The Ultimate Guide to Email Popups (2019 edition)

Do email popups really work?

A lot of studies prove that they do:

But all email subscription popups are not created equal. Your design, your targeting or the offer you select dramatically impact the number of emails that you’ll end up collecting. And there’s a huge difference between a good popup and a bad one.

Today I’d like to share what I’ve learned working with hundreds of top brands on their list-building strategy.

No complex words, just simple techniques you can copy and apply right away.

Let’s create the best email popup for your website!

INTRO: WHY EMAIL POPUPS?

Signup popups are often criticized. So before creating one, let’s briefly review why they’re useful in the first place, and what kind of results you can expect.

A screenshot of a medium post against email popups

Source: a Medium against email popups

Why Create an Email Popup?

Let’s start at the beginning. Why popups?

First, because popups give your signup forms a huge increase in visibility.

Heatmap analysis shows that most web users never scroll down to the bottom of a web page. And guess where most marketers embed their email subscription form? That’s right, in the footer. Adding a popup helps you make your signup form unmissable.

Second, because popups come with a lot of targeting and segmentation options. These options allow you to push targeted messages and offers that vastly increase your chances that your visitors will join your email list.

Lastly, since popups are not embedded in your website but displayed on top of your content, they offer a lot of flexibility in terms of design. And yes, more creativity often means more leads!

Killstar email lightbox

An original email lightbox on Killstar

 

What Is a Good Conversion Rate for an Email Capture Popup?

Yes, popups do work. To know exactly how much they do, we analyzed the results of our 50 largest ecommerce clients.

The results? The average conversion rate of their email capture popups was 3.75%.

The main difference between the top performing and the lowest performing clients was the inclusion (or non-inclusion) of an offer (we’ll come back to this later in the article).

The average subscription rate of an email popup

Convinced? Let’s now discuss how to craft the best email popup ever.

PART 1: THE TARGETING

Choose the Right Timing

What Is the Best Timing for an Email Signup Popup?

Multiple AB tests run with our customers have produced the same results:

  • The less time you wait, the more emails you’ll collect
  • The longer you wait, the higher your subscription rate will be

Here’s one of the AB tests created by a high-end hi-fi retailer.

They tried displaying the same exact popup on landing and after 2 pages. The popup displayed on landing ended up collecting twice as many emails as the one displayed after 2 pages. But the conversion rate of the popup displayed after 2 pages was twice the one of the form displayed on landing.

The results of a popup AB test

All in all, these tests show that the shorter the delay, the more emails you’ll end up collecting. But, as the conversion rate of your popup will be lower, it means you risk annoying a larger portion of your visitors.

The email popup that our client was using

A screenshot of the campaign tested

How Do You Find the Sweet Spot?

The best way to identify the exact timing that maximizes the conversions while reaching a reasonable conversion rate is to run an AB test. You can test displaying your popups on landing, after 10 seconds, 20 seconds, etc.

If you don’t want to choose, you can also trigger your popup when your users are about to leave your website using exit-intent detection.

Define Segments

To maximize your conversions, it’s important to design popups that speak to your visitors.

To do so, the easiest method is to segment your audience and create a specific popup for each of your segments.

Here’s a quick presentation of the two most popular segmentation methods.

Content Segmentation

When using this method, marketers adapt their popups to the page (or page category) that the user is browsing. This way, the popup copy and design are directly correlated to what the users see.

Here’s a real-life example on SohoHome’s website. They identified a specific segment – users interested in vintage furniture – and crafted a dedicated popup displayed only in the vintage category.

An exit popup form displayed on sohohome.com

Here’s another one on Leesa.com. The popup they display is tailored to the exact page users are browsing:

An exit signup form on Leesa.com

And here’s a last illustration on ChristyDawn, where they display a specific popup form on out-of-stock product pages:

Christy Dawn's email popup

Segment Your Users by History

The second most popular way to segment campaigns is by visit count. A lot of our customers choose to create specific popups for new and returning visitors.

Why?

Because they can display a large popup with an enticing discount for users who are less familiar with their brand…and display a more subtle popup for users who have already visited the website and seen the first popup.

Here’s an example on Bonobos where the email subscription popup targets new visitors.

An email subscription popup targeting new visitors on Bonobos

Targeting Takeaways:

  • AB test your popup timing. If you don’t have time for an AB test, create an exit popup.
  • Segment your campaigns by page or browsing history.

