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How to Design Popups That Work Every Time: An Easy Guide for Website Owners

How to Design Popups That Work Every Time: An Easy Guide for Website Owners

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All digital specialists will tell you this. You need emails. Tons of emails.

And what is one of the best ways to collect tons of emails on your website?

Beautifully and perfectly designed popups.

Before figuring out how to design popups that definitively work, you have to understand what you are exactly doing, as a website owner, with your digital platform.

Let’s be clear: most of the time, it’s all about constructing a sales funnel that may eventually bring massive prospects, potential clients and consumers.

Leads of quality.

Why are email subscribers so important?

Most digital strategists will tell you that one of the first things you should do on your website is to install popups in order to collect emails. Why?

Because the very precise moment when an internet user gives you their email address by filling in a popup form is also the exact moment when they get an identity – from your point of view.

Popups and the collecting of emails enable you to transform anonymous internet users into real people with a name and an email address.

Before they give you their email address, your internet users are only part of the vast crowd of numerous data you see in your Google Analytics account. They are anonymous.

Once you get a name and an email, they become known to you.

With a list of emails, the things you can do is really, really impressive.

You got it: the money is in the list.


Clay Collins, Co-Founder and CEO of Leadpages, turned his blog into an 8-figure software business with 46,000 customers. Clay’s advice for entrepreneurs? Focus first on building a “Minimum Viable Audience” before you start to build a “Minimum Viable Product.”

One day, he had an idea to create software. He went back to his audience (his email list) and asked the following question: “Hey, we’re gonna build something that does all the things that you’re complaining the free templates don’t do. Would you be willing to pay for it?”

They said yes. He got 200 people to pay $200. He took the $40,000 and hired a developer who built the first version. This led to the creation of LeadPages.

Emails are more than very popular: they are part of our daily lives. On an average, more than 20 billion emails are sent daily. And many people evaluate their success to the number of emails they receive per day. 91% of people check their emails at least once a day.

People love emails.

That is the reason why building up an email list shall be at the heart of your digital marketing strategy. Whether you write a blog post, conduct some webinars or offer a new product, the people on your email list will be the first to be informed.

Email is by far the most effective marketing channel, nowadays: according to Capterra, the average return on $1 spent on email marketing is $44.25. That’s saying something, right?

But it’s not as easy as it might sound.

On average, people see up to 247 online marketing messages a day: for obvious reasons, a large portion of those messages and ads go completely unnoticed.

Email boxes are getting more and more overcrowded: as a consequence, people become more cautious about handing out their email address. If you want your audience to give you their email address and then engage with the emails you send, the content of your popup forms must fit.

It must be excellent.

But before we get to the design of your popups, let’s talk about traffic – because without traffic, there is no point in having an optimized site.

Rule #1 – Develop traffic

The more users you attract, the more you’ll get prospects, end users and subscribers. And the more you’ll be able to boost your sales, as a consequence. Theoretically.

Traffic leads to sales.

Some website owners manage to get very high conversion rates and great sales despite very poor traffic. But it’s rare. And without huge traffic, it will be tough for you to achieve the turnover you want.

Following the same principle, if you want to collect massive emails with the help of popups, you better have massive users on your website. It’s normal: the more people that visit your website, the more people shall hand over their email.

According to an analysis executed by Sumo on 1,754,957,657 popups, the average conversion rate of a popup is 3.09%.

It’s an average. Some popups are said to get conversion rates as high as 50%. And the conversion rate of the best 10% is said to be 9.28%..

Pop-Up Conversion Rates

So, you can see how it is better to have 30,000 internet users visiting your website per month, than 300. In the first case, the average rate, rounded to 3%, tells you that you can expect 900 subscriptions / month, instead of 9 in the second case.

As well as many other digital topics: without great traffic, it will be difficult to achieve the results you want. So start with the traffic. And ask yourself this question, incessantly – how can you increase the traffic of your website?

The list is silver.

But never forget one thing: your content must be gold.

That’s the reason why you must create an outstanding added value.

Rule #2  – Create value

Your product or service must be excellent. The more you create value, the more people will recognize the beauty and the added value of what you create. And the more they will give you their email address via the popup forms you install on your website.

But quality is not the main criteria, contrary to what many people might think. Nowadays, many products are sold and bought while being superficial, technically not ok, and very bad at the time.

You already bought products of very mediocre quality, you now that well. Things like a bottle of red wine with a weird vinegar taste.

You know I’m right.

No, in business, the main criteria is not (always) the quality, but the product/market fit. That’s totally different.

But if you create value, everything will be alright in the long term.

So, let’s summarize. First, you need traffic. Second, you must create value.


Third, you must install popups on your website that really rock.

And it starts with the selection of the format.

