Jul 13, 2015

How to Make Popup Subscription Forms That Work

Ah, the dreaded popup subscription form. If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, you’ve likely encountered more than your fair share. Sometimes it seems they swarm like mosquitoes—swat one away, two more appear.

Even if you’re an email marketer, popups likely make your skin crawl. “Given my high standard for user experience, I had major reservations about popups,” says William Nutt, who founded and curates the elegantly-designed daily news digest, Briefing. “Typically, they’re egregiously intrusive, with inconsistent branding and offputting sales language.”

We used to hate these things so much, we called our own popup form feature “evil popup mode” for a while. But there’s a reason they’re so prevalent: They work. And we’ve started rethinking that whole "evil" thing.

If you strike the right balance between your needs (a bigger email list) and your site visitor’s needs (a peaceful browsing experience), they can even be not completely annoying.

In the spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” we talked with 3 MailChimp users about how they made peace with popup subscription forms and grew their email lists while keeping the needs—and sanity—of their users in mind.

thing industries popup

Thing Industries: Give and take

In 2014, about a year after Thing Industries launched, Bridie Picot and her co-founder Matt Smith decided they wanted to foster a more direct relationship with their customers than what social media channels allowed. They knew email was the way to go, and Bridie realized that popups might have a role to play.

“We had a wee button that invited people to sign up but weren’t getting many subscribers from that,” she says. “I had some reservations about adding a popup, but I think if it’s done in a not-annoying way with a reward for signing up, it’s win-win.”

Now, about 5 seconds after a visitor lands on the Thing Industries homepage, a popup appears and suggests signing up for the site’s weekly email list.

For Bridie, who wrote the popup code herself, timing was important. “I get annoyed when they’re immediate, because I don’t yet know if I like your stuff,” she says. “I’ll always close a window that pops up immediately.”

Unlike popups on some websites, which return even after you’ve closed out the message, Bridie set Thing Industries’ to close and say closed. And if you do choose to subscribe, you get a 15% discount as a thank you.

This way, everyone wins: Thing Industries’ email list has grown, and their readers save money on products purchased from a small business that respects their time and web-surfing boundaries.

3drpopup

3D Robotics: Test, test, test some more

3D Robotics develops drone software and sells a variety of models and accessories for personal and professional use. Because its products are cutting-edge, complicated to use, and expensive, email is a crucial part of how the company does business. In fact, the 3D Robotics newsletter aims to educate and excite subscribers about drone technology, keeping them engaged until they’re ready to purchase.

The 3D Robotics website already promoted the newsletter with a featured a subscribe link in its footer and a persistent bar with signup link across the top of each page. But for a while, the company’s marketers were hesitant about adding a popup.

What changed their minds? A/B testing.

When the 3D Robotics marketing team tested a version of the homepage with a popup form against a version without, they were shocked by the number of customers who subscribed and by the rate at which those readers opened subsequent emails.

The popup—set up through MailChimp’s integration with WisePops—now appears 10 seconds into a visitor’s second pageview on the site, then never again. (It never shows up on support pages or within the 3D Robotics online shop.) About 5% of all new visitors to the site subscribe via the popup.

Currently, the popup’s messaging promotes the company’s monthly drone giveaway, which readers enter by subscribing to the email list. Those numbers may soon improve, too, as the team plans to test 8 different message styles in a new campaign.

briefing popup

Briefing: Enhance the user experience

Yep, even William Nutt—who once called popups “egregiously intrusive”—finally saw the light.

“I also knew how effective they were,” he admits. “Furthermore, I knew that most users were visiting the Briefing website specifically to subscribe. So I sought a way to employ a popup subscription form while enhancing the user experience.”

Nutt used MailChimp’s integration with SumoMe to design the form to fit Briefing’s aesthetic, and made sure to match the language of the popup’s call to action with the site and newsletter’s tone.

The popup appears after 5 seconds on most pages, and appears for returning users every 3 days. A/B testing helped refine the messaging.

The result? After 3 months, Briefing saw a 28.4% increase in conversion rate, with 70% of new subscriptions coming through the popup.

“And the indirect benefits were endless,” William adds. “With more readers subscribing to the newsletter rather than reading the content at getbriefing.com, they became more likely to engage at a higher frequency and to share the publication.“

Not so scary, huh?

If you’re looking to add a popup subscription form to your site, you’ve got a few options. You can write your own code, like Thing Industries, to get a super-custom popup. You can use one of our many popup integrations, like 3D Robotics and Briefing did. Or you can create subscription popups right inside the MailChimp app. Now, go forth and pop (within reason)!