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Pop-up Marketing: The Advantage

Pop-up advertisements have been a pervasive part of web browsing since the internet’s use became widespread in the 1990s. It initially seemed like a fantastic marketing tool, particularly when used in a subversive manner.

An advertisement pops up, on top of the site the user intended to visit, and won’t let the user get to his or her desired destination until he or she has clicked on the pop-up to either visit the place advertised or find the way to close it.

Marketing Tool or Public Enemy?

What was originally envisioned as the new wave in marketing, an innovative way to command the attention of potential consumers, quickly seemed to denigrate into public enemy number one. People became resentful when they accidentally clicked on one in the process of trying to close it, achieving the opposite user impression than that which the advertiser desired.

What had been an easy way to ensure a user paid attention to the site or product being advertised quickly became a problem, such that various browsers implemented tools to block them altogether. What commercials have done to standard television, giving way to increased Netflix membership and use of DVD-R, pop-up marketing did to the internet.

Do they still have a use, despite that? Is there any marketing value in something that sparks so much vitriol from its viewers?

What Not to Do

Pop-ups with obscenely bright colors, reminiscent of the fashion choices of 1984, particularly if they flash or have text that moves, are without exception completely obnoxious. They’re distracting, and people react to them the same way they react to flashy junk mail. It’s obvious that it’s an advertisement, so people get rid of it as quickly as possible, without paying much attention to its content.

After all, if a product requires cheap attention grabbers like bright colors and silly fonts in order to get attention, it must not be a worthwhile product. Consumers distrust advertisements that are that obvious. They immediately bring out the cynic in everyone, and whatever information it might contain is immediately discounted.

A Snapshot of Credibility

Instead of flashy garbage, an effective pop-up must take advantage of a viewer’s brief focus by giving actually respected information in a concise and clear format, without excessive bells and whistles to interfere with that information. For example, including a snapshot of the number of Facebook followers, the number of stars averaged from Amazon, or other immediately recognizable social media or applicable review-oriented site(s), increases credibility and demonstrates affiliation with some reliable, trusted sources.

Working With the Site Visitor vs. Visual Assault

We’ve established that bright, colorful, animated, and flashy pop-ups contain all the wrong choices in gaining useful clicks and site visits. These characteristics are a visual assault on the eyes, and make this type of marketing seem like the enemy to the consumer.

Another characteristic that contributes to this “us vs. them” reaction is the hidden or misleading method of exiting the pop-up without visiting the linked site. Hiding the closing method, or making one thing look like the closing method but actually isn’t, only increases distrust and defensiveness from the consumer.

An alternative approach that is more attractive and user-friendly is to try to cater to the user’s needs. Specifically, offering something that is interactive by choice can be highly effective. People like to feel valued, and one way consumers feel valued is when they are allowed to give their opinions.

What’s Your Pop-up Size?

Size matters, but not in the way you might think. A small pop-up is much less likely to garner any serious attention, and the viewer is likely to make the assumption that the pop-up has nothing to do with the site from which it pops up. A small pop-up looks cheap and gives the impression of the site or product advertised as being cheap as well.

A large pop-up that appears to “spread” rather than “pop,” leaving some opacity around its edges, is much more interesting and liable to be glanced at with interest rather than aggravation, especially if the pop-up also has a very clearly, predictably marked “exit” method.

Connections Between Pop-ups and Sites

For advertising that is no longer directly affiliated with the sites in which the ads are placed, we have Google Ads. So, for example, if you’re reading an editor’s site, there might be adds inserted that relate to writers – they’re ads that might appeal to the same consumer base, but they have no direct affiliation with the site.

People accept this, the same way they accept advertisement pages in newspapers and magazines. These types of ads don’t interfere with consumer interaction with the site or reading material, and in their very existence they are honest about what they are: ads.

This actually increases the likelihood that a potential consumer or site visitor might click on it, because he or she has total awareness of what’s being clicked on and see that the subject matter is something that might be interesting.

The failure comes in when an advertisement that takes the form of a pop-up has absolutely no direct connection with the site. Even if it’s on the same or a related subject, it’s now longer a benign ad that a user may look further into by choice – it goes into the assault category referenced previously. And the assault is the worst when the ad is not directly connected to the site AND appears as soon as you get to the site.

This is where the newest form of using pop-up marketing comes in. Pop-up marketing needs to be used through sites that are directly connected with it, and, in addition, pop-ups need to be delayed. They also need to be on a timer, so that even if the visitor does not use the manual click button to exit, the pop-up will fade away within a few minutes, if the user does not interact directly.


Ultimately, it’s all about connections and trust. In a very brief window – literally – you have to demonstrate to a potential consumer your trustworthiness as well as your connection to the site you’re advertised at. One thing every site should consider is having an associated newsletter, and pop-up ads are the perfect mechanism for inviting users to subscribe to a newsletter.

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About Sean Donahoe

Sean is one of the most recognized industry leaders in business and marketing. As a popular speaker, author, consultant he has helped over 50,000 students world wide find success in their businesses and has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and businesses of every size grow and thrive...

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