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How To Turn Your Users Into Advocates




How To Turn Your Users Into Advocates

Nick Babich



(This article is kindly sponsored by Adobe.) As businesses become more consumer-oriented, competition grows fiercer. Thousands of companies worldwide are struggling each day to gain more market share and to win over new consumers. A significant number of companies concentrate only on acquiring new customers — they allocate enormous marketing budgets trying to strengthen their customer base. But acquiring new customers only becomes harder and more expensive. According to the 2017 Digital Advertising Report by Adobe, ad costs are seeing growth five times faster than US inflation rates.


Cost of advertising increase from 2014 to 2016 in the US.


Cost of advertising increase from 2014 to 2016 in the US. (Image source)

In an attempt to find new customers, companies often forget to think of ways to engage with existing users. However, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.

To succeed in the modern market, companies need to do more than produce an excellent product or provide reliable service: They need to turn their faithful users into advocates.

In this article, I’m going to discuss:

  • who are product advocates,
  • actionable ways to turn your customers into brand advocates,
  • what to consider when creating a strategy for advocacy.

Who Are Product Advocates?

Brand advocates are people who feel so positively about a brand that they want to recommend it to others. They’re often called volunteer marketers because they pass on positive word-of-mouth messages about the brand to other people (both offline and online). Advocates do it organically — money is not the primary reason why they promote a brand or product; they promote it because they truly believe in the brand.

Why Advocacy Is Great

Who sells your products or services? You might think it the sole responsibility of the sales and marketing team. Yes, for a long time, sales and marketing was the team responsible for product growth, but the situation has changed. Your customers have quickly become the most critical people to sell what you’re offering. More specifically, your customers have become keen advocates for your product or service. Advocates can be a key part of growing your customer base:

  • Organic promotion
    Brand advocacy is the modern form of traditional word-of-mouth marketing. And word of mouth about a product or service is one of the most powerful forms of advertising; when regular people recommend a product, their message carries more weight than a paid advertisement. According to a McKinsey study, word of mouth can generate more than double the sales of paid advertising.
  • Authentic reviews and testimonials
    Social proof plays a vital part in the process of product selection. Reading reviews and testimonials is the first step potential users make when researching a product; reviews and testimonials play a role in the wisdom of the crowd. And advocates can be excellent sources of reviews and testimonials. According to Google, 19% of brand advocates share their experiences online in their networks — twice as many as non-brand advocates.
  • Brand awareness
    Advocates use the power of social channels to amplify a brand’s exposure. As a result, they can reach out to people you might not have considered.
  • Valuable customer feedback loops
    Advocates can provide valuable customer insights. Their insights can help you formulate more focused, customer-centric product road maps.

Loyalty And Advocacy Are Not The Same Thing

Many people confuse loyalists and brand advocates. Brand loyalists and advocates aren’t the same groups of customers. Loyal customers are people who stay with your brand. For example, if you run an e-commerce store, loyal customers will be your return buyers. But they might not actively promote your brand to others (i.e. they might not be comfortable with sharing information about your brand publicly).

Advocates, on the other hand, are people who not only are loyal to your brand, but also proactively talk up and advocate for your company to their own networks. The word “proactive” is key here. Advocates invest in the success of your brand heavily. The goal is to turn brand loyalists into brand advocates.

Who Has The Potential To Become A Brand Advocate?

Your existing customers are the most apparent advocates for your brand. Let’s define the groups of existing users who likely to be interested in a brand advocacy program:

  • Promoters
    Promoters are people who participate in an NPS survey, a single-question survey that sounds like, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends, family, or colleagues?”, and who answers 9 or 10.
  • Referrers
    These are existing customers who refer new users to your product.
  • Repeat visitors
    Repeat visitors are highly engaged and interested in the content you provide.
  • Social sharers
    These are people who share your content on social media on a regular basis.
  • Critics
    Critics leave feedback about your product or service.

However, your customers are not your only advocates. The best brand advocates are people who work with you: your employees. Communications marketing firm Edelman found that 52% of consumers view employees as very credible sources of information about a brand.

How To Encourage Advocacy

Getting customers to advocate for a brand is a lot different from getting them to buy products or services. Users don’t become advocates without reason. To acquire a brand ambassador, companies need to create the conditions that generate not only happy customers, but true customer advocates.

Don’t Try To Force It

Pushing people towards a particular type of action typically results in them doing the opposite. Don’t try to force advocacy; it should be completely natural.

Create A Delightful UX

Designing for the user experience has a lot more to it than making a product usable. It’s also important to generate a certain positive emotional effect while people are using a product. After all, user experience is about how users feel when they interact with a product. As humans, we establish some sort of an emotional connection with all of the products we use. It’s possible to establish a deeper connection with a product by adding elements that generate positive emotions at multiple points along that journey.


Pleasure is at the top of Aaron Walter’s pyramid of emotional design. Designers should have a goal to please their users and make them feel happy when they use the product.


Pleasure is at the top of Aaron Walter’s pyramid of emotional design. Designers should have a goal to please their users and make them feel happy when they use the product.

The reward for brands that connect with customers’ emotions in a positive way can be substantial. People love to talk about products that make them happy.

