Getting email subscribers: On-site techniques

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

The primary place you build your email list will almost certainly be your website.

That can present a unique challenge to eCommerce sites, however, as you’re already trying to get visitors to your site to take a different action (buying your products, naturally).

While the goal of an eCommerce site is to make sales, of course, getting visitors to subscribe to your email list is extremely important too. That’s because more than nine out of 10 people who visit an eCommerce site for the first time aren’t ready to buy. They’re there for any number of reasons—check out products, gather information, find out about your store, check out your content, comparison shop—but strong purchase intent is largely not one of them.

However… they clearly have some interest in your site. They’re just not yet ready to buy in the moment. The challenge to you as an eCommerce business is to capture some of those “window shopping” visitors so you can keep in touch with them, keep the relationship warm, and be front-of-mind when they finally are ready to make a purchase.

That’s where your email list comes in. In our last lesson, we discussed the incentives you can use to entice a website visitor to join your list; in this lesson, we’ll cover all the places you can promote your signup form on your website.

Getting email signups: Customer opt-ins

None of the incentives in the previous lesson address what very well may be a large portion of your email list: Customers who’ve made a purchase. While this lesson is primarily about enticing email signups before someone makes a purchase, for many companies, post-purchase subscriptions are the largest source of new subscribers.

However, as we’ll cover in our list maintenance lesson, one of the top reasons people unsubscribe from a list is they didn’t realize they’d signed up. You can avoid that churn—and the potential of creating angry customers or receiving spam complaints—by presenting customers with a clear opt-in/opt-out option during checkout. 

As tempting as it may be to bulk up your list by adding everyone who makes a purchase, you really want your list to be filled exclusively with people who want to be there. Customers who don’t want to be on your list most likely won’t be good subscribers and repeat buyers anyway, so it’s not worthwhile to have them around.

A smaller list of people who all want to be there is better than a larger list that includes people who don’t.

The best way to build a clean, engaged list is to give customers a chance to opt in when they make their purchase.

Getting email signups: On-site forms

Not every visitor to your store is going to buy something. But something motivated them to visit your site which means, on some level, they’re interested in what you’re selling. Maybe they found you through a Google search. Maybe a friend’s recommendation, a link on a website, a social media ad. Regardless of how they found you, something drove them to click through to your site.

So even if they aren’t ready to buy something right now, they certainly could be ready in the future—and your goal, therefore, is to stay in touch with them, making sure you’re top of mind when they are ready to buy. The best way to accomplish that is to capture their email address and get them on your mailing list.

And the first step to doing so is to make it easy for site visitors to sign up if they so desire. One study of more than 100 sites across a variety of eCommerce industries found 22 percent don’t make it obvious how to sign up for their email list. Those bad design decisions can include things like only having an opt-in form on one page, hiding the form, or only having it appear once in a pop-up. If people can’t find your form, they can’t join your list.

Nearly one in four eCommerce sites do not make it obvious how to subscribe to their email list.

In this section, we’re going to go over six key places you can incorporate an email list signup form into your site design in an effort to maximize the number of visitors who decide to join your list.

1. In the header

The header of your website is among your most valuable real estate—after all, it’s something that everyone is going to see on every page.

Email sign-up in the header.

By putting an email signup form in the header, you’re making sure every visitor sees it. You’re also making sure they don’t have to go searching for the form if they do want to sign up; it’s right there, above the fold, no scrolling to the footer or hunting elsewhere on the site required. 

That said, more than three-quarters of eCommerce sites don’t include an email signup in their header. 

Pros

Cons

Prime real estate means every visitor will see your form.

You may want your prime real estate to go directly towards selling.

Visitors who want to sign up don’t have to do any searching.

If it’s your only placement, it’s like asking visitors to sign up before they explore your site.

Could be confused with a search bar, which is more common in eCommerce site headers.

2. In a floating bar

A floating bar stays on the top (or bottom) of the screen as a visitor scrolls. It’s like a more intense version of putting a sign-up form in your header; now it’s not just in your header, it’s persistently available at all times.

An email sign-up form in a floating bar is a good balance between an aggressive technique and one that doesn’t interfere with the shopping experience. The bar’s persistent presence certainly makes it hard to ignore, but unlike a lightbox pop-up, won’t take over the screen or get in the way of someone on a mission to make a purchase.

It’s also proven to be an effective technique for getting signups. WordPress theme seller DIYthemes published a case study about their use of a persistent floating bar that helped them gain 1,180 subscribers in a month.  

In the example below, Advisor Coach employed a persistent bar on only its blog post pages—not its product pages, so as to not interfere with or distract from potential sales conversions. But even just putting it on the blog led to double the number of signups versus what they were getting prior to incorporating the bar.

Using a floating bar for sign-ups.

Pros

Cons

Hard to miss placement.

Could get annoying to visitors, especially if your site features other, more aggressive email gathering techniques, like lightbox pop-ups.

Extremely effective way to improve email list signup rates.

Could distract someone looking to buy.

Plugins to incorporate a high-quality floating bar can get expensive.

Recommended plugins

Unless you’ve got a front-end developer on staff, you’ll want to use a plugin to add a floating bar to your site. Here are some of the top ones:

  • OptinMonster. OptinMonster’s floating bars are part of a suite of conversion-focused tools, and are part of their plans at $19/month and up. Plus, they have a full integration with Jilt.
  • MailMunch. MailMunch offers floating bars as one of their email capture techniques, along with other pop-ups and forms. They have a generous free plan as well as paid plans starting at $7/month, plus they also have a full integration with Jilt.
  • Site Kit. Site Kit also does floating bars as well as other conversion tools like popups. There’s a limited free plan, and paid plans start at $19/month.
  • Hello Bar. A very popular option that’s easy to incorporate. There’s a free plan for up to 5,000 views a month (but you have to keep the Hello Bar logo). Paid plans start at $29/month.

3. In the sidebar

Where is the first place you look for an email signup form on a website? The sidebar has been a common spot for email signup forms for decades now—and as a result, visitors are conditioned to look in that spot when they’re looking for one.

Sign-up in the sidebar.

The best part of the sidebar to include a form is the very top, since it is above the fold and guaranteed to be seen on page load. Entrepreneur course shop My Wife Quit Her Job put an email form at the top of the sidebar and found it had the second best performance results of any location, converting at 1.4 percent. Only a pop-up form did better, meaning the top of the sidebar performed the best of any static location on the site (and did so while being significantly less annoying than a pop-up).

Pros

Cons

High-converting placement where visitors know to look.

Your site’s design may not have a sidebar.

Simple to incorporate in your site.

eCommerce sidebars are often used for functional purposes, like filtering a large collection of items.

It’s unobtrusive, so does not annoy visitors.

4. On blog posts

If you have a blog on your eCommerce site, a main focus should be converting readers to subscribers. After all, if someone is reading your blog, it shows they’re interested in the content you’re creating—which is exactly what you can use your email list to deliver. 

Your blog is also a good place to solicit sign ups because it won’t conflict with other calls-to-action on your site. For example, if you put a pop-up window looking for email signups on a product page, that could distract a visitors that’s potentially in the middle of making a buying decision—and the action they take could be signing up for your list rather than making a purchase. That conflict doesn’t exist on your blog, where a visitor isn’t in the active buying process.

Blog visitors are often higher up the sales funnel than product page visitors, making them great targets to subscribe to your list (and then nurture into customers).

Beardbrand, a beard care products eCommerce site that puts a significant amount of effort into its content, includes this email signup call out on every one of their blog pages. That’s not a small signup form—it’s large enough to take over the majority of a visitor’s screen. They place it at the end of a blog post, looking to hook someone who wants to read more.

Include a sign-up on every blog page.

Pros

Cons

A key way to turn readers into eventual customers.

Requires a commitment to blogging and original content, which you may not have the budget or capacity to execute.

Asking for email signups on a blog page won’t interfere with selling, which might happen if you ask for signups on a product page.

5. On your about us page

Odds are you haven’t thought too much about your “about us” page since the day you put it up. But your visitors haven’t neglected it. The about us page gets a surprisingly high amount of traffic—to the point where many sites will find it’s among their top three most visited pages.

If someone heads to your about us page, that demonstrates an interest in your brand. So even if the person isn’t quite ready to buy, they may be ready to connect—and that’s where your email signup form comes in.

Put a subscription form on your about page.

Casper spotlights their email signup form about two-thirds of the way down their about us page—after someone has read a good amount about the brand, but not at the very bottom when that person might be ready to leave the page to shop. Notice the word choices: “Join the well rested.” Throughout the about us page, they’ve presented their brand as a movement, not just a manufacturer—and the language of their signup form reflects that.

There’s really no downside to putting an email signup form on your about us page. It’s not valuable real estate where multiple CTA options are fighting for pixels. It’s not a product page aiming to convert a sale. It’s just a free spot waiting to be better used.

Pros

Cons

Your about us page receives a surprising amount of traffic, so that traffic might as well go toward the mission of growing your email list.

None.

Visitors to the about us page have shown an interest in the brand, making them a natural fit to join your email list.

6. In the footer

The footer is the most common spot for an email signup form; more than 80 percent of eCommerce sites have a form there. While putting an email signup form in the footer alone probably isn’t enough to get you the signup rate you want, it doesn’t hurt to have the form there. After all, it’s not particularly valuable or hotly contested real estate like the header—it’s usually where brands stick links to less popular parts of their website or informational resources that aren’t meant to directly convert to sales. Plus, if someone has made it all the way to your page footer, that’s another demonstration of interest in your store.

Notebook company Field Notes has a well-designed footer (it matches the exact aesthetic of their signature notebook). The integrated signup form matches the brand’s design, it gives a quick description of what a person will get for signing up for the list, and it makes the signup process quick and easy.

Put a subscribe form in the footer.

Pros

Cons

Visitors know to look for a signup form in the footer.

None.

The footer isn’t valuable real estate, so the form won’t be displacing anything else.

Anyone who makes it to the bottom of the page has shown interest in your brand, so an email signup is a natural next step.

Getting email signups: More aggressive on-site methods 

All of the methods we just discussed for on-site form placement are more or less passive ways of email collection. In this section, we’ll cover ways you can get more aggressive about promoting your email list on your website, presenting its value proposition, and getting more subscribers.

Of course, more aggressive tactics can provide higher rewards—but come with a higher risk of turning off customers. They may even drive some people—some paying customers—away from your site. So they should be handled with care, used judiciously, and actively monitored and tested to make sure they’re not doing more harm than good.

That being said—when they’re doing “good,” it can be very good.

Here are four of the more aggressive on-site tactics you can use to get email signups and the proper ways to implement them.

1. Lightbox pop-ups for email signup

People don’t like pop-ups. Almost everyone finds them at least slightly annoying, and a quarter of people find them extremely annoying. One marketer’s study found that pop-ups led to people visiting fewer pages on the site, staying for a shorter time, and leaving without going to another page more often.

So if pop-ups are universally recognized as the scourge of the internet, why hasn’t that been enough to make them go away? Because even though we hate them, we can’t resist them. A well-done pop-up can see conversion rates hit unfathomable levels, sometimes even pushing into the 40 to 50 percent range. That’s hard to beat.

A lightbox pop-up takes over your site, on top of all the content, so one very specific, can’t-miss message is put in front of the visitors’ eyes. They’re a very popular way to gather email subscribers—odds are, if you’re on a site with a lightbox pop-up, it’s one that’s trying to get you to join an email list.

Using a lightbox pop-up.

One way to mitigate the potential turn-off factor of a pop-up is to delay when it pops up. Give people the chance to look around before you start immediately trying to get them on your list. Popping up instantly is the equivalent of a salesperson bum rushing you when you enter a retail store—some people might like it (or, at least, tolerate it) but most of the time, that’s just too aggressive.

Consider delaying your pop-ups so they only appear after a visitor has been on your site for a certain amount of time or after they’ve scrolled for a bit. This pop-up from apparel store Design by Humans only comes up once a visitor has scrolled nearly to the bottom of the homepage.

Delayed lightbox pop-ups work well.

You should also make sure that once a visitor has dismissed the pop-up, it doesn’t keep appearing every time they navigate to another page. 

Pros

Cons

Can’t-miss way to get a message in front of your visitors.

