Pop-up ads get a bad rap, but that’s mostly because so many sites use them incorrectly. Between pop-up abuse and the pain we’re still feeling from earlier in the millennium – when pop-ups ran rampant – this form of advertising has quickly become persona non-grata in the hearts of Internet users. However, with the right strategy, there are ways to use them effectively.

Utilize Time Delays

Have you ever visited a site for the first time only to immediately get hit with a pop-up asking you to sign-up for the newsletter or rate your experience? It’s hard to rate your experience when you’ve only been on the site for two seconds, isn’t it?

Josh Kunzler suggests waiting and earning the trust of users before asking them to sign-up for your mailing list or convert in other ways. In fact, you’re more likely to convert readers if you wait until they spend more time on your site. If they’re clicking around then they’re probably interested in your work and want to see more of it.

Don’t Take Up the Entire Screen

I understand the logic behind this, I really do. You want people to notice your pop-up, whether it’s for a survey or newsletter sign-up or eBook download, and you think the best way to do that is to cover the content.

There are other ways to use pop-ups without blocking most of the page. Try having it slide in on the side and rest in white space on the screen. The eye is still drawn to the movement but the user won’t have the immediate “whack-a-mole” response. The ad can live peacefully on the screen until the reader is ready to heed its call to action.

shutterstock_143098714The Sign-Up Form Should be Less Complicated than Your Taxes

In the name of good karma, I’ve been known to fill out survey questions when they pop-up on my screen. I’ll stick around for a multiple choice question or two, but answering long, open-ended questions usually makes me bounce. “Please describe any instances when…” or “What are your thoughts on…” are just too much for a quick pop-up survey. Try using banner ads that go to survey software for that.

If you’re going to use survey software to ask questions, keep the questions short and sweet. The same concept applies to sign-ups. Let me give you my email and maybe my name. I don’t want to fill out my occupation, job title, city, phone number or marital status. Not only do the extra fields make me want to give up, they also make me suspicious about what you’re doing with all of that information.

Your Copy Says it All

How many times have you seen a pop-up with bland copy like, “Sign-up for our email updates,” which could be for any updates on any site around the Internet? Using copy that’s on-brand will help you stand out and make your reader pay more attention to the ad.

More importantly, your pop-up copy can assure your site visitor that giving you their email address won’t be a mistake. Phrases like “We won’t sell your information,” and “We will only send emails once or twice a week,” can assure them that they’re making a smart decision by converting. Get multiple pairs of eyes on the copy before it’s used, word choice is everything.

shutterstock_145518796The More Relevant the Better

Why were we so put off of pop-ups in the first place? In early rise of the Internet we were bombarded by random ads for male enhancement and endless emoticons. There were flashing lights and malware scams all over our monitors. We quickly learned that anything that immediately pops-up in front of us must be vanquished. This is why utilizing pop-up ads is a losing battle. There are a million different ways to go wrong compared to the ways you can go right.

Targeting your visitors based on their returns to your site and what their interests are will increase the effectiveness of the ads that you’re using. Even WordPress recommends diversifying pop-ups in its best practices. There are a few ways that you can do this:

  • Don’t target them after they convert. Visitors that already signed up for your newsletter don’t want to see the same pop-up again begging for your email address.
  • Use a soft call to action. New traffic should see different pop-ups than returning traffic. First time visitors could see a welcome note to the site, while returning guests could see a thank-you. Not every pop-up banner needs to be a hard sell.
  • Target based on the pages they view. Visitors who take an interest in the data from your white paper would be interested in downloading the whole thing. Tracking what your visitors engage with and are interested in can better help you serve ads that meet their needs.

Give Your Visitors an Out

A recent Dynamic Logic study found that 72 percent of Internet users accept limited use of pop-ups while 47 percent say two to six ads per hour are appropriate. This shows that Internet users don’t necessarily hate pop-ups, but the format and content that the pop-up contains.

One main pop-up pet peeve is having to hunt for the Close button. The mouse automatically moves to the right hand corner, then the left hand corner, and then the user gets frustrated. While you do want to keep the central focus on converting your user, make sure they don’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to close the box. Something small like that can reduce their annoyance with your site, which could turn into more time on your pages, more comments and even more social shares.

shutterstock_107122322Try Bargaining for a Conversion

Jeremy Shoemoney has fantastic pop-up ads. He’ll ask visitors to sign up for his newsletter, but gives users the option to subscribe to his RSS feed instead. Some people prefer to scroll through content on Feedly or Digg Reader instead of cluttering their inboxes. Yes, marketers hoard emails like chipmunks saving for winter, but visitors that subscribe to the RSS feed will keep coming back until they eventually hand over their email addresses and become customers.

Pop-ups can be successful even if they only get Facebook likes or Twitter follows. It means you’ve already engaged with the visitor once, and will be able to do it again. Ask for a lot knowing that you will probably get a little.

Pop-up ads are only as dangerous as the site owner makes them. They can be successful in many ways, and they can be annoying in many more. Fight back against pop-up hate with useful, effective ads.