Have You Fallen For This Scuzzy Design Trend In Pop-ups?

Or put another way, are you telling your precious visitors that you think they’re a bunch of bubble-headed morons? Read on to see…

There is a disturbing trend we’re noticing on the slippery slope of pop-up marketing. Pop-up marketing… you know, the new breed of pop-up window that overlays the underlying site with an important message, typically via a Javascript lightbox? The kind of pop-up that many sites now use to push email opt-ins.

Opinions on this type of marketing are polarized. The people who focus on the outcomes of displaying pop-ups (e.g., conversion rate, opt-in rate) tend to stand firmly in the for camp. The against contingent is dubious of interruptive marketing… believing that the in-your-face messaging is off-putting for its target audience. [Tell us what you think in the comments!]

No matter where you stand on the debate, it’s clear to us that when done well, pop-ups can drive conversions without pissing people off. But as usual, the devil’s in the details.

Some of the design decisions that will make or break how visitors feel about your pop-up (and your brand!) include:

  • The elapsed time between when a visitor shows up on your site and when a pop-up appears… set the timer too low and you may surprise people (not in a good way)
  • How easy it is to close the pop-up… make the little “X” too hard to find and visitors may close their tab or browser window altogether
  • How often the pop-up (or combination of pop-ups) appears to a single visitor… do you think something good can come from multiple interruptions?
  • How you label the button choices / calls to action… which is what this post is about

Many pop-ups you’ll encounter ask for an email address in exchange for a newsletter, email/video course, or whitepaper. You either enter your email address and submit the form… or close the pop-up. Simple:


Graham Jones, “Internet Psychologist” does it right. 🙂

UPDATE: We’ve just discovered Mojowheel, which is a very cool way to gamify opt-ins. Check it out here

The Dark Side Of Pop-up Messaging

The type of pop-up that gives us Copy Hackers heartburn lately includes two clickable options… a ‘yes’ and an explicit ‘no’ (more explicit than the “X” to close the pop-up).

This layout itself isn’t new; in fact, it was common to see the ‘no’ option worded politely as a “No thanks”… clear, friendly, and nothing remotely offensive.

But more recently, we’re seeing the opt-out button worded in a way that tries to make visitors feel badly about declining the offer.

Here’s an example:


How do you feel about that grey button?

How do you think your visitors would feel after reading that button… if it were on your site?

At Copy Hackers, we’re all about using the powers of persuasion to help sell products or services. Back in 2009, way before Copy Hackers came to life, Joanna and I wrote a month-long series of posts about persuasion, titled – not surprisingly – The 30 Days of Persuasion

When it comes to persuasion, there are techniques that push the boundaries of ethical behavior… not unlike SEO. If you let yourself fall to the dark side – which is basically outright trickery – you may see some positive initial results, but you’ll be found out eventually, and in the end, your newfound customers will be pissed. Nobody likes to feel like they’ve been tricked.

When done correctly, persuasion doesn’t involve tricking your prospective customers. It taps into the evolutionary mechanisms that have allowed humans to make decisions and survive. And while there are no wooly mammoths to worry about on our weekly trips to the mall, these mechanisms still guide our decisions just like they did 50,000 years ago.

In our opinion, the grey button above sits arrogantly on the dark side of persuasion. It’s not subtle or cute. When you read it, you feel something… but it’s not a positive feeling. It’s ugly.

Do the site owners believe that visitors, when faced with the two options, will click the orange button to avoid the sheer embarrassment of admitting that they don’t care about their bounce rate? Oh, the shame.

No, if visitors are genuinely not interested in the offer, I suspect they’ll still click the grey button, but leave the site feeling dirty about it and its scuzzy sales tactics.

This isn’t persuasion and it isn’t growth hacking. Don’t do it. There are so many better ways to persuade than to risk eroding all the hard work you put into building your brand. [If you’re still reading, it’s likely you care about your brand.]

To us, the downside of this approach far exceeds any upside. And sites that use this technique aren’t operating in a vacuum, either. In fact, they make it more difficult for the rest of us to use pop-ups in an effective way.

