You Shouldn’t Use Pop-ups. Here’s Why.


Pop-up subscription forms are everywhere. In 2018, it’s hard to visit a website that doesn’t have a jumping, flying, flashing pop-up subscription form. The question is – is this a good trend? And should you add a pop-up to your own website?

Opinions are divided. Most readers detest pop-ups, so much so that they create blogs specifically highlighting how terrible they are. Marketers, on the other hand, are generally sympathetic.

Here at MailPoet, we trend toward not using pop-ups. It may an unpopular opinion, but we think that pop-ups have too negative of an effect on website visitors to be worth using. In this post, we’ll go through the (supposed) advantages of pop-ups and the often not-so-obvious disadvantages.

The Advantage(s) of Pop-ups

There are none. Zip, zilch, nada.

Just kidding – there are definitely some advantages (or at least one advantage). For the most part, using pop-ups will increase your subscription rate. Unfortunately, it can be tough to dig through the mass of online blog posts, case studies, and research concerning the effectiveness of pop-up subscription forms versus other marketing methods, especially since most posts on the topic are written by marketing companies themselves (with a vested interest in promoting marketing tools).

If you search around on the web, you’ll find quite a bit of posts that extol the benefits of pop-ups, usually with a brief case study. AWeber, for example, has consistently reported dramatically successful results from using a Lightbox pop-up over a sidebar. User Testing Blog insists that you use pop-ups, but only as long as they don’t negatively affect the user experience. And HubSpot doesn’t mince words: “Pop-up forms do work, and this is the main reason so many marketers are using them.”

So, it seems like pop-ups do indeed work, if the objective is to increase subscription rates. But what if the goal is more long-term, like building a loyal audience, creating a respected brand or optimizing for Google search results? Well, then it gets tricky.


The Disadvantages of Pop-ups

So, why don’t we recommend pop-ups? Put simply – the negatives outweigh the benefits. Marketers often play up the short-term advantages of using them without taking into account the long-term, less visible disadvantages.

Reading Interruptions

The single biggest downside to using pop-ups are that they’re annoying – really annoying, especially when they interrupt the reading process. When you interrupt a reader, you irritate a reader. And when you irritate a reader, you make it less likely that they’ll continue reading your content, sign up to your newsletter, or buy your stuff.

In fact, according to Nielsen Norman Group, modals (the technical name for a pop-up) are the single most hated form of advertising on both desktop and mobile. Surprisingly, modals are more hated than auto-playing video and deceptive links.

Even the “Exit Intent” technique, which is often pitched as more benign and less distracting, can still be damaging to your brand. When you beg for attention, you come off as desperate and needy. Chances are, those aren’t values your brand should embody. You can read the full report on their website.

Brand Crash

Damaging Your Brand

Interrupting a reader in the midst of reading your content not only irritates them immediately, but it can also cause lasting damage to your brand. This is especially true if you are selling luxury or expensive products. Obnoxious, attention-grabbing techniques like pop-ups are usually associated with lower-price, lower-quality products and companies.

“We need to be careful that [premium advertising] is not disruptive or an overall bad experience for the consumer. The challenge we face in mobile in particular because of the smaller screen size is overcoming our natural tendency to make ads bigger and take over the entire screen.”
Raymonde Brillantes-Green, VP – Partnerships and Investments for DigitasLBi (From

If you’re selling premium content and products, having a flashy pop-up detracts from your overall appearance – if your content is that good, you shouldn’t need to beg subscribers to sign up. They should be desperate to sign up for your newsletter simply because your content is just that awesome.


Google Punishment

Google doesn’t like pop-ups, at least on mobile devices. Last year, they began penalizing websites that have “intrusive interstitials,” a.k.a annoying pop-ups, on mobile websites. Google has given three examples of the content they don’t like:

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

Banned Tactics

There are some specific exceptions – for example, pop-ups for legal agreements like cookies, private content websites, and small, easily-dismissible banners. In general, however, Google does not like pop-ups on mobile sites and will punish you for going overboard with them. Since they’re the single largest search engine in the world, it’s probably worth avoiding their wrath.

What’s the Alternative?

So, if pop-ups are a no-go, what should you use instead? Luckily, most pop-up plugins include alternate display options. You can still create an attention-grabbing subscription form without irritating your users, tarnishing your brand, or damaging your Google results. The solution is to simply create smaller, less distracting notification boxes or chat boxes.

We recently reviewed HollerBox, a pop-up (!) plugin. While HollerBox does let you create a standard pop-up, we like it for its other options – a “Notification Box”, which appears in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen; and a “Faux Chat”, which also appears in the bottom right-hand corner. These two options are attention-grabbing without being as irritating as a standard pop-up.

Holler Box

Another plugin that we recommend is Bloom. Bloom also has the standard “irritating” pop-up styles, but it also has three alternate ones – Inline, in a widget, and below the content. Again, we don’t recommend using the Fly-in, Automatic, or Require Opt-in options.


Protip: Make sure your notification box looks okay on a mobile device. If you have the time, we recommend creating a smaller, more concise version specifically for mobile devices.

And that’s it. Hopefully, you’ve been convinced to forgo a pop-up in favor of a notification box or widget instead. If you have to use a pop-up, make sure it’s not overly distracting and obnoxious.

Looking for more inspiration on how to improve your signup forms? We have just the guide for you!

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your personal goals. In general, however, we think good content will win out over manipulative marketing tactics. If you think otherwise, let us know in the comments!