Why I Use a Pop Up Even Though it Pisses People Off

Written by Craig Morrison - Get free updates on new posts here.

I don’t like pop ups. They’re annoying, interruptive, and aggravating. But they’re so necessary to growing my business, that I have to use them. Let me explain why.

Pop ups tend to piss people off. My people. My readers.

So then why would a blog about helping people improve the user experience of their products use pop ups?

Recently, I checked my List Builder tool to see how many subscribers it had gotten in the past week.

For those who don’t know, List Builder is the free plugin I use to collect email subscribers created by Noah Kagan and his team at SumoMe.

It causes this popup to occur after a certain amount of time on my site.

Popup Window

I’m sure you’ve seen it, and possibly angrily closed it by now.

In fact, I know some of you have, because this was one of my recent subscribers.


This gave me a good laugh. Not only because it’s just funny, but also because I used to do this exact same thing.

My go to email? fake@email.com

But as I continued down the list of subscribers, I noticed more than just one.

I counted at least four fake emails consisting of some form of “fuck popups” in one way or another.

That’s when I decided to write this post and explain myself, because it’s also a great chance to teach an extremely valuable UX lesson.

So why do I use pop ups if people hate them so much?

Because they work.

People Can’t Get Value from Nothing

Think about the most useful thing in your life right now.

Is it your car? Your computer? Your toothbrush?

Chances are, it’s something you use every day, and will use every day for the rest of your life.

Now what if whoever makes this thing changes it a little? Maybe they change the handle of your toothbrush, or switch the materials of the bristles and it’s not quite the same.

You liked it the way it was, why change it?

It’s annoying right?

But what if that thing didn’t exist at all? Isn’t that way worse?

What if they had to change the toothbrush just to keep producing it?

No matter how your toothbrush is shaped, you can still brush your teeth with it. But if you went to the store and you couldn’t buy toothbrushes anymore?

Now you’re that guy in the office.


Here’s the thing about your business. In order for it to provide value, it needs to exist.

In order for it to exist, it needs to get something back from its users / customers.

Stuff like money, publicity, growth, or anything that keeps you operating.

You can’t just build a one sided business that gives and gives and gives and never gets anything back.

If you do that, it won’t be long before you don’t exist.

Customers can’t get value from your product if you can’t afford to continue providing it to them.

Sacrificing Bits of UX for the Big Picture

Enough about toothbrushes, let’s get back to the pop ups.

I provide a lot of free content and resources on my blog. In fact, at this point everything is free.

Aside from my monthly coaching, I have yet to release a paid product, but I plan to very soon.

So how can I afford to keep giving all of this stuff away for free?

Lemonade stand? Chimney sweep? Part time pot dealer?


By collecting emails and building an audience that allows me to market and share my content with them.

Yes it’s true, pop ups do negatively impact the UX of my blog. This is evidenced by the ever so subtle people complaining via fake email addresses.

But, this is a necessary sacrifice I need to make in order to be able to keep producing more free content for my readers and future readers.

Pop ups collect emails. Emails build me an audience. Audience buys my products. Money allows me to afford internet, groceries, lights, hamburgers, beer, and the time I need to write more valuable content.


A nice little loop right?

This is my take on what is called the value loop, as coined by UX professional Joe Natoli.

The business provides value to the user. The user provides value to the business, which then allows the business to continue providing value to the user.

It is vital to keep this loop in mind in order to create a product that both gives and receives value from its users.

Because even if a user doesn’t like the sacrifice you have to make, they still value having your product over not having it at all.

Bonus: I’ve put together a spreadsheet to help you create your own balanced value loop, which I explain at the end of this post. Fill in the form below to get access to the Balanced Value Loop Spreadsheet.

For example, the proof is right in this email alone.

Even though this person is clearly pissed off about the pop ups, they still mention how much they loved the article.

They still got value even though their experience wasn’t as great as it could have been.

In this circumstance I didn’t collect an email, but when you look at the big picture, the pop up does more good for my business than it does harm for my user’s experiences.

Even if I lose 5% of my visitors because they are turned off by the pop up, 95% disregard it because the value of the content is worth more than the annoyance of the pop up.

Creating a Balanced Value Loop

But wait, couldn’t you just say everything you do is for the good of the business?

Couldn’t you use this to justify every annoying tactic to scrape as much from your users as possible?

Pop ups on every page! Sign up with Facebook to continue reading the article! Ads in the middle of your content!

Sure. But this is when you’ll start to lose people.

For example, a simple change in shape of my toothbrush is no big deal. But if they change the shape, cheapen the bristles, and jack up the price? I’m no longer interested in buying it.

Think of each of these devices as a rock. The bigger the interruption, the bigger the rock.

