This post has been updated with fresh links and new content. 🙂
Original Publication Date: December 29, 2015
Remember those annoying, ugly, blinking gray boxes that popped up only after you’d clicked the “X” to close the window?
As annoying as they are, this tactic can have an important place in your online marketing.
When users are done looking at your page, the movement to close the browser tab is more-or-less automatic. Your website can tell when users are moving to close the tab, however, and you can prevent that automatic motion (the strategy is literally called a pattern interrupt) and get re-engage them with new information.
Hold On Stranger is an exit popup tool, so they have to practice what they preach.
But this particular popup does a great job of demonstrating the pattern interrupt technique. It comes up as you’re about to exit and gives you some food for thought… converting 28% of visitors that were about to leave? Okay!
And when this happens, even though more and more of these exit popups are implemented every day, you’re still giving the user’s brain a bit of a jolt and force them to pay more attention to the topic at hand.
And if you do it right by using some of the hacks we’ll show you, you’ll be able to use them to both improve your on-site experience and increase your conversions. (Like how Digital Marketer got an extra 2,689 leads in just two weeks.)
What You’ll Learn In This Guide
- What an exit popup is.
- A review of different types of popups.
- Screenshot examples of what to do and what not to do.
- The 14 exit popup hacks you should test.
- How to actually delight your visitors with popups. (And how not to piss them off.)
- Tools to use for your popups.
What Is An Exit Popup?
An exit popup is exactly what it sounds like. (The people who invented these things are smart, but they aren’t exactly creative in the ‘naming things’ department.)
When someone tries to exit your website or landing page, a popup appears with a new offer or reason for them to stay longer. You can vary the style of popup or the offer you present, but all exit popups include two characteristics:
- The popup appears over the on-screen content.
- The popup gives the user an extra incentive to stay.
Keep reading to learn about the different types of popups you can incorporate into your landing pages to boost conversions.
6 Different Types of Popups
Exit intent popups are just one type of overlay you can use on your website, landing page, or blog post.
We’ll show you tests to run specifically for exit popups, but a lot of these theories and strategies can be applied to other types of popups too.
1. Lightbox Popups
These are by far the most common type out there.
You know when you’re searching online and reading something when suddenly this popup appears, fading everything out in the background?
That’s a lightbox popup at work.
These are effective because they require interaction to close them out. If you play your cards right, even if the decision is “no”, you’ll still reap some benefits (check out Hack #5, “Be a Jerk…” later on).
A lightbox popup can be set to show immediately, after a certain number of seconds, or triggered by a specific user action. That’s up to you to test.
Become a Blogger’s Leslie Samuel said that after he installed a popup plugin that specializes in this type, he saw a 568% increase in conversions.
2. Exit Intent Popups
The traditional exit popups we looked at earlier in this post are frowned upon by Google, but this is the next best thing (or probably an even better thing).
In fact, Google has banned the traditional exit popup since they actually prevent people from leaving your site when they want to.
Exit intent popups don’t actually stop anyone from leaving, but they do use on-site behavior and mouse tracking to guess when a person is about to close their tab before you hit them with an exit intent popup.
The idea is to hit visitors that would otherwise leave and forget about you with an irresistible offer. It’s hard to imagine anyone would want to say no to 25,000 unique visitors per month, as this popup promises.
Another website, Your Mechanic, used exit popups to help re-engage visitors who’d come in from paid ad campaigns and were about to leave.
In the popup, they reminded them that if they took only 73 seconds to fill out a form, they’d get a quote.
3. Welcome Mat Popups
As the name implies, these are popups (You could also call them slide-ins) that appear to greet your visitor the instant they land on your site or landing page.
All a user has to do is keep scrolling to get past them, but they can interact with them as well.
The “welcome mat” term was coined by SumoMe, but you can use a different plugin or custom coding/solution to accomplish the same effect.
And even though they’re shown to people that may not have much experience (if any) with your site, they can be quite effective.
Conrad Wodowski, co-founder of Teachable (previously known as Fedora), shared in August that they used the Welcome Mat tool to increase their student signup rate by 70%.
4. Social Content Lockers
These are not exactly popups per se, though they can very well take the form of a popup.
This is a screen-covering method that some sites or landing pages will put over content they feel is worth more value than other stuff they’ve got on their site, so they make visitors “pay” for access to it with a Tweet, share, or some form of social media follow.
Personally, I have a hard time with the types of content lockers that require a newsletter subscription or a full-on account creation. But if the content I want to read is compelling enough, I have no problem liking someone on Facebook or doing a small Twitter interaction to get access.
