“Pop-ups.” For many of us, it’s a dirty word on the web. We all have bad memories of pop-ups interrupting our flow on websites when we simply wanted to read some content, buy something, or take another action. Everything is going great until that dreaded pop-up appears. Indeed, pop-ups can be disruptive and distracting when they’re poorly implemented or not useful. That said, the fact that we still see so many of them on the web indicates that they can work for website owners when done well. For nonprofits, a well-executed pop-up can increase engagement, procure donations, and build email lists that can foster long-term relationships with potential activists or donors.

Let’s start by defining what a pop-up is. A pop-up is an informational or promotional offer that displays over the top of your website content, with the goal of capturing users’ attention quickly and easily. They also typically include a call-to-action (CTA) to get users to do something we want them to do. In the early, nascent days of the Internet, webmasters treated their users as if they were monoliths – everybody got the exact same pop-up, which ran on every page of the site – annoying users and suppressing conversion rates. Like everything else, though, pop-up technology has evolved considerably, allowing you to segment, test, and optimize.

Let’s explore a few key tenants of making pop-ups work for your nonprofit:

1. Use pop-ups only on desktop.

Yes, most of your traffic is probably coming from mobile. But, not only do pop-ups lead to a poor UX due to the smaller screen, you can also get penalized by Google for using them. Since the rollout of Google’s Core Web Vitals, pop-ups that are considered to be obtrusive can actually cause penalties, causing your site to drop in rankings. Moreover, since pop-ups take up so much real estate on the screen, you can expect to see higher bounce rates and lower overall engagement, which can also hurt brand image. If you must use pop-ups on mobile, make sure they don’t cover the main content of a page while a user is browsing or navigating to the page.

Here are some examples that Google specifically advises against using in their Webmaster Guidelines:

2. Think about proper timing for the popup.

The golden rule (and question you should be asking yourself) is, “Is this relevant to my visitor?” Give users a chance to explore your content before you serve them the pop-up and consider only showing the pop-up on pages that indicate a level of intent to take the offer. Try only showing the pop-up after a user has been on a page for a reasonable amount of time (such as a minute) or to only show the pop-up after a user has scrolled all the way through the content of the page. And just as display ads get annoying when we see the same ad repeatedly, consider putting a frequency cap on the pop-up too so that it doesn’t reload after every pageview or journey back to a specific landing page. Here are the different types of popups:

  • Entry pop: the pop-up appears when a user first lands on a page, after a time delay.
  • Scroll pop: The pop-up appears when a user has scrolled a certain percentage of the way down a page, indicating that they’re engaged.
  • Exit pop: the pop-up appears when a user is about to leave a page (or the site) and then interrupts them.

3. Follow the KISS rule.

Keep it simple. Focus less on making the pop-up look pretty, and more on the clarity of your value proposition for why you need or want the user to take the action you want them to take. Think about it in terms of 2 seconds – if the user doesn’t get the intrinsic value of what you’re asking for in 2 seconds or less(!), you’ve not done a good enough job of defining your value proposition. Think about the different “hooks” you can use to compel a user to sign up. In the context of nonprofits, you can consider tugging at their heartstrings, explaining why even a few dollars goes a long way towards advancing your mission, or why users need to know the latest things that your organization is doing.

4. Make sure you do something with the information.

So many websites collect email addresses solely for the purpose of collecting information (and then do nothing with that data). Especially as we progress towards the deprecation of third-party cookies, email addresses and opt-ins have even more value as first-party data. Make sure you integrate your pop-up submission with your CRM or email marketing software so that users can begin getting drip and nurture campaigns. Here are some specific tools that make it easy to do this:

As you collect email addresses and information from your users, consider setting up a sync with platforms such as Facebook Ads and LinkedIn to populate out custom audiences via people who signed up for your offer. This can help you continuously retarget them and nurture them through the process of engaging with your organization. You can also use tools such as Zapier to send audience data from place to place.

5. Test out the options.

Just as we test landing pages and emails, test the layout of your pop-ups too. Test different CTAs, different value propositions, timing, etc. to optimize your results. Any of the tools noted above offer A/B testing, but you can also use a traditional testing tool such as Google Website Optimizer to run an A/B or multivariate test as well.

The key with all of this is to make sure that your users understand the value of “giving up” their information. By following the concepts noted above, pop-ups don’t have to annoy users – they can actually enhance the experience while at the same time improve your organization’s lead generation efforts.

About the Author

Lee Goldberg is the Co-Founder and President, Digital Marketing at Happy Cog – an award-winning, full-service digital agency specializing in web and mobile app development, design, and digital marketing. If you’d like to learn more about digital marketing strategies for your nonprofit organization, please contact us or send us a message at hello@happycog.com.

Pop-Ups: How to Make Them Work for Your Nonprofit Website