Opt-in Pop ups, the good, the bad and the ugly (and 1 tip to make them 300% more effective)

"Everyone hates pop ups, don't be that guy". That's one of the first things my boss told me at my first job in a big digital agency. And that stuck with me, until last year.

I was fundamentally against using pop ups because they make your brand look cheap and who clicks on them anyway right?

Then as I grew the habit of testing everything and as I kept seeing big bloggers use them to capture their reader's emails. What you will read in this post is the conclusions we drew out of 1 year experimenting with opt in pop ups.

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What you will learn:​

  • The pros and cons of using pop ups to grow your mailing list.
  • The strategical thinking behind pop up implementation.
  • How to easily add optin pop ups on your site.
  • The basic strategies you can use and the results they yielded for us.
  • Advanced tactics and how to turbocharge optins with pop ups.

Well optimized and targeted optin pop ups triggering at the right time can 10x your email acquisition.

Pros & Cons of Optin Pop ups

I'm going to cut the suspense right here, Optin pop ups have been a massive success for our authority sites and allowed us to capture hundreds of emails daily. We've been running them for the past 6 months and the subscriptions we got come exclusively from the organic traffic we get.

Don't believe me? Check out a random snapshot of our Getresponse account:

90% of these subscription come from lightbox pop ups. If you look at the sites we work on, we don't bother putting optin forms in the sidebar anymore. That's simply because they've been so infective compared to pop ups and end of post forms.

Now I understand not all businesses can use this technology because of their premium branding and/or delicate clientele.

Keep in mind that using pop ups, doesn't mean you have to u​se them on all your pages. I'll cover more on that in the advanced strategies section.

​Here is a fairly exhaustive list of the pros and cons of running pop ups on your site:

Cons

  • They can "cheapen" your brand by looking too pushy (can be fixed with loading pop up after x page views).
  • They can annoy repeat visitors (can be fixed with cookie based triggers).
  • They interrupt people consuming your content (can be fixed with exit intent technology).

Pros

  • They force every visitor to make a yes or no decision to subscribe to your list (they can't ignore it)
  • They get you up to 10x more email subscription rate.
  • They're easily a/b tested for increased conversions.
  • They work on autopilot, it's a set and forget process.

The underlying strategy

Now that we've reviewed the pros and cons of using opt in pop ups on your site, let's see why one would use these on their website. Let's also see how implementing these can make a difference to your business

Here's the thought process:

  1. ​Write great stuff that gets shared around, linked to etc.
  2. Have you pop up pop with the desired timing
  3. Visitors impressed enough with what you've shown up until the pop up popped and interested in what you're talking about will opt in.
  4. You can run visitors who opted in through an autoresponder series and/or newsletter to show them more of your content and transform them into regular readers.
  5. You can use that pool of warm leads to share solutions to problems they care about and earn money/commissions for it while thrilling your subscribers.

This is a very simple version of what the general idea is but you can already draw some conclusions from it:

  • ​If you pop up your pop up too early, you won't have time to "impress" people with your content and subscribers will tend to be less engaged with what you send them.
  • People subscribe for your content. If you bombard them with commercial offers right away, you're going to turn them off. This essentially makes the conversion worthless.
  • When people opt in on a specific piece of content, it's important to track which one to know where their interests are and send them more relevant emails.

Technical implementation

Understanding the benefits of pop ups is easy but implementation is where most people get stuck. If like me you use WordPress, there are different options available.

Sadly, there's no decent free alternative available but I will try to at least save you money by sharing my  experience with most of the options available on the market.

When I look for a pop up solution, I'm looking for the following:

  • ​Ability to easily design pop ups. I don't want to spend hours on it
  • Ability to set cookie rules so that the pop up doesn't pop on every page load.
  • Ability to a/b test designs to improve conversion rate
  • Ability to segment my pop ups and chose where and when they should pop
  • Exit intent technology to avoid "disrupting" readers
  • Basic analytics to see what works and what doesn't over time
  • One off payment, I'm not a fan of adding a ton of recurring subscriptions to my monthly costs.

When you line up all these requirements, the list solutions available is drastically reduced.

I've personally chosen to go for Thrive Leads and been loving it ever since.​

Here is a quick video overview of how it works exactly:​

Pro tip:

A/B Test your visusals, they're the second most important thing after the headline.​

Basic strategies and results

Now that you've got the tool, it's time to learn how to implement it properly to get the most out of it.

​Simple Opt in

The way most people do it is the way the pop up is currently implemented on Authority Hacker (at the time when I write this post). They offer a generic opt in to the newsletter without compensation.

This strategy is the best if you want to get loyal subscribers only and rather go for a smaller more engaged list. Currently, this strategy gets around 0.6-1% opt in rate on Authority Hacker which is rather low but already better than sidebar opt ins.

The main reason we're running that tactic at the moment is that the site is rather young and low traffic at the moment.

