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Opt-In Pop-Ups: Are They Any Good?

by George Mathew

I happened to see the following comment on a case study on how pop-ups impact conversion.

popup comment

These comments may indicate that everyone hates opt-in pop-ups. In fact, you may hate pop-ups.

But well-regarded marketers (Neil Patel is one) have indicated they get good results using them.

So we have to ask: Is there any substance to all the negativity surrounding pop-ups? Do they really do more harm than good?

Let’s find out.

The dissatisfaction with pop-ups may be due to them being shoved into reader’s faces every time they visit your site. Yet there are settings that can restrict pop-ups from being so annoying. For instance, popping up just once to a visitor using cookies or even after a set period of days.

It’s the ignorance and lack of effort in taking advantage of these options that cause all the complaints.

While it’s true that some readers find them annoying, the benefits gained by employing them far outweigh the losses. Indeed, after reading this post you may kick yourself for not using them earlier on your site.

neil popup - placeit

Comparison between opt-ins achieved with Sidebar and Pop-ups

Pop-ups drive 1375% more subscribers

Nikki McGonigal, a food craft blogger, started testing out with both sidebar and light-box forms for opt-ins. After 8 months, when she compared the results, she found that the light-box form drove over 7,000 additional subscribers.

The sidebar form had a subscription rate of .4% while the light-box form converted at 5.5%.

That is 1,375% more subscribers.

The light-box form used was one present by default on AWeber.

light-box pop-up

Of course you can use Aweber’s built-in light-box utility, but to be honest, it looks kind of dumb.

 Pop-ups brought Darren Rowse 400 new subscribers per day

Back in 2008, Darren Rowse’s photography blog was averaging 40 subscribers a day. He decided to test the AWeber light-box pop-up on his site. He feared that things as intrusive as a pop-up would alienate his visitors.

What happened was quite the opposite.

Pages viewed per visitor were up and bounce rates remained almost the same.

pop-up affect on bounce rates

The site was now amassing 400 new subscribers per day.

Other opt-in case studies

Opt-in pop-ups result in 1,000% increase in conversions

Ask-Leo.com drove just 10 to 15 subscribers despite getting 44,000 unique visitors every day.

Site owner Leo decided to set-up a hover box to show up at a delay of 75 seconds, 60 seconds, 45 seconds, etc.

After all the split tests, he found the hover box set at a delay of 60 seconds was capturing the most emails.

He was now getting 100 to 150 subscribers on a daily basis.

Recipe website gets 10x lift in Conversions

Mama’s Lebanese kitchen, a recipe blog, began implementing opt-in pop-ups back in September 2012. By the end of October, they had gone from 1 subscriber a day to 10 subscribers per day.

They used Hybrid Connect for this, and with a few more split-tests, the conversions went even higher.

10x growth with pop-ups

Jeremy Shoemaker gets more subscribers from existing traffic

Conversion Voodoo was able to carry out some tests over at the ShoeMoney blog. They discovered that the inline forms disappeared when the user tried to type in the email. Just by dimming the inline field and keeping the words “Enter your email” slightly visible improved the conversions by 36%.

simple changes more conversions

What are the different kinds of pop-ups and how do they affect conversions?

Simple opt-in pop-ups

The simple opt-in pops are ones without many bells and whistles. These pop-ups spell out the benefits of subscribing to the blog. Since, it doesn’t offer anything in exchange, only people who are really interested in what you’re sharing would sign up.

If you’d like a very loyal list of subscribers, you should go for simple opt-in pop-ups. You can see an example below.

simple optin

Opt-in pop-ups with offers

A free gift like an eBook increases the opt-in rates dramatically. Although it does come at the cost of getting freebie seekers, if you want to grow your email list quickly it’s a good option.

This simple pop-up, which doesn’t even directly ask for emails, is the third biggest lead generator on Usertesting.com.

offer to readers

And Health Ambition, a site in the food and health niche, got a nice .4% bump in conversions when they offered a free report in exchange for reader email.

bribed optin

Source

However, they had some extremely popular blog posts on the topic of juicing. They decided to offer new subscribers a custom juicing related eBook and the opt-in rate jumped to 3.2%. That’s nearly a 3% increase.

