Digital Marketing


Ok, by now you’ve heard all about website pop-ups, right?

In today’s internet, there’s a rule of bad marketing that says you MUSt use pop-up email subscriber goes if you want to even begin building an email list that will work. And you must do so in under a week.

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This might sound a little strange to you, so here’s a quick refresher:

“Pop-ups will increase your subscribers by 1 million percent overnight!”

“Pop-ups will make you instagram rich and famous!”

“You’re a grade-A moron if you don’t use pop-ups!”

Thanks Ralph.

Clearly, some of those pushing the art of the pop-up are pretty into what they do – but do those annoying, intrusive, bothersome screen-grabbers actually work?

And are they worth using to grow your brand?

Let’s take a look.


Short answer: Yes.

There are people who fill out pop-up subscription forms.

In crazy-person evil marketing speak, these boxes are also called light boxes or modal overlays, but it’s just lingo.

People who in fact use pop-ups on their site frequently report that they can double or even triple the rate of email subscribers. This is a huge claim to make but many people will state this type of marketing doesn’t suit every industry. For example, law firms using pop-ups would be classed by some as being very tacky. This is likely to be the reason why they focus more on search engine optimization instead at Gladiator Law Marketing.

And of those people who made this bold claim, the majority stated they don’t see an effect on the click/bounce rate or visitors.

(Bounce rate measures the percentage of people who move away from your website after viewing only one page.)

Looking at just this data makes it seem like a no-brainer.

If you could grow your email list at triple the speed without loosing people from your site, why wouldn’t you?

Because these numbers reveal only one diet-sized slice of the cake.

More reputable studies like this one from the Nielsen group show that people generally despise pop-ups. And not just “some people.” The vast MAJORITY of people – 95 percent. Myself included.

So why the heck are pop-ups being subscribed to in the first place

Let’s quote Andy Beaumont, creative tech director at Albion London, a digital advertising agency. He’s pretty smart.

“Analytics will tell you that you got more “conversions”. Analytics will show you rising graphs and bigger numbers. You will show these to your boss or your client. They will falsely conclude that people love these modal overlays. But they don’t. Nobody likes them.

It is…fairly likely that they don’t know how to close it. I have tested this design pattern with real people, and a significant portion of them believe that they must do what the box is begging them for in order to close the overlay.”

Source: The Value of Content

To sum up? People are confused!

**that makes two of us.

Pop-ups are by their nature a surprise and a shock – a sudden change in screen, with big bold letters and colourful details. This can be deeply unsettling for people who are not accustomed to or expecting a pop-up.

In psychology, it is people who find themselves in unexpected, unfamiliar situations that are easier to persuade. The fact that pop-ups succeed in wrestling emails from their victims isn’t so baffling after all.

It’s also no real surprise then that smart-pants Andy went on to report that most people who subscribe to a newsletter don’t actually want one.

And for the majority of those people, they have no time or interest in figuring out how to unsubscribe – leading the website admins to believe they are actually growing that important email list.

What’s even crazier is that most people never unsubscribe.

All it would take to unsubscribe would be a simple clicking the ‘Mark as Spam’ check whenever a newsletter comes in and boom, all junk in the future goes into the junk folder.

So, it goes without saying that ‘leads’ on email lists are simply not capable of delivering the results they promise.

Simply put: people who subscribe have no real interest in your business or your blog. Whats more, psychologically speaking, that first contact with the business or blog has left your ‘lead’ feeling controlled. Any chance that they will start engaging with your brand or buying your product are essentially zero.

So, how do we fix this?
I have a few ideas.

The first step is to get better data.

Everyone these days knows that getting good quality data about what and who is happening on your website is absolutely critical if you are going to start monetizing it.

If you plan on using something as risky as a pop-up, you better get ready to collect through a lot of analytics.

Here’s the bare minimum data I would consider getting to trade-off those risks:

Open Rate – how many subscribers are actually opening their emails

Bounce Rate – in the specifically world of email marketing, this would be how many emails are being returned as undeliverable because those addresses are invalid/closed

Forwarding Rate – how many people are forwarding their emails

Clickthrough Rate (CTR) – how many people are clicking on links inside their emails or on the website

Unsubscription/List Growth Rate – how many people you lose to unsubscribing and how that compares with the rate of new subscribers

Return Rate– how many people are returning to the site on their own and not through an email link.

Engagement – how many people are engaging with the website. This includes commenting and sharing on social media. In order to boost engagement, you’ll want to boost your following on social media sites. Those looking to do so on the Instagram platform may want to use a growth service like Nitreo (see here – so that they can expand their online reach.

