6 Reasons Why Pop-Ups, Welcome Gates and Slide-Ins Suck

Pop-ups. Some complain “you can’t live with ’em”, while others proclaim “you can’t live without ’em”. So what’s a savvy marketer to do? In this post, we discuss the top 6 reasons pop-ups, welcome gates and slide-ins suck (and the solution to the problem).

There is no doubt that pop-ups convert. Websites with pop-ups consistently outperform websites with no pop-ups, and can even increase conversions by 2100%.

But the fact remains: people still hate them.

Even though the data clearly shows that people are interacting with pop-ups right and left, the sentiment is still there for many people.

So how do we as marketers and business owners solve this problem? Do we simply give in and do away with our pop-ups… or is there a better way?

I researched quite a few articles and forums to learn what the top objections were to pop-ups, and the following 6 objections are real complaints from real people. Let’s dive in to each one, figure out what the underlying problems are with these pop-ups, and how to solve them…

1. “Pop-ups are rude.”

One of the biggest complaints about pop-ups is that they interrupt you as you’re trying to accomplish something. Interrupting your potential customer is just plain rude.

Put yourself in the position of your user for a moment, and imagine the path they probably took to arrive at your site…

First, they have a problem. To find the solution to that problem, they go to Google and enter in a search term. Your blog post comes up as one of the results, so they click through to find the answer they are seeking. Just as they start settling in to read your post, BAM! The screen is taken over by a lightbox pop-up or a welcome gate.

Matthew Barby popup
Lightbox Pop-Up
Jeff Goins Welcome Gate
Welcome Gate
Baremetrics Slide-in

Now these pop-ups can convert really well, when done right.

However, when the user is forced to read a headline about some offer that they have no interest in–when all they really wanted was the specific answer to their question (which the pop-up does not provide)–that’s when you have a problem.

This unwanted distraction causes the user’s brain to work harder as they are forced to switch tasks and decide between entering their email address and rejecting the offer, before switching back again to the original task. The result can be a stressful experience, leading to a negative impression of the site, and a lower tolerance for any future decisions that need to be made on said site.

There is also another possibility: if they’ve seen this kind of thing a few times before, they may have developed “pop-up blindness”.

That means they’ve conditioned themselves to ignore the pop-up or welcome gate entirely, and to click out of it as quickly as they can. The result may be only minor annoyance, however this does nothing for you, the business owner who wants to drive conversions on their site.

The solution? Change the timing.

It sounds simple, but timing is everything when it comes to pop-ups, welcome gates and slide-ins. That’s why we developed OptinMonster’s display rules, which allow you to get the timing exactly right.

There are four basic types of timing that you need to pay attention to when defining the display rules for your pop-up:

  1. Time on page (or scroll amount)
  2. Time on site (or page views)
  3. Specific date or time
  4. Exit-intent

There are many other ways to refine the timing of your pop-up, such as with referrer detection, using a specific URL parameter, cookies, anchor tags, campaign interaction history, etc., but these are the basic types. Let’s go into each in more detail…

1. Time on page

The first is how many seconds you want to delay your pop-up from appearing after the page is loaded.

after x seconds

Or how far the user has scrolled down the page before a slide-in appears.

after scroll

This allows you to delay your pop-up long enough that the visitor has had a chance to read your content and digest it before being asked to re-direct their attention to your offer.

Just as you aren’t likely to appreciate a salesman accosting you and pushing their product in your face the second you walk in their store, this can be a more polite way of suggesting something that the visitor might want, well after they have had a chance to settle in a bit.

However, seconds after page load is only one piece of the puzzle. Another critical piece is time spent on site, or page views.

2. Time on site

Time spent on site is how many pages the visitor has viewed on your site before the pop-up appears.

after x pages

This is akin to a store clerk waiting until the shopper has browsed around a bit before asking if they need any help. Not only does this allow the shopper to settle in and orient themselves with the store, but it also allows the clerk to observe the shopper so they’ll know how to assist them better. You can do the same thing with pop-ups using behavior personalization (more on that in #2).

3. Specific date or time

The third type of timing is using a specific date and time (in your user’s timezone) to display your pop-ups.

date and time

This is useful for date/time specific promotions, such as when you have a Labor Day sale that is only for a limited time.

Back to the retail store analogy, a shopper is more likely to forgive an immediate pitch from a clerk when it has to do with a limited-time promotion.

