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How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

99% of Marketers Use Email Pop-Ups Wrong, Here’s How To Use Them Right

Here’s a sad but true fact: no one goes to your site looking to give you their email.

I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Having some method of contact info capture that grabs users’ attention is critical. To serve this need, some wise person invented the email pop-up. 

Years later, email pop-ups are one of the most potentially powerful yet horribly misused tools in the modern marketer’s arsenal. 

Because they’re often used so badly, 82% of people claim to hate them (according to a G2 survey). However, they’re still one of the best ways to capture the contact information of leads that land on your page. 

When used appropriately, email pop-ups are incredibly effective. But when they’re intrusive and don’t feel like a natural part of your web flow, they can actually drive people away.

Today, we’ll take a deep dive into creating pop-ups that actually convert so you can build something that doesn’t make any of your users want to throw things at you! 

Why listen to me?

I’ve been in the email marketing world for the past five years, doing everything from ghost-writing company newsletters to A/B testing in giant cold email machines. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here

Table of Contents


  • Email pop-ups are web forms that prompt visitors to subscribe to a website's email list or newsletter.

  • Effective pop-ups strike a balance between capturing leads and providing a positive user experience.

  • If used poorly, pop-ups can backfire.

  • Timing, targeting, design, and content all play a part in the success of an email pop-up.

  • Pop-up performance is improved by continuous optimization through A/B testing and data analysis. 

  • Compliance with privacy regulations and best practices is critical for building trust and avoiding legal consequences.

What Are Email Pop-Ups?

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

Email pop-ups are small windows that appear on a website to prompt visitors to take a specific action, such as subscribing to a newsletter, downloading a resource, or taking advantage of a special offer. If they're used sparingly and designed in a non-intrusive way, they're an excellent tool for boosting user engagement.

Site owners can design pop-ups triggered by various user behaviors like scrolling, time spent on a page, or intent to exit the site. But pop-ups aren’t created equal. Their effectiveness depends on their design and timing. 

A well-crafted pop-up is visually appealing, relevant and provides clear value to the visitor. It should seamlessly integrate into the user experience, capturing attention without causing disruption. 

Benefits of Email Pop-Ups

The primary benefit of email pop-ups is their ability to increase conversions by capturing a given user’s attention in real-time. Pop-ups can capture visitor information and turn anonymous website traffic into valuable leads by: 

  • Presenting a targeted message at the right moment. 

  • Reducing bounce rates (by engaging visitors about to leave the site). 

  • Delivering personalized content and offers.

  • Offering new methods of data capture for analytics

According to HubSpot, the top-performing pop-ups can achieve conversion rates as high as 9.3%​. But there's a reason the outliers (the best of the best) don't have a conversion rate higher than 10%. Pop-ups, if poorly used, are annoying. They should always be used cautiously because they can do more harm than good. 

Pop-ups can be a powerful lead-capturing strategy for your business. However, they can also drive away your most loyal customers and harm your site's user experience. 

Designing Effective Email Pop-Ups

Creating an effective email pop-up requires more than slapping a form on your website and walking away. If you add an email pop-up, it becomes a core piece of your site's UX. Use it wisely. Designing an engaging, user-friendly experience that encourages visitors to take action without being intrusive is essential. 

Timing and Targeting

A well-timed pop-up that appears when a visitor is most engaged can dramatically increase conversion rates. Conversely, a poorly timed pop-up can annoy visitors and increase bounce rates. 

You'll have to look at your site data to see when people are most engaged. (If you're inexperienced, you can easily hire a freelancer to look through your data on Upwork or Freelancer.com). 

Once you have a good idea of when people are most engaged or usually leave your site, you'll know when a pop-up should appear. 

If you push out a pop-up too early, visitors will likely not engage out of annoyance. If you push out one too late, they'll be on their way out and unlikely to engage with it. This is a delicate art; only your unique site data will tell you when the perfect time to have a pop-up appear is! 

Targeting Specific Visitor Segments

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

Each user interacts with your site differently and wants different things from their interaction. Isn't it annoying?! If only there were just one person who wanted one thing, over and over again... a marketer's dream! 

The challenge is to tailor each pop-up to different visitor segments. This ensures the message is relevant and personalized, which can significantly boost engagement and conversions.

Strategies for Targeting:

  • Demographic Targeting: Use demographic data such as location, age, and gender to personalize pop-ups. For instance, a national business with local franchises might show different offers to visitors from different regions.

