I’m a funny T-shirt guy. I know, not directly related to exit intent popups but stick with me.
I have probably a half-dozen T-shirts for bands nobody has ever heard. I’ve got another seven or eight for movies or obscure pop culture references.
You know how Judah Friedlander from 30 Rock has a revolving cache of pop-culture reference trucker hats?
That’s me. I’m that guy.
And when you’re that guy, people hold you to it so you have to keep a regular rotation of shirts. You can’t just go repeating shirts throughout the week – they need to be varied, topical, and in perfect condition.
This became an issue the other day when I was was forced to pull my “More Cowbell” shirt out of the rotation. The reference was getting a bit tired and I had discovered a pretty significant rip in the underarm.
So up came the browser and off I went to my favorite T-shirt site, BustedTees.com, which I haven’t visited in quite a while. In case you didn’t know, BustedTees.com is the place to find awesome T-shirts with wickedly funny pop culture references. They just do it right. I wasn’t on their site for more than a few seconds when I was interrupted aggressively with the exit intent popup below.
Now, I know I caught a glimpse of at least two funny shirts before the ad but those ideas quickly left my mind. Instead, I was trying to process the incept facing me.
Without taking any steps toward it, I was presented with a strong call to action I wasn’t prepared for. This is some pretty aggressive salesmanship, something I haven’t experience at this site. (Like I said, it’s been a while since I needed a funny shirt).
That’s not all. Right below the button that screams about “CRAZY DEALS” I saw this peculiar sentence.
“No thanks, I like paying full price.”
I literally tilted my head to the right slightly, squinted as if to try and find something I was missing, and whispered, “Huh?”
What does that even mean? Who likes paying full price? What’s going on here? Oh, I get it.
As I processed the sentence, I realized I was insulted by it because that was the very point. It was built to make me feel inferior for not accepting the offer above, which, in turn, would bully me into taking the call to action.
Here’s way of stating the bullying sentence: What, you don’t like crazy deals? Wow, you must be the kind of idiot that likes paying full price. What a moron.
To me, this whole experience is like walking into a store, having someone put something — anything — inches from your nose, and screaming over the product, “HEY, WANNA BUY THIS?”.
Then, when you politely decline, the person looks at you with disgust, and says, “Wow, I guess you’re the kind of scumbag that likes to pay full price.” Then, the last thing you see is their face disappearing over the product as they raise it violently to eye level, obscuring everything else.
I think I got my point across, I regard this a pretty intrusive experience.
Now, these popups aren’t exactly breaking news. Popups never really died, they just went out of style — slightly — and improved dramatically. What’s kind of new is these exit intent popups are an extreme hard sale. These ones forcibly wrestle away the user experience. Think Alec Baldwin from Glengarry, Glen Ross.
It’s only now that they are infecting my user experience dramatically so I figured I would share my opinion.
So What Are These New Exit Intent Popups?
And then there was the war on popups, fought mainly by software that valiantly blocked the frustrating and resource-killing advertisements. Then they just kind of… went away.
Now they’re back, and they’re popping up on sites all around. (There, I got my pun out of the way).
So are the new breed of exit intent popups any different? In some ways yes, but in many ways no.
Exit Intent Popups are Pretty Annoying
Back in February 2014, SEO expert Dan Petrovic called out search engine heavy weight Neil Patel for using popups on his blog. (This kind of thing only happens on the Internet). The issue was with the frequency of the popups and sure, they do come up a lot on Neil’s blog. More on Neil in a second.
Exit Intent Popups Hijack the User Experience
I don’t pretend to know everything about user experience but since I’m part of the internet community, I think my opinion is at least representative. For me, it’s all about the fact that popups wrestle control away and take over the user experience.
I can’t imagine I’m the only one thinking this because the very existence of technology to kill popups proves people needed to automate their removal.
It all comes back to control. When people use the Internet, they like to think they are in charge of the experience. They navigate where they want, read what the like, and are plugged in enough to know when something is wrong. When you interrupt the experience with an exit intent popup, people notice the disconnect and ask “What Happened?”
The next natural question is, “Why did it happen?”
In the past few years, I’ve become accustomed to the natural progression of reading content, commenting on it, learning, doing, and finally interacting with a call to action when I’m ready based on my actions up to that point. It’s my call on my time.
So if one second I’m reading about email marketing tips and the next I’m presented with a call to action, the disruption at the very least elicits a response.
Having control wrestled away and being presented with an experience you didn’t request is jarring because it jumps the gun on a process I thought I understood. The contract I had with websites – I’ll ask you for help when I’m ready but not before — has been broken.
popups haven’t changed in the way they present you with a call to action despite your level of comfort with seeing it.
