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The Case For and Against Popup Opt-In Forms

Popup opt-in forms are not new by any means to web surfers and blog readers. There have been several plugins built for WordPress, and designs by email marketing services available to manually install a popup form to greet visitors to your website asking them to subscribe to a newsletter or mailing list.

Popups Sweeping the Blogging World

The latest incarnation of popup opt-in forms seem to have hit websites by storm. This plugin creates visually appealing lightbox forms that increase your opt-in rate substantially.

Popup Opt-In Forms

And when I say hit websites by storm – I mean that I come across a blog using them at least once a day, and sometimes five times a day or more while perusing new articles from blogs I enjoy visiting.

The Survey

There are many sides to the argument – those who love it, those who despise it, and those who are in between. I have asked several website owners who use either the latest plugin, or another form of popup opt-in form, why they use them, and also the opinions of those who feel strongly against them. Here are the results of this survey.

Popup opt-in forms are not new by any means to web surfers and blog readers. There have been several plugins built for WordPress, and designs by email marketing services available to manually install a popup form to greet visitors to your website asking them to subscribe to a newsletter or mailing list.

Popups Sweeping the Blogging World

The latest incarnation of popup opt-in forms seem to have hit websites by storm. Popup Domination creates visually appealing lightbox forms that increase your opt-in rate substantially.

Popup Opt-In Forms

And when I say hit websites by storm – I mean that I come across a blog using them at least once a day, and sometimes five times a day or more while perusing new articles from blogs I enjoy visiting.

The Survey

There are many sides to the argument – those who love it, those who despise it, and those who are in between. I have asked several website owners who use either the latest plugin, or another form of popup opt-in form, why they use them, and also the opinions of those who feel strongly against them. Here are the results of this survey.

The Case for Popups

First, let’s start with those who use popup opt-in forms on their websites. I received the following answers from the following bloggers and website owners about why they use popup opt-in forms and their results.

1. Why did you choose to add a popup opt-in form to your website?

Because it dramatically increased our optins. ~ Michael

First of all, I do a lot of testing on my blog, and I choose to have a popup to increase my newsletter subscribers because I was not getting any great results by displaying the newsletter subscription form on sidebar widget, and to be honest, I didn’t take this step till I saw some blogs using a good looking popups that encouraged me personally to subscribe to their newsletters! ~ Hesham

To increase the percentage of visitors who opt-in to my newsletter. ~ Mark

I decided to test popups on two of my blogs to see if I could bring more attention to my free resources and therefore increase the signup rate for those mailing lists. ~ Paul

Testing the same mailing subscribe that I saw was being used by Famous Bloggers – they claimed to have great increase in subscriber rates from it. ~ Justin

2. What plugin do you use?

We use Aweber. ~ Michael

I am using the Popup Domination plugin for WordPress. ~ Hesham

Popup Domination. ~ Mark

I’ve been testing two different plugins, Popup Domination and Action Popup. ~ Paul

Popup Domination. ~ Justin

3. How have your opt-in rates changed since installing it?

Yes, they went from about 50 a day to more than 200 on average. ~ Michael

My opt-in rates changed by more than 400% and I got about 200 subscribers during the first 10 days. ~ Hesham

Yes, they are up about 40% (only had it live for about 1 week now). ~ Mark

There has been a positive change. The popups perform about 3x better than the normal sidebar signup form, but not as good as the signup forms on the actual free resource pages themselves.

My two blogs are getting different results though, which only proves that different niches are suited differently to these types of methods. ~ Paul

Only been using it for 1 week but already saw 17 new subscribers since I installed the mailing list popup. Previously I averaged only about 1 subscriber every 3 or 4 days. So this is a vast improvement. ~ Justin

4. Are they “quality” opt-ins?

Absolutely, our unsubscribe rate is very low. We get 30 to 40% open rates on a DAILY email to 32,000 subscribers. 23,500 of our subscribers came from the popup! ~ Michael

I can not give a perfect answer regarding to the quality yet as I am still in an early stage, but let’s say that I was able to make some sales after sending my first newsletter. I also got about 5 people to accept my invitation to register to my site and publish their guest posts after a few hours from sending my second newsletter, which I think is a good thing. ~ Hesham

Haven’t not had a chance to send to many email campaigns yet. Currently I am around 60% open rate. ~ Mark

