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Is there a popup opt-in revolution under way?

More sites finding value in using popups to increase the reach of opt-in e-mail lists

Apr 22, 2014 @ 11:50 am

By Blane Warrene

popup, opt-in, email
+ Zoom

For many of us who joined the online world in the 1990s during the birth of the publicly available World Wide Web, popup windows went from fascination to quickly become an annoyance and ultimately perhaps a plague in some users' eyes.

Software emerged to allow us to block or filter popups, and still today now all major web browsers offer popup controls. Through many years, outside of business applications, we've grown accustomed to considering popup windows to be a sort of spam of the web.

In more recent years, both the technology of building web site and web applications turned the popup window into more gourmet alternatives like modal windows (those windows that open like a popup over a web page, focusing on this new window with the background “greyed out”) and pop-under windows, meant to add value to a site or web app versus being a scourge.

This topic has been covered in the mainstream off and on, and recently I looked at the value of using a popup window specifically as a method for increasing the reach of opt-in e-mail lists. There remain divisions in opinion on its use and the dividing line seems to be one of delivering value.

For example, the Social Media Examiner, a site that has quickly become one of the go-to destinations for social media strategy and tactics online, prompts visitors to subscribe to its e-mail newsletter to get instant notification of new tips and techniques.

This approach to seeking a deeper reach into one's audience has been brewing for several years, according to digital marketer Pat Allen, principal of Rock the Boat Marketing.

“If someone has landed on your site and is seeing value in your site, why wouldn't you make it easy for him to continue to benefit from the value that you're creating? He may never pass that way again, which would be a loss for both of you.”

Ms. Allen is not newly embracing this trend, having written on the topic as far back as 2010. On her blog, which seeks to offer insight into the digital world of marketing in financial services, she suggested if you have meaningful content to offer, don't be afraid to make it known, even with a popup.

The general manner in which this popup approach works is a window that opens upon first loading a website, which is triggered in a way intended to avoid being denied by popup blockers. In my own testing this was the case — successfully loading these popup windows even with both Chrome and Safari configured to prevent popup windows from loading.

The goal is to do more than just ask for an e-mail address — rather to offer insight or other value to the reward for opting in to be communicated to. The more successful approach would be to avoid a sales pitch at this point. Rather, offering a glimpse into the free access to timely or otherwise useful tips, techniques and advice works best.

Here Ms. Allen also has advice. “I reject the “annoyance factor” as a reason not to do pop-ups. By now, website visitors have seen and continue to see, all day, subscription forms. They know how to bat them away, except for when they don't want to — "which is the point,” she added.

In choosing to use popups for this purpose, there are some courtesies you can consider to provide your visitors options. Certainly, if using a solution such as Popup Domination, Pippity or Optin Revolution, you will have access to ways to configure these courtesies.

For example, Allen suggests thinking about how quickly the popup appears. “The first priority when welcoming a new visitor to a site has to be to make sure the newcomer accomplishes his task,” Ms. Allen said.

Thus you can choose to have a popup load after someone has been on your web site for 10 to 20 seconds or longer. The popups can also be configured to allow user control, such as closing without requiring any input and setting how long before that same window would surface for this visitor in the future. That can vary from minutes to several days.

Moreover, when using one of the aforementioned popup window tools, the advantages of integration are available. The ability to have new subscribers automatically imported into your e-mail-marketing platform (i.e., Aweber, Constant Contact or MailChimp, among many others) insures any automated e-mail campaigns include your new subscribers immediately.

In choosing to use this approach to cultivate wider reach in your e-mail marketing, studying the analytics and testing various approaches can help you sound out the best approach for you. If using a popup solution to power your efforts, A/B testing will help you see what wording entices more subscription levels.

Ms. Allen recommends benchmarking e-mail signups, bounces, pages per visit and then testing a pop-up for a month (or longer if overall traffic is on the low side) and analyze the data from the two periods.

While she could not disclose numbers from any clients, Ms. Allen's inference is that this tactic works, even knowing there will be some pushback from those allergic to popups.

“Sign-ups should increase significantly, at least two times,” Ms. Allen concluded.

Blane Warrene speaks and writes frequently on technology and the intersection of marketing and compliance in financial services. He co-founded Arkovi and QuonWarrene, the former acquired by RegEd in 2012. He produces the Digital Well podcast and is focused on helping financial advisers and institutions explore and define what being a digital business means to them.

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