 

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PART 2: THE OFFER

How do you react when you see a popup yourself?

Do you rush to subscribe?

Chances are you don’t, and you usually weigh in the pros and cons of giving away your email address.

This is where your offer comes in. Let’s see what the best offers are.

Strategy #1: Coupons

Let’s save some time here.

According to our tests, coupons are THE most efficient way to convince your visitors to subscribe. Period.

Here’s an example of their impact on one of our customers’ campaigns:

The results of a coupon A/B test

By adding a $7 coupon, our client was able to capture four times more emails than without a discount.

But discounts are not the only option when it comes to coupons. Free shipping offers work great as well. According to a poll by Retention Science, 21.8% of US retailers judge them to be the most effective kind of offer.

Why not give it a try?

Brooks Brothers' email popup including a free shipping offer

An email popup offering free shipping on Brooks Brothers

 

If you have a budget for coupons, go for them. If not, we have more options for you.

Strategy #2: Sweepstakes

Sweepstakes are the second highest-converting offers we’ve seen.

Their advantage? They’re usually cheaper and often work as well as discounts.

One of our clients, a major shoe retailer, is running both “regular” popup campaigns with no offer alongside sweepstakes popup campaigns. Guess what? His sweepstakes campaigns generate three times more subscribers than his regular campaigns!

The results of two different popup campaigns: one including no reward and the second offering to enter a sweepstakes

Here’s an example on Timberland’s website:

A sweepstakes popup on Timberland.com

Strategy #3: Freebies

Sometimes, offering exclusive content such as an ebook can be more valuable than a coupon or a gift. That’s especially true for B2B and SaaS companies.

Lead magnet example

A lead magnet example on JeffBullas.com

More about this option here.

Strategy #4: Mystery Offers

This strategy may seem weird, but it worked so well for some of our customers that I wanted to share it.

One of these clients is PixelMe. They tried this offer one month after launching their pixel retargeting solution.

PixelMe's Exit Popup offering to receive a surprise

They didn’t know what to offer. So they tried offering a “surprise”. Turns out that hook worked pretty well:

PixelMe's popup converts 4% of their visitors into subscribers

 

Their opening rate is very impressive as well: more than 60% opened the email sent once they subscribed.

email campaign opening rate

Strategy #5: Great Content

Sometimes, subscribers are not that hard to convince, especially if you have a strong brand or a reputation for sending great content.

In that case, you can promise your subscribers that they’ll receive:

  • Early access to new products (ecommerce) or features (B2B)
  • Exclusive discounts and offers
  • Latest news and insider tips
  • A unique content/chance to level up your skills

Here’s an example from Neil Patel’s website.

See? No coupon, no freebie, no discount. Just the promise to receive valuable advice.

A full screen opt-in popup promising to receive great content

Here’s a second example coming from Volusion.

An email subscription popup on Volusion's blog

Offer Takeaways

  • When possible, give away discount codes or offer a chance to win something.
  • If you can’t, think hard about the kind of content that can help your newsletter stand out.

 

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PART 3: THE COPY

Now that we’ve talked about your targeting and your offer, it’s time to focus on your popup wording.

The Text

Let’s start with the body of your popup. This text is key to attracting your users’ attention and triggering their motivation to subscribe.

Here are some examples of strategies we saw that generated good results for our clients:

Strategy #1: State the Benefits

Why not describe “plain and simple” what your subscribers will get when they sign up? This is what StyleRunner does on their popup:

styleruner optin popup

Strategy #2: Use Humor

Humor works great to shake your visitors and convince them to join you. A fun popup announces fun content…Here’s an example on Lush.

popup example - Lush

Strategy #3: Leverage a Community

Everyone likes to be part of a club, to feel special. How about playing on that for your popup?

Fight club email capture popup

Strategy #4: Use FOMO

FOMO can help you convince your visitors to sign up immediately.No one ever wants to miss out on something they could have had!

Here’s an illustration on WeekEndFlights:

An email popup on WeekEndFlights

The Call-to-Action

The call-to-action is the other half of your popup copy.

We recommend you step into your visitor’s shoes and think about the main benefit that your users will get when they receive your emails. You’ll end up finding calls-to-action that go beyond the boring “Submit.”