Probably too soon to tell for sure, but I haven’t seen anything that concerns me about those stats yet. ~ Paul

Not enough time to tell, but I can tell you that many of the people who subscribed were people I knew in BlogEngage and Twitter and who have been following my blog for a long time. For some reason they never joined my mailing list until I put the popup on it, even though I had a clear button on my site that said “join mailing list.” ~ Justin

5. Have you received any complaints? How do you respond?

Very few complaints. We only have the form show a single time (the first visit) and we make a cool offer (free Twitter marketing video tutorial). ~ Michael

Not even one straight complain yet! probably because I set the popup to pop every 7 days. ~ Hesham

No complaints as of yet, however I am sure it is obtrusive. ~ Mark

I’ve not received a single complaint about the popups. I’m being careful not to annoy my visitors with them. For example, a visitor who closes the popup one day won’t see it again for a few weeks. ~ Paul

One regular reader told me I joined the dark side, how could I do it. I told him that the cookie sets so it shouldn’t trigger but 1x every 7 days, and that I am testing and reviewing the popup for a review on it (which I am). Bottom line is that people will use methods to increase opt-in rates to their mailing lists because mailing lists are where the money is for affiliate sales (or so I have been told). I have yet to experiment and see any of this for myself, I just provide a monthly newsletter and want to offer out a new method of providing information for my readers. ~ Justin

6. Do you feel popups hurt your content?

Absolutely not. ~ Michael

My simple answer to this is “Not at all!” ~ Hesham

I don’t think its hurting my content, because I only have the pop up showing every 7 days. So it is not hitting them in the face every single time they come to my site. ~ Mark

No all of those metrics have stayed strong. Some of my best traffic days are when emails go out to my list so logically you would expect those spikes to increase as the lists get bigger too. ~ Paul

It has only been one week, but in comparing the week previous to the week after the popup my growth on Google Analytics is 11%, and my total is up 48% for the month. The popup hasn’t cut traffic at all from what I can tell.

Most of my traffic is from Google organic search, which are 1st time visitors anyway. I have over 65% search traffic and it used to be over 75% until I installed a new traffic exchange banner. ~ Justin

7. Any other thoughts, opinions, defense for the popup?

The trick is to have an awesome offer and only show it one time. ~ Michael

I really don’t want to defend the popup form, but it’s working great for me so far, and I think it’s all about the way you use it and introduce it on your blog. For example, I created a special unique design for the popup that matches my blog design 100%. I have sold this plugin 17 times now to my blog visitors, what else can I say?! ~ Hesham

I am not 100% sold on the popup method, however I felt I should try it to see what kind of results I get. There is def a lot of hype recently about this method, so I wanted to give it a shot. ~ Mark

I think it is definitely something worth testing. Start by analyzing your niche to see if others are doing it. Look past your own like/dislike of popups and see how some sites execute them very well, with nice designs and strong offers.

If your niche seems like a good fit then try one or two plugins, test different offers in the popup and always make sure you measure the results so you can be sure whether they are effective or not.

If you look at popups as a way of drawing attention to something of value that you are giving away, and you consider your list a way of building relationships and delivery quality content to your subscribers, then the idea of popups seems far less evil than some people make them out to be. ~ Paul

Sometimes banners, ads and links to offer out your mailing list just aren’t noticed and especially for first time people to the site, it is a way of grabbing attention. As long as it is restricted to not happen more often than 1x per week, it should be considered a viable option for increasing your mailing list opt-in. ~ Justin

8. What suggestions would you have for those who are installing this plugin?

Never overuse the popup form by showing it everyday or every time your visitors land on your site – every 7 days is not bad at all. Use the options to change the given message every one or two weeks, and finally, respect feedback from your readers. ~ Hesham

Don’t have it show every time someone comes to your site. Try to set it so it shows up once in a while, this way you are not annoying them..too much. ~ Mark

Test it on a test blog first. Try a variety of different screen resolutions and browsers to make sure the experience is still good. Use the browser’s “private mode” or “incognito mode” to make it easier to perform multiple tests without having to clear cookies all the time.

I like to set my popup delay to around 30 seconds, so that people have time to get deeper into my content before they are shown the popup – why show it immediately to someone who hasn’t yet been convinced that you’ve got interesting stuff to read?

