Jeremy Smith Feb 6, 2014 3:44:38 PM 29 min read

Live Chat vs. Pop-ups: Which one generates more leads and sales?

Most lead generation and e-commerce websites have one or the other — either  pop-ups or live chat. Both are designed to improve conversions. The question is, which one is better?

In order to understand what we’re talking about here, I’m first going to explain what I mean by “live chat,” and “pop-ups.” Then, I’m going to describe exactly why each one is awesome (or not). Then, I’m going to deliver to you my well-researched verdict on which one truly improves conversions.


What is a Pop-up?

A pop-up is a screen or lightbox that appears on a web page regardless of a user’s desire, presenting them with an offer. Its forms are legion, but its goal is the same.

  • Sometimes, the pop-up is timed, appearing after a few seconds of a visitor’s session on the site.
  • Sometimes, the pop-up is prompted when the user tries to exit the page.
  • Sometimes, the pop-up appears before the visitor can even access the content on the site.


Here’s what a pop-up looks like.


(Image from

Another great example of a pop-up is from Quick Sprout. The pop-up is laced with conversion elements like 1) timing language, 2) revenue language, 3) color psychology and 4) a facial photo.

We don’t have exact statistics, but Quick Sprout's conversion rates are astronomical after implementing pop-ups. We’ll expand on this in the discussion below.


(Screenshot from 02/03/2014 on

Evergage does the wait-but-don’t-leave-yet pop-up thing. Their pop-up is a bit more cluttered and confusing, but the idea is the same:


(Screenshot from 02/03/2014 on

Hector Cuevas, in his article at, calls the pop-up a “beautifully designed pop-up light-box on your blog, enticing your visitors to sign up for your newsletter or a free gift.”

He, by the way, swears by pop-ups, and points to his own dramatic rise in conversions:


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What is Live Chat?

Live chat is when the website visitor is invited to engage in instant messaging with a customer service rep, directly on the website.

Often, the chat option is presented in a pop-up. Sometimes, it’s right on the front-page header of a site.

Here’s HostGator’s live chat option:


(Screenshot from 02/03/2014 on

In a study spanning 2009-2012, American online shoppers grew more willing to have live chat conversations. The study conducted by Bold Chat indicated that more than half of online shoppers had engaged in a live chat.

The bottom line of the study was this — 31% of online shoppers were more likely to convert after an online chat.


What Does the Customer Want?

Shouldn’t you just give the customer what they want? Well, maybe, but then again, maybe not.

BoldChat reports the following:

  • 54% of customers want to interact via email
  • 23% of customers want telephone support
  • 21% of customers want live chat
  • 2% want social media.


The thing is, you probably have an email or contact form, a phone number and some social media plugins. The customer can choose what they want. Plus, with live chat, the customer can choose whether they want to engage in live chat.

With a pop-up, it’s a different animal. The customer doesn’t choose to view the pop-up. They see it regardless of whether they want to see it. The clincher is this:  They choose whether  they respond to the pop-up.

So, sure, give your customers what they want. But don’t confuse this with pop-ups. Pop-ups are designed to not just help the customer, as in the case of live chat, but to drive conversions.

The goal is simple and unadorned:  conversions.

Now, let’s see how each option stacks up. We won’t explore every single advantage and disadvantage, but we’ll hit the main ones.


The Disadvantages of Pop-ups 

Pop-ups are annoying.

I knew you were thinking it, so I wanted to nail this one first.

Somehow, embedded deep within the psyche of every web surfer is an anti-pop-up mentality. Before researching this article, I caught up on a bit of sports and entertainment news.

Sure enough, on some less-than-reputable site, I was hit by the teeth-gritting, mouse-pounding trash pop-up. I think it was about some celeb gossip that I cared about negative-1089%. It was annoying.

This is the main reason that people cite as the problem with pop-ups. People feel defiled, invaded or just plain bothered by the fact that some webmaster has the hubris to actually affront them with something that he or she wants them to know, buy or see. The nerve!

Yes, pop-ups are annoying. Or at least they can be. But let’s make sure we’re talking about the right kind of pop-ups.

The pop-ups I’m referring to are not all those phantom windows that cluster in the background, inviting you to effortlessly lose weight or get paid to browse the Internet, or to discover some “amazing loophole” to get car insurance for free. Those are crap.

What I’m talking about are well-crafted, polished and strategic pop-ups that target a specific demographic with a compelling message.

The annoy-factor of most pop-ups is not just that it popped up. The really annoying thing is its content — useless pablum. The opposite of such angst-inducing pop-ups are those that actually offer something of value.

If the pop-up is offering something truly valuable and interesting, you don’t mind it at all.

I’ll admit it. Some pop-ups are annoying, but there are some pop-ups that are actually truly valuable to the recipient.

The Advantages of Pop-ups

Pop-ups are conversion heaven. Without tipping our hand completely, we do need to make it clear that pop-ups are like little conversion miracles.

We cited Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout pop-up above. Here’s how a discussion on his forum went down:


(Screenshot from 02/03/2014 on

Neil responded:


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Visual Website Optimizer explains what they did through pop-ups, and declared that they increased signups by 50%.


(Screenshot on 02/03/2014 from

If the conversion goal is signups, then the results are indubitable:  pop-ups improve conversions. One oft-quoted statistic is that pop-ups are 13 times more effective than other methods for subscriptions and opt-ins:


Disclaimer: Though it’s cited in numerous places and attributed to Statistical Research, Inc., I was unable to verify the source of this statistic.


