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Popup Forms: The Truth Behind The Controversy

Kapil 13 responses List Building

Popup forms…

You either love them or hate them and for the most part, bloggers seem against them. So was I, until my research brought a few interesting stats to my attention.

More on the numbers later, but if I were setting the scene on popup forms, I’d say they are mostly used by Internet marketers as a strong list building technique. However, nowadays this is a short-sighted misconception as some of the most respected websites online use them.

In today’s post, I reveal the truth behind popup forms by considering a range of sub-topics including which websites have successfully used popup forms, case studies and best practice to ensure you give this strategy the best shot before reaching your own informed conclusion.

popup forms

What are Popup Forms?

If you haven’t explicitly heard of them, modal popup forms can emerge anywhere on a web page but generally in the middle or the top of a page where visitors have the option of closing the box or filling it out. What is the rationale behind using these forms? Here are just a few reasons:

  • They allow your visitors to focus their attention on the form alone. Some types will even grey out the rest of the web page.
  • It prompts your visitor to take action whether they sign up or hit the close button.
  • Popup forms are relevant to the visitor given they’ve landed on your page in search of information relating to a topic. On the contrary, pop-up ads are often disconnected to the content presented on a website.

Which Websites Use Popup Forms?

Javascript popup forms are used by some of the most distinguished, industry leading blogs and websites. There would be an exhaustive list if I tried to cover all which come to mind, which is why I’ll narrow them to blogs and individuals which have been recognized by Forbes Social Influencers, Technorati Top 100 and other prominent lists in the marketing sphere.

The list includes LewisHowes, Social Media Examiner and Quicksprout to name a few. I would recommend having a look at firstly how they position their form and secondly, what are they offering in exchange for your details.

Popup Form Case Studies

Case Study 1: Social Media Examiner

Aweber released a report in 2012, which concentrated on the key lessons from Michael Stelzner (founder of Social Media Examiner), on how their email list grew by 234% in one year!

While the popup form alone didn’t attribute to this figure, Stelzner estimated that nearly 70% of their email subscriptions resulted from their form.

Wondering how they didn’t annoy their visitors? Social Media

Social Media Examiner used cookies meaning the form would only appear once per user and the design was almost identical to the site-wide opt-in form, which sits in the sidebar.

Case Study 2: Nikki, In Stitches

Nikki McGonigal, owner of Nikki in Stitches, uses both a lightbox and a static sidebar form. The lightbox appears every 60 days per unique visitor (within 2seconds), and like Social Media Examiner, the static form permanently sits there.

Both the static and lightbox went live in August 2012 and the results after 8 months were compelling.

The lightbox resulted in an astounding 1,375% more sign ups than the static form, which goes to show that sometimes you need to be nimble with your visitors when wanting a particular action undertaken.

Case Study 3: Matthew Woodward

Matthew Woodward tested an email popup form on his self-titled blog in February this year, however, his observation makes for an interesting discussion.

Matthew specifically looked at his site engagement levels pre and post popup and his analytics were not exactly kind. The numbers showed a drop of 9.5% across key critical engagement metrics.

Before the popup, Matthew’s conversion rate sat at 0.85%, and once the popup went live, his rate went up by 44.71% to 1.23%. Sounds decent, right?

In March this year, Matthew received 13,487 unique visitors and based on the above percentages, he would have gotten 114 subscribers (without the popup) and 166 with it. That’s an additional 52 subscribers based on the same traffic levels.

The difficulty with this stat is that it comes at a cost with his visitors dropping 9.29% pages/visit, 10.2% visit duration and a drop of 9.02% off the bounce rate.

Does the increase in conversions by 44% negate the 9.5% drop in site engagement? That’s for Matthew to decide… 

Best Practice For Popup Forms

Now that you have a foundation of popup forms, I’ll take you through a few general rules for optimization, and while these can be deemed as best practice methods, you should still test to find what works best on your visitors.

1. When should your popup forms appear?

Knowing when your popup appears is half the battle to getting the results you’re after.  Based on my research, I would suggest having your popup appear at least 60 seconds after your visitor lands on your website.

Having it appear any earlier could significantly risk putting your visitor off and therefore enhancing your bounce rate. If you leave it too late, your potential subscriber my have already left.

2. Leave your popups to the end

The readers who go through your content from start to finish are generally hooked to what you have to say – a good opportunity to convert them into subscribers.

As a caveat to this strategy, please be mindful that your conversions will rely heavily on the quality of your content. If you produce content which leaves your audience begging for more, the chances of obtaining an email address is high.

I wouldn’t use this strategy if you already have an opt-in form at the end of each post which is common these days.

3. Consider page views and time filters

If the first date goes well for him, chances are the girl will want to see more of you and this analogy is no different with your blog. If your visitor is opening up more than one page on your blog, they are interested in more thus increasing the likelihood of subscribing.

Having your popup appear after one page view will boost your conversion rate, but this means your impressions are lower.

With popup forms, try and set page views and timing as filters given some visitors have a tendency to open several pages at once and these filters will only allow your form to appear for people who read your content.

4. Attention grabbing headline

As a blanket whether it be post headlines, landing pages, your popup  forms have to feature a prominent headline to entice your visitors into providing their email address.

I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines of this nature before..

Want more traffic, leads and sales?

Receive a flood of more leads and sales on Linkedin!

Work on a headline that will make it hard for your visitors to not give in.  Try different variations every so often and keep track of the sign ups or lack of sign ups to see which headline works best.