And as always test, measure, tweak, repeat. ~ Paul

Test it thoroughly from multiple browsers, I had 8 blogs and the Popup Domination had problems with 3 of them, 1 required manual code inserted into the footer.php one where the close button wouldn’t work so that a user couldn’t ever cancel it. I had to remove the popup from this blog site and work with developer to find fix.

YouTube video’s also stand on top of the popup and you have to use different embed code, or the email subscribe form goes behind the video and nobody can actually subcribe to your list from the popup.

Make sure you test on Chrome, FireFox, IE8 and Opera. There are different behaviors on different browsers. ~ Justin

Middle of the Road

Before I get to the people that are flat out against it, Francisco Rosales of Social Mouths just wrote about 8 ways to grow your mailing list. His opinion is in the undecided area about popups.

First I gotta say that I’m very impressed with how the Popup Domination plugin has spread so fast. In just a matter of days I’ve seen it on many of the blogs I frequent which brings me to my first point…

Is it annoying or intrusive enough to drive your readers away? I find that while I always thought it was, as a reader, it didn’t bother me when I found it been used by guys like Dave Navarro, Lewis Howes or FamousBloggers. Perhaps this is due to the reputation and trust these individuals have built around their brands.

I also see how it could become a problem if every time I visit the same blog I will have to close the pop-up first. I also feel that it could be too upfront for a first-time visitor, I’d prefer you give me the chance to see who you are and read your content before deciding if I want to commit at level.

My second point is the design. While I think it is a very good looking alternative, specially if you compare it with what services like Aweber have to offer, I think when you look the same as everybody else you lose a couple of points on the first-impression department. It’s like that great looking WP theme that has been used a thousand times, everybody knows you spent $29.99 on your site…

I’ll be honest, I purchased the plugin to run a test and see how it affects my performance but… I’m not sure if I’ll run it. ~ Francisco

The Case Against Popups

Now, from the other end of the spectrum, here from those who are definitely not fans of the new wave of popups.

Seth was the person who really inspired this post after leaving a comment on a post I wrote on lowering bounce rate.

Domination Doesn’t Require Pop-Ups

Successful bloggers work very hard to create a positive image for web business. With so many con-artists, fly-by-night websites, and phishing scams it takes a lot of work to convince people that the web is really a safe place. When I first started seeing pop-up ads used in the “blogging tips” niche I started to worry. What happens if everyone starts using the same system to reach visitors? What long-term effects would there be on the blogosphere? My strongly negative reaction stems from this concern for the nature of blogs.

Blogging is a beautiful mix between static and dynamic content, great design, and insightful marketing practices. When a new or returning visitor clicks on a link and ends up on a new site the last thing the internet needs is for that site to have a pop-up ad. To address the efficiency of the pop-ups I would argue that very few sites currently take advantage of non-obnoxious design opportunities currently available. Look at the in-post textual ads of SmashingMagazine.com or the other successful subscription sign-ups of major websites, they don’t use force or coercion because of the negative effect on visitors. If you are looking for the easy sell, pop-ups might be it. If you are looking for a long-term, internet friendly solution its time to be more creative in how we interact with our readers. ~ Seth Waite of Mr. Seth Waite and formerly Blogussion

Seth feels quite strongly about this issue, and will write more about it on his new site Alpha Launch Coach.

I dislike popups of any kind. Pop-unders are slightly less annoying. I particularly dislike pop-ups you have to respond to before you can see what you came for and those that have no obvious method for closing them instead of doing whatever they want.

Sites that ask your opinion of their site with a pop-up before you’ve even seen it could not possibly be gathering useful data. At a minimum they should have an option to tell them it is your first visit and you can’t answer their questions.

I’m sure they work but how many do you run off – that can never be determined.

There are some blogs I visit regularly that have a popup every time I visit – you would think they would at least set a cookie to prevent that.
~ Gail Gardener of Growmap

Leave it to Gerald to throw a humorous analogy into the mix…

I find auto “join my mailing list” popups to be extremely invasive and they create an incredibly bad user experience. Expecially when I start reading somethign and then out of the blue BAM an auto pop asking me to join a mailing list interrupts my reading. How the hell do I know if I want to join your mailing list if you don’t give me a chance to read anything.

