Do Obnoxious Pop-Ups Really Work?
You’ve heard the sermon on website pop-ups, right?
It’s the one that says you simply MUST use pop-up email subscription boxes if you want to build an email list that rivals the population of a mid-size American city…
In six days.
(Okay. I may be exaggerating. Slightly.)
If this sounds new to you, here’s a quick recap!
“Pop-ups will increase your subscribers by 20000% percent overnight!”
“Pop-ups will make you filthy rich!”
“You’re a nincompoop if you don’t use pop-ups!”
(Such a great word. Nincompoop. It reminds me of my childhood Smurf-watching days. 🙂 )
Obviously these pop-up evangelizers are pretty hardcore…but do jolting, intrusive, unwanted solicitations actually work?
And should you use them to grow your brand?
Let’s take a look.
DO PEOPLE SIGN UP THROUGH POP-UPS?
It is true.
There are people who fill out pop-up subscription forms.
(You may have also heard them called ‘lightboxes’ or ‘modal overlays.’ I can only guess that an evil marketing guru teamed up with an even more evil pop-up developer to invent such deceptively elegant lingo.)
Those that have pop-ups on their site frequently report that it doubles — and sometimes triples — their rate of email subscribers.
Of those people, many claim they don’t see an effect on their bounce rate.
(Bounce rate measures the percentage of people who move away from your website after viewing only one page.)
This data makes pop-ups sound like a sweet deal!
If you can grow your email list at double the pace without driving more people away from your page, what’s the drawback?
The problem is this: these numbers reveal only one kiddie slice of the cake.
(Unless they’re my kids, in which case my silly idiom doesn’t work.)
Reputable studies like this one from the Nielsen group show that people despise pop-ups.
And not just “some people.”
The vast MAJORITY of people: 95 percent.
So why, oh why, are pop-ups being filled out?!
On the surface it didn’t make much sense to me. Until I found smarty pants Andy.
Andy Beaumont, the creative tech director at the digital advertising agency Albion London, conducted a test and discovered this:
“Analytics will tell you that you got more “conversions”. Analytics will show you rising graphs and bigger numbers. You will show these to your boss or your client. They will falsely conclude that people love these modal overlays. But they don’t. Nobody likes them.
It is…fairly likely that they don’t know how to close it. I have tested this design pattern with real people, and a significant portion of them believe that they must do what the box is begging them for in order to close the overlay.”
Source: The Value of Content
Bottom line? People are confused!
Pop-ups by their very nature are all about surprise combined with a sudden shift in environment (blacked out screens, obscured windows, big bold text, bright buttons).
This is deeply unsettling for people who aren’t accustomed or wise to pop-ups.
Psychology teaches us that people who find themselves in unexpected, unfamiliar situations are easier to persuade, so the fact that pop-ups succeed in wrestling emails from their victims isn’t so baffling after all.
It’s also no big shock that clever Andy goes on to report that most of the people who sign up for a newsletter via a pop-up really do NOT want it.
And for many of them, they aren’t going to figure out how to unsubscribe for months! (Which leads people to believe they’re truly growing their list with lots of interested folks.)
What’s even scarier is that most people won’t unsubscribe.
All it takes is one simple click on “Mark As Spam” when they see the unwanted newsletter and voila…all future emails conveniently drop straight into their Junk folder.
Needless to say, these so-called “leads” on an “epic” email list are anything but promising.
They have no significant interest in the business or blog.
And, more than that, their first contact with that person left them feeling controlled.
The chances that they eventually begin engaging, or buying, is next to zero.
But if you’re the website owner who is only looking at basic signup numbers, you’re going to think you’re on your way to becoming the next Ree Drummond.
(Who has never used a pop-up, bless her heart.)
So what’s needed to fix this?
A few things.
One obvious place to begin is to gather better data.
You probably know that compiling quality, thorough information about what’s happening with a website is crucial if you’re going to depend on it to help you make money.
But if you’re going to execute something as risky as a pop-up, you better be prepared to get fanatical with your analytics!
Here’s a glance at the bare minimum that should be collected on email subscribers:
Open Rate — how many people are opening their emails
Clickthrough Rate (CTR) — how many people are clicking on links inside their emails
Unsubscription/List Growth Rate — how many people they’re losing to unsubscribing and how that compares to their rate of new subscriptions
Hard Bounce Rate — in email marketing this is how many emails are being returned as undeliverable because they’re invalid/closed
Forwarding Rate — how many people are passing their emails on to others
Returning Visitor Rate— how many people are returning to their site on their own (not through an email link)
Engagement Rate — how many people are engaging with their website content (leaving comments, sharing articles)
Conversion & Retention Rate — how many people are actually making purchases, and how many are remaining long-term customers
These metrics need to be tracked for pop-up subscribers and “regular” subscribers separately, then compared side-by-side.
(Regular subscribers are those people who sign up through standard signup forms, like in a sidebar or header).
Only then could someone begin to judge pop-up effectiveness and whether it was helping move their business forward.
Unfortunately, installing an annoying pop-up and waiting a good year to get some meaty measurements (not all of which are easily obtained) can wreak havoc on the main thing your business needs to survive.
What is that?
WHAT’S IN A NAME? AS IT TURNS OUT, A LOT
Richard Branson, the bleach blonde, billionaire entrepreneur behind Virgin Group, once said this:
“Your brand name is only as good as your reputation.”
Think about that for a moment.
He didn’t say your brand name is only as good as the size of your email list.
He didn’t say your brand name is only as good as the amount of money you make.
And he didn’t say your brand name is only as good as how famous you are.
No, he said that your brand rises and falls depending on one thing:
Your good name.
Once you realize that, you can’t help but make better business decisions.
And that includes decisions about marketing techniques like pop-ups.
Because when the first thing you do to your website visitors is stick out your hand and ask them for something, how do you think you look?
Of course not. You come off looking like just another greedy, scammy biz on the interwebs.
Talk about instant reputation-buster!
It also creates a vast (and unnecessary) distance between you and everybody you’re trying to “woo.”
It’s not impossible to overcome, but if you’re not already VERY well-established and 150% irresistible in every other way…
You’re going to struggle for business.
Why would you do that to yourself?!
I think you deserve to be successful AND keep your fabulous reputation, don’t you?
I hope you are shouting “YES!” 🙂
Here’s my philosophy:
Likewise, just because something “works” doesn’t mean it’s the best, or only, option for you.
So instead of relying on a risky strategy like a soul-crushing pop-up to build your list (I don’t know yet, can you tell I hate pop-ups…?), here are a few proven methods for attracting excited, client-worthy subscribers:
Use a Prominent Header for Your Signup Form
This is what I’ve done here on Olyvia, and results have shown that similar set ups are crazy effective. They work because they’re the first and biggest thing your visitors see, and they keep on seeing it on every page they visit.
When they feel comfortable enough to subscribe, they know right where to find you!
(Sidebar opt-in forms are notoriously low-performing. They don’t catch the eye and so they have trouble moving your readers to take action. When most people say pop-ups increased their subscribers, they’re comparing it to when they had an ugly, bland form in their sidebar that no one wanted to notice.)
Create a Useful, Interesting Opt-In Gift
An opt-in gift (also called a ‘lead magnet’ or just a ‘freebie’) is something you give away at no cost in exchange for someone graciously providing you with their email address.
Frequently they’re e-books and worksheets, but they can be just about anything: a video or video series, podcasts, printable planners, sewing patterns, etc.
These opt-in gifts not only have to be especially suited for your unique target audience, they have to be QUALITY. Even if you have a gorgeous header form, it’s not going to convert for you if you’re not giving away something compelling and professional!
A one page list you hastily threw together in Word or one ho-hum recipe someone could get from anywhere is not good enough.
So make it valuable, make it relevant, and make it classy. 🙂
You may have gone through agony (or spent the bank!) to have a sparkly website, but are you taking every opportunity you can to send people to it?
Or are you just sort of hoping that people will magically show up?
No one is going to sign up to be on your list if you aren’t constantly marketing yourself and the fact that you exist. (After all, there’s over 644 million websites out there!)
Putting out valuable content is a great start, but it alone can’t be your sole friend; you need to buddy up with a marketing strategy, too.
If you’re just starting out, here’s a good beginners tip: make sure EVERYTHING that goes out to the public actually lists your website! Have you done this on your personal Facebook profile? Your LinkedIn profile? Your Google+ page? How about your email signature? (You do have an email signature, right?)
From there you’ll want to branch out into strategic sharing on social networks, guest blogging, and active participation in niche online communities.
Now I’d love to hear from you.
What is your opinion on pop-ups?
Does it negatively affect your view of a business if it uses them? Are there times when you think pop-ups are OK?
I’ll see you in the comments!