When is it Best to Trigger a Popup?

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All of the things to think about when running a website, right? Talk about a set of mini tasks and challenges that just seem to pop up one right after the next. 

You go from “I want a website” to building that website, and then realizing there is so much you can do with that website that it can be a bit overwhelming at times. 

But look at you now—at the point of wondering how to get your website visitors to take the next step, and more specifically, when you should trigger a popup! A great question, and one that can be backed by hard facts.

But first, you need to realize your limitations…as in, when can you trigger a popup on your website? Are you using a third-party tool, like OptinMonster?

I’ll be honest, that’s really the only tool I have experience with, but I’d have to assume most tools allow for popup triggers based on something like the following:

  • Time spent on a page
  • Distance scrolled on a page
  • Upon exit of a page
  • Upon clicking of a link
  • Upon entering your page from a specific source

Knowing what you can do in terms of triggering your popup will help you answer when in fact it is best to do so.

Trigger based on time users spend on a page

Perhaps the most basic option, but it makes a ton of sense. You obviously don’t want to trigger a popup too soon in fear of getting in the way.

So, how do you know?

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Here is the workflow. 

Go to your analytics platform (for me, it’s Google Analytics) and find the page on which you’d like to place a popup. 

Then, check out the given columns and find “avg. time on page.”

As you can see in this example, the average time on page is 3 minutes and 58 seconds. 

Before you do anything, though, check out the post itself—is it long and in-depth, or does it get to the point quickly? Point is, you probably want to make sure the reader has had their “a ha” moment before you trigger the popup. 


Because if they haven’t yet found their answer in your content, they are going to close out of anything that stands in their way, and that includes your popup.

Also, if you can provide the reader with value, you’ve established credibility in their eyes, and now, they should be in a better, more qualified position to click what you’re presenting. 

With this post in the example above, it’s relatively short. It’s also a tutorial, so at 3:58, I’d guess most visitors are trying to replicate the process I’m laying out. I don’t want to get in their way of doing so, so I’d set the trigger at the later stages, perhaps around 3 minutes. 

Trigger based on how far down users are scrolling on a page

As you can see from the above, time on page doesn’t provide much precision, and it’s up to you to make an educated guess on where a user is in their information intake based on the amount of time they are spending on a page. 

So, for a little better accuracy, how about triggering a popup based on how far down the page a user is scrolling?

Such data isn’t as available out of the box as time on page, but you can still find it. I won’t get into the details of implementation, but here are a few resources:

Google Analytics

You can set up scroll depth tracking for your website via Google Tag Manager. This will allow you to see scroll depth right in your GA reports. This is a free option, and relatively easy if you know your way around GA and GTM. 

Glenn Gabe also has an amazing blog and great content around SEO and other topics. Here is a graphic from a post of his that shows the scroll depth for a page where most users aren’t making their way very far down:

Crazy Egg & Heatmap Tools

There are a number of heatmapping tools which will also track scroll depth. The advantage here is this type of tracking is what these tools were built for, and thus the reporting and visuals are a lot more robust. The downside, of course, is that you will usually need to pay to use, unfortunately.

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My personal choice just because it’s the only one with which I have experience is CrazyEgg, which also provides other heatmapping tools and insights.

Trigger based on when a user exits the page

“But wait, there is more!” That’s why pops into my head every time I think about popups that are triggered when someone is moving their mouse to click out of the page. 

It’s the ultimate last ditch effort, and while you might think that such maneuvers are annoying and intrusive, they have been proven to work. OptinMonster says “But, by using exit-intent technology, you can convert an additional 2 – 4% of your visitors into email subscribers and soon thereafter into paying customers.”

Here is how easy it is to set up:

Trigger based on a link click

Now, if the exit intent popup is the ultimate Hail Mary, then triggering a popup when a link is clicked is the complete opposite in terms of potential user interest. 

Meaning, there is no better action to signal a user is interested in something than the clicking of a link. They can spend all day on a page, scroll 100% of the page…but if they take the action to click something, you know they have at least a sliver of interest in learning more. 

So, yes, you can totally trigger a popup with the click of a link. OptinMonster calls these “Monsterlinks” and says “A MonsterLink is one of our most effective campaign triggers, easily increasing conversions by 2x or more.”

Again, another easy configuration if your tool of choice has the capability. 


Trigger based on referral source

Last, perhaps your popup and conversion success isn’t completely tied to what website users are doing on your pages, but rather, how they got to your pages in the first place?

Meaning, if you could, would you tailor your message and content differently for someone who was clicking over to your site from a Facebook ad than you would for someone clicking through to your site from Google search?


So, one other option is to trigger your popup based on the referral source of the traffic. For instance, if the user is coming from Facebook, trigger the popup, and if they are coming from Google, don’t trigger the popup.

This triggering based on referral source can also be combined with the above, and say you want to trigger when they come from Facebook and spend a minute on page, etc.

Trigger when you feel it is best

In addition to the above, you can typically trigger popups based on a user’s location, and more.

Either way, in the end, it’s your site, and your rules. Some prefer to not get in the way of their user’s activity, and there are certainly options that allow you to handle that piece with care. 


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