Bad Practice: “Are You Sure You Want To Leave Before Reading This Post?”

It’s the last-minute sales pitch: “Wait! Don’t go! Don’t leave without signing up!”

And it often shows up on sign up forms – that pop up in a new window when you try to leave a website.

If you’ve encountered the needy exit pop up, you already know how annoying it is. Here’s why you shouldn’t use this tactic on your own list, and what you can do instead.

Exit Popups = Bad Last Impression

Nothing heats up a discussion like pop ups – marketers love them, consumers hate them and they’re known to convert amazingly well when used appropriately.

But an exit pop up that blocks a visitor from leaving your page leaves a bad impression of your business.

Think about it – you’ve browsed a website and decided that a product just isn’t for you. You click your browser’s “back” button – BUT WAIT! Are you sure you want to leave without signing up for our newsletter?

Yes, you’re very sure. If you’re not interested in their product, why would you want their newsletter? Can they please let you go and check Facebook now?

That’s the problem with exit pop ups. People leaving your site have already made up their minds – either they bought something from you and decided they want your emails, or they decided they’re not interested. And a pop up asking them to reconsider before they leave won’t change their minds.

Even if they give in and surrender an email address to leave your site, people who sign up from a pop up form tend to be less engaged with your emails.

But Aren’t Popups Effective?

They can be, when used appropriately. Even back in 2003, Inc observed that consumers didn’t mind pop ups in the right context.

Some of our own customers have seen explosive list growth by using pop ups on their sites.

Here’s the right way to try a popup form:

Use A Delay

Don’t display a popup right away. Let people get to know your site first. When they’ve warmed up to your content, they’ll be less bothered by your popup interruption.

How To Set Delays On Your Pop Up Form

Watch Your Wording

There’s a fine line between inviting and badgering. Don’t harass people with a hard sell for your newsletter. Explain the benefits with a gentler approach and test your wording to see what people respond to best.

Don’t Be Annoying

You don’t need a pop up on every page to grow your list effectively. You don’t even need to display your pop up every time someone visits your page.

Nikki McGonigal, an Etsy crafter, uses a pop up that only displays once every 60 days to people who visit her site. When a visitor closes the pop up instead of signing up, they won’t see it again until 60 days later. And judging from our case study on her, it’s been pretty effective.

How do you feel about pop ups? Are you guilty of any pop up mistakes – like the exit form – yourself? Share your story in the comments!



  1. Pete

    7/9/2013 1:42 pm

    What software or plugins is used to only show a popup every 60 days?

  2. LP

    7/9/2013 3:06 pm

    I use exit pops on several sites that give discounts on the main product when the visitor is exiting the site. Once they have selected to “stay on the page” i honor their discount (sometimes up to 50% off) and give them access to a discounted order form. I have seen conversion increases of well over 100% on some offers using this technique. The value the subscriber adds to your list when you throw an exit pop at them just to sign up for a newsletter is terrible but the value that subscriber carries once they have purchased from you is enormous. Even if you break even on the HUGE discount you offer, adding that buying subscriber when you other wise wouldn’t have is well worth it. Its a win win for everyone

  3. Paul Easton

    7/9/2013 5:16 pm

    This is an opinion – would rather have it backed up with data rather than a opinion- everyone’s got one of those. what if you you are sales site and 98% own by on first visit but they may but from you special exit popup -who know till its tested….

  4. Salvatore

    7/10/2013 3:27 am

    You seem to be discussing two different things here – popups, and exit popups. Putting a delay on an exit popup is not possible – by definition an exit popup pops up when you exit.

    Exit popups can be very effective if used in the right place – for example, if somebody is about to exit after making it most of the way through your shopping cart checkout process. An exit popup offering to take their order over the phone, give a discount for feedback on why they are leaving, or to ask them if they want to save their cart contents for later (and have a link emailed to them) can all help the visitor, rescue the sale, and set up the opportunity for a continued conversation.

    Of course, the “Wait, before you o why not sign up to our newsletter” is annoying, but in the absence of hard data showing that it deters return visits, I’d still suggest testing it, rater than potentially losing that visitor for ever anyway.

  5. Randall Magwood

    7/11/2013 3:45 am

    I tend to find the exit popups annoying myself. They even have software available that can detect when you’re about to leave the webpage, and then have an exit popup show up. I’m glad i dont use it… the most i would do is a lightbox hover ad on my site.

  6. G

    7/15/2013 5:26 am

    I absolutely agree with the point that highlights the need to differentiate between inviting and badgering. Exit pop ups can be quite a source of irritation if not backed by an element of surprise- like a discount or else a promise of further scope for exploration.