Everyone hates pop-ups and they detract from the user experience.

Potential for extremely high conversion rates.

Could drive away lots and lots of potential customers.

2. Exit-intent pop-ups

Exit-intent pop-ups are a special type of pop-ups that only appear when a visitor is about to leave your site. They’re often triggered by mouse behavior; e.g., using browser detection that watches for the cursor to start moving up the screen toward the back button or the address bar.

Around one in seven eCommerce sites uses exit-intent pop-ups as a last-second attempt to connect with a visitor before they leave the site—possibly forever. Studies have shown that approximately 70 to 96 percent of people who leave your site will never come back, and exit-intent pop-ups can convert 10 to 15 percent of those people into subscribers.

Up to 96 percent of people who leave your site will never come back.

Exit-intent popups for cart abandonment are an effective way to gather email addresses even if the visitor hasn’t made it to the checkout screen yet.

Like other pop-ups, they carry the usual pop-up ad stigma. However, exit-intent pop-ups should do less harm than other forms of pop-ups; after all, the person was already leaving your site, so a pop-up on the way out most likely isn’t going to ruin a potential sale.

When you’re creating an exit-intent pop-up, your goal is to catch the visitor’s eye and give them a reason to pause. Experts recommend you use a word like “Wait!” in your pop-ups, or a ticking clock—really, anything that might slow down the exit process and make the person reconsider leaving your site for good.

They’re also the right time to give your best offer. The analogy here is the customer walking out of the car dealership and the salesperson chasing them down to take one more hail mary to try to save the sale; you’ve got one last chance, make it count.

Here’s an exit-intent pop-up from the jewelry store Ask & Embla. It slows down a visitor who’s leaving with “Hold on! Before you go…” Then the store offers its best discount (15 percent) for subscribing to its email list.

An exit-intent pop-up example.

Pros

Cons

Last ditch effort to grab a customer before they leave.

Pop-ups, even ones on exit, are still loathed by many.

Can rescue up to 15 percent of visitors who might never have returned to your site.

Arguably less potential to irritate potential customers, since they were leaving anyway.

Excellent asset for fighting cart abandonment.

3. Welcome gates

A welcome gate gives a website visitor a preview of some content, then blocks the rest without registration for an email list. While it’s not a natural fit for an eCommerce store selling, say, soap, it could make sense for stores selling digital products like courses, books, or other types of content.

The big plus side to using a welcome gate is that anyone who signs up has shown a committed interest in your content and, therefore, is a very solid prospect as a customer. Welcome gates also convert quite well—case studies show welcome gates converting at rates between 19 and 45 percent. The big downside is that welcome gates are very frustrating for visitors who are just trying to get a taste of what you do. 

Unbounce interviewed a number of marketers for their opinions on welcome gates. Some key quotes:

“People who fill out a form have essentially pre-qualified themselves and are, therefore, higher-quality leads.”

“Holding something back identifies those who are most serious.”

“I don’t believe in content gates… if the information you’re putting out is truly worthy of my time, I’ll naturally want to receive more. I’ll be hooked. How will I receive more? That’s my call. Email, RSS, Twitter follow, LinkedIn connection. Give me easy access to your information and I’ll be your biggest customer.”

“From my experience, gating content creates a lot of backlash. Opt-in forms give me three times the leads of any other method, but they tick people off… a lot.”

If you do decide to use welcome gates, make sure to clearly communicate the value in filling out a form to subscribe. The content you’re protecting should be very high value—the type of content that would be worth paying for. And you shouldn’t gate all of the content on your site; people have to see that you’re an authority who’s putting out great material before they’ll be willing to sign up.

eCommerce education site A Better Lemonade Stand is smart with their strategic use of welcome gates. Essentially, they’ve tiered their content based on value. Their entire blog, filled with high-quality articles, is totally available with no gates.

Blog content here is totally un-gated.

If you’re enticed by those articles and want their even more in-depth eBooks, guides, and free training videos, those are behind a welcome gate.

Using a welcome gate as people want more in-depth information.

And once you sign up there, you’re now a pre-qualified lead for their most premium products, which are sold in their eCommerce store.

Some content is even on sale.

