Balancing Conversions
With Usability & User Satisfaction

Take pop-up windows or pop-unders as an example:

According to usability expert Jakob Nielson, 95% of website visitors hated unexpected or unwanted pop-up windows, especially those that contain unsolicited advertising. In fact, Pop-Ups have been consistently voted the Number 1 Most Hated Advertising Technique since they first appeared many years ago.

Accessibility students will also agree:

  • creating a new browser window should be the authority of the user
  • pop-up new windows should not clutter the user’s screen.
  • all links should open in the same window by default. (An exception, however, may be made for pages containing a links list. It is convenient in such cases to open links in another window so that the user can come back to the links page easily. Even in such cases, it is advisable to give the user a prior note that links would open in a new window).
  • Tell visitors they are about to invoke a pop-up window (using the link <title> attribute)
  • Popup windows do not work in all browsers.
  • They are disorienting for users
  • Provide the user with an alternative.

It is inconvenient for usability aficionados to hear that pop-ups can be used successfully to vastly increase signup subscription conversions.

Pop ups suck, everybody seems to agree. Here’s the little test I carried out on a subset of pages, an experiment to see if pop-ups work on this site to convert more visitors  to subscribers. I  tested it out when I didn’t blog for a few months and traffic was very stable.

That’s a fair increase in email subscribers across the board in this small experiment on this site. Using a pop up does seem to have an immediate impact. I have since tested it on and off for a few months and the results from the small test above have been repeated over and over.

I’ve tested different layouts and different calls to actions without pop-ups and they work too, to some degree, but they typically take a bit longer to deploy than activating a plugin.

I don’t really like pop-ups as they have been an impediment to web accessibility but it’s stupid to dismiss out-of-hand any technique that works. I’ve also not found a client who, if they had that kind of result, would choose accessibility over sign-ups.

I don’t really use the pop up on days I post on the blog, as in other tests, it really seemed to kill how many people share a post in social media circles.

With Google now showing an interest with interstitials, I would be very nervous of employing a pop-up window that obscures the primary reason for visiting the page. If Google detects a dissatisfaction, I think this would be very bad news for your rankings.

I am, at the moment, using an exit strategy pop-up window as hopefully by the time a user sees this device, they are FIRST satisfied with my content they came to read. I can recommend this as a way to increase your subscribers, at the moment, with a similar conversion rate than pop-ups – if NOT BETTER.

I think, as an optimizer, it is sensible to convert customers without using techniques that potentially negatively impact Google rankings.

Do NOT let conversion get in the way of the PRIMARY reason a visitor is CURRENTLY on ANY PARTICULAR PAGE or you risk Google detecting relative dissatisfaction with your site and that is not going to help you as Google’s RankBrain gets better at working out what ‘quality’ actually means.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor