Email popup windows caught my attention in a big way back in the fall of 2010 when it seemed bloggers everywhere began shouting from rooftops about the wonders of the WordPress plugin—Popup Domination.
There were claims that the email popup windows were increasing subscription rates by as much as 50% overnight.
And then, as quickly as the promotions began, one-by-one I watched as the same blogs disabled their popup windows.
NOTE: if you’ve never seen the Popup Domination plugin in action, you can see it live (as of publishing this post) on Gideon Shalwick’s blog.
Love ‘em or Hate ‘em
Email popups have been a hot topic of debate in the blogosphere for a long time. When Caleb Wojcik of Think Traffic asked his readers for their opinion on popups, they overwhelmingly shouted out in disgust with over 118 passionate comments (and counting!)
Proponents of the popups argue that the proven (and significant) increase in email subscription rates more than makes up for the people they’d turn away by using the popup.
Take copywriter Ben Settle for example. When my husband Zach emailed him (suggesting he wait at least a couple seconds before showing his popup), he replied with:
I’m always amused by unsolicited advice about things I’ve already tested and know work
But it’s cool… and I do appreciate you taking the time to let me know your thoughts all the same, stick around and I’ll have you using instant pop ups too before you know it haha
The unanswered question, for me, is how email popups impact a brand
So, I dug deeper. I wanted to find out, who, if anyone has studied the impacts on a company’s brand by using email popup windows. Sure, it’s unarguable that email subscriptions skyrocket when an email popup window is placed in front of website visitor—
But how does the QUALITY of that subscriber compare? and convert to long term, loyal fan/customer? and what is their impression of your brand?
Here’s the best I found
Dig, dig, dig, and surprisingly there is very little written about the impact of popups (of any kind: entrance, exit, you name it) on brands. I did however, find a very interesting article where Oli Gardner at Unbounce interviews conversion rate expert, Chris Goward, CEO of WiderFunnel Marketing. In the article, Chris Goward confirms a consistent lift in conversions when implementing email popups. He also points to the importance of weighing brand impact when deciding to use email popups.
From Chris Goward:
“The brand impact has to be weighed, but in some situations the brand isn’t as important as the immediate conversion.”
Chris also points out the importance of segmenting email subscribers so you don’t keep hitting them with the email popup even AFTER they’ve already subscribed!
“With popups, audience segmentation is critical to avoid annoying your most valuable repeat visitors. We are careful to only show them to new visitors that have not previous completed the desired conversion, for example.”
NOTE: If you’re a WordPress blogger, the plugin WPSubscribers gives you advanced controls, allowing you to accomplish this segmentation very easily.
Here’s my final take
Unfortunately, I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of email popups. My gut instinct as a marketer tells me it’s important to:
- use your best judgement—you know your target market. Is it like wearing a ballcap to a formal dinner? If so, don’t bother.
- if you’re going to implement an email popup—split TEST for goodness sakes! Don’t just look at the % change in email subscriber volume, but also, the value of each subscriber. And go further to evaluate, qualitatively, your user’s experience and brand trust by using survey tools and good ole fashioned one-on-one interaction. (ASK your subscribers what they think!)
Email popup best practices
For crying out loud, if you’re going to use a popup, DON’T USE AN INSTANT POPUP like this one. Give your first time visitors at least a 10 second opportunity to get their bearings—I think the Conversion Rate Experts do a fine job giving their users some breathing room before presenting their (classy) email popup.
Two more examples of “classy” popups
The first example is an email popup, however, it’s a little different from the ones we’ve been discussing up to this point. In this case, the popup is initiated by the user. Have a look:
Notice what happens when the user clicks on the big blue button:
The email popup window on Visual Website Optimizer’s home page is initiated by the user. This offers a very different user experience than does the popup that startles the user when it appears “out of nowhere”. Interestingly, Visual Website Optimizer experienced a 50% increase in sign ups when they implemented this user-initiated email popup form versus the user going to a separate page to sign up—read the full article here.
My final example is not an email popup form at all, but a slide-in popup used by the New York Times. Rather than include a screenshot, you really ought to check it out yourself. Scroll to the bottom of this New York Times article and you’ll notice in the bottom right corner of the page, a slide-in popup appears with suggestions for other articles you might like to read.
Obviously, the goal of using a slide-in popup like this is to increase page views rather than email subscribers. However, I think it’s important for us to consider the different ways we can use popups to achieve our marketing goals.
Now it’s your turn
I’d love to hear your opinion/experiences with popups. What do you think of them? Do you have conversion results to share? Examples of classy or interesting popups? Leave a comment below… and if you liked this article, show us some love by Tweeting about it, or sharing it on Facebook! (thanks).