5. What’s in it for me?

Time and real estate on a popup form is scarce so you really have your work cut out. Make sure you write your value proposition in an easy to read manner so your visitor can quickly skim through to see if what you offer is of value to them.

Bullet points and a catchy image usually works best as opposed to a long-winded paragraph which can be cumbersome.

WordPress Plugins: Popup Forms

If you are running your website on WordPress, I figured it would be worthwhile listing a few recognised plugins to test out popup forms on your own site:

1. OptinSkin

popup forms optinskin

OptinSkin, developped by Glen Allsopp (owner of Viperchill), is the clear leader in terms of features and flexibility (which is why I recommend it in my list building guide). It is used by many major online marketers such as Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. Some of the key features are:

  • A/B split-testing
  • Fully customizable designs
  • Eye-catching visual effects
  • Analytics to track every popup
  • One-click installation of forms
  • Full integration will all the major email list providers

2. PopUp Domination

popup forms popupdomination

PopUp Domination has been around long enough and is used by a few well known marketers such as Lewis Howes, Yanik Silver and Gideon Shalwick.

PopUp Domination includes a number of key features which can be found in other popups as well, such as:

  • Analytics
  • A/B testing
  • Target which pages and categories you want your popup forms to appear on.
  • Enhanced customisation to get the look and feel which suits your business

3. Pippity

popup forms pippity

Pippity seems to be gaining some traction recently. It is used on sites such as Duct Tape Marketing and Content Marketing Institute. Some of the key elements within Pippity include:

  • Built in analytics to track every popup
  • Track conversion rates to determine which popup works best for you
  • Set your popup forms to appear at the end of posts
  • Have your popup appear after a specific number of pageviews

In summary, the use of popup forms is an effective strategy for increasing the size your mailing list, but you have to be cautious with your approach in order to avoid any obvious consequences such as lower levels of engagement or simply turning them off completely.

Most business owners still consider the use of popup forms as annoying but realize the effectiveness of this strategy because it works!

My advice would be to test and keep testing, as this is the only way to discover which approach works best for your niche and website.

Given the controversial nature of popup forms, it’s only fitting that we reach out to hear your feedback. What are your thoughts on this strategy and if you have used them, have you witnessed an increase in subscribers?

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  1. Mark

    Great comparison, yes popups do work better than other forms of lead collection techniques. The other one who work quite well is to place an optin form at the top of your main pages, where you offer free resources. Thanks Kapil.

    1. Kapil Jekishan

      Cheers for the feedback Mark and I’d have to agree with you on the opt-in form which can either sit above the fold or on the top right panel which the likes of social media examiner have done. All the best!

  2. Heather Johnson

    I hate popup forms and never fill them out. In fact, sites that use them and keep bothering me about them, I will stop visiting. If I said no the first time, the form needs to remember my preference or I am gone.

    1. Kapil Jekishan

      Fair point Heather and like I’ve mentioned in the article, there will be some that absolutely despise them. In these instances, the webmaster needs to employ a rule which recognises your preference the first time you visited the site. In saying that, there are still many who are more than happy to share their details in exchange for something which is of value to them. Thanks for your honest feedback.

    2. Mark

      You can add an optin form above the fold (above your post title for example) for all posts. That will avoid users to get annoyed with popups mantaining a great optin rate at the same time, try it and let us know ;)

  3. Obaidul

    Though pop-up forms are a cause of worry for many people, the results vary from one site to another. The best idea is to experiment with pop-up forms and find out whether it really works for you.

    Thanks for the nice post, Kapil.

    1. Mark

      I have a few sites with steady popups getting leads all the days. The most important thing is grabbing leads. Popups don’t annoy too much if they are done the right way. If i see a popup i read the content then decide to close or not. Other may get irritated, this is marketing dude. The faster you get your leads, the more money you will earn. It’s all about numbers. 1 optin a day is not the same as 50 optins a day. Popups or not you should test what’s the fastest way for you to grab leads.

  4. Ivin Viljoen

    Hello Kapil.I wrote a controversial post on my blog of the 238% increase with pop-up forms debunked… The premise was that without traffic you won’t build a single lead. So, there are conditions to the stats, which are not always explained.

    What are your thoughts?

  5. Kapil Jekishan

    Hi Ivin,
    Good point and that would be the caveat before going down the popup form route. Whether it be a blog or company website, it all starts with good content, building your credibility and being active from a social standpoint before implementing lead-capture techniques. Appreciate your comment Ivin.

  6. Jason Mowen

    Hi Kapil,
    I personally find popup forms rather annoying especially on mobile devices especially on the iPhone where it can be difficult to click the “x”.In saying that, if the offer is great and will add value, I’m happy to pass my details which is why these case studies demonstrate that this tactic works. Thanks for sharing these case studies.

  7. Great post… I use an opt-in form now that links to an aweber account and offer them something for filling it out. I haven’t had much luck converting but still new to this blogging thing! Thanks for the great info and I will have to look into some of your suggestions

  8. Andi Leeman

    Hi Kapil, great to see you here on Dukeo, I used to have a pop up and got a few people moaning, however after I stopped using it I get less sign ups so it works to a degree. More sign ups than moans.

    1. Kapil Jekishan

      Thanks for sharing your experience Andi. It really goes to show that this technique will put a few people offside but if the net result is positive for you, it comes down to what you value more – more sign ups and annoy a few people or minimal/zero sign ups.