The #1 Reason to Get Rid of Pop-up Forms Backed by Data

The #1 Reason to Get Rid of Pop-Up Forms (Backed by Data)

“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.

Numerous case studies (like this one or this one) show that pop-up forms work.

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.Click To Tweet

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:

Math!

(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.

Statistics: Pop-up form conversion rate, email open rate, email click through rate

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.

How many people would need to see your pop-up form for you to get 1 engaged subscriber: Formula

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.

How many people need to see your pop-up form for you to get 1 subscriber who opens your emails?

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.

Unexpected pop-up statistics
Say what?!

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.

Say what?!

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.

Buffer, Sumo, Entrepreneur, etc. – websites with high traffic. 271 people for them is a bargain when it comes to gaining a quality lead.

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?

Your call.

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?

You decide.

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.

Enchanting Marketing
Have you noticed the sign-up form on the top? Of course you did!

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
henneke-duistermaat

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
andy-crestodina

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.

orbitmedia-blog
Sometimes all you need is to give an interested reader a gentle push in the right direction.

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
mark-traphagen

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.

Here's Why: Stone Temple Consulting
Another episode of “Here’s Why”, starring Eric Enge & some lady. No, wait… what?!

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.

Besides, when you use a pop-up on your website, it alters your business message. You need to be sure you are ok with it.

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.

#1 Reason to Get Rid of Pop-up Forms (Backed by Data)

Feel free to use this image on your site!

21 thoughts on “The #1 Reason to Get Rid of Pop-Up Forms (Backed by Data)

  1. I have always hated them, yet I really get twice as many subscribers with my slide-up. Loyal subscribers, too. Soo geez.

    I suck at math. So let me run this by you:

    My slide-up conversion rate is: 1%.
    My email open rate is about 40%. Clickthrough rate – I don’t know, I find that there is a huge correlation between email open rate and blog visits. So let’s keep it at open rate just to humor me. That would make:

    (100:1) X (100:0,4) = 100 x 25 = 2500?

    Shocking. I am reverting to a footer bar. Now let’s see if that still gets me the same amount of subscribers for now.

    1. You need to divide 100 by 40, not 0,4, Kitty. This makes your number 250 🙂

      “I am reverting to a footer bar. Now let’s see if that still gets me the same amount of subscribers for now.”

      Probably, your footer bar won’t give you the same amount of subscribers. Otherwise you wouldn’t have used that pop-up in the first place, right? 😉

      My point here is, that it’s not about what you get, but what you miss.

      Let’s say, a pop-up gets you 2 subscribers more a day than a sticky footer. But this number says nothing about how many people that pop-up has alienated, how much you bounce rate changed, or how many more people signed up for your courses (which is actually your final business goal.

      This is what this formula is for – to find out how many people (aka prospects) you might be losing using that pop-up.

    2. I don’t think slide-ups are as irritating as pop-ups because slide-ups distract from the reading experience but they don’t block the reader’s view like pop-ups do.

      1. A slider is certainly not as annoying as a pop-up, but it still requires a visitor to interrupt what he was doing and make a concisus effort to close it.

        But coming back to Kitty’s slider situation: I can’t say for sure whether you should remove it, Kitty. I think your situation falls under scenario #4: “Are you using a pop-up form already & are happy with it?”

        I would suggest to test it to be sure. You could remove the slider for some time, but monitor a couple of things other than the conversion rate of the sticky bar you will be using instead.

        For example, like this:

        #1. Note your current numbers for bounce rate & time on page, & conversion rates for your sales pages.

        #2. Remove the slider, add the sticky bar and leave it there for 4 weeks.

        #3. Note what your average bounce rate, time on page & conversion rates for sales pages for these 4 weeks are and compare them to the numbers you’ve got before that.

        #4. Report back here on your findings, because now you got me curious 🙂

  2. I like how you’re showing these calculations, Gill. It gives people an objective way to evaluate popups.

    Popups always feel a little desperate to me. As if a business puts their own objectives (more more more email subscribers) above the needs of customers and prospects.

    I like your point about letting quality content speak for itself. The Stone Temple approach looks good, too!

    1. Thank you, Henneke! 🙂 I hope these numbers can offer a better contra argument to those pro-popup case studies.

      And yes, “desperate” is the right word. I agree. To me, this damages trust immediately. If you are putting your interests first before I was able to read a line of your content, how can I trust you to have my best interest at heart with your product or services?

      I think more people should trust their content. I’ve also seen websites with pop-ups where I thought, “Guys, you don’t need those! Your content is excellent. People will sign-up anyways.”

  3. I’m a simple guy. I install a popup, subscriptions go up, sales go up, I’m happy. I think you make a good case for holding off on the popup until you get a steady stream of visitors to your website though. But the one thing your article kinda misses is a comparison. You tell us the numbers for popups but not for the alternative(s). How many visitors do you need to get a subscriber who clicks through when you don’t have a popup?

    1. Hi Robert. I completely understand the “popup-> more subscriptions -> more sales” relationship. If you are sure it makes sense from a business perspective, go for it. But as you’ve pointed out yourself already, this can only make sense when you have decent traffic.

