In. Your. Face. That’s what pop-ups are, right? But the fact that they’re front and center when you’re on a website can be precisely what makes them so effective. Just as long as you put some thoughtful planning behind this digital interruption.

Our first part on pop-ups was about whether you should use pop-ups and its benefits. Now let’s jump into some best practices for pop-ups and some of the options available to make the most of them.

Set Timing and Triggers

While it can vary by the system you use, there are a number of options available to customize your pop-up experience for users. You can typically set your pop-ups to be triggered at any point, time or place, such as on certain pages of your site or after a visitor has visited a specified number of pages. We really like exit-intent technology, which follows your mouse and can “sense” when you might be leaving the site. Basically, exit-intent gives you one last chance to drive a visitor to action before they abandon ship (or your site, to be more accurate).

You can set your pop-up so that it only comes up once a day and appears every time a user visits your site. Many pop-ups will store a cookie within your browser if you close the pop-up, and won’t be shown to you again for a set number of days. This is a setting you can change at any time. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid having the pop-up show up immediately when someone lands on your site. Use a time delay to give a visitor a bit of time to browse your site and get to know you more before you ask them to sign up.

Use Trial and Error

You can test your pop-ups through something called A/B testing or split testing. A/B testing lets you compare two different parts of a website to see which one performs better. Not all tools and systems allow for A/B testing and the ease of doing testing really ends up being driven by the system you use. But generally speaking, A/B testing can let you adjust and modify your pop-ups depending on what’s working and what isn’t. By varying content, headlines, colors and styles, you can see what actually converts best.

Here’s an example of A/B testing with pop-ups for Brightside St. Louis. The two options differ in wording, from the heading to the call to action button, to allow enough of a contrast to appeal to different users.

Brightside A

Don’t Force It

Give visitors a clear exit strategy and make it easy for them to close out of the pop-up. You want them to take action, but not feel trapped. If you don’t give them a clear way out, some people may become frustrated and avoid your site in the future. Action Against Hunger includes the standard “X” to close out of the pop-up box, but also has a “continue without joining” link to let users opt out.

Mobile Considerations

Not all pop-ups will work well on mobile devices. In fact, some pop-ups simply may not show up on mobile, especially if you have exit-intent set up since there’s no mouse to determine when a user is about to leave your site. While there isn’t a lot of research about using pop-ups on mobile devices, we would generally suggest against it since it’s intrusive and doesn’t give people a chance to get to know what your organization is about before they’re asked for their personal information.

Concentrate on Content

Our last best practice about pop-ups relates to how it’s written: make the content count. Pop-ups are tied to a specific goal and action, whether it’s signing up for a newsletter or making a donation. Writing the pop-up so that it’s straightforward and focused on that one call to action can go a long way.

Do you have any other tips or suggestions for pop-ups? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


  1. If you ask me as a volunteer then I will not support the pop up, because volunteering websites are the website where people come for the information and take part in the volunteering programs and they need something quick to do.

    • Hi Carol. We wouldn’t suggest pop-ups specifically for volunteer signups. Pop-ups, particularly to compel newsletter signups, can be a great way to ease people into your organization, let them get to know what you’re all about, and provide information that will hopefully help lead to conversions (like donating or volunteering). I’m not sure what you mean by volunteering website, but you could also use a volunteer plugin to make it even easier for your supporters by giving them the option to sign up for an opportunity directly on your website.