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Comparing Email Subscribers Acquired from Pop-Ups vs. Other Methods


  1. Ana Hoffman says:

    I love it when you said “Despite ‘most people’ claiming they hate them, pop-ups do work”, Rae – so true!

    I wonder if anyone did a study on what kind of pop-ups work best, i.e. exit, after certain time on the page, etc… I am off to find one.

    Thanks for publishing your findings; adding a pop-up to Traffic Generation Café now goes on my to-do list. ;)

  2. ReddWebDev says:

    I discourage clients from using the Modal Method (I’ll write them in only if that’s what I’m paid to do, but I usually try to remove that option from the table as early into the build as possible) — Anything that flies out on to the page whilst the visitorship is doing their thing is a big no-no — The back button is our friend.

    • As I said – that’s what everyone tells me. But, the subscriber rates (and the lack of effect on bounce rates) say something else. And I’ve tested popups on multiple sites and over a period of years now. I’m not saying people need to use them – everyone should test how it works for their own readership / site. I think the “smartness” and strategy behind their implementation factors in to things as well (I don’t mind regular popups, but I hate the ones that hide the close button in almost blended text – and I’d venture a guess that those kind of popups do affect bounce rates when people can’t figure out how to close them).

      I’d love to see hard metrics that agree with the everyone hates popups theory. I’ve heard all the detractions. I hate them. My mom hates them. They’ll damage your brand (never did manage to figure out how people came to “prove” that one). They’re less engaged. Etc. But I rarely see the data that resulted in those claims.

      The few times I have seen people say they’re showing negative information on it, it’s only shown information from the popup, but not side-by-side with non popup data for the same metrics. i.e. someone might say “20% of popup subscribers never confirm. Popups suck.” with zero comparative data from non popup related subscriptions to back that up. Which, if I had the data to back comparatively prove that point, I’d sure include it (as I did above).

      Also, I’d be remiss to point out that you didn’t hit the back button yourself, despite the disdain for popups, but instead read and commented. [I had to! LOL]

      That said, if anyone has any information on popup usage showcasing negative results backed by data, I’d love to see them posted here. I’ve got no “dog in this race” so to speak. I can only report back on my own experiences. I’m using popups because my data says they work. I always love to see when there’s differing results, because that means I get to test more stuff. :)

      Also, since tone is often lost on the Internet, my comments are meant to be an amiable rebuttal and not to dismiss. :)

  3. Rob T. Case says:

    Wow. Not even close to what I would have guessed. Thank you Rae for taking the time to share.

    • I know you’re a long time reader Rob, so, you know I always advise the following, but, to state it anyway: This is my experience. Your milage may vary. Everyone should always test things for their own site, in their own niche. :)

      I’d be interested to see data from an e-commerce shop on this. My offering is “free information” – would be curious to see if paid products see similar results.

      • However, I’d want to see two segments compared on that – customers and non customers. So I’d want to see

        Segment 1: customers who subscribed via popup vs. other methods
        Segment 2: non customers who subscribed via popup vs. other methods

        That would be interesting – would love to see a third comparison of the comparative numbers of subscribers who ticked the subscribe box on the order form compared to both popups and other methods as well.

  4. Really enjoyed this research on a topic that I’ve long been curious about. I would be really interested in the click data and lifetime value.

    Here’s a thought…what if you proposed to Aweber that if they get you the data (they’d probably have to do some manual SQL queries) that you’d publish it as a guest post on their blog. Just a thought.

    I also wonder how pop-ups are performing over time. Anecdotally I have reached full saturation and just look for the way to make them go away. They could be offering me free Teslas and I wouldn’t even notice at this point.

  5. Vinny O'Hare says:

    Great data, I was always suspecting popup to have bigger unsubscribe rate.

    Even though I am on your newsletter list I saw this post on Facebook first so when your newsletter came to my inbox I had already read the post so the email got you an unopen from me. That I am sure is another set of data we never think about. In the end it doesn’t matter though because the end result is the same, I read the post.

    • Vinny – not sure I understood part of your comment – “I saw this post on Facebook first so when your newsletter came to my inbox I had already read the post so the email got you an unopen from me” – I think I’m missing something there. This post is a repurpose of something I shared in the newsletter, but with additional commentary, etc. But, my newsletter never shows the topics in the subject line, so you’d have had to open the newsletter to see that there was information on this topic in there. Unless you meant I didn’t receive a click from you in the newsletter – but, that wouldn’t affect the numbers in this case because there was no link to this post in that email? :)

  6. ReddWebDev says:

    I clicked through to your site because of the title .. Notice I didn’t subscribe [LOL] — *couldn’t resist*

    We’ve already had this sort of discussion — If memory serves, back in 2003-04 there was a big debate over whether or not Browsers should be equipped with Pop-Up Blockers. Publishers were literally running off the rails with these things at the time and folks over at Microsoft, Netscape and the fledgling Mozilla started to take a long hard look at whatever options were available to them at the time.