Scrolling-trigged Pop-ups

The scrolling-trigged pop-up is something that I regularly see at ConversionXL. You start reading the post, reach to the end of it and then there’s a pop-up. The trigger time can be adjusted depending on where you want the pop-up to display based on the percentage of text read.

It’s a great way to get subscribers. People are already interested in the article and may like to get more.

pop-ups triggered with scroll

Source

Pop-ups with exit-intent technology

Though the term sounds fancy, the technology behind it is really simple. The plugin tracks users’ mouse movements to get a sense of when they’re about to leave.

How it does this really easy. If the visitor’s mouse leaves the page area to go to either the close button or back button it triggers the plugin.

Neil Patel tested pop-ups with exit-intent technology for his site NeilPatel.com. He was able to increase conversions by 46%.

You can see similar exit intent pop-ups on Quick Sprout too. I was just using the free tool over at QuickSprout.

exit offer

The pop-up is powered by Bounce Exchange. It does however cost a hearty $3995 per month for the starter package itself.

Another example is Xero Shoes, who presents visitors with a free research report when they are about to leave the site. This report on the benefits of going barefoot raised opt-ins by 2.5% and sales by 28.4%.

last minute offer

Syed Balkhi of WP-Beginner saw a 600% lift in email opt-ins when he used Optin Monster’s pop-ups powered with exit intent technology.

Optin Monster tripled the conversion rates. The bounce rate didn’t go up either.

Optin Monster with exit intent technology would cost you $199. It’s much cheaper than Bounce Exchange. However, an even cheaper option is Holdonstranger. You can even see a live demo of your own site (or any site for that matter).

I just keyed in mine and pretended to leave the site. BAM we have the pop-up. It costs $97 a year, which works out to $8 per month.

exit intent technology

The Arrogant Pop-up

See how Kissmetrics employs the arrogant pop-up.

Pop-ups with words like “No thanks,” or “I am happy with low traffic” are never supposed to work if you go by common sense.

But according to data from ConversionXL, these very opt-in boxes outperformed others by 34%.

pop-ups work

A little nudge

It’s not an opt-in pop-up in the strictest sense. However it’s similar to scrolling-triggered opt-in pop-ups. Back in September 2011, the guys running the Univeristy of Alberta website found that they were getting lots of visitors from organic search.

They wanted to see if anything could be done to make them subscribe. All they did was use Qualroo and casually mention that they noticed the visitor loved news.

popup-questions

It worked.

See what happened during the next 9 months.

survey-results (1)

Granted, three times the visitors weren’t interested in subscribing, but 21% might never have signed up without this extra nudge.

A small increase in conversions is always better than none. I’m sure if they had used some of the more aggressive options mentioned above, the success rates would have been higher.

Does the timing of pop-ups impact conversions?

Let’s talk about how the pop-up timing affects conversions. Studies have shown if pop-ups are displayed after 5 seconds, the sign-ups are the highest.

Thinking about it, if you slap a pop-up right off the bat, it may annoy people even more. Five seconds seems to be the sweet spot between giving enough time for getting a feel for the site and not appearing too aggressive.

However, does waiting a little longer decrease the conversions?

In another experiment, opt-ins peaked at 10 seconds and were comparatively poor at the 5-second mark.

peak at 10 seconds

It seems that the best timing and conversion rates vary from one site to another. You need to test it out for yourself.

Now for a look at bounce rates. All the case studies above show that pop-ups have no impact on the bounce rates. But is it true throughout?

Let’s see.

Do pop-ups negatively affect the engagement metrics?

I searched long and hard to find something that shows if pop-ups can have a negative impact on opt-ins or engagement metrics.

It seems it does.

We have one case study that shows pop-ups increasing the bounce rate.

Matthew Woodward ran the tests for time periods of 50 days each. The former 50-day period featured no pop-up and the later period featured a pop-up.