Rule #3  – Choose the right format

There are 4 main popup formats:

  • Welcome Mat  >>>  full screen form sliding above page content
  • Top Banner  >>>  small banner appearing at the very top of the page
  • Slide-in Box  >>>  small box sliding in from the side/bottom of the page
  • Overlay Modal  >>>  center screen format appearing on top of page content

Popup forms can be utilized in many different ways – at the page entrance, by scrolling to a certain point on the page, by clicking on or hovering over a specific element, by staying a specific amount of time on a web page, by scrolling towards the top of the page to leave, etc.

Options are numerous. They even tend to infinity, if you consider that you can arrange forms in the global frame of a web page, via sophisticated web development.

 Moët Hennessy developed a really intelligent solution by designing a kind of Welcome Mat format incorporated on the top of the home page of its website:

Surprisingly, the type of pop-up format which is often underestimated is the exit popup. When an internet user decides to leave your website, you have the possibility to make appear a popup on their screen, so that they finally decide to stay on your digital platform instead of going to the competition or somewhere else in the web abyss.

It’s astonishing how exit popups are misused, nowadays. Because they can not really harm a website, if the text, the content and the design are beautifully orchestrated. Statistics show that online marketers can expect to convert from 3 to 18% of abandoning visitors into leads, prospects and sales. So, if you’re not using exit popups yet, that’s a lot of money left on the table, don’t you think so? What would you exactly risk?

Nothing at all.

In some industries, such as the luxury market, many companies like Louis Vuitton, Hermès, or Dior do not utilize popup forms at all in order to get the emails of their internet users.

Rule #4 –  Master the technology (Don’t let the technology master you)

You will have various technical possibilities when you set up your popups. You can work with a web developer or a web agency. You can also use the templates provided by your email marketing provider or popup plugins, if you use WordPress as a CMS, for example.

 Technology is not only a technical aspect. It’s strategic, too. Because it’s a matter of money.

Do not underestimate that.

In order to find the adequacy and get an interesting conversion rate, you will have to proceed with various tests. If each time you proceed to a test, you have to pay a web developer, it could rapidly become very expensive, particularly if you are the one who pays the bill.

If you have the money but not the time, you can make a web developer work for you.

If you do not have the money but have the time, you are better off using the range of excellent popup solution providers and plugins.

Here is a list of tools, technologies and plugins you may use to create popups:

  • Sumo
  • Hello Bar
  • LeadPages
  • Instapage
  • Ninja Popups
  • List Builder
  • Gravity Forms

It would be very time consuming and irrelevant for you to read, in this article, an exhaustive manual instruction per plugin or solution. Just understand one thing: it’s easy to get popup forms installed via these platforms and companies. You can get the result you want within a few working hours.

 Rule #5 – Create outstanding designs

The main criterion of your design shall not be its beauty but its conversion rate. And nowadays, statistics show that the designs which work best and get the best results are not the sophisticated ones but the very simple ones.

Be welcome in our era: by testing very beautiful designs and very basic formats, you will be obliged to observe that the ones which convert better often are the latter ones. With a very simple geometrical shape, a very common color, very few words and a very basic call-to-action (CTA).

Yes, very simple.

Vogue is an example of a company having perfectly understood the power of simplicity:

Nowadays, limiting choices is one of the best ways to help users make a choice by discovering your popup form. The fewer the choices, the more likely someone is to make a choice. It’s quite logical: human beings receive tons of information to register. By constructing a simple format, a simple design and simple text, you will help them facilitate their decision making.

You’ll make it simpler for them.

You might adapt your design to your audience and your marketing persona, too. In the Asia-Pacific region, HubSpot found that popups are one of the three most disliked forms of advertising, along with telemarketing calls and auto-play videos. So, if your aim is to target this market, you better take this into consideration and adapt your design accordingly, it’s very important.

Great design is awesome. But as a website owner, you know that it’s principally a matter of business. A popup form must not necessarily have a beautiful design. It must be beautifully strategized, organized and arranged. And convert. Here is a good example from Kalon:

Rule #6 – Test your design

In order to know which popup design will convert best, you will have to test and retest, until you find the best option.

Testing is at the heart of digital marketing.

Working with popup providers and plugins will allow you to proceed with an infinite series of tests without running to ruin. Some of them even enable you to proceed to A/B testing, which can be the cornerstone of all your future successes in terms of conversion. By testing B hypotheses versus A hypotheses, you can easily test, and keep the popup forms which convert best.

Rule #7  – Leverage a lead magnet

A lead magnet is a marketing term for a free item or service that is given away for the purpose of gathering contact details.

Specificity, relevancy, humanity and value are the key assets of any impactful lead magnet.

You can use and test multiple formats and contents.

Lead magnets don’t have to be lengthy, complex, or time-intensive to create. Statistics show that long and complex lead magnets do not convert very well. As well as for the product/market fit topic, the most important is the lead magnet/audience fit. By crafting your lead magnet, you have to solve a specific problem with a specific solution for a specific segment of your market.

Impact is key. This is what may facilitate the conversion process.

If it does not fit, it will not be ok, for obvious reasons.

And the better it will fit, the better it will work.

Once again: your lead magnet must fit.

