“I loathe these pop-up forms, but I’ve seen statistics and case studies showing they work. Should I use an opt-in pop-up on my website?”
If I got a nickel every time I was asked this question, I would be writing these lines from my own beach house in Portugal.
And while the world is yet to hear from those website visitors who enjoy being interrupted by things they haven’t asked for, the data is speaking loud and clear:
On average, pop-up forms convert at roughly 3%, adding many subscribers to your email list that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Until now, the few voices arguing that pop-ups ruin user experience and damage brand reputation based their argument on common sense.
Brilliant arguments, like this delicious roast by John Reed that debunks every argument in favor of the pop-up forms, welcome mats and slide bars you’ve ever heard.
But no common sense can compete with data that backs up the opposite. What can you possibly say to that?
How about this:
You don’t need email subscribers. You need email subscribers who are genuinely interested in what you have to say.
But I don’t want to argue common sense here. Instead, I’d like to summon one very objective friend of mine to help us sort it out:
(Even if you hate math, I promise this one is easy, and you are going to love it!)
Let’s put all other arguments aside and use numbers to answer one simple question:
How many people need to see your pop-up form before you get one engaged subscriber?
To calculate that, we need to know these three things:
- Pop-up form conversion rate
- Email open rate
- Email click through-rate
…because an engaged subscriber is the one who reads your emails.
Let’s look at some stats
Depending on how you look at it, the average conversion rate of a pop-up form – be it a welcome mat, a slider, or a pop-up form of any kind – is between 1.95% and 2.9%. Meaning you need 100 people to see your pop-up to get 2-3 email addresses.
According to this comprehensive report, these are the email marketing statistics for different industries and business sizes.
For small to medium businesses, email open rate varies between 15.2% and 28.5%, with an average of 21.8%. Email click-through rate, between 1.25% and 5% with an average of 2.6%.
This means that on average, out of 100 subscribers, roughly 22 will open your emails and roughly 3 will click on the link you placed there.
For large businesses, email open rate varies between 18.2% and 30.9%, with an average of 23.9%. Email click-through rate, between 9.2% and 19.4% with an average of 12.7%.
Did you notice the huge difference between the click-through rate for small & medium businesses (2.6%) vs large businesses (12.7%)?
If this was a movie, you would see the camera zooming in on it with a dramatic soundtrack, because this is the smoking gun.
Based on this information, we can calculate how many people need to see your pop-up form for you to get one engaged subscriber.
The Magic formula
(If you really-really hate math and are ready to take my word for it, you can skip this part and jump straight to the shocking results.)
Let’s do a quick calculation based on the data for small & medium business.
You get 2.9 subscribers from 100 people who saw your pop-up. It means you get 1 subscriber from 100/2.9 = roughly 34.5 pop-ups.
21.8 subscribers out of 100 will open your email. Which makes it 1 subscriber out of 100/22.8 = roughly 4.6.
So to get 1 new subscriber who will open your emails you need 4.6 new subscribers. And as you get 1 subscriber from 34.5 pop-ups, you need 4.6 x 34.5 = roughly 158 people to see your pop-up for that.
The Shocking results
This is what we get if we do this calculation with email open rates and email click-through rates for all business sizes.
On average, small & medium business owners need their opt-in forms to pop up for 158 people to get 1 subscriber who will open their email newsletter.
Large business owners will reach the same goal with 144 website visitors that saw their pop-up form.
— Gill Andrews (@StoriesWithGill) May 30, 2017
If you are a large business owner, on average you’ll need roughly 271 people to see your pop-up before you get 1 subscriber who also clicks on a link in your email.
But for small & medium business owners, this number is way higher. On average, they need 1319 people to see their pop-up form before they get 1 subscriber who also clicks on a link in their email – over 1000 people more than large business owners.
On average, small & medium businesses need 1319 people to see their pop-up form to get 1 subscriber who clicks on a link in their email newsletter.
I’ll wait till you double-check the math…
These are, of course, average numbers. If your pop-up form converts better, and/or your subscribers are more engaged, the numbers for your website will be lower. Yet, I guarantee you it will still be a couple of hundreds.
What do these numbers mean for your business?
What do these numbers mean for you? Is it your traffic in an hour? A day? A week?
Can you justify annoying hundreds of website visitors before anything good comes out of that pop-up from the business perspective?
“But all these case studies!”, you say.
And I say, “The case studies arguing that pop-up forms work do not contradict these numbers but rather confirm them”.
Remember the smoking gun, the drastic difference between the email click-through rate for small & medium vs large businesses (2.6% vs 12%)?
This is why on average, the large businesses need to show their pop-up form to way fewer people than the small & medium businesses – “just” 271.
Now, let’s see who wrote all those case studies saying pop-ups work.
The only pro-popup case studies featuring “normal people” I was able to find (like, for example, this one from 2013 or this one featuring cases from 2008 to 2012) were published years ago. And as it’s impossible to say how much traffic the featured sites were getting when they started using an opt-in pop-up, there is no way to find out whether they were able to make it work despite not being a large business.
How to decide whether you should use a pop-up form on your website
Does it mean you should never-ever use a pop-up form?
