I can remember reading that “popups are dead” as a marketing tool since before 2010. Ever since browsers like Internet Explorer (this used to be a browser in the old days, maybe still is, who knows) began blocking popups, the popular thing to say in the marketing world was that popups are bad for user experience and thus, you shouldn’t use them.

I believe that many digital marketing sheep followed this “do good, feel good” mantra for a long time but as an analyst, it didn’t add up . When the data and valid testing methods indicated that it was better to go “aggressive” with popups, slide-ins, overlays, etc. than it was to soft sell (subtle email CTAs), logical minds prevailed.

In today’s post, I want to review a few reason what I absolutely positively with a doubt still incorporate popups, slide ins, overlays, etc. in almost 100% of client cases, examples included.

How to Use Popups to Build Bigger Email Lists


Probably the least-creative yet most impactful use of popups, slide-ins, and overlays is simply to build an email list. From what I can remember, this was the original marketing purpose of a popup. It occurred to some brilliant marketer that it we simply force a compelling offer in front of all users, it scales really well. If we just ask everyone in a very obvious way to download our free guide and sign-up for our newsletter, more people will do it than would be the case if we just had subtle calls to action in the footer.

How to do it effectively

  1. Offer: Why to h*ll would I want to sign up for your email list. I’m on toot many already. <— This is what the user is thinking. So how can you beat it? The offer is how. Give me a compelling reason to sign up. Maybe you sell a complex product and you can provide me with important information so that I can research options on my own. Maybe you sells shoes and simply offering me 10% off my purchase is enough to get my email. Either way, don’t just ask. Offer something, then you hardly have to ask.
  2. Timing: Timing is everything. If you’re going to interrupt the end user, think about the specifics of user experience. Ecommerce: For ecommmerce, you could popup an offer for 20% off the current purchase (only 3 hours left…). In this case, grab the user early in the session (pageview #2 or 30 seconds on page) so that you can plant the seed of “purchase now to save” while they still have incentive to sign up. Not only helps session conversion rate, but also builds a list.
  3. Scale: In my experience; Scenario 1: Be Subtle– if I subtly ask for an email in the footer of a website, I convert less than 1% of the time. Much less. Scenario 2: Be aggressive (popup)– If I ask via popup, that number can be as high as 10%. Over the course of 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year, think about the scale difference. In one case, you barely have a reason to send emails (no scale, small list, little data). In the other, you have steady list growth, data, and actual business impact through email marketing. no-brainer.
  4. Relevance: If you did 1,2, and 3 above, you’d actually be 85% of the way to the “best you can do” in my view. #4 though (relevance), is the last 15%. Take this next step to modify the popup offer, timing, and scale based on things like 1) traffic source, campaign ,etc, 2) content being viewed, 3) items added to cart, 4) videos watch while on site, 5) etc. the list goes on but as soon as you can hook into other things you know about the user, you can deliver the most relevant offer, timing, and scale. Example: Ecommerce- The user has added over $100 to cart. At this point, you want to give them free shipping on the order and instead of just giving it, why not offer a couple for free shipping after email sign-up. Again, helps with conversion rate and grabs a new subscriber even if they don’t finish checkout (and if they don’t, you have an email address to send cart abandonment reminders to).

Best Tools for Popups

Don’t go asking your developer to custom build popups for you, please. There are many options out there which are more robust, reliable, and light-weight than anything that you’re going to build in house. We have a couple inexpensive recommendations.

  1. OptinMonster: OptinMonster has been my own personal go to for 5 years. Never hit a wall with what it can do. Integrates with everything that I need it to (Constant Contact, Mailchimp, Google Sheets, Zapier, etc.). You can read my full review on it or try it for free here. It’s super cheap (about $15-$20 per month) considering that we have instances where it’s responsible for 500+ new email addresses per day without a hiccup.
  2. Poptin: Poptin is another option. We’ve only used it for a single client and it worked well. Particularly liked some of the creative templates. Review here, free trial here.

There are a bunch others which we’ve summarize with our other popup reviews (here we compare about 5 options).

Okay, I’ve Got Email Addresses Coming In, Now What?

If you have already or plan to really take email marketing seriously with pops, the next thing to consider is what to do with those email lists. If you’re the 90% of the corporate world, a room full of marketers is going to overthink a monthly newsletter and that’s it. Of course, not all of use can be so reckless (we need to show return on efforts) so here’s what you do.

  1.  Segment: What did the user sign-up for? Based on this, tag them in a way that you can then send specific campaigns. If they downloaded your guide on eliminating foot fungus forever, maybe drop them an auto-responder on causes, symptoms, and solutions for removing that green goodness in between their toes. If they signed up to be reminded of when an event is to be scheduled, maybe drop a series of emails promoting the event and other similar events which might be of interest. The list goes on.
  2. Hot is better than cold: Do NOT build an email list and wait to send emails (the get cold and lonely and start calling ex’s in the middle of the night). DO send relevant emails as quickly and often as is reasonable. There is no qualitative or quantitative argument to be made for “not wanting to bother” people who sign up. They signed-up, don’t bother, provide value quickly and often. Then can unsubscribe and resubscribe any time.
  3. Newsletter: Okay, fine, you can send a periodic newsletter I guess but the per email value is much higher if you put a bit more thought into specific email series based on segments.
  4. Dump the Dogs: The dogs are email addresses which never engage. I cannot overstate the importance of list scrubbing (removing non-active emails) ASAP. Email deliverability is complex as h*ll. The simple approach, only send to people who at least open. The rest, unsubscribe and let them come back later. It hurts you in so many immeasurable ways if you don’t.

If you want to grab the lowest hanging fruit today, just try implementing a popup. Very little resources needed (time, technical capability) and the long term impact could be the best thing you do this year for your company.

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