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The Pros and Cons of Popup E-mail Opt-Ins

e-mail opt-ins

"You expect me to believe popups can be useful?" In a word, yes. Although it may seem counterintuitive because "everyone hates popups," there is truth to the statement that popup e-mail opt-ins can be useful for certain businesses. Perhaps there are individuals who visit your website all the time, and are active on the message boards and in entering article comments, but somehow have never signed up for your valuable e-mail list. This could be due to ad or banner blindness, a less-than-flawless site design, or a lack of incentive. Regardless, popup e-mail opt-ins could be just what you need to boost your business. For example, popup e-mail opt-ins helped Hesham Fathy from Famous Bloggers increase newsletter sign-ups by around 400%.

Popup E-mail Opt-Ins Explained

New visitors reach your site and, either immediately or after a predetermined time, a popup appears that grabs their attention. The content of the popup depends on what you want it to read, but in each instance the form asks for the visitor's e-mail address. Some of these popups can be closed by pressing an X in the upper right-hand corner, while others close automatically after a certain time. Also, popups will either commandeer the entire web page or just a tiny space, and its location can be changed to wherever you like.

A lot of sites can improve their e-mail lists by deploying such popups, but keep in mind that not all businesses can benefit from doing so. For example, if your site involves teaching people how to cook, a weekly newsletter with tips and recipes will benefit your subscribers. On the other hand, if your niche involves selling wireless internet plans, you may need a different approach to enhance conversion rates.

Advantages of Employing The Popup Method

Popup e-mail opt-ins are very easy to install and test. If one helps increase the size of your e-mail list, and you receive few complaints, then deploying these types of opt-ins are worth it. Of course, your standard for success is unique, but if a popup e-mail opt-in meets your criteria and performs well, good for you. If it doesn't, maybe you could try a different design, delay when it loads, or tweak other options before trying a different idea in its stead. Consider some real-world accounts of popup usage...

A case study:

Wendy Moe, Assistant Professor of Marketing from the University of Texas at Austin, conducted a field experiment in 2003 that resulted in a report titled "Should We Wait to Promote? The Effect of Timing on Response to Pop-Up Promotions." The study spanned four days and collected data on 83,136 non-registered users of a movie review website that was purely informational and did not engage in ecommerce. Of all the subjects, 38,834 received a popup offering a free newsletter. Consistent with typical conversion rates at ecommerce sites, 0.81% signed up for the newsletter.

Two variables of the promotion were delay and context. The promotion staggered its timing (delay) in three variations, being shown to the visitor on either the 1st, 2nd or 4th page visit. Context meant the promotion was offered on either a gateway page or a content page. In short, the later the promotion was offered, the higher the positive response rate. The promotion was also received more favorably on content pages as opposed to gateway pages.

A number of high profile bloggers say they will continue using popup e-mail opt-ins:

In 2010, blogger Kristi Hines polled five well-known bloggers about the effectiveness of adding popup e-mail opt-ins to their sites after one week of use. The bloggers included: Michael Stelzner from Social Media Examiner, Hesham Fathy from Famous Bloggers, Mark Thompson from Stay on Search, Paul Cunningham from Blogging Teacher, and Justin Germino from Dragon Blogger. Only Michael used Aweber, while the other four used Popup Domination. They all agreed that adding the popup increased their newsletter subscriptions, and Dragon Blogger's Justin said that people who had followed him on Twitter and his blog for a long time, who had never signed up for his mailing list, did so after they encountered the popup.

Michael received "very few" complaints, Justin received one complaint from a regular accusing him of joining the dark side of the force, and Paul, Hesham and Mark had zero complaints. They each followed a few conventions, and made a few suggestions for those who will give these popups a try. But before we get to their suggestions, what problems could be encountered deploying popup e-mail opt-ins?

Disadvantages of Employing The Popup Method

General dislike.

Gail Gardener of Growmap dislikes popups, period. She wrote, "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." Many people share that sentiment, and if you're looking for people who despise popups to the point that they immediately leave a site that uses them, you don't have to look far.

Some people close popups without even reading them.

Ad blindness plays a role in the online behavior of many people. Once people have been to a site several times, they know where the content is located and that ads are normally on the right-hand side of a three-column layout, so in many cases they don't even look at that column.

Coined in 1998 by J. P. Benway and D. M. Lane, the term "banner blindness" represents a similar phenomenon that directly deals with how people may respond to popups. One of their experiments suggests that up to 58% of users ignore anything that resembles an advertisement.

How to Make Popups More User-Friendly

  • Don't set the popup to display every time someone visits your site. Set it to show every 7 or 14 days, and respect the feedback you receive about it. Remember that these kinds of popups only work well for certain audiences.
  • Set the popup to display after a first-time visitor has had enough time to read some content and get a feel for the site. (It's probably safe to assume that many people are not going to sign up for a newsletter until and unless they have had the chance to read good content.) Some argue that 10 seconds is best, others say 30 seconds, and still others recommend two full minutes.
  • Test the popup of your choice on all browsers. For instance, say you get a lot of traffic from mobile users and you choose a popup from Popup Domination that takes over the entire page. Will Droid users be able to close the box if they want, or does the popup essentially hijack their session?
  • Make sure the popup box tells people exactly what they will receive if they choose to opt-in. Don't let people assume your popup will lead to spam emails.
  • Pay attention to analytics and bounce rates before and after the inclusion of the popup. This will let you gauge the efficacy of the popup and help you decide whether you need to alter a few parameters or ditch the idea altogether.
Mike Quayle

Posted on 9th December, 2011 by Mike Quayle

About Mike Quayle

Mike Quayle is a SEO, content writer, and marketer from Seattle, Washington.

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