Exit Intent Popups are Cleaner and More Targeted
Let’s use this example from Nikki, in Stitches.
I didn’t know about Nikki McGonigal’s craft blog until I started researching exit intent popups. I’ve since read some of her stuff and she’s obviously great at what she does. She has a great following and awesome attitude that comes through in her passionate writing.
In short, I couldn’t care less about crafts but enjoy her blog because of her passion for the subject. She’s just a great writer.
The blog makes use of popups right from the get-go. Just navigate to the blog’s home page, wait two or three seconds, and you’ll see this. From what I’ve learned, there’s some logic behind this but I was presented the popup in three different browsers, each on the first go, so I’m basing my writing on that.
This is a clean, professional, branded popup with a strong, clear call to action. Sign up and stay in touch, simple as that.
It’s also appropriate, or at least, far and away more appropriate than pop ads in the past that would advertise everything under the sun on any kind of page.
If you happened upon a craft blog, whether directly or from a search, you probably did so with interest in crafts. So you should expect to be asked to continue hearing about crafts. Though the popup is presented to anyone and everyone, it’s at least somewhat appropriate because if you’re at this site, you probably would want more.
Exit Intent Popups are Getting Way More Aggressive
In the great before, popups were annoying and resource intensive for sure but in the end, most were also pretty harmless. They advertised stuff you didn’t want and were a nuanced nuisance in the infancy of the internet.
That’s not even close to the case now. Today’s popups use extremely pushy and seem to have an overly determined goal of keeping your attention. Animations, images, and leading language in the popup combine to make a case for keeping you on the page you are viewing.
If I haven’t yet made it clear, these simple lightboxes triggered by mouse movements embody a determination and resolve better suited for hanging on for dear life.
Before talking about what this means, it’s important to talk about what it took to get here.
To invoke this popup, all you need to do is move your cursor to an area outside the content area, like, say, the top left where your “back” button resides. Basically, if you try to leave the page, this is what you get.
So imagine you’ve decided to navigate away. The page reacts by presenting your with a timed offer. This particular intercept features an infomercial-style limited time pitch for a free piece of content called the Insider. Act now because this limited time offer will end in five minutes and the clock is ticking. (The counter actually works, a pretty cool effect.)
I didn’t stay to see what happened when the clock runs out but you get the idea.
Check out this one here from BounceExchange.com.
Check it out here. Neat how the “Yes” button kind of flaps suggestively.
Here’s another one, kind of in the same vein.
There’s a heavy dose of crawling-into-your-brain psychology going on here. These ads aren’t just designed to keep you around, they’re designed to invoke emotion, change your opinion, and force you to act. And everything is happening for a reason.
The reddish orange around the “Yes” because it invokes emotional feelings of energy and emotion. The color of the box surrounding the “Yes” matches the color of the words “Market Insights”, which is meant to create a connection between the affirmative and the word. But that’s not the best part.
What really grabs my attention here is the sentences that support each option. It’s no longer just a Yes or No question – the website wants you to believe that there’s so much more at stake. Each option has an implied reinforcement the consequences of each option.
In the above option, you pick “Yes” and you’ll get the market edge – you’ll outpace the competition. With the “Yes”, you’re a winner.
But if you pick “No”, you’re the kind of person who would “rather be the last to hear.” Say no to this offer and you’re someone who is losing the game. Someone who is less than others. You’re the last, which by its very definition, means everyone is ahead of you. There’s at least two things you will always see with “No” supporting sentence.
First, it’s utterly ridiculous. Tying a negative response with thoughts like “I like when visitors bounce,” or “I’d rather be the last to hear,” is just plain crazy. Nobody would ever enjoy visitors bouncing from their site. Nobody wants to be the last to hear anything – even bad news.
Look at this example below. Would any business owner actually say with a straight face that they have enough customers?
In addition to being ridiculous, it’s incredibly insulting. You are meant to see this sentence and feel some level of shame for picking “No”. It’s hard to read the words “No, I have enough traffic,” and not hear it in the voice of a smart-ass, condescending teenager.
To be clear, the above examples and the copy below are in no way different.
So there’s obviously a bunch of work that goes into making sure you not only stay on site but also act in a certain way. But is is worth it?
But are These Exit Intent Popups Effective?
Remember the Nikki, in Stitches, example above? Well it turns out it’s excellence proof as to why using popups works.
Nikki’s use of popups resulted in “1375% more subscribers.”
Darren Rowse’s photography blog at one time was locked at 40 subscribers but after instituting popups, he started receiving 350 subscribers a day.
Another recipe website experienced 10x improvement in sign ups. The list goes on.
There’s plenty of other examples of popups working to the advantage of the site, at the cost of irking some people. To be clear, it’s beneficial despite the negative feelings some (including me) have about them.