Duolingo is an excellent example of incorporating delight in UX. What makes Duolingo thrive is its smooth functionality wrapped in a friendly design with elements of gamification. Each lesson is presented as a challenge to the user. When users accomplish a task, Duolingo celebrates this progress with the users by rewarding them with a badge. By presenting the learning process as a challenge, the service creates a sense of development and accomplishment. The latter has a significant impact on delight.


Evoking a positive emotional response in users is key to creating a delightful UX. Duolingo transforms the task of learning a new language into an inviting experience. This motivates users to level up and achieve mastery in the discipline.


Evoking a positive emotional response in users is key to creating a delightful UX. Duolingo transforms the task of learning a new language into an inviting experience. This motivates users to level up and achieve mastery in the discipline.

Focus On Building Trust

Advocacy is always a risky business. When discussing a company, advocates are putting their reputation on the line. They know that if something goes wrong, people will blame them for it. But one thing can alleviate those fears: trust. The more they trust you, the more easily they will recommend your product.

Below are a few things that play a significant role in building trust.

Stand By What You Offer

Deliver what you promise, and promptly solve problems when something goes wrong. That’s the obvious starting point, but you’d be surprised at how many fail to execute well on this simple principle.

Casper, an e-commerce company that sells sleep products online, is an excellent example of a company that exemplifies trust. Ordering a mattress on the Internet isn’t a simple thing. A customer might try a product and find that it’s not good for them. The company understands this and offers an extended trial period (customers can test a product for 100 nights) and an incredibly lenient return policy. By making returns as simple as possible, Casper makes the process of ordering a mattress as comfortable as possible. Casper not only stands by its products, but also trusts its customers to be honest when requesting a refund.

Make It Easy To Reach You

When customers interact with a brand, they expect to have a dialog, not a monologue. They want you to listen to them and demonstrate that you care about them as individuals. This is especially important when users face problems. Users should be able to reach a company through whichever channel is most convenient to them at the time. Whether they prefer face-to-face communication, email, a phone call or a message in a social network, make sure you’re available by all those means.

Ask For Feedback

Asking users for feedback not only is one of the best ways to gain insight into your business, but is also a great way to build relationships. When you ask users for feedback, they understand that you actually care about them and want to make their experience better.

However, the way you ask for feedback plays a vital role in how users react to it. Generic surveys with questions like, “Are you happy with our service? Answer yes or no” won’t deliver many insights. You need to research users problems first, get to know what is bothering them, and only after that ask questions that your users will be happy to answer.


DigitalOcean makes users feel that their opinions carry weight.


DigitalOcean makes users feel that their opinions carry weight.

Encourage Your Customers To Talk About You

Despite the digital world constantly changing, one trend remains the same: When it comes to evaluating a new product or service, potential clients trust the advice and expertise of existing clients. To build trust, you need to encourage users to talk about you. Here are a few things to remember when asking users for a review:

  • Find the right time to ask for a review. The request for a review should be a natural part of the customer journey.

Booking.com makes asking for feedback a natural part of the user journey. When Booking.com users check out at a hotel, the service asks them to review their stay.


Booking.com makes asking for feedback a natural part of the user journey. When Booking.com users check out at a hotel, the service asks them to review their stay.

  • Focus on quality, not quantity. Stay away from reviews and testimonials that praise the product. “Amazing product, highly recommended” doesn’t say much to potential customers. Prioritize testimonials that have context and that tell a story. This testimonial from Amazon illustrates exactly what I mean:

Product reviews can act as social proof and encourage prospects to convert. The best reviews not only describe the pros and cons of a product, but tell a story of how the product benefits the user.


Product reviews can act as social proof and encourage prospects to convert. The best reviews not only describe the pros and cons of a product, but tell a story of how the product benefits the user.

Offer A Loyalty Program

A loyalty program is a tried-and-true technique to show users your gratitude. As mentioned above, loyalty and advocacy aren’t the same thing. Still, a loyalty program can be used to increase the number of brand advocates:

  • Beat negative experience.
    A loyalty program might come in handy when users face a problem and complain about it. Of course, it’s essential to respond to the user request and provide a solution to the problem as fast as you can. But once the issue has been resolved, you can offer the customer loyalty points as an apology. This might help you to win back frustrated users, and maybe they can even advocate for your brand.
  • Encourage social activity.
    Motivate users to participate in social activities. For example, reward users by awarding loyalty points every time they tweet or post to Facebook, write a review, or refer their friends.

Offer A Referral Program

Running a referral program is a great way to encourage existing users to share information about your business. A successful referral program can help you achieve two key goals:

  • acquire new customers,
  • turn existing customers into brand advocates.

Moreover, studies confirm that referred customers are more valuable than customers acquired by other methods; they tend to yield higher profit margins and stay longer (they have a 16% higher lifetime value than non-referred customers), resulting in an overall higher customer lifetime value.

