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.

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:

Email Marketing Autoresponder Email Marketing Software GetResponse

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:


  • 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.


  • 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).

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.​

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.

Lightbox example

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.

Lightbox example

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:​

Lightbox example

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.​

Lightbox example

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).​

post pop up

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.