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Sales Overlays & Pop-Ups Best Practices With 7 Examples

Sales Overlays & Pop-Ups Best Practices With 7 Examples


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Pop-ups, overlays, on-site messaging. Whichever term you choose to use, this mode of onsite marketing can produce excellent results when used well. Here we explore the subject of pop-ups and onsite messaging, as well as micro conversions, so that you can utilise the skills needed to enhance your customer journey, as well as some common mistakes to avoid to deter the chances of shopping cart abandonment.

We’ll also be looking at 7 pop-up examples and best practices so that you can explore how other brands are using pop-ups and overlays to better their user experience. 

What Are Pop-Ups?

A pop-up can be described as a type of window that appears on top of the main window while browsing a website. They are typically triggered by a user action, such as clicking a button or a link, and they are used to display additional information or prompt the user for input.
These windows should be used in relation to the contents of the site in order to carry out appropriate CTA for ecommerce – e.g. reminding you that there’s a sale with a promo code at checkout.

Pop-ups are often used for the following purposes:

Advertising: Pop-ups are often used to display ads, especially on websites. They can be used to display banners, videos, and other types of advertisements.

Alerts: Pop-ups can be used to alert the user to important information, such as a successful login or a new message.

Confirmation: Pop-ups can be used to confirm an action, such as deleting a file or submitting a form.

Input: Pop-ups can be used to gather input from the user, such as a search query or a login credentials.

Ecommerce marketers mainly use pop-ups for advertising in this way and generating leads. Their function is to overall help to increase the engagement of your site visitors and in turn, boost conversion rates.

What’s The Difference Between A Pop-Up And An Overlay?

In a graphical user interface (GUI), a pop-up and an overlay are both types of modal windows that can be used to display additional information or prompt the user for input. However, there are some key differences between the two.

A pop-up is a window that appears on top of the main window, typically in response to some user action, such as clicking a button. Pop-ups are often used to display advertisements or to alert the user to important information. They can be closed by clicking a button, such as “OK” or “Cancel,” or by clicking outside the pop-up window.

An overlay, on the other hand, is a semi-transparent layer that is displayed on top of the main window, usually to display additional information or options related to the content beneath it. An overlay is typically activated by clicking a button or a link, and it can be closed by clicking a “Close” button or by clicking outside the overlay. Overlays are often used to display a form, such as a login form or a contact form, or to display more information about a particular element on a page, such as a photo, or an ecommerce animation or video.

The main difference between pop-up and overlay is that pop-up windows are separate windows that appear on top of the main window and require the user to interact with them, while overlays are typically a part of the main window and are designed to blend seamlessly with the rest of the content

on the page.

Although there are no major differences in overlays compared to pop-ups in terms of its CTA purpose (hence their grouping in this article), an overlay can be described as a piece of visual content which takes up the majority of the screen.

Why Are Pop-Ups Used?

Many websites, especially e-commerce websites, use pop-ups and overlays to display added information without fully disrupting the ecommerce customer journey by moving away from the page that is currently being viewed.

For example, you may want to provide extra guidance on how your visitors can sign-up with their email address to be a ‘’member’’ of your brand without the need to search for a longer amount of time than desired. This is a win-win situation thanks to an added pop-up or overlay – the customer is happy because they have easily gained the sign-up section of your site, and your brand now has an extended emailing list for the advertisement of future promotions and other customer retention emails.

In general, pop-ups are used to prompt the user to take a specific action or to provide information that is important to the user or the website. They can be a useful tool to increase conversions, subscriptions, and engagement on a website, but it’s important to use them in a way that is not disruptive to the user’s experience and in accordance with the user’s preferences.

Why Are Pop-Ups Important?

Pop-ups or overlays are a multifunctional tool that can help you convert traffic on your website into positive leads. Pop-Ups play an important role in:

Reducing bounce rate: The overall task for a marketer is to find how to increase customer engagement online, and pop-ups are a sure fire way to grab a consumer’s attention upon visiting a site. Before a visitor is prepared to leave a site, or ‘bounce’, marketers can use a pop-up to redirect their attention back to the site.
For example, asking to share an email address, a phone number, or other information to enable further communication. This kind of pop-up is best utilised when a user is about to close the tab or leave the website.

Generate subscribers: In the same vein as the previous point, pop-ups are a great way to collect vital consumer information to build your customer email list and create loyal returning customers. Communication is key, and pop-ups offer the opportunity to build relationships. 

Promoting targeted content: Pop-ups can be used as a sufficient way to quickly promote your latest sale, ebook, or any form of brand update to help guide or redirect the visitor. 