Step Into The Light

Are there ways to persuade visitors from declining an offer or leaving your site without feeling icky? Absolutely, and the savvy team at Get Response shows us the way on a pop-up that fires if your cursor starts heading for the exit door:


The team has clearly put some thought into how to get visitors to feel something about leaving, but without the scuzzy tactics.

If you use pop-ups, think about how your messaging makes people feel. For the opt-out, give people a reason to rethink their decision, sure, but don’t try to make them feel badly. In the end, they’ll only feel badly about your brand.

About the author

Lance Jones

  • GhostofSeamus

    Surprised to read that you’re good with that last ad, as it comes across about as needy and desperate that a a site can get. “WHAAH! PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME! WHY DID YOU GO?”

    Ick. You think that’s professional or attractive?

  • Randal McNally


    • Randall, did you even read the article? I said nothing about the evil of pop ups — we’ve been using them for years. Years.

      Here’s my final paragraph… I hope it helps:

      “If you use pop-ups, think about how your messaging makes people feel. For the opt-out, give people a reason to rethink their decision, sure, but don’t try to make them feel badly. In the end, they’ll only feel badly about your brand.”

      This entire post was about using non-scuzzy messaging — not about the evil of pop ups.

      • sonnyboy1

        I tried reading the article first, but the popup blocked it. I’ll look for an answer on another site.

  • I hate pop ups that block and darken the page I was about to read ! I usually leave the website when it happens, except in a few cases I will sign up only if it is something i am very interested in, such as web page design (UX) etc. or similar, But I sign up for those ANYWAY if I can See a place to on the page to do so, and that way I don’t get so rudely interrupted as I do when they pop up just after I start reading !
    I may have been planning to read the whole page and go from there, but I usually leave the site when the pop up. And lately I am getting so irritated by being constantly bombarded by them everywhere I go online it seems, that I am leaving way faster than ever before after saying a few choice expletives in some cases.
    Wow One just popped up here! And when I got it closed , Now one is now covering the right one third of this website screen covering where i need to type, It says: (Sign up to get our FREE landing page guide)
    with NO visible provision to even close it!
    I will go read about the seemingly ever increasing and all pervasive evil pop up trend elsewhere after I manage to get this typed,
    so that I can at Least SEE the article TO read it… 🙂
    Here is a screenshot of what I am seeing now:

    • Hey Stan — I understand what you’re saying. But if you could eliminate the various pop-ups, would you be willing to pay for the content you’re consuming? It can’t all be free, y’know.

      We’re a small business. We have to pay for the salaries of our team. Getting people to opt in to hear about products that have received nothing but stellar reviews doesn’t seem like too bad a thing, does it?

      Of course nobody’s forcing you to read our content… 🙂

  • Alex Grosskopf

    Honestly if one of those full screen pop ups happen on a web page, or article im trying to read i will just close that tab and look for the information else where.
    The worst is when im a paragraph into an article and then the screen goes grey and asks me to sign up. Im IMMEDIATELY done with that web page. Or the exit pop up. I go to switch tabs and the entire web page shifts to get you to click on something on that web page. Again, immediately done, i can find the information im looking a site that doesnt do that stuff.

  • Lindsay Bates

    Wow. An article about how pop-ups are crappy that has a crappy pop-up. Now when I get slapped in the face with one of these I enter the email of someone who has a site that uses crappy pop ups. Totally useless and pisses both off. For example, I’ll be using next time I research auto insurance quotes online.

  • Earthdowser

    I am so SICK of these pop-ups. Every site I go to has one of these obnoxious pop-ups. Now, if I could opt out by clicking outside the pop-up I would not be so bothered. But, to be forced to make a click is not right. In other words, they have three way of garnering info from you, the X out button, the yes button, or the no button. If they were not garnering info from the X out button, then clicking outside the pop-up would suffice. So, they are forcing info from you no matter what. I do not like that and I just click the backwards button19 out of 20 times and leave the site – I don’t even care if I like the site!!

    I look for opt-in boxes for email sign-up or things like that. I do not like IN-YOUR-FACE force-you-to-click pop-ups.