The critical point with a referral strategy is to find out the right incentive to make users spread the word about your product. Dropbox’s referral program is possibly one of the most famous cases of referral marketing done right. The service grew 3900% in 15 months with a simple referral program. When existing Dropbox users referred Dropbox to someone and the person signed up, both got extra free space. Apparently, Dropbox’s tremendous rise is not all due to the referral program; the service provides an excellent user experience, and the team continually improves its product. But the referral program was a great accelerator of the process of promotion.


Dropbox offered a two-sides referral program. Both advocate and referrer are rewarded for completing the desired task.


Dropbox offered a two-sides referral program. Both advocate and referrer are rewarded for completing the desired task.

Uber is an excellent example of how a referral program baked into the service from day one can boost adoption. When Uber launched, it was quite a revolutionary service that brought the sharing economy to the transportation industry. People had to adapt to this new format of ridesharing — many potential users had doubts that stopped them from trying the new experience. The referral program was an excellent tool to alleviate fears. The incentive for participation in the program is straightforward: The service offers a free ride to both the referrer and the new rider upon a successful referral. A free ride is an excellent opportunity to get to know the service. This way, Uber gives new customers the perfect introduction to the service.


Uber’s referral program


Uber’s referral program

Both Dropbox and Uber integrated the referral program very naturally into the product experience. For Dropbox users, the referral program is presented as the final step of the onboarding process — at the point when users already know what benefits the product brings to them and when they’ll be most likely to participate in the program. As for Uber, the referral program has its own option in app’s main menu.

Personalize Customer Experiences

Personalization allows brands to build deeper connections with their customers. It feels great when a product offers an experience that feels tailored especially to us. A personalized experience is what often drives a customer to say, “This is the brand for me.”

It’s possible to make the experience more personal by gathering information on customers and using it to deliver more relevant content. For example, you could have an intuitive interface that adjusts exactly the way the user expects. Netflix is an excellent example of earning loyalty based on providing a personalized experience. The service offers content suggestions based on the user’s viewing history. Netflix also notifies users when new seasons of their favorite TV shows are released.


Netflix does a great job of personalizing its mobile push notifications.


Netflix does a great job of personalizing its mobile push notifications.

Leverage The Power Of Social Media

The power of word of mouth created by brand advocates is amplified through social media. In fact, if there’s one place your company should look for brand advocates, it’s on your social media channels. Today, 70% of Americans use social media channels to engage with friends, family and the people they know. Thus, it’s essential to practice social listening — listen to what your current customers and advocates are saying about your brand — and respond to their comments accordingly.

Choose The Social Networks Most Effective To Your Business

It’s extremely important to know where your audience lives on social media and where potential advocates could have the most influence.

Carefully Choose Content To Publish

Before posting anything on social media, ask yourself two simple questions, “Does it benefit our company?” and “Does it meet our audience’s needs?” Ideally, you should post content that both reflects your business’ goals and satisfies the needs of your target audience.

Respond To User Feedback

Recognizing and responding to positive feedback is particularly important over social media. Reward the people who stand out in your community. If you have a customer who wants to engage with you, engage with them. Give them as much love as they’re giving you.


Users giving positive feedback about your brand is by far the best brand promotion. MailChimp responds to positive customer feedback on Twitter.


Users giving positive feedback about your brand is by far the best brand promotion. MailChimp responds to positive customer feedback on Twitter.

Share User-Generated Content

One of the best ways to push customer advocacy is through user-generated content.

It’s great for brands because one piece of user-generated content can reach thousands of people within hours. And it’s great for users: Being mentioned or having content shared by a brand is really exciting for many consumers.

Airbnb is an excellent example of how user-generated content can be a vital part of a brand’s content. In the company’s Instagram account, Airbnb shares stunning photos captured by its customers. The photos include exotic locations, and this kind of content is highly attractive to prospective customers.


Sharing user content helps you get to that user’s audience. Airbnb uses such content to show off its users’ talents behind the camera.


Sharing user content helps you get to that user’s audience. Airbnb uses such content to show off its users’ talents behind the camera.

Solve User Problems

When users have a problem with a product, they often post questions or complaints on social networks in the hope of getting a quick response. It’s tremendously important to address every concern users have about your brand. By solving their problems, you clearly demonstrate that your brand is genuinely addressing customer concerns. Just imagine the effect when you resolve an issue on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and the happy user shares the whole conversation with their friends and family. The benefits will be priceless. Thus, the more you interact with people and solve their issues on social media, the more value you will provide to them, and the more they will like you.


MailChimp deals with user problems on Twitter.


MailChimp deals with user problems on Twitter.

Encourage Your Followers To Share Content

Social media are great places to run promotional campaigns. Next time you run a promotion, ask your followers to share special moments using the hash tag assigned to the campaign. Track the hash tag, and choose the most inspiring contributions. This type of sharing has three significant benefits:

  • It builds brand loyalty.
  • It brings a community together.
  • It helps you create great content relevant to your brand.

In Adobe XD’s promotional campaign on Twitter, designers share their work with Adobe XD using the hash tag #AdobeXDUIKit.


In Adobe XD’s promotional campaign on Twitter, designers share their work with Adobe XD using the hash tag #AdobeXDUIKit.

Provide Social Reward

Monitor your social media channels to identify people who are frequently mentioning your brand, and reward them with personal messages or gifts.