What Are The Disadvantages Of Pop-Ups?

Although we have explored some of the many advantages pop-ups and overlays can have for your ecommerce business, they are nevertheless controversial.

Any marketing tactic which potentially interrupts the user’s online session – especially if it ‘pops-up’ unexpectedly – has a risk of damaging the user journey on a site and can even result in browse abandonment

As business owners and marketeers, it’s important to find ways to increase and maintain UX and ad revenue, usually achieved via pop-ups and overlays. However, social proof finds that browsers tend to think of them as intrusive and distracting. In the long run, this can hurt your website and increase the bounce rate. So, it’s a question of finding the right balance to achieve positive results rather than drive away the target audience.

When Should You Show Pop-ups On A Website?

Timing your pop-ups correctly depends on both the content and what you’re trying to achieve with the pop-up. Are you trying to bring attention to a new sale? Or perhaps offering a discount code?
These pop-ups and overlays should occur, for example, when a visitor enters your site to persuade them to stay.

For example, cart abandonment or exit-intent popups (e.g. ‘’Have You Forgot Something?”) are for visitors that demonstrate intent to leave your site. These pop-ups can be triggered when the user’s cursor moves outside of the browser window, indicating that they are about to leave the website. However, these work best when shown after visitors have already viewed several products or have added items to their cart.

Here are some more examples of when you can utilise a pop-up on your site:

Time-sensitive information: Pop-ups can be used to alert the user to important time-sensitive information, such as a limited-time offer or a sale that is about to end.

Scroll trigger: Pop-ups can be triggered after the user has scrolled down a certain percentage of a page, indicating that they are engaged with the content. This type of pop-up can be used to display a special offer or to ask the user to subscribe to a newsletter.

After an action: Pop-ups can be triggered after the user has taken a specific action, such as making a purchase or filling out a form. This type of pop-up can be used to ask the user to leave a review or to upsell a related product.

Inactivity trigger: Pop-ups can be triggered if the user has been inactive on the website for a certain amount of time, indicating that they might need a reminder or encouragement to continue their interaction with the website.

It’s worth noting that many users consider pop-ups as an annoyance and find them intrusive, especially if they appear unexpectedly or too frequently. Therefore it’s important to use pop-ups sparingly and to give the users the option to opt-out or disable them if they prefer to.

You should also consider the context of the user’s visit and the user’s preferences, as well as being mindful of the fact that many users use browser’s built-in pop-up blockers.

Are Pop-Ups Good For UX?

Depending on the placement and timing of your pop-ups and overlays, the user journey / UX (user experience) of your site can either be one of frustration, or of gratitude. With a good understanding of the customer journey, the latter is the best possible outcome in order to achieve positive conversion rates.

Here are a few pros and cons of using pop-ups for UX:

Pros:

  • Pop-ups can be an effective way to grab the user’s attention and prompt them to take a specific action, such as signing up for a newsletter or making a purchase.
  • They can also be used to provide important information or alerts to the user, such as confirming a successful transaction.

Cons:

  • Pop-ups can be intrusive and disruptive to the user’s experience, especially if they appear unexpectedly or too frequently.
  • They can also be used to display unwanted ads or gather personal information without the user’s consent.

In short, consumers do not want to be:

  • Disrupted
  • Annoyed
  • Confused

When instead, they can be converted into customers when pop-ups allow for:

  • Clear CTAs 
  • A positive incentive
  • Assured benefits 

If you can reflect these traits when building your next pop-up or overlay, not only will you avoid a negative UX, but you’ll enhance and improve it.

Many users use browser’s built-in pop-up blockers, and if you use pop-ups excessively, your website may be blocked by pop-up blockers, which will be a negative for your website’s SEO.

To sum up, Pop-ups can be good for UX if they are used judiciously and with the user’s experience in mind. They should be designed in a way that is consistent with the overall look and feel of the website and they should be used sparingly and only when necessary. It’s also important to consider user context and the user’s preferences, such as providing an option to opt-in or opt-out of pop-ups.

Are Pop-Ups Good For SEO?

Considering all of the information we have already looked into surrounding the pros and cons of pop-ups and overlays – SEO success hangs in the balance depending on how considerate you are of the ecommerce customer journey. 

Although pop-ups do not affect site ranking and can certainly help to convert traffic in the right direction, Google advises websites to use pop-ups that are easy to close so that content is easily accessible, and does not disturb or diminish the user experience in order for your brand to succeed. 