  • Behavioral Targeting: Target visitors based on their behavior on your site. For example, an e-commerce store might offer a special discount to visitors who have viewed a product multiple times but have yet to make a purchase.

  • Referral Source: Customize pop-ups based on the referral source. Visitors from a specific campaign or social media platform might see a different message than those from a search engine​ 

  • Customer Lifecycle: Tailor pop-ups to different stages of the customer journey. New visitors might receive a welcome discount while returning customers could see an offer for a loyalty program.

Design and Content

When designing a pop-up, include the following elements to make sure users will actually do what you're asking:

  • An attractive and visually appealing design to capture the user's attention

  • A compelling offer that piques user interest and encourages them to engage

  • A countdown or deadline that shows a sense of urgency 

  • A straightforward and unambiguous call-to-action that tells users exactly what to do next

  • A brief and easy-to-complete form that makes it easy for users to give you the information you want

Compelling Copy and Messaging

Your pop-up copy and messaging should be clear and concise. You may write great essays, but your pop-ups are not the place to display them. Tell your users exactly what they'll get by taking action. Visitors should be able to understand the message and know the benefits of giving you their precious contact info at a glance.

Is it a discount? Exclusive content? A chance to win a lifetime supply of linguini? Please don't make them guess. Here’s a great example of a clear (and non-intrusive) pop-up from Highway Robery:

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

A foundational principle in copywriting is called the "rule of one." In any given piece of copy, you get one idea. Don't try to get people to take multiple actions with one pop-up. It's confusing. They'll be looking at it for a matter of seconds, so make them count! 

To put it in the words of a wiser person than me: "When you get fancy, fancy gets broken." 

Effective Call-to-Action (CTA)

The CTA is the crux of your pop-up. It needs to grab attention and compel visitors to take the next step in a matter of seconds. The CTA button should be prominently placed and easy to click. Use contrasting colors and make it large enough to catch attention​, like in the below example from Squat Racks Canada:

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

Remember: Clarity, Action, Relevance, or C-A-R. 

  • Clarity: The CTA should be clear and immediately tell them the benefit of taking action.

  • Action-Oriented: Use action verbs to encourage immediate engagement, such as "get," "download," or "subscribe."​ 

  • Relevance: Ensure the headline is relevant to the visitor's interests and the content they're viewing.

Effective CTA Examples:

  • "30% off sitewide for subscribers"

  • "Be the first to know when new merch drops"

  • "Get $40 off your first order"  

Incorporating Visuals and Multimedia

Visual elements, such as images, videos, and other multimedia, can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your pop-ups. But don't get too fancy. Remember, the goal is to create a seamless, engaging experience that encourages visitors to take action without feeling disrupted. Gaiam, a maker of yoga mats, walks this line very well with their pop-up:

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

Use relevant images to illustrate your offer. For example, an eBook pop-up might include a picture of your book's fabulous cover! Incorporate your brand's colors and fonts into your pop-up to stay consistent with your website's design.

Creative Visual Ideas To Incorporate in Pop-Ups:

  • Videos: Use short videos to explain the offer or provide additional information. Videos can be more engaging and convey messages more effectively. ​

  • Animations: Subtle animations can draw attention to the pop-up without distraction. For example, a slight bounce effect on the CTA button can make it more noticeable.

  • Interactive Elements: Incorporate interactive elements like sliders or clickable tabs to engage visitors. 

Optimization and Testing

Pop-ups are not a "fix it and forget it" gadget. You'll need to test them and then test them again. 

Continuous experimentation will help you create pop-ups that work. There's no easy way around it — just constant tweaking. 

A/B Testing

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

A/B testing (creating two examples of something and testing to see which performs better) allows you to test different pop-up elements to determine what resonates best with your audience.

Experiment with headlines to see which captures more attention and drives higher conversions. Test different CTA texts, colors, and placements to find the most effective combination. 

Compare design elements like fonts and images to see which design attracts more users​. 

Testing Timing and Triggers

Testing different timings and triggers can help you understand when your audience will most likely engage with your pop-ups. There are as many potential triggers as creative programmers, so I'll limit the examples below to four of the most common to give you a few ideas.