    Sure — There was the usual back and forth going on about it with each camp, for, and against, making claims to favor their respective sides.

    Big Search also got involved. Jeeves, Teoma, Alta Vista, and even the fledgling Google got involved to various degrees on the matter.

    It’s sort of ironic how it was Search that fired the first salvo in the Pop-Up Blocker wars – Google was breezing right along at over 200 million searches a day and it wanted to curb the pRon, spam, and interestingly enough, Pop-Ups.

    The eventual outcome was that at the end of the day, Pop-Ups were bad.

    In 2004-05 we started to see browser writes that included the Pop-Up Blocker option (there were already a few stand-alone plugins available at the time as well) — In 2006-07 we saw the Pop-Up Blocker installed and turned on by default in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, SeaMonkey, and Safari, to name just a few.

    The fact that the Pop-Up Blocker is installed and turned on by default in todays major browsers should be some kind of indication to publishers, as well as developers, that Pop-Ups are bad.

    It took a few years before there were work-arounds to the Pop-Up Blocker — Enter the Modal window —

    For those of you who may not know what a Modal window is:

    In user interface design, a modal window is a graphical control element subordinate to an application’s main window which creates a mode where the main window can’t be used. The modal window is a child window that requires users to interact with it before it can return to operating the parent application, thus preventing the workflow on the application main window. Modal windows are often called heavy windows or modal dialogs because the window is often used to display a dialog box. ~ Wikipedia

    As far as testing? .. Why not visit a bit of history about the Pop-Up itself — Studies were done on both sides with each side claiming victory — In the end however, it was the end user that voted with their feet, and both developers and publishers had no choice but to capitulate …

    Pop-Ups are about as famous and about as well liked as FrameSets and Flash elements are, or as anything else is that interrupts the flow of a page — Most OnLoad, MouseOver, and other such things are funny and cute, but rarely are ever taken very seriously short of being an annoyance and shorting ones own conversions.

    The disconnect is seemingly ever increasing again these days between developers and publishers — Case in point? – The modern equivalent to the Pop-Up discussions from the days of old is the AdBlocker of today — Soon, AdBlocker will be baked into the browser, turned on by default, just like the Pop-Up Blocker before it — The end user is once again voting with his feet — and in the not-so-distant future, we may also see C++ Browser writes that blocks out Modal windows as well.

    SEO experts, Publishers and other Web Developers don’t pay my bills — The end user does – And if the end user suggests that something be bad, and the research according to that bad thing was already done a decade ago by companies with pockets much deeper than mine? — well then far be it from me to argue — We can do research and studies all day long on our own, or we can go to the research that big data did clear back in 2003 to draw our inevitable conclusions.

    Oh, and by the way — Nice Site — and I mean that. I might suggest that if you have to use the Modal window (Pop-Up) – See if you can get your WebDev person to configure it to an “exit intent” deployment.

    Have a Great Day — Never Give Up – Never Surrender ;)

    • The plugin I use, OptinMonster, already has exit-intent technology built in. I just wasn’t thrilled with the results I got when I tested using it in place of the timed popup. :)

      “SEO experts, Publishers and other Web Developers don’t pay my bills — The end user does”

      Same here. And according to my bounce rate, mine don’t seem to mind. :)

  7. Nick Loper says:

    I had the theory that popup subscribers were somehow worth “less” than “regular” subscribers in terms of email opens, etc., so I ran a similar report and found similar results. In my case, the popup subscribers had a 3-4 ppt higher open rate than everyone else, which definitely surprised me.

    • Yeah – I think once you hear twenty people say “popups suck” with authority, despite never seeing any real data supporting it from sometime in the last decade, you just assume that it must be true. That’s why I always say test everything you hear.

      Also, there is a big difference between the ad popup of 10 years ago that would launch ten popup ads when you left a site and the newsletter subscribe popup of today. I’m not sure why we keep seeing the old argument against *those* kinds of popups being offered as valid rebuttal in the newsletter subscribe popup debate of today. :)

  8. David Shawn says:

    Thank you so much! This article has been really helpful!

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