Four tips for using pop-ups to build your email list

This is a guest post from Rukham Khan, Content Lead at MailMunch, a lead acquisition form and pop-up builder.

Pop-ups have a somewhat controversial reputation and history, but there’s a reason you encounter them on so many of the websites you visit on a daily basis. And that’s because well-designed pop-ups with compelling offers are really effective—yes, even with people who swear they dislike them.

In fact, pop-ups have the best average conversion rate of any type of opt-in forms, at above three percent.

Pop-ups are designed with a singular goal in mind: to get a visitor to take an action. In this article, we’re going to focus on one specific action that’s crucial for all eCommerce businesses: growing your email list. 

Why focus on growing your store’s email list and not try to use your pop-ups to make sales? Most of the visitors who come to your eCommerce site aren’t quite ready to make a purchase. In fact, one study found 92 percent of people who visit an eCommerce site for the first time aren’t ready to buy, and another found shoppers make an average of 9.5 visits to a brand’s store before buying.

That means you need to do more than just try to sell to a customer immediately when they visit your store: You need to figure out a way to build a relationship with them, keep them engaged, and get them to return to your store when they are ready to make a purchase. Email is the best bet for doing so. Use your pop-ups to get subscribers, then use welcome emails and other automations to keep them engaged with your brand—and, ultimately, bring them back to buy.

Here are our four best tips for increasing the conversion rate on your pop-ups, so you can bring in more subscribers—who you can then nurture into paying customers.

1. Time your pop-ups strategically

The timing of your pop-ups can prove to be a deciding factor in whether a visitor subscribes or not.

If your pop-up is the very first thing that greets a visitor—before they even have a chance to look around your site at all—chances are they’ll be annoyed and quickly dismiss the pop-up. They might even leave the site altogether. An instant pop-up is like a salesperson running up to a customer the moment they walk through the doors of a brick-and-mortar store, blocking their path, and asking for their contact info. While a few customers might be interested, many will also be completely turned off and lose interest. 

According to research by the Nielsen Norman Group, the first 10 seconds on a website are crucial; if a visitor stays longer than 10 seconds, odds are they’ll stick around for a while to read and explore the page. 

The probability of someone leaving a page based on the time spend there.
Via: NNG.

The research also suggests that displaying a pop-up right after a user lands on a page will give them more motivation to exit quickly. By holding off the pop-up for a little while, you give the visitor an opportunity to get to know you and what you’re offering before you ask them for something.

But… you can’t wait too long. If your pop-up is timed to display too late (say, after two minutes), you could miss out on visitors who’ve already navigated to a different page on your site or left for a different site altogether.

The ideal middle ground, then, is when a visitor is most likely to be engaged with the content of your page. To find the sweet spot for when you should display a pop-up, find the average time a visitor spends on a given page with Google Analytics. (You can find that in Google Analytics by going to Behavior > Site Content.)

Let’s say you have a great, in-depth piece of content with an average browse time of six minutes and four seconds. Now that we know the average time for that page, we’ll want to set up the pop-up to display at around the 50 to 60 percent mark; in this case, that would be three minutes and two seconds.

The logic for such a delayed pop-up is that people who’ve spent that much time on your page will be more willing to further engage with your website. Plus, if they’re enjoying some content, a well-timed pop-up offering them more content through your email list could be well-received.

Finally, another factor related to pop-up timing is pop-up frequency. Most pop-up builder apps allow you to choose when to redisplay your ads to a website visitor. (Here’s an example from the company where I work, Mailmunch, where we’ve set it up so visitors only see pop-ups every 100 days. That, however, is a fairly long delay; the default is seven days.)

Set how frequently you want a pop-up to appear.

Often, a visitor will dismiss your pop-up the first time it’s displayed; sometimes it’s just instinct to dismiss a pop-up as soon as you see it. That doesn’t always mean the visitor was disinterested; they just weren’t interested in responding to a pop-up at that moment. 

When you redisplay the same pop-up to the same visitor after a fixed amount of days, we’ve found at Mailmunch that it increases your chances of attaining a new lead.

2. Use action-based triggers

With action-based triggers, a pop-up is displayed when a visitor takes a specific action on your site. For example, you could set your pop-up to display after a visitor has scrolled through a certain percentage of a page. The idea is to allow the visitor to become fully engaged with your content before you display a pop-up; the more they scroll, the higher their engagement.

We recommend setting your pop-up to appear once a customer has scrolled anywhere between 40 to 70 percent of the way through your page. (But that’s just a jumping off point; to find the exact sweet spot for your website, test with different percentages to see which range brings you the best results.)

Another type of action-based pop-up that’s useful for growing your email list is an exit-intent pop-up. As the name suggests, exit-intent pop-ups are displayed when a person is about to exit the page. Your site detects they’re about to leave by monitoring mouse movement and looking for signals they’re about to close the browser window or change tabs.

Exit-intent pop-ups are, on a philosophical level, the opposite of time-based and scroll-based pop-ups. Those latter two try to capture engaged users; exit-intent pop-ups are focused on visitors who’ve lost engagement. They serve as a last-minute effort to try to get a visitor to sign up for your list.

Exit-intent pop-ups work best when you offer something of real value to a visitor, because it takes some convincing to stop them in their tracks after they’ve made the decision to leave. It’s best to give them the juiciest offers you have as an incentive to subscribe to your list, be it a great discount, a free gift, or another type of lead magnet.