SEO and affiliate marketing guru Matthew Woodward calls this strategy his “dirty little secret” for getting more social shares.
He uses these lockers for PDF guides, discount codes, and tutorials, and it’s really paid off.
“This has resulted in 43,094 social shares to date,” he said in February 2015, “all without having to lift a finger.”
5. Bottom-Right-Hand Recommendation, Survey, and Live Chats
These are specifically meant to be non-intrusive and helpful (not so much focused on conversions, but can be).
So rather than making them interruptive, a lot of companies opt to place them at the bottom of the screen and pop them up/in after you’ve been on their site long enough.
The popping up action still gets your attention, but it doesn’t get in the way of you finishing what you were reading.
You can also ask your visitors a simple question to understand more about them and use that information as conversion research.
Last but not least, you can use a chat tool. In this example, Olark helps visitors get quick and easy answers and, at the same time, learn what questions they ask most so you can address them in your copy.
VWO installed Olark on one of their client sites, Ez Texting, and saw a 31% increase in conversions.
6. Hello Bar
Hello bars are another nifty online marketing tool.
And while it may not technically count as a popup (there’s no real “pop up” action that it does), it is something that overlays your website while not being a part of it.
It adds a visible, obvious gesture that stays at the top of your screen as someone scrolls down to help you increase the email conversions you get. (Or traffic to a certain page, your choice.)
DIYthemes used Hello Bar to give away free incentives, send traffic to a landing page, and generate traditional opt-ins. In their 30-day experimentation period, DIYthemes got 1,180 extra subscribers.
14 Hacks to Making the Most Out of Your Exit Intent Popup
Now that the review is over, let’s get to the good stuff. The stuff you’re here for.
The hacks that can make your exit popups super effective and help you create a great experience for your visitors.
1. Blog Post-Specific Popups
If someone gets deep into an in-depth instructional blog post on your site and then closes the window, you’ve missed out on a conversion opportunity.
If your visitors love what they’ve been reading, they’ll be willing (now more than ever) to exchange their email address for a content-specific download. This is even more effective if you position the offer as something that will help them take what they’ve learned from your blog post even further.
Known as a content upgrade, a lot of content marketers are already updating their most popular blog posts with CTAs to prompt downloads. Adding an exit intent popup on these blog posts can help you capture the emails of those who have gone blind to traditional on-page CTAs.
These highlighted callouts that serve as in-post CTAs for your content upgrade can work wonders.
But what if you don’t have a content upgrade to tempt people with? You can still create a page-specific popup with relevant bullet points and prompt them to sign up for more relevant advice via your newsletter.
If they love what you had to say, they’ll opt in.
2. Arrows To Guide
The screenshot doesn’t capture the movement, but imagine this arrow moving back and forth.
This could work to your advantage within your exit popups while making your visitor’s experience even better.
Let me explain.
There’s this thing called decision fatigue that affects all of us every single day, whether we like it or not.
The basic theory is that we as the day wears on, our mental energy wears out, so we’re more and more likely to take the path of least resistance in our decision making later in the day.
And since the average popup usually has a headline, maybe a subheading, bullet point benefits, and a CTA, that can be a lot to look at.
And it feels like even more to look at when you’re doing online research for your boss after lunch, when you’ve already finished all the hard, important stuff for the day.
In this case, tasteful arrows that either point out the main benefit you’re trying to drive home before they leave your page, or to the actual CTA itself, help reduce the friction in the brain.
This arrow on a NicheHacks popup is a directional cue hinting where to go, cutting down on decision-making friction.
3. Coupons to Reduce Buying Friction
When I was shopping online for Christmas gifts, there were a few times when I abandoned my shopping cart after seeing the final cost plus shipping.
Or when I was browsing Amazon and didn’t have that $35 minimum yet.
(No, I don’t have Prime. Don’t judge me.)
So instead of finishing the buying process, I just closed the window and decided to come back to it later… with a plan to either shop around for less expensive options or wait to see if I could think of an item that would fit within my gift list to boost my Amazon amount enough to get free shipping.
Amazon probably doesn’t care if I finish shopping at that moment, because they’re a mega giant eCommerce site, and they know I’ll be back sooner or later.
But those other sites?
I hate to say it, but they can’t be so sure.
A genius way to reduce the buying friction your visitor might be feeling is to offer a coupon for free shipping or a certain percentage off to complete the order right now.
Here’s another one from WPMU DEV that tries to catch me as I’m leaving with a limited-time 60% off coupon.
Since 60% is a huge amount of savings, they’ve definitely got my attention. And the best part is, they don’t even require me to BUY NOW!! because all I need to do is give them my email address.