It’s the equivalent of walking into a bar and pulling up a bar stool next to the hot blonde on the end and sayin “would you like to have sex with me?” Whoa slow down speed racer.

95% of the time I hit the back arrow when I am rudely interrupted by the auto pop. The one exceptiion will be if I’m friends with the site owner and I’m willing to overlook sometimes if that’s the case. ~ Gerald Weber of Search Engine Marketing Blog and the Bad Ass SEO Blog Contest

Finally, Ileane Smith of Basic Blog Tips did one better than just responding via email. She sent me a video!

A simple, yet effective message!

A Good Alternative

Andrew Rondeau of We Build Your Blog and the Income Blogging Guide Course, said the following about popups.

I wouldn’t use pop-overs like that. I feel it can lose visitors in the long run… plus I am comfortable in building my own designs.

Outside of the IM niche, I think pop-overs are much more acceptable and pop-over domination would be an excellent investment for those who want a quick, professional looking pop-over.

He, instead, uses a plugin called Subscribers Magnet which allows you to add opt-in forms to your sidebar, at the end of posts, as a pop-under in the footer, in the comment form, and included in an email sent to first time commenters.

His opt-in rate increased by 205% after installing the plugin, and it even gives you a breakdown of which location on your site converts to a new subscriber. Definitely something to consider as an alternative to the popups. You can read more on his thoughts about this plugin in his review of Subscribers Magnet.

My Thoughts and Suggestions

I’m not a fan of the popups – as you may notice, I have a mailing list, but the form only is in the sidebar and on its own page. There are a lot of great reasons to use them in the quest of building your mailing list, and I’m sure that if your mailing list is done the right way, it may help build loyal readers. But I think that these similar looking templates might lead to the “ad blindness” effect – personally, I end up closing them before I read them because the reason I came to the site was to read the content.

As far as some suggestions, here are some things I would like popup users to think about.

  • Test on all browsers – As mentioned by some of the site owners above, be sure to test these popups on any and all browsing platforms, including and especially mobile phones. Having a mobile theme for your website is not enough – there is one well known blogger’s site using Popup Domination that I can’t read at all on my Droid because the popup takes over the whole mobile screen and you can’t scroll to close it out.
  • Tell people what they are getting – I don’t mean just the free item. Are they going to get a weekly newsletter? Periodic updates? Nothing but affiliate links? Ok, no one is going to admit to the latter, but you should let people know what they’re in for after that freebie product. I guarantee you that I will NEVER sign up on an opt-in form when it just says “give me your email address and name” and nothing more.
  • Reduce the frequency displayed – For people that don’t keep their cookies, they are probably going to see the popup every time they come to your site. But for those that do, they will probably appreciate it if the popup doesn’t appear every time they visit, especially if (lucky for you) they come by daily.
  • Check your website stats – While the bloggers surveyed have seen great results, this may not be the case for every website, especially those that do not have strong content or a large following to begin with. Keep an eye on your Google Analytics and bounce rate – compare your stats before adding the popup to your site vs. after, and make sure that the rate visitors are leaving is not increasing.
  • Check your mailing list stats – Services like Aweber allow you to see how many people are confirming their subscriptions, as well as how many of your emails are being opened. If recent subscribers are not confirming their subscriptions or opening their emails, although you are getting more opt-ins with your popup, they are not really interested in your content (and may be subscribing in hopes that the popup goes away).

Using Google Adwords or StumbleUpon Ads?

As mentioned by James of Better Start Blogging in the comments, Adwords does not allow popups on websites in their sponsored listings.

I have also received information from a StumbleUpon Community Manager that they do not allow popups on sites being advertised through their ad program either, and as far as sites added by community members, you will want to make sure the popup is user-friendly and easy to close, otherwise the page may get a thumbs down by other members.

Your Thoughts on Popups

Do you use one of these popup opt-in forms for your website? If you would like to answer any of the above Case for Popups questions in the comments, that would be welcome.

If you are not a fan of the latest in pop-up mailing list sign up forms, please share your thoughts as well. Particularly, I’d like to know if you subscribe, just close the popup, or leave based on whether you know the blogger or if they are offering a freebie. Plus let us know any suggestions you would give website owners who use them.

By Kristi Hines

Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, professional blogger, and ghostwriter who specializes in business and marketing topics.