We have all seen them – the dreaded popup that asks for our email address and promises untold riches in return. I’m the first to tell you how much I hate them, but I wanted to test technique before I made too harsh of a judgement. I see them everywhere, so I figured they must work if all these sites are implementing them, right?
The General Consensus About Popups by Web Professionals
Plenty of web designer and UX specialists will tell you how they ruin website visitors’ experience and send them scrambling to press the back button (or worse yet, the X button) on their browsers. There is even a popular website devoted to showcasing instances of modal popups on websites – Tab Closed Didn’t Read.
Even well-respected social media expert (I personally love the guy) Gary Vaynerchuck has joined in on the popup bashing in his recent book, “Jab, Jab, Jab: Right Hook:”
No way is a consumer going to say yes if you ambush him with a giant popup that blacks out the middle of the web page he’s reading. The only thing he’ll feel is irritation as he frantically hunts for that little X in the corner that will make you go away.
The general consensus is that popups suck. So why do we see so many of them? Could all these experts be wrong? There was only one way to find out.
The Optin Monster 30 Day Challenge
I decided to test a optin popup box on one of my sites for 30 days to see if I could increase e-mail newsletter subscribers. I wanted to see once and for all if these popup boxes lived up to their hype.
My guinea pig was a pro-bono client of mine, Little Italy in Cleveland, Ohio. Their website features a directory of all the local galleries and restaurants in the neighborhood and also publishes event announcements and details periodically throughout the year. While the Little Italy Facebook page is hopping (30,000 likes and counting), we started to build an email list in the spring of 2013 to construct a more reliable channel for reaching fans of Little Italy.
After reviewing all the available WordPress popup plugins, I settled on Syed Balkhi‘s Optin Monster. The pricing model was straight-forward and I’m a big fan of his blog, WPBeginner. The customization options for the popup are not as overwhelming as they are in some plugins, but provide just enough wiggle-room to create a well-targeted, branded popup.
Another huge benefit that Optin Monster offered is Mail Chimp integration. No more wasting time manually importing emails and contact details.
The Old E-mail Collection Strategy
I’m not going to lie – the old e-mail collection strategy on the site wasn’t the greatest. Without much more to offer than news and Little Italy event details, our call to action was a little weak. There was a section in the sidebar of every page on the site prompting the visitor to sign up for the e-mail newsletter.
The e-mail collection form was created using Gravity Forms, which is great, but I don’t own the license that entitles me to basic add-ons like Mail Chimp integration. This means that I would manually export the e-mail newsletter submissions and import them periodically to Mailchimp. This wasn’t only a pain in the butt, but it also decreased deliverability because users didn’t have the opportunity to double-opt-in after entering their e-mail address the first time.
Shortcomings aside, the newsletter sign-up form was working and starting to build an e-mail list that didn’t previously exist.
The Updated E-mail Collection Strategy with Optin Monster
While I could have overhauled the entire messaging and placement of the existing e-mail newsletter form, I decided to leave it as is and add the popup optin via Optin Monster.
As I mentioned, before the options in Optin Monster aren’t overwhelming and I was able to create a branded optin with Photoshop and configure it in the WordPress admin area in under 30 minutes.
As with my sidebar e-mail sign up form, I kept the call to action simple and straight forward.
While some popups occur on the first page within seconds of arriving, I wanted to target visitors who spent some time exploring the site. I configured the settings to show the optin popup after a visitor visited their second page. I also delayed the popup for 2 seconds.
I started collecting e-mail addresses using the old strategy on May 28th, 2013. I took a snapshot of how the sidebar had performed as of November 17th, 2013.
- 27,869 unique visitors
- 157 e-mail subscribers
- .6% conversion rate
I implemented the popup optin on December 3rd and took a snapshot of the site’s performance as of January 3rd (which is actually 32 days, but I thought a 30-day challenge soundy more catchy 😉 ).
- 4,106 unique visitors
- 47 e-mail subscribers through Optin Monster (1.3% conversion rate)
- 28 e-mail subscribers through sidebar form (.7% conversion rate)
- 75 total e-mail subscribers
- 1.8% overall conversion rate
I checked, double-checked and tripled-checked the numbers. I tripled my e-mail subscriber rate from .6% to 1.8% just by adding the popup!
If I had had Optin Monster running since I started collecting e-mail addresses, I would have started the experiment with 501 subscribers instead of 157.
My number one fear when I started the experiment was alienating visitors. According to Gary V and all the other outspoken experts, these popups were going to ruin the visitor’s experience on my site and cause them to leave. The pages-per-visit analytic shows that page views were in fact down from 3.46 per visitor to 3.4 during the experiment. While the decrease isn’t something I hoped for, the 1.75% decrease is negligible and hardly anything to worry about.
Look at average page views during that period vs. the previous period to see if the pop-up caused people to abandon the site more often.
Lesson learned: Apparently not everyone hates these popups.
How I Could Have Increased my Conversion Rate Even More
While I am thrilled with the results, I have a feeling that I could have increased the conversion rate by 400%, 500% or even %600. Here are some things that I am excited to experiment with in the future:
- More appealing call to action: Signing up for news and event announcements is great, but there are some much stronger calls to action I can experiment with in the future such as a coupon for a free canoli at one of Little Italy’s bakeries.
- Different optin and popup styles: Optin Monster comes with different templates as well as various optin styles. I would like to experiment with both, but especially the alternate styles. Instead of the WordPress Lightbox Popup, I wonder if the floating footer bar or slide-in would perform better?
- A/B test different images: I’m a big proponent of A/B testing and Optin Monster allows me to do this right out of the box. I’m curious as to whether a picture of a pasta dish or a group of people at a Little Italy event would perform better than the picture of canolis? Only one way to find out…
- More aggressive on the popup settings: I’m apprehensive about having the popup launch on the first page a visitor views, but I have read this is a way to get more optins.
- Custom popups tailored to different pages of the site: One of the powerful features Optin Monster has that I would love to explore involves using different popups on different pages. For example, I could feature a canoli popup on the bakery pages and beautiful art on the gallery pages.
- Optin Monster Exit-Intent Tech: Optin Monster has a feature for Pro and Ultimate users that senses when visitors are about to exit the page and delivers them a popup. Again, don’t knock it until you have tested it.
Have you tried Optin Monster or a similar popup plugin on your site? Share your experience and insights below!
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