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Pop-ups carry a bad rap in the industry. Google even went as far as meting out punishments on sites that serve their users with especially intrusive pop-ups. It’s really not a surprise to see why. Say you’re currently watching a World Cup match and just as one side is mounting an offense on the other, the screen cut out to show you a commercial a on sports betting website. The problem with bad pop-ups is that sometimes, there’s no telling when they would appear.

Generally, with television, commercial breaks happen at a predefined time. Scripted and unscripted programs have an intentional break that is designed to be filled with commercials. Sport TV directors usually cut to commercials when there’s a lull in the action or when there are breaks between sections. It’s not always easy to translate the above rules into the realm of web design but the basic principle remains the same, minimize the interruption. Bad website pop-ups don’t abide by this rule.

When they’re good, they’re tolerable. When they’re bad, they’re really bad.

Honestly, good pop-ups are something of a unicorn. Ads and commercials, for the most part, are not things you’re supposed to enjoy. They’re things you tolerate, like traffic lights. Even clever ones wear off after the third time you watched the same commercials. In this way, it’s like putting down a dog; you need to figure out ways to make pop-ups as painless as possible, how best to still generate lead while still making the least intrusion on the user’s experience. Here are 4 tips to get you started:

  • Make efficient use of real estate

Anything that takes up sufficient space within the center of the screen is a bad idea. Full page interstitial, forgive the hyperbole, is cancer. Instead of covering up your contents, good pop-ups are designed to draw attention to itself without blocking access to your contents.

On desktop or computer screens, this means that showing your pop-ups on the side. It can be on the top, the bottom or even on the four corners. Pretty much anywhere that’s not on the center. Mobile screens are a trickier proposition, you are limited only to the top and the bottom of the screens but using a simple webpage banner should work. Additionally, make sure that the close button is clearly visible. Obscuring the exit has always been a pet peeve of mine.

  • It’s not a matter of time, it’s just a matter of timing

When I was still in school, I carry certain disdain on people who raise their hands the second the teacher throws us a question or when the teacher opens a Q&A session. As an adult this disdain carries over to store staffs that barrage me with questions on what I’m looking for the minute I walk in. In moderation, eagerness is good but too much of it is simply overwhelming. This is what I think about immediate pop-ups.

Look, if there’s ever going to be a chance for us to be in a relationship, I like to be flirted with first. You don’t go asking for my hand in marriage the minute we laid eyes on each other. Give time for visitors to enjoy your website’s offering first and then you ask for their commitment with what is referred to as timed pop-ups. Alternatively, you can also use scroll pop-ups that are triggered only when users have scrolled down far enough on a particular page.

  • Use pop-ups for exclusive promotions

There’s this publication I know that has a subscription pop-up running in the bottom of a page. Amazingly, the price you get from subscribing from this link is cheaper than the one you’d get from other avenues. Time-limited promotions and other exclusive offers work well with pop-ups. Using incentives like these dampens the initial effect of having ads shoved down the users’ face. If you’re going to invade their personal space, the least you could do is to make it as worthwhile as possible.

  • Consider the particular details of the language

For example, don’t present a form asking users to input their personal details before making clear just what it is they’re getting into. If you’ve been reading up until this point, you’d know that I advise against using excessive space for pop-ups. Instead of offering forms, use what is called a call-to-action button with the appropriate language with a link. It’s when users clink on this link that they’d be transported to a page asking for their details while outlining the benefits of doing so.

This point ties in nicely with the one above, using exclusive promotion offers to push users into clicking the provided link. This is what I refer to as the carrot approach. Instead of blocking content with pop-ups, or what I refer to as the stick approach, offer incentives to users that could be gained from divulging personal details.

The popular opinion is that pop-ups are just simply bad practices. That opinion is wrong. Interstitial, intrusive and entry pop-ups aren’t examples of a bad practice, they’re example of a practice done badly. There’s a subtle but intrinsic difference. Good pop-ups might sound like an oxymoron but when used properly, you can at least make it so that your visitors aren’t annoyed by your pop-ups.