He used a 7-second delay to display them. While the conversion soared to 40%, the bounce rate increased by 9.02%, the average visitor duration declined by 10% and pages per visit too decreased by 9%.

bounce rate increase

The bounce rate for the returning visitors or the regular readers didn’t increase much.

However compared to the opt-in forms displayed at the end of the post, in the sidebar, or on the About Us page, the pop-up was the one most successful in converting visitors.

I reached out to Matthew to see if the statistics were unchanged even now, and he confirmed that they are.

I feel that there are a couple of things that can help boost engagement metrics.

The 7-second delay may be too soon for the readers. The timing is a good thing to test.

Mobile visitors were spared the pop-up. However I’d encourage displaying pop-ups to them since the plugin used is mobile compatible. Also, even if it’s unrelated research, if mobile visitors can fill in surveys they might as well key in their email ids too.

The table shows survey responses and a large percentage came from smartphones and tablets, so it’s clear they will respond.

response of survey takers on mobile

Source

The third possibility is that the lack of an opt-in bribe. Readers are less reluctant to give away their email ids for nothing, so much so that they’d rather close the page.

Share your thoughts!

Do you hate pop-ups?

Even if you hate them, please let us know why you think that they won’t work for you.

Have you tested out pop-ups and found that they lower engagement and decrease overall conversions?

We are dying to know about any such test results. Please share them via comments below.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by George Mathew.

41 Comments

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George Mathew

George has marketed million dollar startups with his skills and has contributed to ace Conversion Optimization blogs like ConversionXL. You can hire him for your content marketing needs.

41 COMMENTS

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  1. Anonymous says:
    June 18, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    That is just astonishing. Your 30-day Free Trial pop-up, right this instant, is annoying me enough that if I didn’t feel motivated to comment, I would leave your site right now.

    Truly I hate them, almost as much as I hate soliciting phone calls. If the site has content I think I want to see or read, then I will click the da**ed pop-up off. If another one takes its place, I will leave the site whether I want to read the content or not. If at the outset the content’s site doesn’t interest me considerably and a da**ed pop-up gets in my way, I will simply navigate away from the site without reading the content at all.

    If I want to subscribe to a site, I will subscribe if you provide an unobtrusive way to do so. But if you demonstrate so much disrespect for me as a viewer or reader that you have to shove junk in my face, there is simply NO WAY I’d subscribe, no matter how wonderful your content.

    It’s bizarre that so many people seem not to see how offensive and insulting these things are. Sheeple, hm?

  2. Anonymous says:
    May 17, 2016 at 9:06 am

    When I see popups about “please subscribe to our newsletter”, I disable scripts on that site using noscript plugin. It is easiest way to permamently disable pop-ups on that site.

    And yes, I hate them. If I want to signup for newsletter, I would do so without any reminders. And if I dont want to, no popup can convince me.

    I wonder where do they ever learned it was good idea? Why many news sites have that crap?

  3. mIKE s says:
    July 14, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    >400 new subscribers per day

    I would suggest not putting faith in raw numbers. what is the disposition of a user who had to cajoled into giving up personal info by a site they just visited a few minutes? Could be they will ignore your emails completely, then opt out, if they haven’t already set up a spam filter against you.

    I would still argue that QUALITY CONTENT is what establishes LOYAL users, and no amount of fluffing your numbers will drive more MEANINGFUL traffic to your site.

    • George says:
      July 14, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Just because a user gives his email id in a few minutes doesn’t mean that they will ignore your mails. The visitor has landed on your site because something interested him.

      If the mails I send contain links to more relevant info then there’s no reason why the visitor will not be interested in pursuing it further and maybe end up buying something from the site.

      When does a subscriber start ignoring mails? From what I have seen, they ignore mails when the content isn’t relevant to them or there are too many emails.

      The point of entry doesn’t have anything to do with the interest of the user or its lack.