​Bribed opt in

The next logical step is to offer something for opting in usually called an opt in bribe. This bribe usually takes the form of a free report, video or course people get for giving their emails.

This is a tactic we've used extensively on Health Ambition for months. While they're not in the same industry, you can see a nice uplift (2.5% opt in rate on average) compared to the Authority Hacker pop up that did not offer a bribe.

That's almost double conversion rate! Not bad but we can do better.

Pro Tip:

Keeps your copy short and sweet. People make the decision to opt in or not in a split second based on what they've already seen of you, no need to oversell. Just focus on the benefits.

Advanced strategies and results

​Category targeting

Now while 1% opt in rate is already way more than most blogs without pop up get, I really wanted to find a way to convert a lot more visitors to email. That's when I started playing with category and tag targeted pop ups inside Optin Monster.

Health Ambition has some very popular juicing posts getting thousands of hits per day, I thought that'd be a great place to start. We build a free juicing recipe ebook and offered it inside a pop up on the juicing category only. Here's what the pop up looks like:​

It's essentially the same thing as the bribed opt in tactic described above except that the offer is closer to the content because it's a category level offer. And here are the results.​

The real power of this tactic is that you build a more targeted list around a single problem/passion. This list allowed us to create a paid ebook that now earns $2,500/month for us just from this pop up.

That's why you want a pop up system that allows you to target categories :).​

Taking it to the Nth level​

Seeing how well category targeted pop up did compared to site wide pop ups, I took one of the post that was responsible for a lot of our income and crafted a pop up specific to the content of that post to see if I could get an even larger uplift in conversion.

And it did as you can see from the screenshot bellow (there were 2 pop up tested against each other).​

However, my revenue actually ended up being lower while running the pop up. Why? Because it was distracting people from the conversion action that actually makes me money.

When I mentioned this experience to affiliate marketer friends of mine, they've been experiencing the same thing when using pop ups on important conversion pages.

​This was an important lesson: Exclude pop ups from your important conversion pages, it's distracting visitors from your money making goal.

However, on your informational posts they can totally act as content upgrades pre sale.​

Testing pop up timing

On top of the layout and offer you make with the pop up, when it pops up is also extremely important. I've been running tests changing the pop up time by 5 seconds with the same opt in offer (the bribed opt in example above). And here are the results I've collected:

As you can see, see, on page load pop ups performed the best for us. I guess that is to be expected. While many people think this is agressive, most people will actually opt in if you make an offer BEFORE they start reading.

It's interesting to note as well that exit intent was the worse performing by far. So forget the hype :).​

Pro Tip:

If you want to build aggressively, pop up after 10 seconds, if you want to avoid feeling "aggressive" to your readers, pop up on exit intent.​

To conclude​

I hope sharing the results we've had with opt in pop ups gave you ideas on how you can use pop ups for your business and collect a lot more leads.

​As a rule of thumb we like using them on pages that are giving something away for free (like this post). It really puts the reader on the spot where he has to make a decision whether he wants to join our list or not. It's impossible for them to ignore it.

On the other hand, If we were to try to sell something, I'd rather deactivate it and focus on the main conversion.

If you're going to give a try to Opt in pop ups on your site to collect more leads and you use WordPress like us, we strongly recommend you check out Thrive Leads, it's by far the best tool for the job and the price is very affordable.

If you have any question about opt in pop ups, feel free to ask them in the comment section, and if you haven't already, feel free to join our mailing list bellow for more case studies and authority site awesomeness.

Gael Breton
 

Hey I'm Gael, one of the guys behind Authority Hacker. I make a living working from my laptop in various places in the world and I will use this website to teach you how you could do the same.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 26 comments
Gene Eugenio - April 22, 2014

I blew up my conversions switching back to all text with a nice short bulletpoint list of what my list offers. Also, lightbox presentation helps out a lot. You really have to play around with the layout and text to see which converts the best.

Reply
    Gael Breton - April 23, 2014

    Hey Gene, thanks for the comment.

    Agreed, it depends on many things including your niche and traffic sources. The issue is most people just setup a generic pop up, don’t do well with it then complain it sucks and it’s spammy. Like everything, you’ve got to work on refining it :).

    Gael

    Reply
Aaron @ Viewbix - April 23, 2014

Great analysis Gael.

We’re also using OptinMonster on the Viewbix blog and getting conversion rates of about 4%.

I really like your suggestion to use different headlines for different types of content. I’ll definitely have to try that soon.

Have you test large exit intent popups like BounceExchange or ConversionMonk? I would think exit intent popups would have a higher conversion because people have had time to fully appreciate your great content.

Reply
    Gael Breton - April 23, 2014

    Hey Aaron,

    Not bad on the 4%! I haven’t tried bounce exchange or conversion monk yet but I know it’s the next step. I see Neil Patel and other big guys use them aggressively despite the dissuasive pricing, I’m guessing it must be working for them.

