Mary Blackiston9 min readPartner postsSeptember 11, 2019

7 email pop-up mistakes killing your conversions (and what to do instead)

7 email pop-up mistakes killing your conversions (and what to do instead)

Email pop-ups are one of the most universally hated marketing tactics out there; they annoy website visitors and disrupt the user experience. And yet, marketers continue to use them because they’re highly effective.

Not convinced? Here’s a little proof: One blogger managed to increase her signups by a whopping 1,375% using (yes, you guessed it) email pop-ups. 

So if you’re trying to generate leads and build your email list, then email pop-ups are a must-have. Period. 

The problem is that when not utilized correctly, pop-ups can have the exact opposite effect of what’s intended and can push people off of your site. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ll reveal the email pop-up no-nos that you should avoid at all costs—and what you should do instead. 

Mistake #1: Showing pop-up too soon

Imagine if you walked into a store and, as soon as you set foot inside, a shop assistant comes up to you and asks you if you’d like to sign up to receive email updates from them.

You might be a little taken aback, right? You haven’t even had a chance to look around yet and already you’re being asked to join their email list? Talk about jumping the gun. 

But that’s exactly what you’re doing to your website visitors when your pop-up shows up as soon as they land on your website. 

What to do instead: 

As with many things in life, timing is everything when it comes to your email popups. If you show them too soon, you’ll annoy your website visitors and possibly encourage them to leave your site. But if you show them too late, you might lose your window of opportunity. 

There are a number of ways that you can time your pop-ups. For example, you could create an exit-intent pop-up that shows up just as your visitors express intent to leave your site (like moving their cursor outside the upper part of the page). Or you could look at the average time on page and time your pop-up to show up at half the average time on page. Or you could set it to pop up after your user has scrolled past a certain point on your page. 

Test out different timing strategies to see when works best with your audience. 

Mistake #2: Providing zero value

If you want your website visitors to hand over their coveted email addresses, then you’d better make the value of your offer very clear to them. Otherwise, you can rest assured that you won’t be getting those email addresses. 

Here’s a perfect example of what not to do: 

pop-up example 1

Nowhere on the form do they say why people should sign up for the newsletter or what’s in it for them. 

Here’s a better way of doing it: 

pop-up example 2

Keep in mind that the value also might change depending on where your users are in the sales funnel. For example, if your website visitors have been reading several of your blog posts, then you might not want to push them into making a purchase just yet. 

What to do instead: 

Take a look at the pages that your visitors are spending time on, and then create tailored, relevant pop-ups on those pages that speak to them wherever they are in the buyer’s journey. 

If your visitors are further along the buyer’s journey (and have already expressed interest in buying one of your products), then it’s fine to send them sales-related messages (like a freebie or free shipping offer). If, however, they are still early in the buyer’s journey, then it’s probably more appropriate to send them an offer for a free eBook, a giveaway or the like. 

You could also relate your offer to the exact page that your visitors are on. So for example, if you sell outdoor gear and your visitors are on a product page for a jacket that you sell, your popup could offer to send the best deals on jackets. 

Mistake #3: Asking for too much information

One of the easiest ways to lose a potential lead is by asking for too much information up front. Your users aren’t even expecting the pop-up, so you can’t expect them to take much time to fill out the form. 

What to do instead: 

As a general rule of thumb, you should only ask your visitors to fill out one field on your pop-up form (your email address). 

If you want to get more information from your visitors (which can allow you to better segment your audience), then you could create multi-step pop-ups. So, for example, you might ask your user a “yes/no” question and then once they click on the CTA that expresses their interest, you would then ask them for more information. This relies on the “foot in the door” method; psychologically, people are more likely to say yes to a larger request if they have said yes to a smaller request first. 

Here’s how OptinMonster does it:

pop-up example 3

If the visitor clicks on the yellow button, then the pop-up disappears. But if they click on the white CTA, they receive this message:

pop-up example 4

If you go this route, just don’t make your visitors fill out more than four fields. Even though you can get away with asking your users for more information with a multi-step pop-up, there’s still a limit to how much you can ask. 

Mistake #4: Unclear call-to-action 

A good call-to-action (CTA) can go a long way in getting your visitors to convert. But if it’s unclear or conflicts with your copy in any way, then you might have a hard time getting them to take action. 

What to do instead: 

Use verbs and action words. Make the benefit very clear. And ensure that your CTA copy is consistent with the copy on the rest of your pop-up. 

Need a little inspiration? Here’s an example of a good call-to-action: 

pop-up example 5

Mistake #5: Making it difficult to close 

There's nothing more frustrating for your website visitors than a pop-up that’s difficult to close. Luckily, this is easily avoidable. 

What to do instead: 

Make the “X” button in the top right corner of your pop-up clearly visible. You could also make it so that if your users click outside of the pop-up, it will close automatically. Or you could have a negative call-to-action button, like so: 

pop-up example 5

Mistake #6: Prompt new pop-ups too often 

Do you know those annoying hawkers who try to sell you things on the street? You say no, but they keep insisting and encouraging you to buy. 

Not a very successful tactic, is it? 

The same goes for your pop-ups. If your visitors close the first pop-up you show them, don’t bombard them with more as they continue to browse your site. Otherwise, they are sure to get fed up and leave your site. 

What to do instead: 

Keep it to just one pop-up per browsing session. And if your users have already subscribed to your email list, then don’t show them any at all. 

Mistake #7: Bad design 

It would be nice if nobody judged books by their covers. But unfortunately, most people do. 

To that end, just like your website design, your pop-up design cannot be poorly designed if you want it to convert. 

Case in point: 

pop-up example 6

Not only is the design atrocious, but who actually has time to read all of that? Not your website visitors, that’s for sure. 

Also, make sure that the design of your email pop-up is consistent with the design of your background. It should not look like this, for example: 

bad pop-up example

What to do instead: 

Abide by pop-up design best practices, and: 

  • Include attention-grabbing visual elements wherever possible 
  • Use contrast (and make sure your CTA stands out) 
  • Use lots of whitespaces 
  • Make sure the font is easy to read (note: people tend to find it easier to read dark font against a light background as opposed to light font against a dark background) 
  • Make your design consistent with the rest of your website/webpage 

Here’s an example of an email popup design done right from Zendesk: 

pop-up example 7

Notice here how the pop-up design does not conflict with the background. The image is relevant, the copy is easy to read and the CTA stands out. 

Here’s another good one from the woman’s beauty magazine, Marie Claire:

pop-up example

Pop-up best practices 

So now that you know what popup blunders to avoid, let’s recap the best practices that you should follow when creating your email pop-ups

  1. Trigger your pop-ups to show at the right time
  2. Make the value very clear to the user (and cater to where they are in the sales funnel) 
  3. Don’t ask for too much information 
  4. Have a clear call-to-action and headline 
  5. Make it easy to close out of the pop-up 
  6. Only prompt one pop-up per user session 
  7. Use an attention-grabbing, visually appealing design and an easy-to-read font 

And finally...test, test and test some more! Because at the end of the day, testing is the only way to know what type of email pop-up will convert your visitors into leads. 


Mary Blackiston

Mary Blackiston is the Content Marketing Specialist for eScale, a full-service digital agency devoted exclusively to building and growing eCommerce stores.