  4. Emma Harper says:
    June 15, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Great post George!
    There’s no doubt that using the right pop up with the right targeting rules is a very effective method for improving conversion rates. At StoreYa (I’m one of the team members) we mostly deal with eCommerce merchants, and our merchants see, on average, a 33% increase in sales.

    I’d like to add two insights to this post according to a study we conducted based on over 35 million impressions:
    First, we found that the best time to display a pop up is after 7 seconds. (This makes sense since it is also basically the average of the two numbers you listed).
    Second, we found that when offering a discount in a pop up, the sweet spot is 10%. (To clarify, in our pop ups merchants offer a discount which is redeemable by the visitor in exchange for leaving their email address, liking your page on Facebook, etc.) You might expect, as we certainly did, that the higher discount offered, the higher the conversion rate would be, but we found out that 10% is in fact ideal, and actually that giving more than 15% can hurt conversion rates.

    • June 15, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Hello Emma, thanks for sharing the results of the your experiment with us. I’d love to know more about this. Does the 10% discount work across all verticals. Also, what are your thoughts on the 15% discount being counter-intuitive. What could possibly stop people from grabbing a bigger discount?

      If you could write an article about it and send me the link. I might be able to your case study somewhere.

      • June 15, 2015 at 3:50 pm

        Consider this: You could write the case study for us, George, if Emma shares the details.

  5. Sarah Jim says:
    June 13, 2015 at 4:56 am

    Hi George, thank you for the very well written case study, could you recommend me a similar popup plugin to do the same but showing a Popup with schedule features?

    • June 13, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Hey Sarah do you mean a pop-up that is set to load up after a certain time, say x seconds after visitor comes to the site? If so I’d recommend Optin Monster if your site is not too big.

  6. Robert Mulder says:
    April 14, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Hi George, great article full of interesting data! I’m wondering if you have any stats that show higher conversion rates on a retail/ecommerce site? I had read somewhere that pop-ups that ask for feedback and showed a company was interested in what users had to say helped raise conversion.

    • June 13, 2015 at 9:49 am

      Thanks Robert, I will definitely send something your way.

  7. Moses Yoon says:
    April 6, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    engigafire is a pretty useful popup software. I’d skip the upsells until you first try it out. Small learning curve as it can take time to get used to how it functions in editor mode (need to slow down and be a bit more patient). Tried others but this one works pretty good.

  8. Piper says:
    March 27, 2015 at 11:17 am

    I used to be completely against pop-ups but since my live chat provider, Visitlead, started offering as an extra feature exit intent widgets I gave it a try and I have to say that it is just great. I haven’t exactly measure the improvement in my conversions yet but I am very happy so far.

    • March 27, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Glad to hear it, Piper. That’s terrific.

  9. AlexWilson says:
    January 14, 2015 at 4:19 am

    It is a well-known fact that elaborated content policy (including pop-ups, site animation, etc.) could lead to the traffic growth. I’m a subscriber of Ubertesters blog, and I’m totally felt in love wth their pop-ups dedicated to national holidays. For example, they did so for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

    • January 14, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Agreed, Alex. I love it when brands are able to create unique promotions for holidays. That adds a touch of fun to the brand experience.

  10. John Vanos says:
    December 7, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    We’ve been using Exit Monitor with awesome results. You can check it out here: exitmonitor.com

  11. Angus Lynch says:
    November 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Hey George,

    Great post! We recently conducted an A/B test using exit overlays on a download site, and generated some pretty interested results.

    The site was promoting a free game download, and after digging into the pay-per-click data, we found a good percentage of queries included mention of wanting “cheats” “tips and tricks” etc to help users master the game.

    We added an exit overlay to the site that packaged this in with the original download, and one of the pages generated an 80.28% lift…pretty cool.

    The full case study is here.

    • December 8, 2014 at 10:41 am

      thanks for sharing the case study Angus.

  12. Marko says:
    October 24, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Hi George, thank you for the stat with an explanation. I get a very few organic visitors daily, still integrated a free pop up subscription plugin just to test how it works. Didn’t expect any result since the traffic is ridiculously low. But surprisingly getting 2-3 subscribers a day. This is interesting and i am sure keeping this.