    On your site, I just left and returned to get rid of your pop-up because I wanted to tell you how I felt, since you were asking.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity

  • wendygoerl

    Quite often, I get a pop-up ( be it sign-up/sign-in or “please don’t sic your adblocker on our poor site!) I bounce. Just because you don’t remember my login from five seconds ago isn’t a good reason to hit me with an OIPU. In fact, it gets me thinking about unsubscribing. “Please don’t leave me” pop-ups are just as annoying. (Hey webmasters, did it occur to you that I might only be switching to another tab while I wait for you page to load? Course, if you’re going to get whiny about it, I’ll just leave you). And I agree with Tom Green, you’re not walking your talk yourself.

    • Thanks for your comment, wendygoerl! The post is all about using scuzzy language in exit pop-ups… guilt-inducing language… not about exit pop-ups in general. We love the results we’re getting from Bounce Exchange’s technology…

      • wendygoerl

        You mean like this site’s “yes get my ebook/no my copy is already stellar” pop-up being thrown at people who don’t have any copy to care about?

      • Earthdowser

        However, this is an opportunity for all of us to unload our abhorrence of pop-ups. An article about any faction of pop-ups is to your readers, about all areas of pop-ups as you will see as you read the comments down the page.

  • Tom Green

    The devil is in the detail … and that means testing provocative vs “normal”. But I wonder, shouldn’t you walk your talk after such a post ? Check out your pop up.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      A pop-up isn’t a scuzzy thing. Scuzzy negative / opt-out messaging is.

      • wendygoerl

        Opt-in, opt-out. The point is, you’re insisting I stop my reading of the article to deal with your pop-up. If I don’t have a good reason for reading on, I bounce. I got halfway through you article, and that pop-up came at me (asking me to make a decision about something I don’t care about in the first place, and not even having a simple close point). I bounced, then I decided to try again. A pop-up hits me again, I’m closing and I’m not coming back.

  • jimbit

    apparently YOU Lance Jones have fallen for the scuzzy trend!!!!

  • Layla Rose

    But then I got one here! Grrr!!! This just takes the cake. I hate those things. Everyone should STOP doing this immediately. It’s obnoxious. Sometimes you just want to browse, peruse, explore a site w/o annoying pop-ups that you can’t figure out how to get rid of. Way to go guy, talking about it, then doing it yourself. Hippocrite!

  • All this apologist’s article attempts to do is to slap a thin veneer of respectability on the latest generation of pop-up ads — and it fails miserably. They sucked in the 90s, they suck today. Somebody, please! Where can we download a program to defeat this virtual hucksterism?

  • Fabrice Mongeau

    Popups are the scourge of humanity.

  • DLara Challis

    Awesome information, I am also working on Bounce Exchange to get low bounce rate onto my website. information shared by you will definitely help me out. Thanks.

  • timframed

    I was wondering about that as well. One feature Copyhackers is using which I haven’t noticed before is a hover over counter to show how many people opted into which bucket.

    I’m in the side of making opt-in opportunities visible, but unobtrusive.

    Helpscout has an awesome blog and they have a great lower-right corner opt in slider.

  • Mauricio Nörenberg

    Can I just join this discussion just to tell every web designer, ad expert or whatever on how we loathe exit popups? This is the worse trend ever.
    Please stop doing this, it’s terrible and will give you cancer.

    • Earthdowser

      We also loathe entrance pop-ups.

  • m1kesa1m0ns

    Looks like THIS SITE has fallen to the scuzzy trend of pop-ups…

  • Tony Christopher

    And as I’m reading this a pop up using the EXACT tactic mentioned on here with the grey button, but worse, is shown to me!

  • Dev_4iOS

    And another annoying one pops up on your site as I left!

  • Matt

    You gave me the annoying popup. I clicked yes and entered “” please stop with all the “in your face” suggestions.

    • m1kesa1m0ns

      glad to see I’m not alone in leaving messages for sites with popups in bogus email addresses.

      The hardest part is avoiding actual expletives. I hope something like “” gets the message across.

  • Orbi1

    I personally HATE popups, especially the exit ones. In fact, as soon as it appears, I x out of the site, never to return.
    Hopefully if they’re reading their logs, they’ll see quite a few of us clicking out in 1 second

    • Matt

      I always enter “” hopefully all those emails end up somewhere

      • wendygoerl

        Like they even care?

  • Bea Tles

    I visit hundreds of websites per week. I already have way more email subs than I need and constantly consider culling, not growing, the list. So, the cumulative effect of this super annoying trend is intense annoyance verging on anger.