3. Optimize pop-up design

It seems obvious that a pop-up should be well-designed—but what does it actually mean to “design a good pop-up”? Let’s look at some design considerations that make a pop-up stand out and increase its chances of converting.

Match your brand colors

To make your pop-up look like a natural part of your website and provide your visitors with a pleasant experience, match the colors of your pop-up with your website’s color scheme. If you’re worried about whether your pop-up will stand out if it uses your website’s colors, you can use an overlay to fade out the website to draw more focus to the pop-up.

In this example from the cosmetics brand Colourpop, they’ve managed to stay true to their brand colors while still keeping all the attention on the pop-up. They’ve done this by fading out the website so the eyes automatically land on the pop-up. The blues and pinks complement the color scheme of the rest of the website, while the CTA uses a strong black color to make sure it’s “can’t miss.”

Colourpop's color scheme pop-up.

Strike a balance between copy and images

This is all about the harmony of your design. When there’s a balance between images and text (not too much or too little of either), your pop-up will not only catch a visitor’s attention, but will also be aesthetically appealing.

Pop-ups are meant to be consumed quickly. If you use a wall of text with no images, the pop-up becomes a chore to read. Conversely, if you use too much imagery and don’t provide any text cues, your visitor might be left confused and won’t know what the pop-up is offering.

This text-image balance is especially crucial in eCommerce marketing, where you may be displaying product pictures along with text. Use a mix of text and images to strengthen your value proposition. The images of your products draw in the visitor, the text elaborates on the benefits of signing up for your list.

Make pop-up elements that stand out

Your pop-up will function best when each element is easily visible and distinguishable. In other words: Design your pop-up so your visitor doesn’t have to squint their eyes to find the text, form, and CTA. Most visitors won’t take the time to sift through bad pop-up design.

Here’s an example of a list building pop-up from Peel, an iPhone case brand, that shows how you can make elements of a pop-up… well… pop. The heading is eye-catching and bold. The product images are appealing. And the CTA is clearly visible as a solid black bar with white text.

Peel's pop-up ad with elements that stand out.
Via: Snapshop.

4. Write compelling copy

You can have a pop-up that’s perfectly timed, catches the eye, and is well-designed—but you still won’t maximize your conversions if the copy doesn’t deliver. Your copy is how you convey your message, offer, and value proposition. You use your words to lock in a lead.

Here are some copy tips you can use to increase your pop-up conversion rates.

Focus on clarity and brevity

A pop-up needs to capture a visitor’s attention—and it has limited time and real estate to do so. That means your copy needs to be crisp, clear, and concise. Make sure your visitor can understand your message immediately. Keep it concise to get the value proposition across in a matter of seconds; you need to make it instantly clear why they should subscribe and not just close the pop-up. 

WIIFM: focus on the benefit

WIIFM, or “What’s In It For Me,” is a copywriting tactic where you to put yourself in the visitor’s shoes and pose the question: What’s in it for me? If you were visiting this website, what would compel you to voluntarily sign up to receive marketing emails?

The WIIFM formula helps you empathize with the visitor and make a better judgment on whether you’re actually offering something of value. When you keep WIIFM in mind, it reminds you to create copy that focuses on the benefits for the visitor rather than you talking about your brand (or what’s in it for you). 

Use clear formatting

Headlines, spacing, columns, bullet points, color, bold, and italics are tools you can use to give your copy a nice, clean look—and make sure the visitor focuses their attention in the right spots.

Headlines grab the most attention, so make them bold, powerful, and benefit-laden; your headline needs to convey what you’re offering. Bullet points allow for easy scanning and will help deliver subscription benefits quickly. Bold and italics can add character to your copy and help emphasize important parts of your text.

And don’t neglect white space—when parts of your pop-up are offset with empty space, it gives them a “halo effect” and instills an added sense of importance.

Here’s an example of a pop-up from the discount designer clothing site Gilt (we think it’s a hard G sound, so they’re not also pronounced Jilt). You’ll notice they’ve divided their pop-up into two columns. One column focuses on the advantages of a membership and uses bullet points with short snippets of text for maximum readability and quick consumption. The other column is a simple email sign-up form with an eye-catching CTA.

Gilt's pop-up ad with good formatting included.

Key takeaways

Most website owners and marketers are well aware of the power of pop-ups and the high conversion rates they promise. But there’s a trade-off: most people dislike pop-ups, so if you’re going to use them, they’d better be effective to justify the hit to the user experience.

Here are our best tips for getting the most out of the list building pop-ups on your eCommerce site.

  • Time your pop-ups. Figure out the average time a visitor stays on a page, and time your pop-up to appear around the 50 to 60 percent mark. And also calculate how frequently you want to show pop-ups to visitors on subsequent visits.
  • Use action-based triggers. You can have pop-ups appear when a visitor scrolls to a certain spot on a page, or when they’re about to exit your site. 
  • Optimize your design. Make sure your pop-up matches the look and feel of your site. Strike a good balance between images and copy to make your pop-up easy to digest. And use contrasting colors to make key elements of your pop-up (like the headline and call-to-action) stand out.
  • Write compelling copy. Keep your copy clear and concise—stay brief, focus on the benefits the visitor will get for subscribing, and use smart formatting to guide them through your copy.

One final note: While these tips should help you improve your conversions from the pop-ups on your site, in order to maximize the effectiveness of pop-ups for your specific audience, we strongly recommend testing and experimenting. Look at these tips as a jumping off point, and you can then adjust and adapt to improve your conversions.

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