      Re your question about comparison and how many visitors you need to get a subscriber who clicks through when you don’t have a popup:

      I don’t provide the exact numbers for other tools, as I don’t have the average statistics on their conversion rate.

      But you can calculate it with the same formula but use a conversion rate of the alternative opt-in tool and not the pop-up conversion rate.

      So, if you use a sticky footer, the number of people who need to see it so that you get 1 subscriber who clicks on the links in your email, will be equal to:

      100/(conversion rate of sticky footer) x 100/(your email click-through rate)

      The problem with sticky footers is, though, that it won’t be possible to get an accurate conversion rate, because one person will see it multiple times, which will be recorded as multiple views.

      However, in this article I’m not arguing that using something else than pop-up will get you more engaged subscribers. Often, it won’t. Otherwise everyone else would have ditched pop-ups by now and started using that other tool.

      The point of this article is to encourage people, especially solopreneurs and small businesses for whom personal relationships with their customers are important (consultants, coaches, web designers, copywriters etc.) to look beyond the number of subscribers.

      Because you might get more subscribers, but you also might miss on client inquiries. This depends on your business model, of course.

      That’s what the numbers are for: So that everyone can calculate their own and think whether it is worth it. I found this information missing from those case studies that say pop-ups work, so I thought I’d fill this gap.

  4. Luv ’em or hate ’em. Popups of one sort or another have always been intruding on our reading experience.
    I admit that I’ve used popups on my site, but they haven’t been that successful. I think the happy medium is an exit-intent popup, which at least only intrudes when a visitor is trying to escape your site. I’ve found the best converting opt-in forms to be content upgrades which are placed in line with the relevant content. It seems a natural place to offer something extra that’s related to the article.
    I like the math calculations you’ve used here as it gives everyone a formula they can try themselves.
    What works best for you? Does your sticky footer bar do the job?
    Thanks
    – David

    1. Hi David. Thank you for the comment. I hope you forgive me for not sugarcoating this 🙂

      In my opinion, the exit-intent pop-ups are no better than the usual pop-ups. In this article I link to in the introduction of the post, Jon Reed puts it the way I see it as well:

      “If I’m walking in a park, I’d rather step on dog poop at the end of my walk than the beginning. But all things being equal, I’d rather not step in poop at all.”

      I don’t quite understand the logic behind calling the exit-intent pop-ups the better alternative.

      Your visitor is already leaving. They have already moved on in their mind. Especially when they are “escaping” your website, you should fix the content of your website, not shout “Please don’t leave me” while they are heading to the door. It makes you seem desperate and damages your personal brand.

      And what for? For 3 people out of 100 to get on your list? As a friend of mine put it:

      “To me, it doesn’t mean 3% conversion rate. It means 97% piss-off rate.”

      As a solopreneur who works with clients face-to-face, I can’t afford this.

      Regarding what works best for me:

      My floating bar is a nice add-on, but it’s not my main source for subscribers. I have two pages with super targeted lead magnets you won’t find anywhere else on the web (it took me 2 months to create one of them). These pages convert at 25% and 9,5% and are my main “subscriber sources”.

      By making my lead magnets something super targeted and not a generic ebook, I also ensure the high quality of my list. I don’t believe a pop-up can beat that.

      Hope this helps 🙂

      Gill

  5. I too often feel popups pop too often (I haven’t managed to read anything yet, you already want me to subscribe?) and too intrusive (especially mats). I’ve been trying using them on my site, can’t say they’re too successful. So I’ll definitely try the sticky banner.

    Would you mind sharing the plan for carving the “lead magnets” you’ve mentioned?
    Could you share the specific pages if not (why not?) could you explain the path you took to get to them? Thanks

    1. Hi Mike,

      No problem, my lead magnets are no secret 🙂 Here’s what pages I was referring to and what strategy I followed to create them.

      I have a page with a website review checklist as a mind map. It currently converts at 25%. The reasons it works well I think are the following:

      • It is ultra-specific and is targeting a segment of the audience of this blog (advanced website owners), who will find it very useful.
      • Its unique format (interactive 2D mind map and not a static linear list) makes it more useful to the advanced website owners than any other checklist out there.
      • It is clear that you can’t just quickly put it together yourself (it took me 2 months to create it).

      All of this makes it highly appealing to my target audience. Somebody even reached out to me for an interview on it, which we then did for their blog. So despite it clearly being not everyone’s cup of tea, it seems to be very valuable to a subgroup of my target audience.

      My second page is the same website checklist in the PDF format, which I created later because I heard that some people found the mind map overwhelming but still would like to use the list. It is currently converting with 9%. It has all the characteristics of the mind map list, except the unique format.

      This page gets shared better on social and gets more traffic than the page with the mind map.

      Plus I created both pages with the keyword optimization in mind so that they started ranking already and I also get targeted traffic (and subscribers) from search.

      This very targeted approach also makes sure that I’ll get “quality subscribers” – people who are serious about improving their websites, are ready to do the work and, thus, who will be opening my email newsletters.