    If I want to sign up, I will find the form, as long as you don’t hide it. But don’t pop me in the face with it.

    If I get a popup within seconds of visiting a site, I close the window immediately and vow to avoid that site in the future. How could I possible know in a matter of seconds if yours is a quality site with information I’d be happy to find in my inbox on a regular basis?

    The ones that try to stop me from leaving after I’ve been there a while are only slightly less aggravating.

  • Welp, Irony of ironies, I got bounce exchanged on this site… Guess I can’t use your article as a reference anymore.

    • Hey Nicholas, we’re running a Bounce Exchange experiment on the website. The Bounce Exchange team wanted an opportunity to change our minds and we’re open to that (again, as an experiment). We’ll be sharing the outcomes on the blog soon.

      • I think a better strategy for grabbing users who leave is to go with a re-marketing approach. It strikes me as a great way to boost any reputation/relationship building angle that goes so well with authoring great content.

        Focusing on the bounce, imho, is alienating the audience that reads this kind of content. I have no doubt that your numbers will go up, but I’d question the long term effects of attracting the kind of audience that gets suckered into this pandering tactic. I hope your experiments are taking this aspect into account.

        I’m looking forward to your follow up.

        Your conversion rate should be more than a bounce-rate, and even then, it should be combined with a long-term approch to content. Consider the ‘conversion story’ presented and long term narrative of the way viewers become customers:

        This twitter post sums up my view on it:

      • Justin Rondeau

        Lance, care to share the experiment results?

      • Hey Justin — November was a killer month, where we tripled our average “pre Bounce Exchange” monthly opt-ins. We’ll have more to share at the end of December, which will be [nearly] 3 months into the experiment. We’re monitoring unsubscribes, one-off complaints, tweets, open rate, clickthrough rate, and more!

      • Justin Rondeau

        Very exciting stuff – looking forward to it!

      • Just to follow up on this: I think one factor that will definitely make a difference in say, your BE results and others will — of course — be the copy & messaging you include in your BE lightboxes. Yours is far more value-focused and respectful than most. Feels less like a sell, and more like some awesome free help that just fell in your lap.

  • Rachel

    It’s surprising how many dumb website owners still think the internet is about somehow making money by annoying the masses using crappy, discredited techniques like popups.

    It’s entirely unsurprising that none of them ever actually does make any money with that entirely unfruitful behaviour.

  • I absolutely HATE pop-up windows with opt-in offers when I open up a new website. I immediately close them down as fast as possible. And if a website has an opt-in window that forces me to sign up, otherwise I can’t access the site – I just immediately close the window. It’s offensive and beyond pushy.

  • James Rhodes

    Hey Lance,

    First of all, just stumbled across this blog and it’s awesome. Great work! I’m literally in the process of reading through every post I can.

    Second of all, I’m really close to this problem. Earlier this year I was looking for a lead generation tool for my own blog, but I was put off by the idea of pop ups. I found them intrusive and annoying. And I didn’t want to jeopardize my experience for a short-term game.

    After scouring the web for alternatives (I literally downloaded and installed over 15 tools), I decided to create my own. A notification bar that sends your audience call-to-actions whenever you want. With 6 different triggers, you can target your audience where they are most likely to convert. When someone hits a trigger it rises up from the bottom of your blog with an offer (It looks sort of like HelloBar). Outside of that Chamelio stays hidden.

    It’s the only tool that will help you get all of the things you want, without annoying your audience. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can sign up for our private beta at I’m normally not one for shameless self-promotion, but I thought it was perfect for this topic.

    Oh and keep up the awesome work guys. You definitely have a new loyal reader here!

    • Rachel

      Oh look. One of those scummy ‘marketers’ (read: “spammers”) that make money out of persuading gullible website owners that annoying their visitors is somehow a good way to make money.

      So, your fees for your ‘service’ will be based on actual profits realised then, I take it? Since this is such a sure-fire way to actually make money from, and not say merely piss off, a website’s visitors? They’ll be queuing up to chuck cash at anyone stupid enough to use your nagware, since it’s so ‘welcome’ a way to engage with customers.

      • James Rhodes

        Hey Rachel,

        I’m sorry if it came off that way.

