Email list lead capture popup

Is “Popup” a Dirty Word?

In the days before the dotcom boom, popups on websites were a nuisance. They were separate windows then, popping up in the middle of web surfing sessions and refusing to retreat until you clicked the “x” in the corner. Sometimes they even tiled over and over, spamming your screen with annoying, brightly-colored advertisements.

Email list lead capture popup

But popups are different now. Have you noticed? Among other changes, they no longer manifest as separate windows, instead gently appearing within the tab you’re currently browsing.

Ahh, much better.

What do people use popups for?

Email list lead capture popup

Arguably the most popular use for popups is as a strategy to solicit subscriptions to an email list. You’ve seen it before — after a few minutes of browsing, a popup appears, asking you to subscribe.

So why would something as disruptive as a popup convert website visitors into subscribers? The most likely answer is that people will do whatever it takes to get rid of a popup — and that includes offering their email address as a sacrifice.

On the other hand, some people subscribe simply because they’re interested in the website’s content and want to know when more is posted.

Even though some visitors give their email address freely (or out of popup-induced desperation), it takes a little more effort to get most people to opt in. There are a number of strategies for doing so, and one of them is the classic guilt trip. That’s right, one way to solicit opt ins is to guilt trip website visitors into subscribing by using persuasive copy.

The “ok” button on the popup might say something like, “Yes, I want to earn $$ while I sleep!” and the “cancel” button might say, “No, I’m not interested in increasing my income.”

Definitely not subtle, but effective.

Another popular opt in technique is to offer visitors a free gift in exchange for their email address — this type of freebie is called a “lead magnet”.

Often the lead magnet is a downloadable PDF that gives you desirable information related to the content of the site you’re surfing. Implemented on a retailer website, the freebie could be a discount code to use on your first purchase. For a coaching business, it could be a free 30 minute consultation. No matter what your niche, a lead magnet is a very effective tool for building an email list. After all, who doesn’t love free stuff? More about lead magnets here.

How are popups different now than before?

Email list lead capture popup

As we mentioned, popups are no longer separate browser windows that pop up over your current session and force you to click “x” to close. Instead they’re designed and controlled with a website plugin, appear fairly subtly within your current browser tab, and can usually be closed just by clicking outside the popup.

Modern popups are easy to customize. You can decide when the popup should appear:

  • X seconds/minutes after a user lands on your website
  • After the user visits a certain number of pages or posts
  • Once a user reaches the bottom of an article
  • On “exit intent” — when a user’s mouse behavior implies that they’re about to leave the site

And you can use popup behavior rules to annoy your website visitors as little as possible:

  • If closed, the popup won’t appear again for X hours/days
  • If the user subscribes, the popup will never appear again

So what kinds of results are people getting by using popups?

Email list lead capture popup

There are a number of popup case studies floating around online, and we’ve rounded up the results from a few interesting ones.

When Nikki, In Stitches tested an always-present sidebar opt-in alongside a popup that appears two seconds after a user lands on the site. After eight months of testing, her results showed that only 0.4% of visitors subscribed via the sidebar, while 5.5% opted in using the popup. Full details on the Aweber blog.

Dan Zarella tried out an opt-in popup and used his bounce rate as a measure of visitor dissatisfaction — does a popup annoy a visitor enough to make them leave the site? Zarella found that his bounce rate didn’t vary significantly whether the popup was on or off, but his subscription rate was 3.08% while utilizing a popup and only 1.52% without the popup.

Interestingly enough, e-marketing pro Matthew Woodward also tried a popup and saw an increase in subscriptions — from 0.85% to 1.23% — but at a cost of a higher bounce rate, less pages viewed in a session, and less time spent on the site. This is why it’s so important to A/B test different strategies to see what your audience responds to best!

WPBeginner decided to implement an exit intent popup that only appeared when a visitor started to leave the site after having read a blog post — blog posts specifically, not just any page on the website. Using this strategy, WPBeginner saw a 600% increase in signups, going from 70-80 opt ins per day to 445-470. Check out the details of their experience here.

Popup best practices

Email list lead capture popup

Even though most of us agree that popups are annoying, as you can see above they do work.

While encountering a popup may never be a completely pleasant experience, Evergage walks us through some ways we can make them a little more bearable for our visitors.