    Gael

    Reply
      TaeWoo Kim - April 23, 2014

      Why use additional exit intent services when optinmonster has exit intent built in?

      Curious as to the logic..

      Reply
        Gael Breton - April 23, 2014

        Hey Kim,

        I guess it’s not really for the exit intent, more for the design opportunities, 2 step processes etc that optin monster doesn’t (yet) offer and could probably increase conversion rates.

        Reply
Neil Martinsen-Burrell - April 24, 2014

For sites that don’t use WordPress, do you have a similar recommendation? We’d love to use lightboxed popups across all of our sites, but not everything we do runs on WordPress. Any experience with other software?

Reply
Claudiu - April 26, 2014

Neil, padiact.com is designed to work with any platform and it has targeting at its core. Everything highlighted in the article and more can be achieved with it.

Reply
Rachel Stuppy - April 29, 2014

Great article. Thanks for all of the data-supported tips!

Reply
    Gael Breton - April 30, 2014

    Glad you liked it Rachel! Just checked your site and wanted to say we love the Spartan movement here in Budapest 🙂

    Reply
Brian Dean - May 19, 2014

Wow, you CRUSHED it with this post Gael.

It’s hard to find any helpful information on popups. It seems that everyone’s writing about why you should/shouldn’t use them as opposed to best practices.

As someone that’s recently tried popups (and seen amazing results), I’m glad to see that there’s still more I can do to step my game up.

Reply
    Gael Breton - May 20, 2014

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for that comment! I’m actually pushing the study even more at the moment by putting people collected via pop ups in a different list and comparing the engagement to those who signed up via traditional form.
    I want to see if people coming from pop ups are as engaged and buy as much as people coming from other channels. I’ll try to keep you updated on the results!

    PS: Thanks for dropping by :).

    Reply
      Ron Killian - April 4, 2015

      Thanks for the stats Gael, very informative!

      Actually, that has been one of my big thoughts, do the lists built with pop-up opt-ins produce the same quality leads as other methods. As we all know, the size of a list doesn’t mean much.

      Seems too many marketers only look at the opt-in rate and subscriber number.

      Really liked how you mentioned that the opt-in can lower conversions on money pages because of the distraction. Something else people don’t think about to often.

      Reply
Toyin - July 21, 2014

Fantastic Post Gael. I have learnt a lot and will surely be putting them to use. Thanks again!

Toyin

Reply
Sid - August 19, 2014

Just wanted to say thanks for real help – so rare these days. After a bit of a disaster with PopUpDomination, your video and blog post have showed me what looks like my best option.
thanks, I will be visiting you often. I do like your ‘no BS ‘ approach.

Sid

Reply
    Gael Breton - August 19, 2014

    Hey Sid,

    Thanks for the comment, I see you also registered for our free course. Feel free to let me know what you think about it and feel free to ping me via email if you want to talk about pop ups :).

    Gael

    Reply
Robert - October 24, 2014

Great info Gael. Just a heads up, there are several broken images on this post for me, so I couldn’t see a bunch of what you were trying to show.

Reply
Paul - December 4, 2014

Hi Gael, do you still recommend Optinmonster as the best solution for optin popups?

What about using thrive content builder with the lighbox for optins, is that inferior to optinmonster? I already have thrive

Reply
    Gael Breton - December 4, 2014

    Hey Paul,

    If you need something right now, yes, it’s still the best value for money. But since the 2.0 I haven’t been very happy with it and I know of new solutions coming up very soon (I’ll update this post then)

    Gael

    Reply
Joey - October 14, 2015

Gael, thank you for this post! I came from your YouTube tutorial. I’ve just implemented optinmonster on my site (so far using on-click pop-up only), and will definitely refer to your analysis when implementing auto pop-up!! I’ll come back to check more of your articles. Thanks!

Reply
    Gael Breton - October 14, 2015

    Hey Joey,

    Thanks for the kind words! Although if you check the post out, I now recommend Thrive Leads which is much better and cheaper. So if you can, get your money back from opt in monster and get Thrive Leads :).

    Gael

    Reply
jeff - November 12, 2015

Gael,

Love this tutorial. Its actually better than some of the tutorials found on Thrive themes. I currently run sidebar and footer opt-ins with a sun 1% conversion rate. I am going with a lightbox test on one category with the yes/no and bribe versions to see what kind of conversions I get.

I will give it about 1 week. My website is currently getting between 500-700 visitors per day and hopefully this lands more leads. I will come back to share the results.

Excellent post – thanks for sharing.

Reply
    Gael Breton - November 23, 2015

    Thanks a ton Jeff, glad you”ve enjoyed stuff, and yep, lightbox will largely outperform sidebar :).

    Reply
      Jeff - December 9, 2015

      Hey there,

      I thought I would follow-up on my results. While they aren’t Earth shattering by any means, my conversion is up to 2.4% from 1% from my last post.

      I’ll start split testing now.

      Thanks for the tip, its landed me a fair amount of leads

      =)

      Reply

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