        I’m just a blogger that stumbled into the aforementioned problem and decided to create a solution.

        Because of the nature of the post, I thought people would be interested in it. Sorry if it was the wrong platform.

  • Josh Frank

    When you cross too far to the dark side of “get the email address at all cost” marketing, you begin to chip away at trust with your visitors. I like to use the term “warketing when people seem to have an us vs. them “war” like approach to marketing. I hear too many marketers so obsessed with “capturing” an email, or “targeting” customers, maybe its time we chill out on all the battlefield references.

    Perhaps a shift in the way we talk about customers will help us to craft better experiences for them and actually build trust, so that customers WANT you in their inbox every week vs. simply giving up their email to reach your content.

    Are you marketing or “warketing”?

  • Mike

    I’ve never seen the Bounce Exchange dashboard, but I’m thinking they have this in their templates because every form I’ve seen like this lately is from them. I’ve laughed at one, thought another was clever, & cringed at the others.

    What’s interesting is there are heavy-hitting CRO peeps using this negative opt-out. You guys might be the minority soon lol

    • Lance Jones

      Mike, you’re so right. I didn’t want to name names in this post because we respect those CRO peeps, but we secretly hope they’ll move away from this kind of not-so-clever tactic.

  • Richard Garand

    The issue for me is most often with lightbox popups. You know the kind that say “sign up for more great content like this!”… and only show to new visitors… who haven’t even decided if they like the content because the popup is blocking it. Usually it’s not quality sites that do this. Many a browser tab has been closed around here when that happens. It’s hard to say things like that are tricking people when they are so transparent.

    I built a plugin that takes a different approach at It allows visitors to see the first part of the post before prompting them to take action. As always, having a clear way out if the visitor isn’t interested is important!

    • Rachel

      Yeah, wait until the dessert before asking your date if she’ll put out. It’s so much more classy than blurting it out over the entree.

      It’s not *when* you spam that’s the problem. It’s *that* you spam. I’m sure even you can’t be dumb enough to believe that merely delaying unwelcome and uncouth behaviour makes it any less unwelcome or uncouth.

  • Excellent post. Thanks so much Lance!

  • danielgonzalez

    That’s totally Bounce Exchange w/ the grey button… They’re popping up everywhere…

    • Lance Jones

      Indeed it is, sir!

  • nickmarshall

    Pop-ups are like the hovering sales assistant. They have a job to do – to engage with the customer within 30 seconds. I almost always politely but firmly decline to engage. Pop-ups are the same – totally irritating and distracting to my personality type but I accept them as just another of the many unwanted intrusions into my life. I would not use them on my site except perhaps at the point that a customer seems to be on the point of departure. I have heard that mouse tracking can now tell when a visitor is getting antsy and ready to leave. I think it would have to be a well crafted message – more like a thank you for visiting and a “please leave your card” suggestion.

    • Lance Jones

      Hi Nick. Bounce Exchange provides the type of pop-up service that you describe. They are also the folks that use the pop-up above. 🙂

  • Ramsay Leimenstoll

    Oh gosh, I’m totally in the minority here 🙂 I actually kinda like those alternative “no” options. The couple of times I’ve encountered them, I’ve thought… Damn! That’s friggin’ brilliant! And then I literally changed my mind and signed up for their newsletter both times. I honestly was too embarrassed to click that particular “No” option — I guess I’ve got the personality type of the ideal visitor for those sites.

    As long as the pop-up only happens once, and I can close it, and it ain’t too ugly, I’m really not bothered by them at all.

    (Now, would I actually have the guts to put something like that on a site I work on? Probably not. But so far I haven’t minded interacting with any of the ones I’ve seen.

    Maybe it’s partially a generational thing — being only 24 I’ve spent most of my life with the internet trying to get my attention and money, so I don’t feel betrayed by the intent when they’re up-front about it. However, if it doesn’t work right or it looks like my Accelerated Reader program did in 1998… THEN I don’t have any patience for it.

    On the other hand, I actually didn’t like the GetResponse one — I thought it was kinda whiny and annoying, and I don’t really feel good being around people or companies that seem desperate, even if I know it’s just an act. I find it embarrassing. If it just had *one* of those 4 sentences visible in the pop-up I’d probably be down with it, but… I find *that* one skeevy. Trying to make me feel guilty for YOU is way more annoying & gross to me than allegedly telling me to demand more of MYSELF.