Always offer an easy exit strategy. Even if it’s possible to click outside the popup to dismiss it, still include an X button. No one likes to feel trapped!

Limit data entry fields on your opt-in form. The more information someone has to type in, the less likely they are to complete the form, so include as few fields as possible.

Customize the call to action. Popup plugins give you the opportunity to customize the copy on the submit button, so take advantage of it! Instead of “Submit”, Evergage suggests things like “Sign Me Up” or “Download Now” instead.

While the above suggestions are practical and a good place to start, don’t take our word for it. All audiences are different so it’s crucial to do some A/B testing to see what works for yours.

For example, many tout social proof as a sales best practice — it’s a persuasion technique that suggests that since others did something, you should too. However, in a split test between three different versions of copy on an opt-in form, DIYThemes found that the copy featuring social proof failed miserably.

So if you’re looking to build your email list, don’t be afraid to experiment with popups. They’re customizable, proven effective, and (thankfully) nothing like the annoying popup windows of old.

Wanna know when we post more content like this? Subscribe below!

Chanelle Smith

Chanelle Smith is a writer, content marketer, and believer in the power of words. Get in touch here.

  • Tim Morgan

    I’ve been a web developer since popups were introduced. They’re a necessary evil. Designers need to think about user experience and how it integrates into the site and use them less because “this looks cool.”

    • Chanelle Smith

      Totally, UX has got to be a priority.

  • TwigaBob

    Any popup, especially a subscription one, makes my decision to leave that website immediate and automatic. I see them as today’s telemarketers – best case I ignore them, worst case I note the company and put them on my “never” list.

  • Lindsay

    I thought Google was going to start “punishing” sites with popups on mobile in 2017. Have others started to turn off their popup for mobile users?

  • Jason Thayne

    They’re still spammy. For me, visitor’s experience takes priority over email subscribers, even if the latter is better for me. I usually just close the tab when I get a popup unless I’m already interested, sort of a “yeah I’m not even gonna bother”. Like you said they’re annoying. I’d never think “well I can grow my site better, all I have to do is annoy everyone who visits it!”

  • Oldcargirl62

    I agree with TwigaBob! I hate pop ups that insist I sign up for email before I’ve even had a chance to see if the website has anything that interests me. What is worse, and MAILCHIMP did this today, is when I follow a link from an email that I’m already subscribed to, and it still pops up for me to sign up for the newsletter. Good Grief. I am sick of starting to read something and HUGE pop up invades my screen. I generally exit and never go back.

    • Chanelle Smith

      Definitely a case of popups gone wrong. Gotta stop bothering folks who have already subscribed!

    • Lisa

      You said exactly what I was going to say. Hate them, and will not put them on my site, ever.

  • John Davier

    @disqus_iI9dagL5db:disqus yes, that is correct. We wrote an article on this topic a couple of months ago:

    Basically, Google will punish intrusive popups only for mobile devices. Primarily, it’s not to target subscription popups but weird intrusive ads.

    Using MailMunch, you can makes your popups smarter and non-intrusive.

  • Mark Brian

    The only time popup isn’t a dirty word is when it is preceded with the words “exit intent” LOL.

    I hate them but I use them (exit intent only) because they work.

    • Chanelle Smith

      Ha! I agree with both points.

  • Pamela Cisneros

    What about the Google ‘penalty’ for pop-ups effective at the beginning of this year?

  • Scott Gorain

    Hey Chanelle,

    You have really digged all the deep information out.Pop-ups having hidden or inactive exit buttons always annoys visitors. It is a best practice to show them clearly. Really an informative source of post.

    Keep it up!

    • Chanelle Smith

      Thanks Scott! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • amiegost

    thank’s your information is a graet

  • Debbie Martinez

    How do you get Mailmunch popup to stop after a subscriber subscribers?

  • amiegost

    I generally exit and never go back.

  • Howard Milstein

    POP UPS BE GONE!!!! I despise any site that blasts and covers me with those pop up opt in forms! Get your subscribers on CONTENT and MERIT!!!! To writers of blog sites take heed; you’re losing subscribers!!

  • Howard Milstein

    ANY SITE… where I find a pop up I Will ABANDON IMMEDIATELY! If the material is such that I find it adamant to read, I will torture myself getting rid of the dispicable annoyance, read what I must as fast as possible and GOO BYE!!!!!

Site Footer