Users get frustrated and stop reading.
Popups are associated most strongly with ads and then secondarily by requests for cookies, which is already a rough start – ads are annoying and sometimes dangerous, and cookies are an unwanted reminder that the website is in fact looking back at you while you look at it, especially in today’s internet.
Some sites try to be helpful by providing pop-up tips and tutorials for their own features, while others insist you notice the chatbox. Some even offer up coupon codes – Burpee Gardening Supply has some new offer for me every time I open the page! All popups serve the function of forcing the user to look at one function, right here, right now. This is a powerful tool. Your user is immediately derailed from whatever they were doing to come look at what you want them to look at. However, with great power comes great responsibility! It is very easy to overuse this feature. Done too much, users will stop looking at your announcements altogether!
Boy Who Cried Wolf
The best site pop-ups are the rare ones. Major announcements? Deserve a pop-up, especially if it changed the layout of the site. However, most other announcements don’t warrant such a direct demand of the user’s attention. Minor ones should be reduced to a notification at the top of the home page, a banner, or in a user’s inbox (not email) if possible as a heads-up message. If every announcement is a major announcement, none of them are. Users simply become less likely to pay attention to any of them.
For example – Microsoft sends frequent emails about Major Updates, but only some of them are major for the user, only some are immediately relevant, and only some apply to certain licenses and operations anyway. The end result is that only 20% of the emails I get regarding major messages from Microsoft end up being relevant to me, so I just… stopped clicking them. Why bother? The same goes for popups!
And then there’s the stuff that’s not an announcement, per se. Coupon codes? Sometimes. There’s statistical evidence that new-user coupon codes encourage conversions, but if the user has to wait for the pop-up to load every time, even with cookies on, they’re going to stop looking at it before they exit it. To reference Burpee again, I got the first-time user coupon for signing up in the email popup. That’s good; now they have my email. That’s a successful popup for them. But after that, the next pop-up was a seasonal one, and I didn’t end up reading the one after because I assumed it was also seasonal. There comes a point where coupons should be put in a large banner at the top, under the menu but before the search feature, so customers who scroll past might actually see it for what it is and not just exit out of it the second it blocks their vision.
Banners are perfect for many of the things popups are overused in. They can alert users of minor changes to the website. They can hold coupons. They can hold information about restocks. They can be eye-catching or low-key. Look at Burpee again – the banner at the top of the website announces the season, and if you click it, it takes you to the vegetables the website has available for said season. When they have a coupon for a small sale, they put it in large text in that same banner so users don’t have to wait for a pop-up to start factoring a sale into their shopping. Big sales and coupons get a popup (sometimes too often) small sales get the banner treatment.
This is the best of both worlds, and prevents user fatigue. You have to tell customers about sales, otherwise they won’t look at them, but you don’t have to present them with every sale in a popup, and not every sale is equally great enough to demand the customer’s full screen and all of their attention!
Applying it To Sales Emails
There’s a gap between what the sales department does and what the customer wants. The customer will tolerate a lot before unsubscribing, but there is a point where too many emails is too many emails, and the customer stops opening them (reading the headline still accomplishes the goal of reminding the customer that the brand exists) or starts marking them as spam (much worse). For example, Bath and Body Works. I will admit to enjoying their products, but their email campaign can be aggressive. However, Bath and Body Works will also allow customers to pick how often they want emails. People who want to be notified when there’s a major sale don’t also have to receive notifications about new scent launches.
Allowing customers to throttle back is the equivalent of using banners and popups together instead of using just popups for everything. To go back to Burpee (I swear I don’t have a grudge) I was getting all kinds of emails, including emails inviting me to take a second look at a product… that I hadn’t ordered because it was out of stock. I did want it, and I’d clicked a button that said it would notify me when it was back in stock, but the email system didn’t connect these dots and kept prodding me to buy something I simply couldn’t because it wasn’t in stock. While funny, it was also frustrating, and it happened more than once because berry bushes are only ready to ship in spring and fall. This eventually lead to me unsubscribing from their emails altogether.