    • Lance Jones

      A dissenter! Thank you for your honesty, Ramsay. You present a well-formed argument, too. 🙂

      Thing is… do you like to feel embarrassed during a sales process? How do you feel about anyone that embarrasses you?

      My biggest problem with the language used on that button is that it doesn’t represent my reason for leaving. It tries to trap me into giving a reason that doesn’t exist. Of course I care about bouncing traffic. The reason I’m leaving the site is because it has utterly failed to persuade me otherwise. They need to work on their messaging.

      It makes me think of those commercials for UNICEF and Christian Children’s Fund. They try to make me feel that if I don’t call to donate, I don’t care about dying children (or abused animals, etc.). But I do care about them, deeply. I just happen to donate to another charity.

      I’m sure it works, but whenever the commercial comes on, it makes me want to change the channel… not because I can’t stomach the images, but because I don’t like to be made to feel guilty when there is no reason for me to feel that way.

      Just my two cents.

      • Ramsay Leimenstoll

        I totally agree with you about the UNICEF/ASPCA-style ads. You know, I think actually a big part of the distinction for me is that I’m big into personal development. I’m really into Ramit Sethi’s stuff, and things like that where you’re supposed to be relentlessly driving yourself to do more, get better. Those guys & gals tell you to think about how, when you decline some project etc., you may really be saying, “No thanks, I’m not interested in developing that totally valuable skill set right now — I’d rather keep doing the same thing I’ve always been doing”. So I think that’s why buttons like these, when they’re on sites that are supposedly going to push me to learn/achieve more, work well for me and don’t turn me off. For me that’s a very different type of embarrassing than with the Sarah McLachlan starving animals commercial, which just makes me feel uncomfortable and vaguely scared that I’m a bad person. The first type makes me feel like I can be proactive and then feel good about forcing myself to try something new — sad puppies don’t.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Love a dissenting opinion!!!!

    • Richard Garand

      Both versions are designed to persuade a visitor emotionally and change their behavior so I don’t see much difference apart from one being an exit popup. Personally I usually find the added message on a “No” button to be a little amusing. I don’t remember which company had a video of an employee being beaten when you unsubscribed from their mailing list but you can’t call that anything but a clear attempt to persuade people without reference to the merits of the product 🙂

      Of course “No, I’m too dumb to do that” is a very different message from “No, I’m happy with what I have now”. Like a potentially offensive joke you need to be careful with the wording if you’re going to use it.

  • Hey Lance, funny, a few of us were discussing these just yesterday. I echo many of the commenters below in my feelings—don’t like being “talked down to” by the grey button, or when it’s hard to X a pop-up, but do not think all pop-ups are bad.

    I love the GetResponse example you chose. It’s cute and kinda funny—at least the first time. At least some pop-ups these days have a decent sense of design.

    The worst thing I saw this week: a DOUBLE pop-up: one that popped up after I said no to the first one (which I had to fully read to find out how to get out of, no easy X)!

    Thanks for this post.

    • Lance Jones

      Hey Tia! Thanks for joining in. Ya, there’s interruptive (1 pop-up) and then there’s in your face (more than 1 pop-up). If you need to create multiple pop-ups to get people to opt-in, you’re doing it wrong. 🙂

      And while I’m not really advocating for a “please don’t leave our site” type of pop-up, I do think the copy in the Get Response example suits its purpose — and the accompanying animation is kinda cute, too. Definitely not offensive!

  • Craig Stump

    I’m sorry, but there is no such thing as an acceptable pop up. It distracts the user from what they came to the site to do in an extremely disruptive way. If you want an email address, ask at the end of the article. If I can’t hit ESC to close the popup, I close the tab.

    • Lance Jones

      We suspect you’re not alone there, Craig. Appreciate you sharing your opinion.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I’m really torn on the pop-up debate. (Though I’m not at all torn on the scuzzy button thing — nasty trickery is bad, not clever.) I know that you can get more sign-ups if you put more opt-in forms in more places – and if you make those forms bigger, brighter and harder to escape from, you’ll see even more signups – but I’d LOVE to see some data on how people who are pushed to “opt in” to get something actually convert when the time comes.