Reward users for connecting and interacting with your brand on social media. Starbucks sent a personalized, reusable Starbucks cup to one of its loyal customers to thank her for promoting Starbucks’ products in her Instagram posts.


Reward users for connecting and interacting with your brand on social media. Starbucks sent a personalized, reusable Starbucks cup to one of its loyal customers to thank her for promoting Starbucks’ products in her Instagram posts.

Make Social Engagement A Natural Part Of The User Journey

Encourage your users to share their achievements in the app on social media. Every once in a while, give users a shout out by sharing their posts on your page as well. Such encouragement can play a key role in making other people do the same. Just make sure the spotlight is on their accomplishments, not your product.

Runtastic (an app that tracks the number of kilometers a user runs every day) is a great example. The app encourages users to share their run with friends on social networks. Users love to share their progress with their network because it makes them look good.


Encourage your followers to share special moments. Runtastic encourages its users to share their accomplishments on social media.


Encourage your followers to share special moments. Runtastic encourages its users to share their accomplishments on social media.

Boost Employee Advocacy

Your employees can help you amplify the brand’s message. According to Weber Shandwick research, 30% of employees are deeply engaged and have a high potential to be employer advocates. Moreover, the leads generated by an employee through social networking convert 7 times more often than other leads.

Your employees know the product inside out; they are capable of providing support and answering detailed questions about the product. It’s possible to boost employee advocacy by following a few simple rules:

  • Train your employees on social sharing activities. Organize seminars to educate your employees on the importance of social sharing and how they can participate in this activity.
  • Incentivize participation in social activities. Provide benefits to frequent sharers and referrers, and acknowledge them in company events.
  • Practice co-creating content with your employees. Give your employees more opportunities to be involved with your brand by sharing their own messages that reinforce business goals.
  • Help them build their personal brand. When your employees gain enough credibility to market your company, the impact of promotion will be much higher.

Help Customers Reach Their Professional Goals

Every brand should help customers to become more experienced in what they do. One way to help your customers with their professional advancement is to provide educational opportunities. Today, many big companies are focused on creating content that will help their users. For example, Adobe offers a magnificent suite of products for designers, but it isn’t only the products that make the company recognizable; it’s the content it publishes. Adobe runs a blog that offers free in-depth educational content that helps thousands of designers create better products.


Hundreds of thousands of designers return to Adobe’s blog every month to learn more about design. Readers recognize and love the brand because the blog posts help them in what they do.


Hundreds of thousands of designers return to Adobe’s blog every month to learn more about design. Readers recognize and love the brand because the blog posts help them in what they do.

Create “Wow” Moments For Your Users

One of the most effective ways to make your users happy (and turn them into brand advocates) is to surprise them — for example, with an unexpected gift. A gift doesn’t mean something expensive. It could be as simple as a handwritten note. Most users would be delighted to receive such a gift because they understand that it takes time to write a personal message. Give your customers such a surprise and they’ll want to talk about it and about, more importantly, its sender.


In today’s world of digital communication, a handwritten note stands out. Sending thank-you notes is a fantastic, and very personal, way to surprise your customers.


In today’s world of digital communication, a handwritten note stands out. Sending thank-you notes is a fantastic, and very personal, way to surprise your customers. (Image source)

Things To Remember When Creating A Brand Advocacy Program

We’ve just reviewed a great list of methods to boost brand advocacy. But which methods should be applied in your case? Unfortunately, when it comes to creating a brand advocacy program, there’s no silver bullet that turns customers into enthusiastic advocates. Each company has its own unique set of requirements, and it’s impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all solution. But it is still possible to provide a few general recommendations on how to create an advocacy program.

Set A Goal

Without clear goals, your chances to engage advocates decrease significantly. Before you get started, know what you want to achieve from your advocate marketing program. What do you want advocates to do?

Choose advocacy goals that align with your overall business objectives. For example, if your top business goal is to increase conversions, then one of your top advocacy goals could be to get more high-quality referrals.

Here are a few common goals:

  • Higher brand engagement
    The number of comments, likes and mentions on your channels is a signifier of success.
  • Higher conversion rates
    Get more high-quality referrals that result in increased sales.
  • Better brand awareness
    By tracking keywords associated with your brand, you’ll know how often people mention your brand and in what context.

Quick tip: Use the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting program to set the most effective goals possible. The goals you define should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Measure The Outcome

When it comes to measuring the outcome of an advocacy program, many teams use NPS (Net Promoter Score) as a key metric. NPS is computed by asking users to answer, “How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or relative? Rate it on a scale from 0 to 10.” The answers are then grouped into three categories:

  • Detractors: responses of 0 to 6, which indicate dissatisfaction.
  • Passives: responses of 7 or 8, which indicate moderate satisfaction.
  • Promoters: responses of 9 or 10, which indicate high satisfaction and a strong likelihood of recommendation.

The NPS is then calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. The NPS can range from -100% (only detractors) to +100% (only promoters).


The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products to others.


The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products to others.

