Pop-ups, lighboxes, modal windows—you may have heard at least one of those terms. They all are the same thing: a window that pops up upon a certain trigger (on entry or right before a user tries to exit the site) and stops visitors from interacting with the page until they complete an action. I’m sure you’ve seen them, interacted with them and, most likely, been really annoyed by them in the past.

But the question you should ask is “do they work?“.

Why is it that everyone seems to complain about them but continue to be widely used on websites? It’s because they actually work. Case studies have shown as much as 1,000% increases in email subscribers over a month of using pop-ups.

We regularly track all of our nonprofit website designs–most of which include an entry pop-up–and track the calls to action within the modal windows. They all test well when it comes to users taking action.

Here are two reasons why:

  1. Users often come to websites to read about something specific. They get distracted and don’t notice even the most obvious things because they are not on their radar. A pop-up introduces that important call to action and offers an easy way to take action.
  2. Users may have come to to your website from a direct link to an internal page that doesn’t share the kind of information your homepage does. A pop-up can offer a key call to action that may otherwise not be presented on that internal page.

Pop-Up Best Practices:

1. Tell them exactly what they are about to do.

Most people are annoyed by pop-ups because they are in-your-face and demanding. Remember that this could be the first time a user is coming to your website and they may be put off by a quick introduction of, “Hi. Give us your time, money or energy.” Having a clear, direct call to action is key, but make sure you are explaining what the user can expect from clicking the button. Here’s a good example of how United Way of Southeastern Michigan is using a pop-up effectively by appealing to their local constituents and letting them know what they are signing up for:

Aga Siuda blog post

2. Engage users in your mission.

Pop-ups are a great way to quickly make a connection with your user by telling them exactly how they can be part of your mission. Check out The Humane Society’s pop-up that asks for donations in a way that makes the user feel like a part of their cause:

Aga Siuda Blog post 2

3. Take them straight to the destination.

Whether you’re asking for donations, email address or an event registration, make sure there are as few steps as possible for the user to complete that action after they click the button on your pop-up.

Pop-ups: we may find them annoying, but data tells us they do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to online constituent engagement. And that’s one good reason to use them on your nonprofit website.

Want more insight into online marketing best practices for nonprofits? Check out the Luminate Online Benchmark!

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Aga Siuda is a Design Principal at Blackbaud and is known for turning complex challenges into usable and beautiful website designs. A native of Poland, Aga takes inspiration in international nonprofit design trends and best practices for usability.  She loves the magic that happens when designers, strategists and clients collaborate.

Aga earned her Graphic Design degree from Northeastern University in Boston, MA. She ran a small design agency with a focus in branding before relocating to Charleston, SC to enjoy the beach life with her husband and two kids.

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