There are, however, a few ways in which pop-ups can impact SEO and should be taken into consideration:

Pop-up blockers: Many web users use browser’s built-in pop-up blockers to block unwanted pop-ups, which can prevent the user from seeing your website’s content. Additionally, if you use pop-ups excessively, your website may be blocked by pop-up blockers, which can negatively impact your website’s visibility and ranking.

Accessibility: Pop-ups can make it difficult for users with disabilities to access and interact with your website, which can impact your website’s accessibility score. Search engines like Google, uses accessibility as a ranking factor, so poor accessibility can impact your website’s SEO.

Bounce rate: Pop-ups can increase your website’s bounce rate, which is the percentage of users who leave your website after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate can indicate that your website’s content is not relevant or useful to the user, which can negatively impact your website’s ranking.

Content indexation: Pop-ups can prevent search engines from indexing all of your website’s content, which can limit your website’s visibility and ranking.

It’s important to use pop-ups sparingly and in a way that does not negatively impact the user experience or prevent search engines from indexing your website’s content. In order to ensure that your traffic is converting in the right manner, you should try AB testing to determine where and when you should utilise pop-ups and overlays. 

Also, consider providing an option to opt-in or opt-out of pop-ups, which can greatly help with accessibility and user engagement on your website.

7 Pop-Up Examples

As we’ve found, pop-ups and overlays can certainly work when used timely and correctly to help guide the buyer’s journey down the sales funnel. We’ve compiled some of the most influential pop-up best practices here, and explore some key characteristics of well-designed on-site messaging, along with some examples, both good and bad.

Don’t Block the Whole Page

Overlays have to gain the user’s attention to work, but don’t need the whole screen to achieve this. Blocking the whole page behind an overlay is about as interruptive as you can be. It also suggests you’re becoming a little too desperate to grab the visitor’s attention. 

It does force the user to take some action, and for that reason, they probably deliver some results, short-term at least.

Here, the Quick Sprout blog serves me a full-page pop-up when I’m about halfway through the article. This can be considered disruptive and annoying, as it directly intrudes on what the browser is doing. This overlay format is likely to force the user to click the small ‘’X’’ in the corner. Or, unfortunately, the webpage’s tab all together.

Covering the whole page may drive a percentage increase in short-term micro conversions, but it’s a real risk in the long-term to be annoying so many of your users.

popup example 1

Make Sure Messages Can Be Closed Easily

If users can’t find the function to close your pop-up or overlay and are left to hunt for the ‘’X’’ (or other link to close a message), this could deter the visitor.

It’s important to consider that making pop-ups hard to close won’t necessarily make people sign-up, but is instead more likely to make them leave the site due to intrusion.

In this example from Design Within Reach, the email capture overlay can be closed by pressing the ‘X’ or simply clicking or tapping anywhere else on the page – which is a better function to consider when building your pop-up.
So, the retailer gets the message across, but the user can ignore it easily if they want to.

Popup example 2

Avoid Manipulinks

The term manipulinks refers to the link text used on popups (often those asking for email addresses) which attempt to make users feel bad for opting out of an offer.

These links use text like:

‘No, I don’t want to be a marketing ninja.’

‘No thanks, I don’t like discounts.’

‘No thanks, I don’t want more traffic.’

And so on.

While the occasional example may come across as humorous, or tongue in cheek (if it fits the brand), they’re often just experienced as a desperate attempt to influence user behaviour.

It’s important to avoid obvious manipulation to avoid a bad customer experience, and so a more subtle approach or choice of language is considered best practice.

Popup example 3

Use in the Correct Context

So many overlays seem to be served at the wrong time causing interruption – for example, while users are reading an article. The lack of attention to context increases the likelihood of annoying users.

Pop-ups and overlays should be served when they’re relevant to users. This is less likely to annoy users, and more likely to turn into a successful CTA.

For example, this message appears during checkout on IKEA, with the option of paying for assembly when items are delivered. It’s a useful message delivered at the right time.

Likewise, this message on Virgin Atlantic appears when visitors are in the booking process but about to abandon (heading for the back button for example). It prompts them to complete the booking, and also offers the opportunity to have the flight details emailed to them to avoid having to start over again.

It’s relevant to the context, and useful for some customers. For others, they can ignore it and close easily if they prefer.

Popup example 4

Timing Matters

Many sites are overly eager to serve you messages almost as soon as you hit the page (try Gap for an example of this) – but this can be counter-productive.

By serving overlay messages at the wrong time, you interrupt the user journey, making the messaging less effective.

Let’s take email acquisition messages as an example – the ones which ask for your email in return for discounts or updates on special offers. If you serve them when customers are busy browsing or viewing product pages, they could be interruptive.