Conversion / Retention Rate – how many people are actually making purchases, and how many become customers

These ‘metrics’ should be tracked for both subscribers to your pop-ups and regular** subscribers. Then compare and contrast.

(**a regular subscriber would be any reader or visitor who signs up through a standard form and not a pop-up)

Using this data, you can then kind of judge if pop-ups are actually effective and if they will help your business.

However, having a big pop-up and waiting, lets say 12 months, to get some good data – not always easily obtained – can really ruin the one thing your business really needs to survive.

Your reputation.

Reputation is Everything.

Richard Branson, brilliant billionaire behind Virgin once said:

“Your brand name is only as good as your reputation.”

Note that he didn’t say your brand name is only as good as your email list. He didn’t say your brand name is only as good as the money you bring in. He didn’t say your brand name is only as good as hows famous you are.

Nope he pegs your brand as resting on your good name.

Thinking about your good name, your reputation will help you make better business decisions.

And you better believe that includes decisions about marketing techniques – like pop-ups.

When the first thing when your business asks is visitors for something, how does that make your business look?

Honest? Generous? Trustworthy? Nope.

You look spammy.

Talk about ruining your reputation. Asking your visitors for things creates a distance between them and your business. This CAN be overcome if you are a well-established business and pretty hard to turn away.

But if you are not? You’re going to struggle for their business

Can we all agree you deserve to be successful AND keep your reputation?

As a digital marketer and business owner, here’s my philosophy:

“Digital Marketers need to understand that just because something CAN be done, doesn’t mean it should.” @ItsRichyLee (click to tweet)

Likewise, just because something “works” doesn’t mean it’s the best, or only option.

So, instead of relying on risky tricks that hurt your reputation, here are a few way better ideas to attract good quality visitors, subscribers and clients.

Use a More Prominent Header for Your Sign-up Form

I have used this on the past here at and on and the numbers don’t lie – it works. It works because it’s the biggest thing your visitors see and its also the first. They keep seeing it on every page.

Whenever your visitors like your site and its content enough, they know how to subscribe. Leave it up to them

A word about Sidebar opt-in forms. They are famously low-performing. They never catch the eye, and they have trouble connecting with readers. When people anecdotally say pop-ups have increased their subscriber base, they are often comparing that to an unnoticeable sidebar that no one wanted to use.

Here are some people who have used really good sign-up headers: Rebecca Tracey, Sally Hope, Missy Ward, and Jon Morrow.

See what they’ve done?

Create an Interesting Opt-In Gift

This is often called a ‘lead magnet’. Basically it’s just something you give away are no cost in exchange for getting that email address on your list.

Most often, these are Ebooks or worksheets, or some kind of downloadable. It could be a video, podcast, printable, you name it.

These gifts should be suited to your demographic, but they also have to be high quality. You won’t get anyone to sign up if you’re not giving away something that is worth having

A Powerpoint presentation or a recipe anyone else can google is not good enough

Make it valuable, relevant, and make it with downloading.


You likely have gone through a lot of work and money to build your company a great, slick, compelling website, but are you letting people know about it? Or are you just kind of hoping people will stumble upon it?

No one should expect visitors to sign up if you are constantly marketing the fact that your business exists. There are – as of writing – over 644 million websites in the world. That’s a lot of competition.

So, putting up quality content is a great foundation, but it can’t be your bread and butter. You need a marketing strategy.

If you are just getting started, here’s a good tip: make sure that everything that is public has your website on it. Your Google+. You Business Card. Flyers. Your Personal Facebook profile. Your LinkedIn. Your Email Signature – if you don’t have one, get one!

Once you take care of that, you can branch out into strategic sharing on social networks, guest blogs, online communities etc. You could then begin to place your website onto other content by using SEO’s, this will boost your online presence and make your company known on more outlets. By using companies like Victorious to provide this service you could be expanding your network of search results exponentially.

Now I’d love to hear from you.

What do you think of pop-ups? Do they affect how to think about a business? Is there a time when Pop-ups are Ok with you?

I’ll see you in the comments, friends!

For more Digital Marketing Ideas, follow me on
Twitter @ItsRichyLee and on Facebook

Richard James Lee is a Canadian-born Writer, Chef and Entrepreneur. He is the Editor in Chief of Ions and Chef of Kayak SmokeHouse in Toronto. His Printed Works include Dark City Streets and White.