    • October 24, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      I am glad to hear that opt-in popups are working for you even with the low traffic. I hope you are able to monetize them well. Btw what’s your niche?

      • Marko says:
        October 25, 2014 at 2:57 am

        Hi George, thanks for your reply. The niche is wordpress/graphics design.

  13. Hilary says:
    October 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Any recommendations on a Saas we can use? Been talking to one based in France and I’m ot feeling the love with it. Having a hard time finding this a comfortable service!

    • October 3, 2014 at 9:04 pm

      For ecommerce I suggest going with Reel(reellabs.com). Other options maybe Opt-in Monster, popu.ps etc. Even Aweber has an option to design pop-ups. You will find many.

      Why do you feel you are finding a hard time finding an option. Do you want me to mail you?

  14. Hilary says:
    October 2, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Hello George,

    What do you think about this type of pop-up for a retail (mostly gift-giving) site? Also, what type of technology is involved in creating one if we chose to bypass a SaaS? Thank you!

    • October 2, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Hi Hilary, thanks for the question. Opt-in pop-ups have worked across all industry verticals. That said you must have a clear destination, what does success imply in your industry? Do you have a mailing sequence that achieves that. If you can answer this then yes pop-ups will send in more leads.

      Why would you bypass a SaaS and choose to build it yourself. It’s so easy with a Saas especially when all you need to do is press a couple of buttons and copy paste a code?

  15. August 18, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Do popups work compared to a sidebar? Uh, yes. Of course they do.

    But do they work compared to less annoying methods run by Copyblogger and others? That’s the real question.

    What about a bold subscription bar at the top of the content are?

    Or a subscription drive – a post with the sole purpose of advertising the benefits of subscribing?

    In line subscription links?

    After post subscription box?

    Homepage squeeze page?

    About page squeeze page?

    Etc.

    • George says:
      August 18, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      Hashim that’s a really interesting question. Makes me think. I will see if I can find any interesting case studies around the topics you suggested and find if they work any better.

  16. Urvi says:
    August 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Like steven said earlier, that there a re people complaining but the data speaks for itself. And there is not fit for all option. It totally depends on the niche and the audience you are targetting. One has to go theough a lot of trial and error method and run A/B tests to find out what best suits their need. Thanks for sharing the info! Appreciate it!

    • August 19, 2014 at 9:59 am

      Glad I could help. Did you ever test it for your own site?

  17. Steven says:
    August 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Great list, and I’m definitely a pop up advocate.

    I’ve heard many complaints but the data speaks for itself – They work!

    And thanks for including the SuperOffice example from usertesting.com, George. I really appreciate it.

    • August 19, 2014 at 9:59 am

      No problem. Publish more case studies. I am working on a second article(massive) that mentions usertesting. Keep up the good work,

  18. August 18, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Very comprehensive article backed up with some useful data. Some very clear differences in opt-in rates with different timings, but what’s interesting is that the optimum timings can be quite different from one site to another. Clearly there is no one right answer – you need to test what works best on each site.

    • Neil Patel says:
      August 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

      Tim, glad we could help. Looking forward to hearing more from you. Thanks for the valuable feedback.

    • August 19, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Yes timing is a strange animal. What works for your neighbour will not work for you. I could be wrong though.

  19. Charles says:
    August 18, 2014 at 11:23 am

    There’s a flip side you didn’t mention. That is the many “unsubscribes” from annoyed subscribers. I’m one of them. I subscribe because I’m interested. I’m annoyed when a pop up intrudes. I think pop ups are LOW CLASS, rude, unprofessional and in many cases detrimental unless your audience is attracted to carnival tactics.

    • Neil Patel says:
      August 18, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      Charles, thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately that’s just part of the equation.

    • George says:
      August 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

      I think there are options based on cookies so that popups aren’t shown to people who have subscribed already. It’s just a matter of not implementing what we have.

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