      So to summarize, I would recommend doing this if you want your lead magnet to get you quality subscribers:

      • Take time to create something of unique value, making sure it’s not something people can just quickly put together themselves.
      • Target it towards those 20-30% of your audience that will find it highly useful.
      • Create a compelling page for it.
      • Make sure your page is search engine optimized.

      This would be it in short. I’m actually planning to talk more about lead magnets and getting subscribers in my newsletter next week and the week after that.

      80% of the things I share via email newsletter are insider tips I don’t publish on my blog. So if you are interested in this topic and generally in practical tips on how to make your website work better for you, you can join the insider circle here.

      Hope this helps 🙂

      1. Hi Gil,
        Thanks for the prompt and detailed answer, after visiting this page, I’ve googled you and came across your youtube videos which suggested the two resources (the mind map and the pdf) and it was exactly what I needed, just as you said, by being a slightly more involved in building my own site, I appreciated the time it probably took you to come up with such. So I assumed those would be the two, specific high converting materials. Just want to say thank you for the really valuable content and really useful dissection of the how-tos. And of course I’ve subscribed to your email list 🙂

        Thanks

        1. Gill,

          By the way, if you already collecting an email in the reply / discussion, it’d be great if your response, or any new response would have arrived as a notification to the email, even without the content (so that the person visits your site again), just a notification that there is a new response. (If this is not implemented on purpose, I’d be interested to hear your take on that)

          Thanks

          1. Oh, you didn’t get the notification about my response? Hm, I was sure that people get notified… Thanks for pointing it out! It’s important that a person who commented also knows that I responded, so I’ll make sure I’ll fix it.

  6. Gill

    As you were kind enough to post a stream of 140 char tweets in response to my questions, I thought I’d cross-post so you could post your answers here 🙂

    Q1 – Do you have any pop-up vs on-page form comparison data?

    Q2 – Are link-clicks per email send, or for the lifetime of the subscriber?

    Q3 – The stark divergence between Open Rates & Click Rates SMB vs BigB are a function of messaging quality? CTAs? # of Sends?

    Cheers

    JB

    1. Hi JB 🙂

      How nice! Thank you. I’m reposting my replies below.

      A1) Yes and no. It makes sense to calculate pop-up conversion rate (CR) as all pop-ups are similar: They pop-up & have an email form. With on-page forms, it makes a huge difference where it is placed, what it is about, is it sticky etc. So an average won’t make any sense.

      For example, I have pages with lead magnets that convert with 25% and 9%. The sign-up form on my home page converts with 0.5%. See also my comments above on this.

      A2) Click-through rate is calculated as unique clicks / delivered number x 100 and means the following: Out of 100 subscribers who got your email, how many click on a link in it on average? It doesn’t take into consideration whether it’s different subscribers or the same. It’s really just an average.

      A3) There is no data on this, & I don’t think it’s possible to collect it. Even if you directly ask recipients why they didn’t open/click, they may not be able to tell you or it may have nothing to do with your email.

      1. I think pop-ups come in as many varieties as on-page forms (onLoad, delayed, triggered, onUnload, full-screen, half screen etc, before we even get into messaging, CTAs, colours etc), so you could probably compare at a very broad level, with the caveat that different things will convert very differently. It is hard to get any aggregated, quality data though.

        It’s always possible to segment your list(s) and run A/B tests to see what impacts opens & clicks, some of the email-only guys I know are big into this & very few SMBs really engage with testing, unfortunately.

        The frustrating thing is that SMBs have done the hard yards in getting the sign-up & getting the open, but let themselves down in driving engagement & response, and half the time there are probably relatively straight-forward fixes to be had: CTAs are usually a good place to start 😉

        Cheers

        JB

        1. I agree, every site is unique. But with pop-ups, there is indeed more detailed statistics depending on what kind of pop-up is:

          • Welcome mats: 2,6%
          • Scroll box: 1,9%
          • Smart bar: 0,5%

          Source: this article.

          According to the same article, top performing 10% convert at 6,5%, which already gives you an idea of the range.

          I think it’s like with the debate what is safer, a car or an airplane. Although the probability to die in a car accident is higher than in an airplane crash, people are still afraid to fly but have no problem driving, with the most popular argument being: “When I’m in the air, I can’t do anything. But when it’s a car incident, I have much more control”.

          So basically, you look at the statistics and say, “I’m special. It will be different in my case”. It’s, of course, your right. I’m sure all other people also thought that, but this statistic already captures them trying their best.

          So despite trying different colors / CTAs / messages, which may show a small lift in conversions, the overall picture is such that pop-ups convert at a low rate, simply because they by their nature interfere with user experience and prevent your visitors from reaching their goals. And you can’t eliminate that unless you eliminate the pop-up.

          The point this article raises is whether the amount and the quality of subscribers you’ll get with a pop-up justifies a number of prospects you’ll alienate and annoy or the quality of the subscribers you’ll get.

          My opinion based on the calculation I presented: For some people, it will be justifiable, but for majority (especially small business owners), it won’t, regardless of CTAs or any other elements.

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