Imagine walking into a clothing store and being greeted by a clerk handing out coupons for 20% off your purchase, good for today only. Well, that seems perfectly justifiable, so you take the coupon thinking that there’s no harm in holding on to it, especially since you don’t want to miss out on a good sale. Your website visitors can have a similar experience with date/time specific pop-ups.

4. Exit-intent

The final type of timing to consider is exit-intent: this is when a pop-up appears just as the visitor is about to leave the site.

exit intent

This is pretty tough to replicate in a retail store, but it’s actually very easy to accomplish on your website.

There is absolutely no good reason not to take advantage of exit-intent technology. Think of it this way: your visitor is about to leave, and most likely will abandon your site forever, unless you succeed in this one last ditch effort to capture their attention.

And what do you have to lose by trying? The visitor was leaving anyway, so if your pop-up annoys them on the way out then you’re no worse off than you were before.

More importantly, however, exit pop-ups can recover 10-15% of abandoning visitors and can increase your conversions by 316%.

2. “Nothing makes me leave a website faster.”

Another common complaint is that pop-ups drive people away from your site.

Assuming this is true, you should see a higher bounce rate and a decrease in conversions, right? More people abandoning your site should result in fewer email subscriptions.

However, the data shows that this is simply not the case… in fact, it’s quite the opposite. When tested against a sidebar opt-in form, pop-ups have been shown to drive 1375% more email subscribers.

In fact, there are countless case studies which prove the effectiveness of pop-ups, welcome gates and slide-ins. The data shows that this objection is largely unfounded: the majority of people aren’t leaving websites just because they have a pop-up, they are actually opting in.

However, despite what their actual behavior shows, it is true that many users express a dislike, or even a complete disdain, for pop-ups.

So what’s the solution? Use behavior personalization.

Behavior personalization is a technology that OptinMonster uses to observe your user’s behavior and present a highly targeted pop-up that is personalized to the user’s specific needs and interests.

Back to the store analogy again, this would be akin to the store clerk observing the shopper’s browsing behavior before approaching them with a specific offer to help.

For instance, they might see that the shopper has picked up several articles of clothing (indicating that they are probably interested in trying them on), so they ask the shopper if they can get a dressing room started.

Will this interaction make the shopper want to leave the store? Of course not. They have their hands full, so it’s a welcome offer that improves their shopping experience. For the store clerk, this interaction helps to ensure that the shopper will make it into the dressing room: the next step towards making a purchase.

You can do the same thing on your website, and turn your “annoying” pop-ups into personalized offers that your visitors will actually thank you for.

OptinMonster Dynamic Text Replacement Example 1
(Side note: did you know you can even add the visitor’s name?)

For example, let’s say your visitor is reading a blog post about how to grow their own garden. After allowing them time to read the post (with a scroll-triggered slide-in), or using an exit-intent popup, you could present them with some garden-growing assistance, such as a printable checklist of all the tools/supplies they’ll need to get started.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you have an eCommerce store and your visitor has been browsing one of your products or product lines. As they are about to leave, you could present them with a pop-up that says, “If you loved XYZ, we think you’ll adore this…” and show them a related or similar product.

You could even add, “And by the way, it’s 10% off through Thursday” (or some other discount) with a button to redeem the offer.

Dynamic Text Replacement Ecommerce

Or you could say, “Want to save this for later? Add it to your wishlist.” and include an email signup form which registers them with your site and adds the product they were viewing to their wishlist.

Or, perhaps your visitor has been reading through your pricing page, indicating that they are thinking about buying. However, they are about to abandon your site. Using an exit-intent popup, you could ask them if they have any questions about your product, and include a contact form, or even a live chat option.

contact form popup

The possibilities for behavior personalization are truly endless. It takes a bit more thought than just slapping up a “catch-all” pop-up and hoping it sticks, but the results will be well worth it.

3. “Pop-ups are insulting.”

How would you like it if a salesperson told you that you’d have to be a complete idiot not to take them up on their offer?

It’d be pretty insulting, right?

Unfortunately, this is where so many pop-ups go wrong.

You may have seen one of these “Yes/No” pop-ups before:

insulting yes no popup

This type of pop-up gives you two options: you can either opt in to the offer, or you can reject the offer.

Although the above example is not something we suggest you emulate, there is nothing inherently wrong with the yes/no type of pop-up. In fact, yes/no pop-ups convert really well because they are essentially a two-step optin crossed with a pop-up (and two-step optins have been shown to boost conversions by as much as 785%.)