  7. Patricia Smith

    7/22/2013 2:28 pm

    I myself don’t really use popups. I haven’t had a need for them, but the pop ups that block you from leaving the persons website is truly annoying. I’ll just close out of the whole webpage. I also agree that it leaves a bad impression with me, if you’re so desperate for customers your buisness must not be that great.

  8. kris

    7/24/2013 10:15 pm

    Yes sometimes the popup’s are very annoying. But if we use it in the right context it must be very effective also

  9. taigeta

    9/23/2013 3:33 am

    Hi. I am a proggrammer and I think every popup is always a bad idea. They made data navigation a pain and takes the control from the user blocking any action except paying attencion to it, like a six years old child. Could you imagine them in real life? Imagine you push the brakes on your car and a pop-up asks for confirmation. You can surf the internet searching for desesperate people triying to get rid of splash windows and popups. I suposse they made advertisers very happy because they gives pain, and you also remembers who had slapped your face.

  10. Apu

    9/27/2013 6:49 am

    pop-ups are just annoying for users!

  11. TIM

    10/6/2013 12:04 am

    As a user, I loathe pop-ups.

    There I am, reading an interesting page and thinking maybe I’ll go ahead and subscribe — and I get slapped in the face by a pop-up.

    My reaction? I close it or give a phony address, look through the site before leaving to see if there’s anything else of interest, and once I leave I put it on my block list so I’ll never again visit it accidentally.

    The worst pop-ups are the ones that advertise a product or something on the site — and, of course, the infamous exit pop-up.

    Pop-ups, unless generated by the visitor clicking on something like a “subscribe” link (which pops up the form to be filled), are just plain rude and disrespectful. They tell the visitor that the site owner only cares about what he or she wants.

    Now, honestly, how does being rude, disrespectful, selfish and obnoxious work into the equation that people buy from those they know, like and trust?

    Many a subscription or sale has been lost when I get slapped.

  12. Sherman Smith

    11/4/2013 3:24 am

    I detest pop-ups. Today, more and more of them block important text that I’m trying to read and it infuriates me. I’ve even started making a note in my DayTimer about avoiding the product being advertised.

  13. Brandon

    1/8/2014 7:16 pm

    It’s quite ironic how I came here to read a blog about how popups are bad practice, and when I’m half way through the blog an annoying “SUBSCRIBE TO MY AWESOME BLOG” pop up appears on my screen, blocking the blog about how this is a stupid thing to do.

  14. Rebekah Henson

    1/10/2014 8:55 am

    Hi Brandon,
    Thanks for the feedback! I think you may have misunderstood the point of the post, though. It’s not that all pop ups are bad – they’re actually a really effective tactic when used correctly (see this post for reference:

    The focus of this post is not to avoid pop ups altogether. It’s to stay away from bad pop up practices, like a form that pops up when you try to leave a site and blocks you from leaving (an exit pop up). That’s bad practice. Pop ups in and of themselves are not, as explained in the post.

    Thanks again for your comment!

  15. Kevin Hubbard

    1/24/2014 3:03 pm

    It all depends on the type of plugin and the way that it is displayed to the visitor. We have split tested several different plugins and services and found that works best for us due to the flexibility and our niche. If the offer is compelling (we offer a car magazine subscription) and it is triggered at the right time during the visitors experience, than conversion rates are sky high 8+%)

  16. Indigo

    2/19/2014 9:07 pm

    Pop ups are useless, annoying and a very bad design.

    If I visit a site and I get a pop up wether it’s immediate or during my visit, I reload the page. If the pop up comes back again, then I’m out of there and put the site on my black list of sites to never visit again.
    If I cannot leave the site because of a pop up, I force quit.
    No pop up will ever get my click, not even on the ‘X’.

    When I go to a site, I go there for an article or what ever I am focused on.
    Anything outside of that focus becomes a nuisance.

  17. Wendy

    4/3/2014 3:20 am

    Actually, the email subscribe pop-up prompt on this site appeared instantly for me. As soon as I loaded this webpage, I was prompted to sign up to the newsletter, before I’d even glimpsed the article. Normally I would have just closed the browser tab entirely for something like that, but the juxtaposition of the call to action and the article title amused me enough to read through the article to see if this was actually a recommended technique here. Which it doesn’t seem to be. I would have thought the advice of “Use A Delay: Don?t display a popup right away. Let people get to know your site first. When they?ve warmed up to your content, they?ll be less bothered by your popup interruption” would have applied.