While NPS is an excellent base level for measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, don’t use NPS as a key performance indicator. Jared Spool provides a few valid arguments on why NPS can be considered harmful to business. Figure out the more reliable and actionable ways to measure how customers feel about your brand and its offerings.

Also, when it comes to evaluating your advocacy program, focus on measuring retention, not conversion. Customer retention refers to a business’ ability to keep a customer over a specified period of time. Your retention rate can tell you a lot about your user base.

Here are three metrics that can help you measure it:

  • Customer retention rate
    The customer retention rate indicates what percentage of customers have stayed with you over a given period of time. While there’s no standard formula for calculating a customer retention rate, Jeff Haden shares a simple way to measure it. Customer retention rate = ((CE – CN) / CS)) x 100, where CE is the number of customers at the end of a period, CN is the number of new customers acquired during a period of time, and CS is the number of customers at the start of a period of time. A business with a low customer retention rate is like a bucket of water with holes in it.
  • Customer lifetime value
    The customer lifetime value is a projection of revenue a business can expect from a customer relationship. Knowing the lifetime value of a customer will help you determine how much money you can spend on customer acquisition; it also enables you to calculate your return on investment (ROI). A customer’s acquisition costs being higher than their lifetime value will often cause problems.

Customer lifetime value


Customer lifetime value (Image source)

  • Referral rate
    If a business runs a referral program, customer referrals are the ultimate proof of your advocacy program. Referral rate = number of coupons redeemed / number of coupons issued. If any user has a personal coupon they can share with friends and family, the formula can be even more straightforward: referral rate = number of coupons redeemed / total number of users.

Conclusion

Think of brand advocates as your new sales team. They have tremendous brand value, they drive awareness, and they are capable of persuading people to consider your product. By focusing your efforts on developing brand advocates, you will see an increase in your company’s growth.

This article is part of the UX design series sponsored by Adobe. Adobe XD tool is made for a fast and fluid UX design process, as it lets you go from idea to prototype faster. Design, prototype and share — all in one app. You can check out more inspiring projects created with Adobe XD on Behance, and also sign up for the Adobe experience design newsletter to stay updated and informed on the latest trends and insights for UX/UI design.

Smashing Editorial
(ms, al, il)


Original article: 

How To Turn Your Users Into Advocates

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Conversion Wireframing: A Revenue Oriented Design Process

Even though there is growing wisdom around the best product teams involving design, business and engineering heads from the very start, there is, quite often, still a divide between the design process and business needs. As someone who has both a Business and Design background, I have found it useful in client work to draw from both areas from the very start. Here are a few ways you can design web experiences that are not only user-centric but also conversion-centric. But first: What is wire framing? For the non-design heads, wireframes are essentially a schematic or blueprint that define the information…

The post Conversion Wireframing: A Revenue Oriented Design Process appeared first on The Daily Egg.

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Conversion Wireframing: A Revenue Oriented Design Process

Are Mobile Pop-Ups Dying? Are They Even Worth Saving?




Are Mobile Pop-Ups Dying? Are They Even Worth Saving?

The pop-up has an interesting (and somewhat risqué) origin. Were you aware of this? The creator of the original pop-up ad, Ethan Zuckerman, explained how it came into being:

Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal intercourse. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.

Basically, the client was dissatisfied with having their ad placed beside an article discussing this less-than-savory subject. Rather than lose the ad revenue or, worse, the client, Zuckerman and his team came up with a solution: The car company’s ad would still run on the website, but this time would pop out into a new window. Thus, the pop-up gave the advertiser an opportunity to share their offer without the risk of sitting next to a competitor or unsuitable blog content.

Origin story aside, does Zuckerman have anything to apologize for? Is the pop-up in its current state such a bad thing for the user experience? With a few simple searches around the web, you might very well begin to believe that.

For instance, a search of the term “pop-up ads” in Answer the Public comes up with this disheartening response:

Answer the Public questions about pop-ups


Users clearly just want pop-ups to go away. (Image: Answer the Public) (View large version)

A search for “I hate pop-ups” on Google results in over 3 million pages and responses like this:

Google search for 'I hate pop-ups'


You can bet that a search for ‘I love pop-ups’ doesn’t have quite the same results. (Image: Google) (View large version)

With the seemingly abundant negative responses to pop-ups, does this mean the pop-up is dead? Google’s 2017 algorithmic update penalizing certain types of mobile pop-ups could very well spell their doom — though I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet.

So, today, I want to see what the research says.

Are mobile pop-ups dying? Or will they simply undergo another adaptation?

If they continue to remain effective, how should designers make use of them, especially in mobile web design?

Finally, are there alternatives web designers can start using now to prepare for Google’s vision of a more mobile-friendly digital world?

Is The Mobile Pop-Up Dead? What The Experts Say

Pop-ups have come a long way since their founding by Zuckerman in the ’90s.

For the most part, pop-ups don’t force users out of the browser, nor do they surprise them with a desktop cluttered with ads once the browser is closed altogether. It’s a neater and more controlled experience overall. And we’ve seen them in a variety of forms, too:

  • full-page interstitials,
  • partial modal pop-ups,
  • top- or bottom-aligned bars,
  • pop-out modules tucked in the corner of the page,
  • push notifications,
  • inline banners found within the actual content of the page.