As much as it pains me to say, it does not. This is how you decide.
1. Are you a small business owner who is happy about every $1000 of revenue?
Then you shouldn’t try to squeeze your customers into a standard funnel and use the reverse funnel instead, valuing every existing customer and relying on them spreading the word and recommending you to their friends.
Which means: Don’t use pop-ups.
2. Have you just launched your website or are you struggling to get traffic?
Forget that pop-up. It will alienate more people than it will attract, and right now, you need every website visitor you can get to impress, build relationships, and help the word spread.
Concentrate on producing excellent and helpful content and getting consistently decent traffic while using non-intrusive sign-up forms (see examples below).
3. Does your website have high traffic or are you a large business?
If you have thousands of visitors a day and you are very effective in selling your products or services through email marketing, then you can think about it.
If you can get 10 people a day who will click on the links in your emails and eventually buy expensive stuff, how much do you care about the ones who will be annoyed?
4. Are you using a pop-up form already & are happy with it?
If you’ve been using a pop-up form and have a feeling that it’s working for you (meaning, your list is growing, and you are happy with your open and click-through rates), calculate your own numbers using the formulas above.
How many people have to see your pop-up before you get one engaged subscriber?
Do you think you can justify this number from a business perspective?
Is it possible that you are missing out on clients despite the fact that your email list is growing?
5. Don’t have a pop-up but badly want one, because you think this advice is BS?
If you’d rather listen to big blogs telling you that these pop-ups will help you reach world domination, go for it. Get yourself a pop-up form, wait till you get a couple of hundreds of subscribers, and look at the data. Numbers don’t lie.
How can you grow your email list without a pop-up form?
But if you decide not to use a pop-up form, how are you going to grow your email list then?
There are many ways to grow your email list without proactively asking people you’ve just met for their email addresses. Many people are successfully doing that (the growing, not the asking).
Here are a couple of examples.
Example 1: A sticky header with an offer that goes beyond a free ebook.
Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent marketer and copywriter, an author, and a regular contributor to popular marketing blogs like KISSmetrics and Copyblogger.
To grow her email list, she uses a sticky banner and a prominent sign-up form on her homepage that encourages her visitors to sign up for a free email writing course.
This is why Henneke does not use pop-ups on her website:
Pop-ups don’t align with the Enchanting Marketing brand. I aim to give readers a pleasurable reading experience and don’t want their reading interrupted by pop-ups or welcome mats. Pop-ups may also undermine the credibility of a brand.
I’m happy with the conversions I get from tools that don’t interrupt, such as the one on my home page and at the top of each post to promote my free snackable writing course.Henneke Duistermaat, EnchantingMarketing.com
Example 2: A sticky footer with a sign-up form and a compelling message.
Andy Crestodina is a co-founder and Strategic Director of a Chicago-based web design company Orbit Media, an author and a top-rated speaker at national conferences.
Their website doesn’t use pop-up forms either.
I’m not using opt-in pop-ups because I’m meeting my goals without one.Andy Crestodina, Orbitmedia.com
Instead, every blog post on Orbitmedia.com has a sticky footer with a subscription form spiced up with social proof. Because their website gets a lot of targeted traffic from search, it’s hard to think of a better place to give an interested website visitor an option to sign up.
Example 3: A strategically placed “subscribe” button within exceptional content.
Mark Traphagen is Senior Director at Stone Temple Consulting, an award-winning digital marketing agency, and a speaker at major conferences across the USA.
This is why Stone Temple Consulting does not use pop-up forms on their website:
One of the considerations you need to have when using pop-up forms is their effect on brand impression. In other words, does using popovers or interstitials cheapen your brand (and annoy most of your visitors) to an extent that is greater than any benefit of increased subscribers?
This is the chief reason we have chosen not to use popovers on the Stone Temple site.Mark Traphagen, StoneTemple.com
Stone Temple Consulting in general and Mark specifically are big names in the industry. But if you ask people what content they remember most, the majority will name their “Here’s Why” videos, where Mark and Eric (CEO of Stone Temple Consulting) dress up in funny costumes to explain SEO and content marketing.
Every blog post from this popular series has a prominent subscribe button.
These examples seem very different, but they have one thing in common:
Henneke, Andy and Mark, as well as everybody else who runs a successful website without using pop-ups, trust the quality of their content. They know that their website visitors will be impressed enough to look for that sign-up form themselves, without it popping up in their faces.
To sum it up
If you’ve been feeling peer-pressured to use a pop-up form on your website, maybe even installed one with a heavy heart: Those case studies weren’t showing you the big picture. Now you have a formula in your hands to make an informed decision.
You don’t have to use a pop-up form on your website to grow your email list. There are plenty of successful business websites out there who’ve made it without using one.
Focus on creating truly exceptional content while using a non-intrusive but prominent sign-up forms.
A website visitor impressed by the value you deliver will be able to find a sign-up form on their own, and you will get one subscriber who is genuinely interested in what you have to say.
Because you don’t want email subscribers. You want a loyal community that knows, likes, and trusts you.
I also created a slide deck for this post. Check it out: