Business > Merchant Voice

Pop-ups bad for the web, bad for business

Our company is approached frequently by app makers that are selling pop-ups, or modals, for our ecommerce site. The pitch is usually the same: Use our pop-up to get more email subscribers, close more deals, and keep visitors on your website. But the question isn’t which app to go with. It’s whether we should use pop-ups at all.

Let me first separate categories of pop-ups. There are user-experience pop-ups. For example, when a website is different based on a user’s location, it makes sense to have a pop-up that requests the user’s postal code. Also, if a user clicks on something, such as a photo, and expects a pop-up, that is cool.

But what I want to address in this article are pop-ups that seek to collect an email address — or offer exiting visitors an instant 20 percent coupon. These are marketing pop-ups.

At Beardbrand, we have decided against using marketing pop-ups. The biggest reason is that it’s bad for the web. It’s a marketing practice that is annoying to many users and makes browsing the web a worse experience. The fact that pop-up blockers are built into many browsers confirms this. Other ad-block extensions are further proof that many people are driven mad by these things.

Merchants and app makers who favor marketing pop-ups will talk about how they perform and how you will get increased revenue from them. But the same argument can be made for spam and telemarketing. Yes, they work and it gets generates more revenue. But the reality is consumers don’t want pop-ups because they are annoying. Spam has hurt many legit email newsletters and people stopped answering phone calls from unrecognized phone numbers thanks to telemarketing.

As an ecommerce decision maker, you can make the web a better place and remove pop-ups. Foregoing pop-ups forces you to build a stronger, healthier business.

The problem for many companies is that alternative marketing strategies are hard work. Or perhaps the companies don’t know there are alternatives. They want the cheap, the easy, and the immediate. But that attitude is detrimental to the long-term growth of a business. It should be replaced with “what can we do to make the experience so good that they choose to engage with us?”

I’ve found the best way to get an email address is to get a sale. Continuous A/B testing ensures users are finding information and flowing through the funnel. It is good for all parties. It helps users achieve their goals and it helps merchants grow revenue.

You can also implement a better layout that highlights your newsletter sign-up form. Take inspiration from companies that have grown rapidly without pop-ups. These companies typically have beautifully-designed websites, incredible photographs, and a story and vision that are guiding the company.

I’m an old-school guy. If you have a great product, great experience, and great vision, you will see revenue growth. Cheap tricks may temporarily boost sales. But they aren’t a foundation to build your business on. Change the way you think about your marketing and you will start seeing the results of those efforts.

So, which camp are you in? Pro pop-up or not?

Eric Bandholz
Eric Bandholz
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