Pop-ups can also now appear at various points throughout the journey, thanks in part to big data and AI:

  • appearing as soon as the web page loads;
  • appearing once the user scrolls down the page;
  • appearing once the user moves the cursor to the close button in the browser tab;
  • ever-present, sitting off to the side, waiting for engagement.

But this type of pop-up technology doesn’t work all that well with the mobile experience, does it?

Take Macy’s website. Upon entering it, you’ll encounter this pop-up ad within a few seconds:

Example of Macy’s modal pop-up on desktop


Macy’s displays this offer within a few seconds of your arrival on the website. (Image: Macy’s) (View large version)

When you open the website on mobile, however, you won’t find any trace of that pop-up. Instead, you’ll see a small bar built into the space just below the navigation bar:

Macy’s inserts desktop pop-up into mobile on-page content


Macy’s ditches the pop-up on mobile and integrates it in the content. (Image: Macy’s) (View large version)

The offer is similar, but with no request for an email address and no pop-up functionality. This is likely because of the change to Google’s algorithm in 2017.

Which brings me to what the experts say about pop-ups. While most are focused on the life expectancy of pop-ups in general, Google has been leading the charge against mobile pop-ups (sort of) for almost a year now:

Google

Let’s start by looking at Google’s announcement regarding mobile-first indexing. This originally came to light in 2016, but it was just talk at the time. It is now over a year later, and Google has begun rolling out this indexing initiative.

Basically, what it does is change how Google’s bots crawl and index a website. Google no longer views the desktop version of a website as the primary experience for users. Going forward, the mobile website will be the primary version indexed.

With Google users increasingly starting on a mobile device instead of desktop, this move makes sense. It’s also why the algorithm change in 2017 that penalizes certain types of mobile pop-ups was another logical move in Google’s mission to make the web a more mobile-friendly place.

Google diagram of penalty pop-up designs


Google provides examples of the kinds of interstitial pop-ups to avoid. (Image: Google) (View large version)

In laying out the details of this change, Google explained that mobile pop-ups deemed disruptive to the user experience would result in ranking penalties for those websites. These kinds of pop-ups fall into three categories:

  • interstitial pop-ups that cover the entire screen upon entering the website and that require users to “X” out in order see the actual website;
  • pop-ups that cover the entire screen upon entering the website but that require users to know that scrolling past them is the way to bypass the pop-up and see the main content;
  • any pop-up that hides the majority of content on the page behind it.

In other words, Google doesn’t believe that traditional pop-ups have any place on mobile because the limited screen space would make the experience too disruptive. That’s likely the reason why you’re seeing popular websites like Macy’s do away with mobile pop-ups altogether. Though there are some traditional modal pop-ups Google doesn’t mind, it’s probably safer to avoid modals and interstitials on mobile in order to avoid the chance of a penalty.

As you can see, pop-ups for legal requirements are still OK, although most of the time you’re going to see publishers relegate them to small bars, as MailChimp has done here:

Example of an acceptable cookies disclaimer on mobile


MailChimp adheres to Google’s new guidelines in providing a cookies disclaimer. (Image: MailChimp) (View large version)

Nielsen Norman Group

In 2017, Nielsen Norman Group conducted a survey on the most hated advertising techniques. This study encompassed all kinds of website advertising (including video ads, on-page banner ads, etc.), but there was special mention of pop-up ads that make the findings relevant here.

Out of a total score of 7, with 1 being “strongly like” and 7 being “strongly dislike,” respondents gave mobile ads a score of 5.45. Desktop ads weren’t far behind, with 5.09, although the survey results did consistently show that mobile ads were more despised than their desktop counterparts.

Comparison of desktop and mobile ad hatred


Users might despise ads, in general, but they really don’t like them on mobile. (Image: Nielsen Norman Group) (View large version)

Drilling down, Nielsen Norman Group also found modals (i.e. partially covering pop-ups) to be the most hated type of ad that mobile users encounter:

: Chart that shows mobile ad dislike ratings


Oof! Users really don’t like modal pop-ups, do they? (Image: Nielsen Norman Group) (View large version)

Why does Nielsen Norman Group believe this to be the case? Well, there’s the aforementioned real estate issue. Mobile phones just don’t have enough room to accommodate modal pop-ups without overwhelming users. According to the authors, though, there may be another reason:

Additionally, the context of mobile use tends to be “on-the-go” — that is, users are more likely to be distracted by competing stimuli, and the need for efficiency is drastically increased.

Having reviewed Nielsen Norman Group’s research, I do agree that many users will very likely be put off upon encountering a pop-up on a mobile website. That being said, plenty of research provides a valid counter-argument.

While users might be likely to describe their annoyance with pop-ups as high when surveyed about it, some evidence suggests it is short-lived for many of them. As we’ll see in a moment, pop-ups are actually quite effective in driving conversions.

Sumo

Sumo declared in 2018 that pop-ups aren’t dead. While that opinion might be seen as biased, considering it’s in the business of creating and selling list-builder tools such as pop-ups, welcome mats and smart bars, it does have evidence to suggest that pop-ups are still worthwhile if generating leads and conversions is your top priority.