The problem is when the copy for the reject button insults the visitor’s intelligence. In this example, “No, health means nothing” is something that no one in their right mind would agree with, and that can come across as insulting to people.

To give them some credit, there is some real reasoning behind this tactic: that is, to persuade the visitor into accepting the offer by making the alternative sound so ridiculous that there is no way they would ever choose it. However, while this can convert, it can also leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. It can even make some people angry.

The solution? Add humor to your copy.

The reason humor works is that humor dissipates anger… People will forgive nearly anything so long as they can laugh about it.

Tumbler used this principle to dissipate anger when their service was interrupted by displaying these green, fluffy creatures with the notice:

“We may have forgotten to feed the wild tumbeasts that roam our datacenter, resulting in gnawing and/or mutiny. Animal control has been alerted.”


It’s really not that difficult to do the same thing with your reject button. For example, instead of “No, health means nothing”, you could say, “Nah, I’m happy with my jelly-filled doughnuts, thank you very much!”

For your inspiration, here are some humorous yes/no pop-ups done right…

“No thanks, I’d rather be a rebel thousandaire” via Timothy Sykes
“No, I’d rather cry alone in my apartment” via Gothamist
“No, I want to continue dwelling in my mom’s basement” via Jakob King

But if humor isn’t your brand’s thing, not to worry. All you have to do is use the reject button in a more creative way.

After all, who says the reject button has to simply exit the popup? Why not actually offer some value to the visitor if they click it? Why not make both options a win-win?

For example, Which Test Won uses a yes/no pop-up to offer an optin, or continue to the site, where there are some blog posts to read and other goodies to consume.


There really are so many other possibilities besides insulting your visitors. You just have to think outside the box! The pop-up box, that is. (Ok, ok, bad joke. On to the next problem…)

4. “Pop-ups ruin the user experience.”

Some would argue that the very nature of pop-ups ruin the user experience.

However, that would mean that any application which uses pop-ups has bad UX. Like oh, I don’t know, the company that coined the term (Apple)?




The truth is, user experience, or UX design is not just about pleasing the user: it’s about meeting the objectives of both the user and the owner to create positive outcomes for both parties.

Now are there some pop-ups that ruin the user experience? You bet.

The most common offenders are the websites that don’t optimize their pop-ups for mobile. This leads to a highly aggravating experience for the mobile user, and may even render the site completely unusable.

The solution, however, is simple: optimize for mobile.

Optimizing your pop-ups for mobile devices means that they are responsive: they will appear and behave exactly as they should, even on tiny screens.

However, why stop at mobile responsiveness? Why not show targeted messages to your mobile users as well?

With OptinMonster, we’ve taken mobile pop-ups one step further: you can now use pop-ups to invite users to download your mobile app, or show specific messages only to your mobile audience.

on specific device

5. “Pop-ups cater to childish people with short attention spans.”

This argument is actually quite true (although we can probably dispense with the “childish” bit). Pop-ups do cater to people with short attention spans.

And here’s the thing: even though we’d rather not admit it, nearly everyone has a short attention span these days.

According to a study by Microsoft Corporation, the human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2002 to a mere 8 seconds in 2013, which is a second shorter than a goldfish.

Yes. You’d have an easier time getting a goldfish to pay attention to your optin form than a rational human being. (Provided the goldfish was literate and provided with a waterproof, fishy-sized laptop, of course.)

You see, pop-ups work because they take away all other distractions, and narrow down the user’s focus to one choice, and one choice only. Are they in, or are they out?

In this day and age, with all of the information that we are bombarded with every single day, a narrow focus on a singular call-to-action is key to getting people to take action on your website.

6. “I #&*?@*!#% HATE pop-ups!!”

I know, I know. And I’m sure you also hate online advertisements, TV commercials, junk mail, and the sales people at Best Buy. Yeah, me too.

But they’re not going anywhere… because they do their job.

That being said, as a business owner, you have an opportunity. You have an opportunity to create better, more intelligent, more targeted pop-ups than your competitors.

When you invest in the right tool (ahem, OptinMonster), and give just a bit more thought to planning out your lead generation strategy, you’ll be lightyears ahead of everyone else. Their pop-ups may convert, but yours will convert like gangbusters.

And your users will love you more.

What do you hate the most about pop-ups, welcome gates and slide-ins? Let us know in the comments below (don’t be shy– we won’t bite)!

Mary Fernandez
Mary Fernandez is a professional blogger. When she’s not at her desk, you can usually find Mary exploring sunny San Diego, CA with her laptop, husband, and three kids in tow.

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