Digital marketing conversion: What’s better? A popup or an inline CTA?

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

Inline ads certainly can work and so can popups. I know, I know. At dinner parties, nobody will admit that. Not even the marketers that use them to their advantage. But companies use them, because they work. So which one works better?

Some quick definitions…

What’s an inline ad?

These are the ads that show up within copy of the text. As users read along, they get shown an ad or call to action to buy something or check something else out. It kind of interrupts the content but is easily skipped or ignored.

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What’s a popup?

These appear on a user’s screen after they have been on the site for a specific amount of time or triggered by some other action, like moving the mouse to the X indicating they are about to leave. There are a host of tools available to get this set up. I use the Icegram plugin, which also allows me to add a chatbot and other tools.

My metrics: Inline ad or popup?

Using the WordPress Jetpack stats, I can see what people clicked on to leave my site. Roughly, in the last 30 days, I had this Content Marketing  World CTA as a popup:

The following is running site-wide in the inline ad spot (all articles, after the third paragraph) for the Artificial Intelligence Marketing Conference.

AI for marketing conference

And how are the numbers looking?

CTA analysis based on web position

  • The Content Marketing World ad had 75 clicks
  • The AI conference one had 32 clicks

Does that make it fair to say that popups perform twice as good? Maybe so, but we also need to look at the creatives:

The Content Marketing World one is specific about the discount. The AI conference one is the main creative piece for the conference and doesn’t list the coupon code.

The best coupon codes to attend marketing conferences cheaper [Updated June 1, 2019]

Having a less descriptive ad for the specific purpose can make a difference. And on the popup, the Icegram plugin let me add this big, red REGISTER NOW button.

register now button example for conversion

I will see if I can get another creative piece for the AI inline ad and maybe that will bump up those numbers.

I had run Google Ads in the inline spots and the revenue increased dramatically for those when I did that. So, let’s not discount the spot yet!

How important are calls to action?

On May 30, 2019, Google let me know that ads created within Google Ads now will have more call to action options. Here are the example mock-ups that Google shared:

Google Ads CTA examples


For the time being, it appears that the popup is drawing more attention. That’s not necessarily surprising. Some of those also may be mis-clicks where people tried to close it and accidentally pushed it. The popup has to be acknowledged and the inline ad does not.

Of course, once you get some clicks you’ll want to see how many people end up buying what’s on the other end. In the case of conferences, the purchase cost is over $1,000 so these are not small purchases.

I will continue using both spots certainly and mix up what’s running in each. To answer the question: Which one should be used? I would recommend using both.

And don’t forget about the spot directly above articles!