user experience & design

Will Pop-Up Ads On Your Mobile App Affect Conversions?

April 19th, 2017

Spoiler alert: the short answer to this question is “yes”. Pop-up ads in your mobile app will have an effect on conversions. If that effect is positive or negative however, is a point of contention in the UX and web design community. As a relatively new medium, marketers and designers are still figuring out the best practices to use in the mobile app for affecting conversion positively. Whether those practices include pop-ups, remains to be seen.

If you’re anything like me, your gut says pop-up ads are bad news. Great UX companies toil over interfaces that offer the most immersive, seamless user experience. From a UX standpoint, it’s completely counter-intuitive to interrupt that experience with an annoying pop-up.

On the other hand, the research on pop-ups, which sometimes go by the much friendlier euphemisms of ‘modals’ or ‘interstitials’, have found evidence that despite their intrusiveness, they get results when it comes to conversion.

So it seems like there’s a disconnect here. You won’t find a user on this planet that says they enjoy pop-ups. Yet at the same time, the numbers don’t lie—pop-ups are definitely boosting conversion rate on websites. So why the discrepancy? What’s going on?

What The Numbers Say

When I started researching the effect of pop-ups on conversion, I found a lot of miracle cases. One content marketing expert claimed his site’s pop-up converted 1 in 4 people who clicked it. Another blogger reported an absurd 1375% increase in subscribers when she used a pop-up.

I had my doubts (and neither of those were mobile applications), so I tried to find more general statistics. In an article titled “Pop Ups Aren’t Dead”, Sumo analyzed nearly 2 billion pop-ups, and found that, overall, pop-ups cause conversion.

Will Pop-Up Ads On Your Mobile App Affect Conversions?


But in their over 3,500+ word article, they don’t mention mobile pop-ups once. None of this data refers to effectiveness of pop-ups in mobile app conversion.

Another case study found boasted that pop-ups skyrocketed their conversion rate up to 40%. That sounds great, until you read on that mobile visitors were spared the pop-up.

I’m not trying to write an expose here, but the takeaway from this is that there are A LOT of studies and research that will show you data that seems to say: pop-ups work! And on websites, maybe they do. To translate this to mobile apps however, is misleading.

In fact, I couldn’t find any statistical data on the conversion rate of pop-ups in mobile ads. Not a great sign. But here’s what I did find.

What The Users Say

First, and this isn’t groundbreaking information, that users really, really hate pop-ups. Look at this study from NNG titled “The Most Hated Advertising Techniques”.Three guesses what number one is.

Will Pop-Up Ads On Your Mobile App Affect Conversions?


Now I’ll be honest, these user interviews were based on a desktop experience, not a mobile app. So I won’t be hypocritical and claim this as cold, hard evidence that your user will hate the pop-up in your mobile app.

But I will ask you, what’s more likely to translate: Pop-up conversions from website to mobile, or your customers hatred of pop-ups from website to mobile? The first has been, as we’ve seen, fairly undocumented. The latter seems much more likely—this isn’t the way to boost conversion.

Usability Geek admits that pop-ups can be effective on a desktop interface, but mobile “might be the one clear case when pop-ups on persona non-grata”. UX Magpoints on that pop-ups “just don’t work well on tablets and mobile devices”.

But perhaps the most compelling evidence against mobile pop-up ads is Google’s recent announcement about their ranking algorithm. According to Google, their team has:

“recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users. While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.”

Long story short, Google will punish mobile sites with pop-ups in their SEO rankings. There are workarounds—the Google press release even gave guidelines for “acceptable” mobile pop-ups. But when users and Google are already generally opposed to pop-ups, should you even take the risk?

If Not Pop-Ups, Then What?

Converting in a mobile app isn’t easy. It’s tempting to use a proven, albeit controversial, conversion tool like the pop-up to engage your users and boost conversion. Unfortunately, it seems like mobile pop-ups do more harm than good.

But luckily, there are other ways to boost conversion in the mobile domain. Mobile app development agencies have proven methods of creating well-designed platforms that can engage your customers, all without an obnoxious interruption.

Remember, the mobile screen is a small one. Why waste limited real-estate on something that’s not just unproven, but likely to fail?

Clare Bittourna


Clare Bittourna is on Codal's digital marketing team. Responsible for designing marketing materials and proposals, Clare also tackles various aspects of marketing campaigns at Codal. When she's not at work you can find her playing with her pup, finding new restaurants to enjoy in Chicago, or traveling.


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