In fact, the strategy is so important and effective (especially for eCommerce sites) that Shopify offers a free trial of their Exit And Leaving Coupon Offers app, letting the data from the trial speak for itself.
“Studies have shown that 8 out of 10 visitors who add an item to their cart never make the purchase and the main reason is price…
“If they were to leave and a coupon that makes the price of the product more acceptable for them appears, you can make an additional sale from a visitor that you would otherwise lose forever,” they say.
4. Full-Screen Eye Patterns
It’s pretty much fail-proof. When people read websites, they ready with an F-shaped eye pattern.
See what I mean?
So don’t think it’ll be any different with your exit popup, especially if you’re using a lightbox that takes up the full screen.
So, the left side of your popup carries more visual weight than the right side. (Maybe better to keep your image on the right side so you can get more attention to the weight of your words.)
Also, especially if you’ve only got one CTA button, you might not want to put it in the bottom right corner.
You know, the basics.
5. Be a Jerk in Your “No” Option Language
I’ll try to set my harsh judgments and condemnations aside for a moment and look at things objectively here.
I’m sure you guys know what I’m talking about. *cough* *cough*
Doesn’t this just totally rub you the wrong way?
It does me. Come on, Popup Domination, I am not that simple-minded.
Lance Jones calls it “scuzzy.” And I agree. Though I might not choose such a nice word.
But as much as I’d love to say other people hate it as much as I do, the data says something different.
Because (trying to see the bright side here) I have to admit it does create an easy, no-brainer “yes.” And when someone clicks on that “yes”, it builds their momentum towards actually converting.
According to OptiMonk, adding the “No” option can increase conversions by 30% to 40% compared to an exit popup that only provides the opt-in option.
“This is especially the case when you add a reverse call to action to your ‘No’ as a subtext,”
said Csaba Zajdo on OptiMonk.
“For example, the opt-out or ‘No’ link can read, ‘No, I’d rather not receive free deals in my inbox.’
In this case, seeing this link, the visitor will reconsider their option to opt-out and think, ‘Ok, why not? I like free deals, I can read the emails when they arrive and decide later, ok I’ll signup.’
“A choice can leave doubt in people’s minds if they did make the right decision or not,” said Krista Bunskoek. “If someone said ‘No,’ that choice can linger on in their minds and there’s more likelihood of them coming back to your site anyway.”
Be careful, though.
“If you let yourself fall to the dark side,” warns Lance, “which is basically outright trickery – you may see some positive initial results, but you’ll be found out eventually, and in the end, your newfound customers will be pissed.”
6. Urgency That Doesn’t Feel Cheap
Let’s learn a little lesson about urgency. It does not have to look like this:
Today only! Except when I come back tomorrow, and see that it says exactly the same thing…
Not at all.
What you can do, though, is politely remind something that a certain deal only has a certain amount of time left.
Or give them a nudge that they can have something right now if they’ll just take the 60 seconds or so needed to fill out your request forms.
Here’s what I mean:
This countdown, available in WordPress, doesn’t fake urgency and keeps you accountable to only offering your time-sensitive offers during your set time periods. Also, it doesn’t “start over” just because a new person comes to your site.
Remember this example from above? I’m using it again. It creates urgency (only 73 seconds!) without employing the scarcity mindset that pisses us all off so much.
Urgency with your exit popup can be classy, folks. And you don’t even have to employ the scarcity mindset that a lot of scammy online tricksters use.
7. But Wait, There’s More! (Billy Mays Discount Style!)
Anyone else here grow up with a childhood guilty pleasure of mindlessly watching Billy Mays infomercials?
I don’t know why I liked watching them so much, I don’t ever remember him advertising any product I actually cared about. But he was just so excited about all of it, and even though I didn’t do much house cleaning at that age, I had to admit, OxiClean could really take care of business.
And if the quality of the product in and of itself wasn’t good enough when the call to action came around and you had to call in with your credit card, he always threw in another container of OxiClean and some other awesome product to help you with your laundry. (Or something like that.)
And there was one thing I knew: if I was 18 and had a credit card, I would have been all over that.
Not only did Billy Mays cut the price of the OxiClean tub in half from $40 to $19.95, he gave away a squirt bottle, a shammy, and Orange Clean.
The moral of the story is that even if you don’t double your offer for the same price, you must offer something of value. If you have a SaaS business, for example, an free month, a percentage-based discount on their order, or free shipping might work.
Decide what’s appropriate for your business model, and then go for it.
I love this popup that Shopify shared from one of their customers. You’ll notice that this strategy (an extra offer to get people to convert) really doesn’t have to be much more than saving a little money, like in Hack #3.
