’re going to use them, you need to make sure that they are planned and executed perfectly. They need to be timed just right, according to the analytics of your website. The need to be targeted properly to maximise their relevance.

They need to offer something of value to the visitor, otherwise, they’re a wasted tool. Finally, they need to look good; they should be eye-catching yet simple and easy to understand. The design and wording are vital elements of great popups.

They don’t need to be a nuisance or discourage your users from staying on your site. Popups should actually enhance the user experience by offering something more. Spending time on crafting perfect popups is a great way to increase conversions for your business.


Sorted Design Agency is a creative company that constantly looks for solutions to other people’s problems. These problems come mostly in the visual format, such as graphic design, logo and illustration, but we’re experts in brand development, website design, and digital SEO campaigns as well.


Based in Pretoria and Cape Town, Sorted has been in the content marketing industry since 2006. We assist your company with its corporate identity by communicating core values through content and articles written for your website, blog and news area. This content is supported by AdWords and social advertising, which facilitates wider reach and audience growth. Turn your website into a business tool.


Sorted also owns two other businesses; InkFish Print Studio – a printing company that handles a range of promotional materials for businesses and other services for individual customers, and Pampiri + Kie – a gifts and stationery store selling online and in-store. Both of these companies operate from Cape Town and Pretoria.


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