The more rocks you put in between me and your content / value offer, the more effort I need to exert to get past all these rocks.   mountainsWould you really climb a mountain just for a free chocolate bar?

I’m going to get tired of climbing over rocks and give up, and probably pretty quick since I’m very out of shape.

At some point it’s just not worth it. People will become frustrated, and they’ll leave.

The idea is to create a balanced value loop.

One that offers great value, while also taking back what it needs for the business to survive and grow, without being greedy.

hapySet Goals Achieve Goals Adjust Value Loop

What you need to succeed as a new business will be different than what you need as you become more successful.

That means your value loop should be constantly evolving, ensuring that it’s always keeping a balance between giving and taking.

In my case, I have a plan to remove the pop up once I get to a certain number of subscribers and switch to a scroll box.

But this can be heavily determined by your user base. My readers are very sensitive to things like pop ups because of their bad reputation in the UX community.

However, if you’re running a blog about marketing, than your readers might be more forgiving of tactics they are already familiar with.

The point is, I set a goal, and I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of the user’s experience in order to achieve that goal.

Once I reach my goal, I give back some of that “experience” I took to achieve it.

Try to think beyond pop ups and ads.

This value loop applies to all types of business.

For example, let’s say you own an extremely classy restaurant.

You’re all about providing elegance, fine dining, and sophistication to your customers.

But business is down as of late, and you need something to turn things around in order to get more customers.

People have suggested that you run “special” nights in the past. Ladies night means half off martinis.

Maybe Tuesday there is no corkage free for bringing your own wine.

You’ve never liked these ideas in the past, because you feel like they will take away from the experience your customers are having with your restaurant.

But in order for you to continue providing a valuable service, you need to sacrifice a bit of the elegance and class.

Your loyal customers might be disappointed, but not as disappointed as if you closed for good.

Plus, once you reach a steady monthly revenue goal, you plan on cancelling all those promotions until a time when you need them again.

As long you don’t go overboard and start putting in big screen TVs and playing sports, you won’t lose your loyal customer base.

It’s all about keeping that balance between giving and taking.

The Balanced Value Loop Formula

Now I’m going to share with you a method that I use for determining how to keep a balanced value loop on my own projects.

This will be based on an online product/blog, but you can adapt it to your own business.

It’s a spreadsheet that uses a point system to determine what you can and can’t do.

Bonus: I’ve put together a spreadsheet to help you create your own balanced value loop, which I explain at the end of this post. Fill in the form below to get access to the Balanced Value Loop Spreadsheet.

It works in three parts:

  1. Define the specific goal you are trying to achieve.
  2. Determine the method you will implement to achieve this goal.
  3. Assign a point value of either high (3 points) or low (1 point) to that method, referencing the level of impact they have on your customers experience.

In total, you have 5 points per page to spend on methods for achieving your goal.

The idea is that anything over 5 points can run the risk of frustrating your users. If a user is too frustrated or distracted, they’ll stop interacting and leave.

Let’s take a look at my blog for example.

First, I’ll determine that my goal is to reach 1,000 email subscribers.


Second, I’ll decide on some methods on how I’m going to go about achieving that goal for each specific page, and make a list of them.

This can be a running list that you constantly keep adding to as you learn about more methods.


This is the most important step of all. Assign each method a number of points based on how “interruptive” it is to your users.

3 points for something highly interruptive, 1 point for something that doesn’t demand a ton of the users attention.

You’ll have to user your best judgement here, but it’s not that complicated.

For example, a full page pop up that appears the user while they’re reading is very interruptive. It demands 100% of the user’s attention, so this receives a high rating (3 points).

On the other hand, I might also use a “smart bar” at the top of my page inviting users to subscribe.

You probably see one at the top of this page right now.

This smart bar is still distracting, but no where near a pop up, so it receives a low rating (1 point).


Third, I’m going to determine which methods I’m going to use on each page.

I’ve decided that for a single blog post, I’m going to use a timed pop up along with a scroll box and a sticky “subscribe” widget.

That uses up all five of my points.


On my about page, I’ll use no high level methods, and instead use 5 low level methods, once again totaling 5 points.

Anything you put on your site that distracts your users away from the primary reason they are there should be listed as a method.

Bringing it All Together

So that’s it. My defense for using pop ups and how they fit into my balanced value loop that benefits both my users and my business.

Fill in the form below to get access to the Balanced Value Loop Spreadsheet.

Try performing an audit on your existing site and see if you’re surpassing 5 points.

And remember, this isn’t set in stone, your product is your product. Make adjustments as you see fit.

Just keep in mind that what you’re asking should be balanced by what you’re giving.

Too much either way is harmful for both you and your users.