Pros

Cons

People who sign up from a welcome gate are very interested, pre-qualified leads.

Welcome gates can be a huge turn-off to curious potential customers.

By not making your content all easily available, you’re establishing that it’s premium quality.

People want their own choice in how to consume content.

4. Early email capture

Early email capture is a lesser used, but very effective, way to grab a customer’s address when they add a product to their cart, even if they don’t ultimately purchase. With early email capture, a pop-up appears when a customer clicks on an “add to cart” button inviting the customer to share their email address to reserve their cart. Early email capture is best used for cart abandonment emails, as a person who does decide to enter an email to save a cart is indicating a legitimate interest in purchasing the items (if not now, then perhaps sometime down the road).

An example of early email capture.

However, early email capture does not seem to be a particularly widespread feature (at Jilt, for example, only around eight percent of stores currently have this feature implemented). It’s possible that stores have found its effectiveness does not outweigh the potential downsides, like irritating customers with a pop-up, or even creating confusion about whether entering an email address is required to add products to a cart.

If you decide to implement early email capture, make it clear it’s why you’re asking for an email—and that a customer can continue shopping or checkout without doing so. Also, if you intend to do more with the email than cart abandonment emails (e.g., you’re planning to add the person to your mailing list for other marketing emails), make sure it’s abundantly clear what they’re opting in to receive.

Summary and implementation

Summary

Not everyone who visits your eCommerce site is ready to make a purchase—in fact, most visitors aren’t. You need to find a way to keep in touch with as many of those interested-but-not-ready-to-buy visitors as you can, and your email list is ideal for nurturing those leads into customers.

You should promote your email list prominently on your eCommerce site (and promote the value proposition of joining) to retain those potential customers. There are a number of places you can weave signup forms into your website.

  • The header. Giving your email form prominent placement in your header ensures visitors will see it.
  • A floating bar. A persistent bar that remains on the screen while visitors scroll makes sure a visitor always has the option of quickly popping their email into the form to sign up.
  • The top of the sidebar. We’re conditioned to look for an email signup form at the top of a site’s sidebar, which may be why it’s a high-converting location.
  • On blog posts. Anyone who reads your content has demonstrated some level of interest in your brand, so it’s a natural fit to try to get them to sign up for your email list.
  • The about us page. About us pages on eCommerce sites get surprisingly high traffic. Anyone who visits one must have some interest in the brand and an email signup form is a good opportunity for them to stay connected.
  • The footer. While the footer isn’t the most exciting location, it’s the standard spot for email signup forms.

There are also a number of more aggressive forms of email list promotion you can employ. Before using them, you should weigh the trade-off of more visibility to visitors (and, ultimately, more subscribers) to annoying some customers in the process.

  • Lightbox pop-ups. By blocking the screen to ask for an email address, you’re making sure the option to subscribe is front and center for visitors to your website. This means of email gathering has maximum annoyance—but also maximum effectiveness.
  • Exit-intent pop-ups. Exit-intent pop-ups give you one last chance to try to grab an email address before a customer leaves your site—most likely for good.
  • Welcome gates. By blocking off some of your content and putting it behind an email subscription wall, you’re collecting emails from people who are seriously interested in your content.
  • Early email capture. Collecting an email when someone adds a product to a cart is a good, albeit fairly uncommon, technique for your cart abandonment email strategy.

Implementation

Here are some action steps you can take in order to use everything from this lesson to start growing your email list both in the short-term and long-term.

Step 1: Incorporate your email signup into your website

  • Add your signup form and value proposition to different spots on your website. The footer, about us page, and blog posts should work for every site.
  • Then you may want to pick one of these three additional to start: A signup form in the site header, a floating bar, or the top of the sidebar. Test them and see which works best.

Step 2: Consider more aggressive on-site email collection techniques

One strategy: Start with the most aggressive and work backwards from there.

  • Use a lightbox pop-up and watch your numbers carefully.
  • If you’re not seeing a big boost in subscribers, or you’re seeing a big drop in sales, switch to a less obtrusive exit-intent pop-up.
  • You can also experiment with welcome gates for some premium content, and early email capture if you want to beef up your abandoned cart recovery efforts.

Look! We’ve incorporated our signup form into this post

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