      Yes, pop-ups give you more sign-ups.

      But are they quality sign-ups?

      Like you, Craig, I think that if the content’s great, you’ll get the *right* people to sign up… and then those good-fit subscribers are more likely to buy. List size isn’t what matters, world! Quality of the list matters!

      But, hey, I could be out to lunch. You, Craig, could be out to lunch. Lance could be. It could be that people who are coerced into giving up their email addresses secretly *like* coercion or simply *forget* that they didn’t want to join your list in the first place… Could be… Probably not, but could be…

      • Craig Stump

        I’d love to see a study on popup conversions correlated with DISC personality data. My gut feeling is that some people don’t mind them because they’re X personality and vice versa… the trick then would be figuring out way to serve them to people that won’t rage quit.

  • Bruno Hug

    I fully understand that they give a bad feeling to viewers, but I think that these pop-ups are so much better than the usual popup domination one… For me it’s quite the contrary. I crave those pop-up, and can’t stand the “regular” one anymore

    Yes it’s bad, but I would bet that it’s effective, because fear is a powerful emotion. Not the best one to exploit, but effective.

    • Lance Jones

      Couldn’t agree more that fear is a powerful emotion, Bruno, but I’m not sure the way this button is worded is playing into fear. Rather, it’s trying to make me feel guilty about choosing “No” when that’s definitely the right choice (for me) to make.

      Let me say ‘no’ gracefully to your offer — don’t degrade me in the process.

      • Bruno Hug

        Hi Lance

        I agree with you, it’s a real guilt trip. So it will upset more people and you’ll have a lower CTR. But what if the people that stay convert more ?

        Let’s make a few mathematics for 10 000 people seeing the pop-up, and assuming that it’s a pop-up redirecting to a sign-up page after clicking :
        – Gentle popup : CTR on button of 3%, conversion rate of 3% : 9 subscribers
        – Guilty popup : CTR on button of 1%, conversion rate of 20% : 20 subscribers

        I know it’s just a supposition, but I think that the people staying, that feel guilty, would be really more inclined to do the action as they are really receptive to the “manipulation”.

        Of course, trained marketers and “smart” people would see the trick, but I think most people would just feel into it. Neil Patel has great results with that.

        We had a great conference in Montreal about that, called “The Dark Side of user experience”. I totally agree that it may be degrading although.

      • Lance Jones

        Good example, Bruno. What I’ve found in working with clients that use “strong” persuasion tactics is that they end up with a lot of refund requests once people’s common sense returns to normal (usually after speaking with a friend, family member, or spouse). 🙂

      • Bruno Hug

        That’s an aspect I didn’t take into consideration, great to have some pertinent feedback on it.

        So don’t use it… Or don’t offer refund ! (joke inside of course)

  • Ray

    Another ongoing problem with these types of popups is they hardly ever work on mobile! When I pull up a site on my smartphone, and I get a popup, the close box is usually so small I have to zoom in to close it. And sometimes I end up clicking the wrong thing, so another window opens!

    ARGH. The frustration.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Such a good point, Ray!

    • Great point!! And SO MANY people are using mobile almost exclusively now too.
      Well, (unlike me, I work online and need to use a computer, and I can see it way better anyway ).

  • Jen

    I’m really interested to see if the pendulum is swinging back on pop ups (not that they were really ever popular with certain groups.) For quite a while, it seemed like people were coming around to using them even if they continued to apologize for doing it.

    I have one for my site but I keep going back and forth how much it does for me (I don’t get lots of traffic.) And, I wonder if it just ticks people off more than not. I’d be curious to know whether you think it’s better to just go back to a Hello Bar at the top.

    I do think the exit pop ups can be effective and non offensive if worded well. So, I hate to lump them all in the same bad bunch. I have a feeling your example from up top came from that camp.

    Glad you started this discussion!

    • Lance Jones

      Hi Jen — there does seem to be a big resurgence in their use. And I suspect it’s because people are saying that they work… which is fair… but by what measure? Is opt-in rate the only measure of success? Should it be?

      If you turn off 3 people (who may have been legitimate prospects for your product, service, or blog) and get 1 person to opt-in, is that a success?