For example, rather than a 10% discount, Green Mountain Mustard could have offered a free recipe card if they processed their order at that moment.
8. Cart Item Notification
Maybe your visitor was shopping along, added something to their cart, and then got totally distracted by the other amazing content and products you have that they totally forgot to check out.
If someone’s about to close your tab but they’ve got an item in their cart that they haven’t purchased yet, by all means, remind them of it.
The practice of placing a popup notification about someone’s shopping cart as soon as they add in an item is pretty common.
But imagine if this came up as an exit intent popup… especially with the 20% discount reminder.
Matthew Woodward outlined a case study with this strategy.
When ShoeMe.ca wanted to recover brand new customers that were about to abandon a shopping cart full of products, they create a 15% off exit intent popup.
But since they didn’t really want to offer the coupon to everyone, they filtered out any returning visitors, it didn’t show to people who were about to purchase, and had a higher sensitivity towards exit intent.
By doing that, they turned nearly 7% (6.87%) of brand new visitors that would have otherwise been gone forever into full-fledged customers with the probability of a lifetime value higher than just that of their first order.
When to (Not) Use an Exit Intent Popup
If someone comes to your site, spends five seconds looking around, and then quickly decides what you’re offering is not for him, an exit popup, no matter how wonderful the offer is, is not going to delight him.
It’s going to piss him off.
Because while exit popups can be some of the most effective ways (besides retargeting) to recover lost visitors, it’s certainly not going to work if they simply do not care.
One way to do this is to calculate how long it takes someone to digest the gist of your page and only show an exit intent popup if they start to leave your site after that amount of time.
A MarketingSherpa study found that 60 seconds was the best practice for an effective popup delay. If people are leaving your site in less than one minute, you might want to avoid showing them an exit intent popup meant for more serious readers.
9. Social Follows
A lot of times, people will come to your website to read what you’re writing, and not much more.
They might love what you’ve got to say, but they’re not really at the point where they want to do much more.
But a chance to passively keep up with what you put out online?
If you make your Facebook like/Twitter follow an exit option, you could see your social influence growing quickly for no extra work than the time it takes to set up one of these bad boys. (Which is not much.)
10. Why Are You Breaking Up With Me?
This one in particular won’t necessarily contribute to a wild increase in conversions… or any increase in conversions for that matter.
But while quick wins are definitely important, I’m guessing you’re also in this online business thing for the long haul, so pulling off something like this right as new visitors are about to leave could be incredibly valuable.
Pictured is not an exit-intent survey, but their technology is smart enough to pick up on behavior-based triggers, letting you show the popup for a survey request at the most critical moment.
Be careful though — too much of this could make you seem whiny and needy. (And no one likes to hang out with the whiny needy type.)
This popped up when I went to the KlientBoost site on another browser. Lord knows I’ve been here more than 5 times. But I have to say, very well played Johnathan, very well played.
Best to keep it up for a certain amount of time and then take it down. Get the info you came for and go. Or maybe only show it to new visitors to figure out creative ways to keep people on your site.
11. Employ Launch-Centric Scarcity
If you’re launching something soon, and particularly if a visitor was just on a landing page talking about the particular product that’s being launched, use exit-intent based scarcity to get people to think twice about opting in.
You could offer a pre-launch sales rate at a discounted price… but only for the first several who opt-in or for a limited time.
For example, if you decide you’ll sell an e-course at 40% to the first 250 people who opt-in and buy it, you could show a countdown ticker within the popup itself that shows how many copies are left at that price, and how quickly they’re going.
Make sure you also mention the regular price for comparison, and when that will be available for purchase and download.
Matt Kremer employed this strategy when he launched a side project. Not only has he labeled the beta access as “limited”, but he’s also put a very specific deadline on it.
“Scarcity works because it forces action,” said Yaro Starak. “You can’t be a fence sitter if the product is coming off the market tomorrow. If you want it, you have to decide now.”
In fact, scarcity is so influential that it’s the sixth of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence.
“When our freedom to have something is limited,” Cialdini says of scarcity, “the item becomes less available, and we experience an increased desire for it. However, we rarely recognize that the psychological reactance has caused us to want the item more; all we know is that we want it.”
12. Suggested Reading
This works particularly well if you choose a popup plugin that has exit-intent prediction and factors in how long users have been on the page and how far they scrolled.
If they’ve spent enough time and done enough scrolling to read whatever it is that they’ve landed on but have finished and are trying to leave, suggest another blog post that’s incredibly popular and that readers of the given topic are also really interested in.
