Sympathy for the Popup (And How to Turn Yours into a Money Tree)

by Angus Lynch on August 7, 2014
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They’ve been around for a long, long year.

Reviled since the days of Geocities, the word ‘popup’ came to symbolize low-rent tactics used during the early days of online marketing.

Back in 2004, they topped the list of The Most Hated Advertising Techniques by web-usability guru Jakob Nielsen, who found 95% of users objected.

But popups have changed, as browser ad-blocking technology has all but eliminated pop-ups that open in new windows.

Today, popups are typically executed as modal overlays (or lightboxes) controlled by site owners—not media companies. They’re more relevant to what the user was browsing, as site owners have their long-term brand to think about (not just click-through ratios).


With so many advancements in web marketing technology, site owners also have greater control over when their popups are activated, and to what type of users they want (or don’t want) to be targeting.

A good example of this is what’s called an ‘exit overlay’, which is what I’m going to focus on in this post. Exit overlays use visitor tracking technology to activate only when a user begins to abandon a page on your site.

Exit overlays are designed to entice users to stay on your site, typically by offering users some form of value (discount, content, support) in exchange for an action (purchase, email signup, etc).

Example of an exit overlay, launched when the user begins to abandon the page before taking the marketer’s desired action.

By targeting only abandoning visitors, exit overlays avoid disrupting the user experience, while also recovering value from users who may leave a page and never return. More on that later.

It’s hard to argue with success

So just how effective are exit overlays on The Internets today?

Let’s take a look at two high-converting examples:

1. Social Triggers

Social Triggers is a blog that offers tips and advice to marketers, entrepreneurs and executives on “how to get ahead in business and in life.” They recently tried this exit overlay to help increase subscribers:




Unique Impressions: 165,416
Email Captures: 9,928
Capture Rate: 6.oo%
Conversion Lift: 34%

Is their opt-out copy mildly insulting? Yes, but 34% is a sizeable lift. Their copy conveys clear value, the design is strong, and the results prove that users valued what they had to offer.

2. Gr8Fires is a UK based business that has been selling gas and wood-burning stoves and fireplaces for over 30 years. With a long sales cycle, they were looking for a way to educate visitors on the installation process and stay top of mind as a trusted advisor with their prospects.

To do so, provided visitors with an “installation calculator” that appeared just as they were about to leave the website.

Image Source


300% increase in monthly sales leads.

Gr8fires offers true value by solving a common problem for the user: telling them how much installation will cost. The copy is clear and soaked in value all the way through.

Convinced exit overlays have value? Here’s how to do it right

If you have a website geared at generating leads, sales and sign-ups that has a reasonable amount of traffic, chances are you can unlock more value by adding an exit overlay.

But like any successful online marketing tactic, you don’t want to put an exit overlay up on any page and hope for the best. Your strategy must lie at the intersection of data, creative, and a healthy dose of common sense. The good news is, the whole process really isn’t complicated at all.

Let’s go through a 3-step process on where and how you can develop and launch an effective exit overlay.

Step 1 of 3: Finding your high-traffic events

Log in to your Google Analytics (or whatever tracking/analytics system you use). Open your traffic graph and run a report for the last 12 months, as per the screenshot below.



If you had any high-traffic events over the past year, they should show up right away. Note the traffic spikes in the following screenshot. For this particular site, both spikes represent the day a popular blog post was published.


Next, do a bit of digging to find out what you did on those high traffic days. What did these days coincide with? Was it a blog post? Product launch? SEM campaign?

It’s very important to determine which events correlate with the traffic spike in question. Why? Because it will tell you what your users want to read, and that ties right in with the next step.

Step 2 of 3: Determine your opt-in offer

Exit overlays must offer something valuable to the user in order to generate results. It’s important to give users what they want, but luckily for us, we’ve already determined what’s most popular with your users during step 1.

Let’s say your traffic spike coincided with a post called “14 Ways to Weave a Basket With Palm Leaves.” Your readers loved it! They hung on every word as you skillfully described how a basket could be woven in less than 15 minutes. And that’s perfect, because the headline for your exit overlay is going to go something like this:

“3 secrets to weaving a basket in less than 15 minutes.”

So in essence, you want to repurpose your high-traffic content to create the offer.

Of course, this tactic presupposes that you have something to offer under this category, whether it’s an eBook, blog post series, or online course etc.

We’ve used an email subscription in this example, but this process applies to any campaign geared at generating leads, sales and sign-ups. Let’s say your traffic spike coincided with a 50% off promotion on supplies weaving a wicker basket. In this example, your headline may read something like this:

“Ready to save 30% on wicker basket supplies?”

Use your creativity and writing skills to create outlay copy that’s concise, conveys value, includes a clear call-to-action—and of course—is based around content that’s already popular with your users.

Step 3 of 3: Design your overlay

The design of your overlay is a bit more open-ended than the copy. As a general rule, your design should have:

  1. A clean and simple layout; don’t clutter the offer with ‘busy’ images
  2. Clear contrast between the copy and imagery
  3. Consistenty with your brand scheme and guidelines

Though good design is vital to the success of your pop-up, there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel on this. You want something that supports what your copy is conveying without crowding it, or diluting its message.

If you’re looking for a bit of design inspiration, a simple Google Image search of “good popup design” will yield plenty of results to get the juices flowing. There’s no need to design something completely from scratch—follow what the pros are doing.

So what kind of tool do I need to launch and manage my overlay?

If you’re leaning towards using an exit overlay, Rooster offers a full suite of tools for launching, managing and tracking your campaign (obviously biased here, but we built this tool with insight gained from optimizing hundreds of pages at our conversion optimization Agency, Crowdvert).

Rooster employs advanced user-tracking technology to monitor the behavior of visitors on your site. When it detects an abandoning visitor, it triggers an exit overlay with a targeted offer aimed at driving your desired behavior.

cropped rooster 537x150.png

By sweetening the pot and providing clear last-minute value for users, it converts exiting visitors into e-mail sign-ups, sales leads, purchases,  and opt-ins.

Since most ecommerce sites have high user abandonment rates, it’s a huge pool of visitors to recover value from, and you won’t be interrupting the flow of users who are taking your desired action.

Further, Rooster can segment abandoning users, and tailor your message accordingly. It can target users who have never visited before, returning users who have yet to make a purchase, users who are about to abandon their shopping cart, and so on.

Depending on the nature of their offer, Rooster users are reporting they can recover value from up to 18% of visitors who would otherwise abandon their site, converting them into scores of new email subscribers, and valuable sales leads that would have otherwise been lost.


If you have a website with regular visitors, you’re providing value to your readers and subscribers. These visitors are interested in what you have to say and offer, but they may not see your subscription sign-up button in the sidebar, or they may not be willing to commit on their first visit.

Using an exit overlay to grab their attention, you’re increasing your chances of earning a new subscriber or sales lead, while also providing the user with valuable information through their preferred channel (email), and an easy way to stay in the loop with what you offer.

By following the 3-step process in this post, you can tailor your message to something users value. By launching your overlay when users are about to abandon your site—you can avoid user interruptions, and pull exiting visitors away from the path of abandonment.

If you’re interested in trying Rooster to launch an exit overlay campaign, try it out on a free 30-day trial.

Tell us what you think. Have you utilized popups or overlays effectively in your marketing? Give us comments below.



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