Sumo used data from nearly 2 billion customer pop-ups to make this argument. Sadly, the data doesn’t directly break out anything related to mobile pop-ups and their conversion rates, but I found this particular statistic to be relevant:

Of the top 10% of pop-ups, only 8% had pop-ups appear in the 0-4 second mark. And the majority of those 8% were on pages where the pop-up was expected to appear quickly — as in sending someone to a download page.

In other words, users don’t want to be rushed into seeing your pop-ups — which is one of the major points Google is trying to make with its algorithm update. (Tests conducted by Crazy Egg mirror this point about delaying pop-ups.) Mobile websites that jump the gun and present visitors with a pop-up message before giving them an opportunity to scroll through the website are just creating an unnecessary disruption.

Another point that Sumo stresses is that pop-ups need to be valuable and presented within context. This is especially important on mobile, where you can’t afford to test visitors’ patience with a video pop-up completely unrelated to the blog post they were trying to read beneath it.

In other words, always think about how a pop-up will add value to the experience that you are (partially) blocking.

Justinmind

Justinmind calls modal pop-ups “complicated,” and for good reason. Even though there was nearly an even split between how users felt about pop-ups (21% said they liked them, while 23% said they didn’t), the research shows that pop-ups have proven to be quite helpful in the conversion process.

That being said, what a lot of this comes down to is how a website uses the pop-up. The University of Alberta, for example, was able to get 12% to 15% more email subscribers by using a pop-up on its website. On the other hand, you have Search Engine Land claiming that the main reason people block websites is because of pop-up ads.

Another thing to think about, according to Justinmind, is the mobile UI. It suggests that even if you do everything else right — deliver a valuable and well-timed offer and compromise an unobtrusive amount of space — there’s still the thumb zone to think about.

While it’s great that designers have built the ever-trusty “X” button into the top-right corner of pop-ups, that’s not the easiest stretch for the mobile user’s thumb. If you want to design ads for the mobile UX, consider another placement of that exit button.

30 Lines

Digital marketing agency 30 Lines claims:

Our clients who run targeted lead capture pop-ups on their websites typically convert anywhere from 75-250% more leads from their sites than clients who don’t.

Unlike other experts who have shied away from the subject of mobile pop-ups (because it might end in them admitting defeat), 30 Lines took on the topic head on. And this was the point they sought to make:

  • Google is not saying that mobile pop-ups are all bad.
  • Google, in fact, does want you to generate more conversions on your website — and it acknowledges that pop-ups might play a role in that.
  • It’s simply up to you to determine what will lead to the most unobtrusive experience for your visitors.

30 Lines gives a lot of great tips on how to adhere to Google’s principles without doing away with mobile pop-ups altogether. As we move on to discuss ways in which designers can use mobile pop-ups in the future, I’ll be sure to include them for consideration.

What Do Web Designers Do With Mobile Pop-Ups Now?

I’m not going to lie: This is a tough one, because while it would be so easy to just kill pop-ups on mobile websites altogether — and many consumers would be thrilled with that decision — they do still have incredible value in generating conversions. So, what do we do?

Clearly, this is a complicated matter, because you could equally argue both sides and are left choosing between two evils:

  • Do you want to run mobile pop-ups in the hope of gaining more subscribers (especially considering that mobile users tend to have lower conversion rates to begin with)?
  • Or do you want to put more resources into writing high-converting landing pages and on-page banners to sell and convert mobile visitors?

Do you even know which option mobile visitors would be more receptive to?

Below are questions to think about as you evaluate whether pop-ups make sense for your mobile website now and in the future.

Is It Necessary?

Ask yourself whether a particular message even needs to be in a pop-up format. If it could work just as well integrated in a page, then you might want to skip it entirely (as in the Macy’s example from earlier).

Fast Company uses pop-ups on its mobile website (shown below), but it also integrates its contact forms into on-page banners, like this one:

Example of a subscriber form that could be in a pop-up but isn’t


Fast Company inserts a subscriber form inline with the content. (Image: Fast Company) (View large version)

Different Designs

Create different pop-up designs for desktop and for mobile. So long as the message and offer are still relevant and valuable to mobile users, there’s no reason not to completely start from the ground up when building mobile pop-ups. Just be sure to think about the design, message and trigger rules when reshaping desktop pop-ups for mobile.

Gap is a good example of this. You can see how its offer is displayed on desktop as an on-page banner with expanded details:


Gap desktop pop-up ad


This is how Gap displays this offer on desktop.

Then, on mobile, it is shown as a bottom bar element:

Gap mobile pop-up ad


This is how Gap displays this offer on mobile. (Image: Gap) (View large version)

Go Small

Keep pop-ups small on mobile. In general, it’s recommended they take up no more than 15% of the screen. This means staying away from full-page interstitials, even if you’re trying to sneak them in on a second or third page.

Inc has a small and succinct message for mobile users:

Example of bottom bar pop-up


Inc keeps its pop-up message bold but brief. (Image: Inc) (View large version)

Target Mobile Context

Use mobile-targeted messaging. This means be very light on text, and don’t include images or icons that force the pop-up to be larger than it needs to be. You can also create targeted messages for consumers who use your website for research while out and about or even while shopping in house.