Disadvantages of Live Chat

The first problem with live chat is it's not always available. If you’re not in the right time zone, are late-night surfing or what-have-you, that handy live chat feature just might not be working. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the “live chat not available” message. So, while live chat is cool, it’s not like a 24-7 thing. Don’t count on it to serve as a catch-all conversion net.

It can be annoying. Compared with pop-ups, live chat seems like a no-annoy service. With its diminutive size and polite offer, it doesn’t have the in-your-face confrontation of a pop-up. Keep in mind, however, that some live chat prompts are really annoying. Here’s how one e-commerce professional described the experience of annoying live chat prompts:


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Other people just like to mess with live chat people, treating them like dirt or otherwise being rude. In this kind of interaction, nobody wins. If you like to mess with live chat people, some good-natured banter is funny.


(Screenshot from 02/03/2014 on


Advantages of Live Chat

Higher conversion rates.

Live chat does improve conversions, no questions asked. As we cited above, Econsultancy indicated a 31% improvement in conversion rates following an online chat conversation. A Forrester study of Wells Fargo pointed to online chat implementation as the secret sauce to improved sales of "lending products."

(Screenshot from 02/03/2014 on

Some online chat is staffed by sales experts masquerading as customer service providers. That’s legit, especially when it comes to tipping an on-the-fence customer into the conversion funnel.

Immediate answers to questions.

Live chat satisfies the desire for instant answers, with the added benefit of convenience. Most online shoppers are comfortable with instant-message technology. So, live chat is a preferred communication method for many customers. Furthermore, live chat eliminates the potential awkwardness and wait times that come with phone support. Econsultancy’s statistical breakdown demonstrates some of these advantages:

(Image from

Improved customer experience. 

Live chat is perfect from a customer service approach. First, we can’t forget about customer experience from the seller side. Customer support is a difficult and expensive component of operating costs. Support requires that you hire real people with real salaries, and often has a harsh turnover rate.

From the customer perspective, it’s ideal because they can get their question answered in a snap. BoldChat’s study reported that 94% of live chat participants were satisfied with the interaction. Satisfied customers or visitors is exactly what every business wants.


The Verdict:  Pop-ups Are Better

Based on the statistics, the experience, the studies, and the research, pop-ups have the greatest advantages for many B2B and B2C businesses.

The truth is, both pop-ups and live chat are proven to improve conversion rates. What makes the difference is the following:

  • What the conversion action is
  • How well the pop-up or live chat is deployed.

It’s not enough to merely tally up conversion rate improvements. Instead, it’s important to determine the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods.

What’s even more important is that you figure out what your conversion goal is, and then choose the method that works best for that particular conversion action. It may not be pop-ups, but most of the time it will be.

Besides, who says you can’t use both?

The second factor is, perhaps, the most important. Although this article makes no attempt to explain pop-up or live chat best practices, it’s imperative that you do it right. A crappy pop-up is worse than no pop-up. A shoddy live chat service is worse than no live chat. Whichever method you use, make every effort to deploy it with magnificent perfection.


The more knowledgeable you become about a topic, the more you feel the need to clarify, explain and discuss final matters. So, here are all of the wonderful disclaimers about pop-ups and live chat. This article isn’t the place to spill all the secrets about effective pop-ups, but there are a few things you should know.

Disclaimers about both.

  • Don't just do. Just test. Before you scurry off and subscribe to a chat service or a pop-up provider, take a few days to test. A simple A/B test will give you the exact answers you need to the question, “Should I use pop-ups or live chat?” We can suggest this:  If your goal is conversions, you should probably be using one of them.
  • It depends. I hate the answer “it depends,” but often this is the answer with the most integrity. To effectively solve the pop-up vs. live chat debate, you need to determine what your conversion goals are. Many pop-ups are simply eliciting an email signup. That’s what Quick Sprout is trying to do, and that’s why their conversion rates profit from the pop-up model:



By contrast, many live chats are driving product purchase conversions rather than eliciting email list signups. To determine whether you should use live chat or pop-ups, you need to find out what your conversion goal is, and what model best achieves that conversion goal. And, to repeat disclaimer No. 1, test to find out for sure.

Disclaimers about pop-ups

  • Make yours impossible to ignore. The most effective pop-ups are those that offer something really good. We’re not talking about the “1 MILLIONTH VISITOR FREE IPAD” offers, either. We’re talking about reputable, rock-solid, real-value offers that speak to your target audience.  Patel comments:



(Screenshot from 02/03/2014 on

  • Go for email signups and opt-ins. The greatest advantage of pop-ups is email address harvesting. In ConversionXL’s ad nauseam list of conversion rate improvements, he cites pop-ups as one of the best ways to grow an email list.
  • Don't annoy. Pop-ups, as we said, have the built-in disadvantage of causing apoplectic rage. Avoid this problem with a bit of coding magic that keeps the pop-up at bay for a repeat visitor. There’s no reason to enrage your potential customers.

Disclaimers about chat.

  • Chat works best when you incentivize customers to use it. To cite some numbers from, 80% of shoppers admitted that free shipping would encourage them to live chat, and 74% would take a discount in return for a free chat interaction.


(Image from

  • Chat shouldn't be annoying. There are plenty of things that could derail the chat experience — aggressive pop-ups lengthy wait-times, typos or bad grammar, lack of knowledge on the part of the chat agent, and aggressive upsells are all major turnoffs. Your goal is to sell. If you bug the fire out of people, you’ve lost the sale.

Yes, it costs money to buy the right WP plugin for a pop-up creator. Yes, it costs money to hire a live chat service. But, hey, it’s all about improving conversion rates. And these two methods, regardless of which one you choose, will do just that.


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.