      As for Hello Bar, I’m a fan, but it’s easy to tune them out. I’m starting to see more sites with the scrolling message in the bar (like Copy Hackers!) which makes it harder to ignore. Remember the MARQUEE tag from Internet Explorer? I’m dating myself now…

      Check it out here:

      • Jen

        What do you use for your message bar up top, if I may ask?

        And, I do remember the Marquee tag. I’m always good at dating myself.

      • Lance Jones

        Hey Jen — it’s “FooBars”. It works well for us.

  • Gidget Media

    Totally agree. The grey button makes me feel yucky! It’s definitely an ugly feeling, and not a feeling you want people associating with your website/business/self! I’d love to see some more examples of pop-ups done well.

    I’m still deciding if I should jump in the pop-up pool. I’m not a huge fan of water…

    I’m also curious about how they come up on mobile devices. Does anyone know?

    Keep up the great work guys! Love from Oz.

    • Lance Jones

      Welcome, Gidget Media! We appreciate the love. 🙂

      In my experience, these pop-ups almost never display well on mobile devices. They’re typically very difficult to close, and so you have to wonder why the site owners would be okay with that. The pop-up could actually stop a mobile visitor in her tracks!

  • Bleh. I hate those. Bad cold callers also do this on the phone, “You want more traffic, right?” and many stores induce the guilt at checkout (at least on behalf of a charity, but it still makes you feel like a bad person).

    • Lance Jones

      Hey Ben. Your checkout example is interesting… it’s kind of a social shaming if you say no, right? I tend to fall for it because I want to appear as a good person to the people behind me in line.

  • JW Van Tonder

    Soft block overlays. As a web user and site owner, I hate them. As a CRO consultant, I love them because they work.

    • Lance Jones

      An interesting dichotomy, JW!

  • Lance Jones

    Rapid fire pop-ups tend to move me rapidly off a site… like you, Peter. Thanks for commenting!

  • Lance Jones

    It’s funny, Rob — in my original draft for this post I had some alternative copy suggestions for the grey button. One of them was “No, I’m stupid”… to your point exactly. Good luck with your pop-up and stay away from the dark side. 🙂

  • Momoko Price

    I ran across this type of popup just the other day! First, I was confused. Then I was annoyed. Then – I clicked my *browser’s* [X] button.

    Problem solved!

    • Lance Jones

      Hi Momoko! Joanna told me you’re enjoying your new digs in Vancouver. Welcome to the west coast!

      I wonder how many other people do exactly what you did. To be fair, it’s possible that they’ve tested the grey button and seen positive results, but A/B testing can’t tell you how much you piss off the people who don’t fall for the trick.

  • Vicky Fraser

    Good article. I like pop-ups, when they’re used effectively. But that grey button makes me feel uncomfortable, then it makes me think “F*** you! website!” And I’ll never buy anything from them.

    I’m just putting together a newsletter sign-up myself and I’m going to test different ways of getting readers. I’ll share the results if you like.

    Thanks for the insights!

    • Lance Jones

      Hey Vicky, we’d love to hear about your results! We’re data nerds here… 🙂

  • I’m in full agreement on the NO > I like it when visitors bounce button. In fact, when I see a button like that I suddenly become paranoid. Have I visited a website that’s not going to let me leave? Am I going to have to close my browser and/or reboot my PC to get away? It’s been some time since I’ve encountered *that* kind of total sleaze, but still. Those fears die hard.

    I do want to mention something else about pop-ups, though. There’s a site called that presents A/B web page tests and asks subscribers to vote for the winning version. I subscribed a while ago and then discovered, much to my annoyance, that the subscribe pop-up was apparently not aware that I was a subscriber because during a few subsequent visits to the site it appeared anyway. Nothing like rounding up subs *and* pissing them off. A real perfecta.

    • Lance Jones

      Agreed. If you’ve been around long enough to remember websites that could instantiate dozens of pop-ups and crash your computer in the process, I could see this scuzzy tactic bringing back those memories. I definitely remember!

      We’re fans of, but they really need to set a cookie for existing subscribers. Nothing worse than feeling like the site you’re frequenting cares more about grabbing email addresses than providing a good user experience.

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