Common Triggers:

  1. Time on Page: Trigger a pop-up after the visitor has been on the page for a specified amount of time. This method helps capture attention once visitors have had a chance to engage with your content. But it can backfire if someone opens the page and navigates to another tab only to return and find your pop-up blocking the content they wanted to engage with. 

  2. Scroll Depth: Trigger a pop-up when a visitor has scrolled a certain percentage down the page. This method works well for long-form content where visitors are likely more invested. 

  3. Exit Intent: Trigger a pop-up when a visitor is about to leave the site. This last-ditch effort to capture their interest can reduce bounce rates​and keep 10-15% of people on your page longer

  4. Click or Hover: A personal favorite of mine. Trigger a pop-up when a visitor clicks on or hovers over a specific element. This method can help you capture leads based on specific interactions, eliminating consumers' annoyance with random pop-ups. Take advantage of curiosity and intent! 

Analyzing and Iterating

Once you've conducted A/B tests and tested different timings and triggers, the crucial part begins. Lucky you — you get to go digging through a mountain of data! Yay! 

Steps for Analysis and Iteration:

  • Collect Data: Use analytics tools like Google Analytics to gather data on how each version of your pop-up is performing. 

  • Analyze Results: Compare the performance of different pop-up versions and identify which elements are driving the best results. Look at metrics like conversion rates, bounce rates, and engagement times. 

  • Iterate and Test Again: Implement the best-performing elements into a new version of your pop-up and test again. Now, test again. Then, keep doing that for as long as you have a site. 

Compliance and Best Practices

For those who choose to use email pop-ups, beware! You need to check they comply with federal and state privacy regulations. A bit of research will protect your organization from legal issues and build trust with your audience. Here's how to ensure that your pop-ups are compliant and user-friendly.

It is crucial to get users' explicit consent before collecting their personal data to comply with privacy regulations, such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).

Ensure that users clearly understand what they are consenting to by explaining what data you are collecting and how you'll use it. Use opt-in mechanisms like checkboxes to obtain user consent. Avoid using pre-checked boxes; they do not meet the standard for explicit consent under GDPR​. 

Provide clear and accessible privacy notices that explain what you do with customer data after you collect it. These notices should be easy to understand and readily available to users.

Providing Clear Information and Opt-Out Options

Providing Clear Information and Opt-Out Options

Transparency is vital when it comes to email pop-ups. Providing clear information about what users are signing up for and how they can opt out is essential for building the long-term trust your business needs to thrive.

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

Best Practices:

  • Clear Descriptions: Clearly describe what users will receive by signing up, including the type of content, frequency of emails, and any other relevant details.

  • Easy Opt-Out: Ensure that users can easily opt out of receiving emails. Include an unsubscribe link in every email, making the process straightforward and hassle-free​. This is the law

  • Double Opt-In: Consider using a double opt-in process, where users confirm their subscription via email. This adds an extra layer of consent and ensures that the email address the customer provided you is valid.

Avoiding Deceptive Practices

Misleading users or using manipulative tactics can harm your reputation and lead to legal repercussions.

Ensure that all messages in your pop-ups are honest and straightforward. Do not use misleading claims or false promises to entice users to sign up.

Honor your users' preferences. If someone opts out or declines an offer, respect their decision and do not bombard them with further pop-ups or emails. Avoid using scammy tactics in your pop-ups to ensure a positive user experience and maintain an ethical relationship with your users. 

Integrating Email Pop-Ups With beehiiv

At beehiiv, we’ve worked hard to build the world’s most robust email marketing platform. We make it easy for creators to create non-intrusive pop-ups that are guaranteed to grow your newsletter! 

Here are a few of the features we offer:

How To Use Email Pop-Ups Without Making Your Customers Hate You

Final Thoughts

Email pop-ups have proven to be a powerful tool for many businesses looking to grow their email lists and nurture valuable leads. The right message at the right time can significantly enhance user engagement and drive conversions. 

But they're not a magic pill. Their effectiveness relies on a strategic and user-centric approach that doesn't interrupt an exceptional user experience.

Visually appealing, compelling pop-ups that speak directly to the user's needs will always help drive growth. Intrusive pop-ups that don't have a clear CTA and harm the user experience will scare people away. Use them wisely! 

When you're ready to design pop-ups that convert, explore the suite of tools beehiiv offers. We're creating the most powerful newsletter growth engine on either side of the Mississippi, and it's about time you saddle up and come along for the ride! 

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