Here are a few examples of compelling calls-to-action:

Offer typeProposed wording
No offerJoin / Keep Me Posted / Keep me in the loop / Join the club / Count me in
DiscountGet my coupon / Send me the offer / Activate the offer / I want that
FreebieGet the book / Download the book / Start learning / Send me the book
Mystery offerGet my surprise

Copy Takeaways:

  • Choose your editorial angle carefully; you won’t have a second chance.
  • For your calls-to-action, choose a word that compels visitors to act.

 

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PART 4: THE DESIGN

Designing your popup is the last step of the process.

Let’s see how you can design the most convincing popup.

Separate Mobile and Desktop Popups

What size should your popup be?

Let’s start with the simplest case: mobile popups.

Google has shared precise guidelines on the matter. If you want to avoid an SEO penalty, your popup shouldn’t prevent your visitors from accessing the main content of the page. In other words, it shouldn’t be too large.

Here’s an example of a mobile-friendly popup on Dickies:

a mobile popup on Dickies.com

See? Their banner is set to full width and its height is less than 250 pixels. That’s the size we recommend.

If you want more freedom, you can also add a trigger before your popup; this allows you to respect Google guidelines yet design a larger popup.

Here’s what it could look like:
Vans CTA Popup

On desktop, the situation is different. You’re free to choose your popup size.

A few elements can help you make a decision:

  • How visible you want your popup to be: the bigger your popup, the more difficult it would be for your users to miss it
  • How far are you prepared to go: the larger a popup, the more intrusive it could be for your visitors

As a rule of thumb, we recommend designing full-screen popups only when your popup is triggered on exit. Otherwise, you risk increasing your bounce rate.

furless optin popup displayed on exit

A full-size popup example displayed on exit on FurlessCosmetics

 

a slide in popup on maisonmrkt.com

A discreet slide-in popup on maisonmrkt.com

 

Add Visuals

Now that you have picked a size, we can discuss visuals.

Visuals have specific benefits for an email capture popup:

  • Draw your user’s attention to your popup
  • Reassure your potential subscribers that it’s safe to share their email
  • Remind your visitors of the benefits of a subscription

Let’s see how you can leverage these benefits.

Again, mobile is very specific. As bandwidth and space are limited, we recommend avoiding visuals or sticking to small visuals.

On desktop, you can try one of the following strategies:

Strategy #1: Using a Product Visual

Using a product visual is particularly popular in ecommerce. It reminds the visitor of your brand mission while contributing to make your popup more appealing.

world of watches popup

An email overlay on WorldOfWatches.com

 

Strategy #2: Getting Personal

Using a picture of yourself can reassure your potential subscribers. To put it another way, you’re telling them, “We’re starting a discussion.” It works especially well for B2B websites and bloggers.

 

Here’s another example from veteran marketer Neil Patel:

A popup on Neil Patel's blog featuring a photo of himself

Strategy #3: Using a Visual Reminder of the Offer

Depending on the offer you make for your subscribers (we’ll elaborate later in this article), it might be worth illustrating it directly into your popup.

See this popup from Practical Ecommerce? It tells you right away what you’ll get when you subscribe.

Practical-Ecommerce-Lead-Magnet

Strategy #4: Adding Logos

Logos are great to provide social proof and to reassure. Here’s an example on Conversioner.com’s email lightbox.

conversioner popup

Design a Call-to-Action That Stands Out

No click, no email. It’s that simple.

This is why you need to pay attention to your CTA design.

Pick the Right Color

Studies have shown that there’s no universal rule for CTA colors. They must be coordinated with your popup and website.

A few common sense recommendations can help, though:

  • Choose a color that is both eye-catching and helps your CTA stand out (different from the dominant color in your popup)
  • Choose a color that that matches your website

Here’s a good example on Weebly. The CTA is white and stands out from the rest of the popup.

an email bar on Weebly.com

Choose the Right Size

Anything which can help your call-to-action be noticed can help.

Bigger is not necessarily better. But make sure your CTA can’t be missed.

If you’re having doubts, don’t hesitate to run an AB test.

Here’s an example of large calls-to-action on Vincero Collective. The CTAs are as large as the email field itself.

A popup on Vincero Collective's website featuring large calls-to-action

Design Takeaways

  • Create a different popup for each device type.
  • Use visuals for desktop campaigns.
  • Make sure your calls-to-action are unmissable.

 

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Wrap-up

That’s it for now!

Ready to design your email popup? Check this gallery of email popup examples for inspiration.

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