Stick To The Bottom

To play it safe, display pop-ups only at the very bottom of a page. This could mean one of two things. First, you could align the pop-up to the bottom of the mobile screen (this could be a traditional modal pop-up or a hello bar). Here’s an example of how Fast Company does it:

Example of how a modal pop-up works on mobile


Fast Company doesn’t shy away from modals with this mobile pop-up example. (Image: Fast Company) (View large version)

The second option is to open the pop-up once the visitor has scrolled all the way to the bottom of the web page.

Delay

Try not to show a pop-up on the first page a visitor sees. By this, I mean the first page that a user is directed to by search or a referral website (which is not necessarily the home page). Also, don’t forget about timing. In general, try not to load a pop-up within the first four seconds of a visitor arriving on a page.

Intuit does this really well:

Example of delayed mobile pop-up


This Intuit pop-up only appears after you’ve navigated inwards on the website. (Image: Intuit) (View large version)

Visit the first page of the website and you won’t encounter any kind of pop-up messaging. Click through to learn more about pricing, and then you’ll see a relevant and value-adding message pop up at the bottom of the screen.

Easy Exit

If you still want to use a modal pop-up design, make sure it’s easy to exit out of. This means putting an “X” in the bottom-right corner or an exit message beneath the CTA.

Or you could stick with the bottom bar design that many mobile web designers seem to favor right now, like Zumiez:

Example of hello bar pop-up on mobile


A bottom-aligned hello bar pop-up from Zumiez. (Image: Zumiez) (View large version)

The New Yorker also does this:

Example of bottom bar pop-up content on mobile


A bottom-aligned hello bar pop-up from The New Yorker. (Image: The New Yorker) (View large version)

Make It Optional

Create a special CTA or other interactive element on your website that, only when clicked, opens a pop-up. Basically, let mobile users decide whether and when they want to interrupt the on-site experience.

Basic Outfitters does this after you’ve added your first item to the cart:

Example of a user-triggered mobile pop-up


The Basic Outfitters pop-up shows only after the user actively triggers it on the website. (Image: Basic-Outfitters) (View large version)

Consider Alternatives

If you’re nervous about designing a traditional pop-up on your website, fear not. There are alternatives.

Consider push notifications and SMS notifications. They allow you to reach mobile users without having to intrude in the browser or in the mobile device experience without their express permission.

Gated content is another way to collect leads on a mobile website without having to force users into a pop-up to submit their contact information.

Track Preference

You will more likely annoy a mobile user with a repeat pop-up ad than a desktop user. So, if you can use cookies to prevent mobile visitors from being interrupted by the same pop-up message after they’ve dismissed it, that would be ideal.

Remember: You’re not just playing by Google’s rules here. If mobile visitor numbers drop off and Google spots a change in your bounce rate and time-on-site statistics, then your website’s rank will suffer as a result, since Google now prioritizes the mobile website experience over desktop.

The Mobile Pop-Up Doesn’t Need To Die

For now, the best plan is to heed the experts. And what they’re saying is that mobile pop-ups aren’t dying. In fact, they can still play a vital role in signing up more email subscribers and converting more customers from mobile devices. But, as with anything else, you need to play by Google’s rules and always think about how your decisions will affect your users’ experience.

So, use your mobile pop-ups wisely.

Smashing Editorial
(da, ra, yk, il, al)


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Are Mobile Pop-Ups Dying? Are They Even Worth Saving?

10 Beautiful Website Color Palettes That Increase Engagement

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10 Beautiful Website Color Palettes That Increase Engagement

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A Simple Guide to Understanding and Creating a Website Conversion Funnel

Respect Always Comes First

The past years have been remarkable for web technologies. Our code has become modular, clean and well-defined. Our tooling for build processes and audits and testing and maintenance has never been so powerful. Our design process is systematic and efficient. Our interfaces are smooth and responsive, with a sprinkle of beautiful transitions and animations here and there. And after so many years, accessibility and performance have finally become established, well-recognized pillars of user experience.

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Respect Always Comes First

Offboarding In The Online World

By now, we’ve all heard about onboarding — the beginning of a relationship between a company and a user — but what about offboarding? Both go hand in hand as being two of the most important interactions you can have with a user, but offboarding gets much less publicity and sometimes is even altogether ignored. So, what exactly is it, and why is it so important?
Offboarding is usually described as the interaction between a company and their customer at the end of the customer journey.

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Offboarding In The Online World

The Online Business Owner’s Operational Website Checklist

Website Checklist

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The Online Business Owner’s Operational Website Checklist

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The Five Most Important Visual Elements Required for a Successful Company Blog

CSS Grid Layout

Since the early days of the web, designers have been trying to lay out web pages using grid systems. Likewise, almost every CSS framework attempts to implement some kind of grid system, using floats and often leaning on preprocessors. The CSS Grid Layout module brings us a native CSS Grid system for the first time—a grid system that does not rely on document source order, and can create complex layouts which are easily redefined with media queries.

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CSS Grid Layout