Rule #8 – (Re)work on your wording

Here again, simplicity will get better results than complexity.

Try to write your CTA button in terms of the value your content aims to deliver.

For example:

  • “Yes, I want to listen to your podcast”
  • “Show me how to set up an online store”
  • “Explain how to grow my traffic”
  • “Yes, I want to read your free eBook”

Gary Vaynerchuk says it best: Content is King, Context is God. Your content can be the best in the world. But if the context is wrong, then the message dies, logically.

Context is what you surround your message with. Context gives additional meaning and understanding to your message. Context is what makes the best popups be outstanding in terms of conversion rate.

Select your verbs, adjectives, adverbs and words as a wordsmith would do. Modify your text until you find the ultimate adequacy – and perfection. Do not hesitate to capitalize powerful words, the ones which really create an impact – and an excellent conversion rate as a consequence. For example, according to Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout, “free” is one of the most powerful words.

As Steve Jobs would say, do not copy great text ideas: steal them.

The choice of one word, one verb, one adjective or one adverb instead of another can completely modify the conversion rate of your popup forms.

By implementing A/B testing to the words you select and set up on your digital platform, you will be able to impose the wording hypotheses which outclass any other wording options.

Once again: testing is at the heart of any digital marketing methodology. This is the reason why you should test and retest the words you choose until you find the ultimate combination.

 Rule #9 – Analyze Google

If you want to perform well with SEO, analyze Google’s policy when implementing your popup forms. Since January 10 2017, new rules came into force. As usual with Google and all the algorithms and main updates, we can not really view what will be the real consequences of these guidelines in the long term.

It’s not really clear if Google loves (and recommends, as a consequence) or hates (and disapproves, as a consequence) websites’ popup forms. Well, by reading the official statement and all correlated comments of specialists, one can say that they do not really know themselves

Here is the link with Google’s official statement on its policy concerning popups.

So, my recommendation is, first, to analyze Google’s policy, second, to be very cautious with these guidelines and, third, to avoid priority popup forms appearing on smartphones (this is apparently the terminal which causes troubles, according to Google).

Rule #10 – Master neuromarketing hacks

How do you know which word, headline, lead magnet, CTA, shape and design will have the best impact and results?

Your sensibility.

The higher your sensibility, the better your capability to capture, understand and master the situation. Your internet users are human beings: they are, in quintessence, sensitive creatures. The more you develop your sensibility, the better you will perform.

Great marketing has a lot to do with great psychology and a great knowledge of anthropology. One of the best ways to understand how to design popups that really work is to master the power of cognitive biases.

There are dozens of cognitive biases. They often explain how people and communities think, react, behave, speak, make decisions, buy, connect and live.

And subscribe.

Let’s take an example: the “decision heuristic”, a well-known cognitive bias which generally conducts a mental shortcut for making decisions.

Psychologists emphasize that we all have a strong urge to be consistent. Once we decide on something, conduct an action, conceive a concept, develop an idea and express something: we have the tendency to stick by that.

So, knowing and mastering this cognitive bias can help you transform it into a neuromarketing hack which will be very beneficial for your conversion rates – and your sales as a consequence.

Asking users to take the first step is always the hardest. But if they just take that one step, all the next steps will become much easier. That’s because they are building up mental momentum. Making that first step really easy for subscribers to take gets the ball rolling. Then, you can get them to take a more difficult action.

How easy, right? Remember the dominos when you were young? It’s like a domino effect: you just have to be able to place the dominos, knock down the first domino, and after that all the other dominos fall down effortlessly.

This is just one example of how people can transform usual and common cognitive biases into subscriptions – and sales, as a consequence.

Knowing that there are dozens of cognitive biases, you will then understand that there are dozens of ways of making all these mental shortcuts highly lucrative. As well as traffic, cognitive biases lead to sales. This is one of the possible paths to your financial success.

Yes, the money is in the list. But also in the psychology and the anthropology.

Most of the time, it will be much simpler than you think. And by working on your digital platform, you’ll probably be really surprised when you acknowledge one thing. The fact that, finally, the best popup form probably will look something like this:

Wrap up

The specific popup forms you design are part of the global digital ecosystem you create.

Everything is linked together.

The higher the traffic, the higher the number of subscribers (for quantitative reasons).

The better your content, the more complete your email list (for qualitative reasons).

The key of your success will certainly be in the web marketing tests you conduct in order to find the best combination. By testing formats, colors, shapes, wording, lead magnets, CTAs and various designs, you will gradually understand – and keep – what works best in your situation.

Tests will help you filter. By rejecting what does not fit and by keeping the best, you will be able to achieve outstanding performance, step by step.

One more thing: try to be empathetic.

Never forget that your internet users are human beings.

So, ask yourself this very simple question, incessantly: what do people really think when they discover the popups you create and implement?

Guest Author: Jerome Perrin is the founder of Jay-Webmarketing.com. He helps CEOs, business owners, and decision makers to grow their business with cutting-edge digital marketing strategies. Find him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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