However, if you serve them after a period of inactivity, after a pre-set delay, or at the right stage in the journey, they can be helpful to shoppers.

The same applies on this page. We show a message highlighting a related post as users reach the end of an article. You should see it at the end of this one.

It’s not too intrusive and comes up at a relevant moment – when the reader is finishing one article and perhaps thinking about what to read next.

The goal here is to increase the time users spend on site, and the timing and relevance of messages like this are key to achieving that.

Popup example 5

Make Messaging Mobile-Friendly

Our latest stats show that mobile accounts for the majority of online retail traffic, so as technology reaches towards a more mobile future, any form of messaging (including pop-ups) needs to work for mobile users to benefit from those paramount mobile conversions.

Huge overlays would be interruptive, and could potentially fall foul of Google’s guidelines, so it’s important to consider the mobile user experience.

In this example from ASICS, an overlay is used to promote the brand’s newsletter. It gets the message across, but doesn’t interrupt the customer journey.

Here’s another example from House of Fraser. These messages appear then disappear within a few seconds so the point is made but the customer isn’t interrupted.

Popup example 6

Messages Should Be Clear and Simple

Overlays shouldn’t be too complex. A clear CTA is the goal – a simple sentence that can both describe the offer and direct the user to the right location. 

Users will make a decision on interacting with them quickly, so they need to be able to understand the proposition easily.

Popup example 7

Email Collection in a Post-GDPR World

Since the most recent legislation, companies have to be very careful about gaining active consent when using data, and to document the processes far more thoroughly than before. And if not followed could lead to quite a hefty fine.

Our Marketing Permission Service collects ‘opt ins’ and ‘opt outs’ anywhere on your site (in real-time).

We also identify which country your visitors are in, and show different messages (opt-in or opt-out) based on what’s legislatively required.

The service will also know if visitors are new or have bought from you before, or if an email address has previously opted-in or out, to ensure these on-site messages are only displayed when needed.

Tips For Successful Pop-ups From SaleCycle

Kirsty Metcalfe, Key Accounts Manager at SaleCycle, believes that onsite messaging in the form of pop-ups can secure sales, as demonstrated by her clients:

“If you’re investing money to drive customers to your site, then don’t fall at the final hurdle. On-site, email & SMS abandonment retargeting is a great way to convert those customers who have already shown interest in your brand by adding an item to their cart. By displaying the right message, at the right time, a lost sale can easily be recovered.”

Our SEO and Content Manager Brad Ward agrees, and says:

“Pop-ups and onsite messages are becoming an increasingly familiar part of the online shopping experience.

After fighting off the competition to attract visitors to their sites, online retailers are becoming smarter about how they can make sure their shoppers stick around and complete a purchase.

In addition to controlling when and where your messages display, you can decide how many times a message triggers during a session, as well as which messages you’d like to show on mobile. It’s all about influencing and informing, rather than interrupting – the relevancy and customer-centric approach to the messages that we recommend ensures your visitors respond positively.”

Pop Ups FAQs

What is a Pop-Up Box Called?

Pop-up boxes or overlays might be referred to by a number of names, including: modal, slide-in box, fade-in box, notification, scroll box, smart bar, pop-up window, etc.

What Should a Pop-Up Contain?

Typically popups include a call to action (CTA) in an attempt to get your visitor to go do something you want them to. The action you want your visitors to take can vary depending on your marketing goals.

Pop-Up Examples:

Depending on your website and/ or brand, some pop-up and overlay examples include:

  • Offering first-purchase discount codes while the user is shopping.
  • Collecting customer feedback with survey pop-ups.
  • Promoting webinars or new products.
  • Increasing app downloads on your site.
  • Sending visitors to a new blog post.

Key Takeaways

Pop-ups, overlays and any form of onsite messaging should:

  • Appear when they are least likely to stop the user completing a task, i.e. not as soon as they arrive or in the middle of reading an article.
  • Be relevant to visitors and the page they are viewing. Context is key.
  • Provide a sufficiently attractive offer to encourage interaction.
  • Be frequency capped. Showing the same message over and over is guaranteed to annoy visitors.
  • Increase the time spent on site or the likelihood of conversion.
  • Work on all devices.
  • Be easy to close. If users don’t want to interact with messages, make it easy for them to close and continue.
  • Never trick or manipulate users.
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Casey Turnbull

Casey is a Fashion Journalism graduate & ecommerce marketing executive at SaleCycle. Casey is committed to producing high quality content backed by in-depth research and data. She has experience developing content in a range of sectors including fashion, ecommerce and sports.