For example, if a visitor’s finished reading my post about classy vs. tacky copywriting and is moving toward the tab’s “X”, I might put in an exit-intent popup that leads them to a previous blog post about how to write better blog post intros.
Shared on SitePoint, this is a suggested reading popup that goes straight for the kill with an eBook opt-in. But if your reader is interested in early morning rituals to boost productivity, they might also be interested in nighttime rituals for better sleep.
And if your product opt-in is a little pricey, you might want to spend some time educating and buttering up your visitors with quality information before going for the kill.
Speaking of further reading or resource recommendations, here’s a checklist for building effective pop-ups. When you’re done with this post, you can start putting these guidelines into action and testing your options.
13. Test a Two-Step Popup
Ever notice that when some popups appear in front of you, they don’t have a direct CTA?
Like, the ones with the “Yes” and “No” options that some people tend to be jerks with?
This is the first step in the Copy Hackers popup for a free eBook.
Only when I click on the “Yes” option do I proceed to the next screen of the popup, the actual opt-in, which creates momentum towards conversion.
I’ve already said yes, so of course I’m going to be more likely to give them my email ID in exchange for a 100% off coupon code.
These tactics can get you more conversions as exit popups too.
In theory, when someone answers “Yes” to the question you’re asking,they’re building momentum to push through to the conversion. When the second step pops up, they’re more likely to enter their email address into the box than if you just shoved the blank box in their face from the get-go.
It works on the same principles as The Breadcrumb Technique, which states that users who take the first step, however small, are more likely to complete the process.
Even the people at LeadPages, who specialize in optimizing conversions, were able to boost conversions by 60% when they employed a two-step popup over the traditional single-step one.
14. Get SPECIFIC
This isn’t so much a tip exclusive to exit popups as it is for copywriting in general.
But if you want your exit popup to work for you, this is no time for generic language and vague promises.
Offering an eBook download to help your readers get more traffic might work. But an eBook offering advice to help them get 15,000 new visitors in a 50-day time frame will be much more effective.
Here is a Welcome Mat that popped up as soon as I visited Pushing Social’s website. Of course, it is important to start a business blog the right way, but I’m a little unsure of what they mean… the backend setup? The content strategy? Generating traffic to my first posts?
And though this is only a dummy popup from Designrazzi, the headline does a great job by delivering a specific promise.
“What it mostly comes down to is the context and how the numbers are used,” said Neil Patel on ConversionXL, citing a study published in Science Direct. “For example, many cultures around the world are conditioned from a young age to infer that larger numbers means more of something.”
Use a number to grab visitors attention and show them why they need to sign up for your newsletter or purchase your product.
Picking From The Popup Platter: 6 Tools That Make Popups Possible
So you’re pretty much convinced that an exit intent popup is something you need to try on your site, right?
Well don’t worry, we’re not going to give you a bunch of reasons to try exit intent popups without explaining how to try them out too.
If you already use a popup tool or plugin, check to see what kind of timed or behavior-specific features it has. You might be sitting on exit intent gold already without even knowing it.
If not, check out some of these:
These guys focus solely on exit intent and converting abandoning visitors. They specialize in overlays that pop up exactly when someone’s moving their cursor to leave and in those surveys we mentioned.
OptiMonk also focuses primarily on exit intent.
They have templates that can help you get more people to sign up for your newsletter, buy what’s in their shopping carts, show off time-sensitive deals you’re running, and send traffic to different pages with related content.
WisePops specializes in all kinds of popups, not just exit intent.
If you want to get really technical and fancy, these guys can help you do things like show people popups based on their traffic source or how frequently they visit your site. Their intelligent pop-ups can really help boost sales.
Like a handful of other popup tools, ExitMist comes with its own analytics dashboard so you can see exactly how well your popups are working. They also offer two-step popup templates and behavioral customization.
BounceX has produced a slew of guides to keep your bounce rates down at every point in your online funnel, including with cold, paid traffic visitors who almost always bounce.
OptinMonster is specifically for WordPress sites and comes with built-in analytics, page-specific targeting, and a WYSIWYG editor that makes everything super easy.
If Nothing Else, Try A Free Trial
I’ll be straight with you. I’m pretty convinced that these things are worth trying and definitely worth paying a small monthly fee for.
But if you aren’t convinced, almost every single tool above offers a free trial or money-back guarantee of some sort. So there’s really no reason not to try out an exit intent popup on your site. You’ve got nothing to lose and lots of conversions and new sales to gain.
So now that we’re going to start running an exit intent popup experiment on our sites, do you have any exit popup hacks you’d like to add to the list? Or any particular thing you’ve tried with popups that have given you amazing results?