Why I Started Using Pop-Ups on My Website

I’m not a fan of pop-ups. Like most of the Internet world, I find them at best a minor annoyance and at worst a reason to stop reading. I can’t recall a time that I ever signed up for someone’s email newsletter list as the result of a pop-up. I abandon sites when I’m assiduously and repeatedly begged to sign up for an email list. I also get extremely impatient when I’m entirely prevented from reaching someone’s homepage (or content) without first being asked to sign up for an email list—when I’m forcefully diverted to a full-on sales pitch for someone’s whatever-it-is. That always strikes me as incredibly presumptuous—shouldn’t I get to experience you or your content for at least a few seconds before you ask for my email address?

See, I’ve already digressed into how annoying these tactics are! I hope it demonstrates how reticent I’ve been, in all my years of running this site, to place any kind of pop-up that would interrupt the reader’s experience. While I know from experience and reading case studies that pop-ups work, I rarely like how they work. They feel like a trick or a betrayal of some kind. I always figure: If people really like me, then they’ll end up on my list. I only want truly devoted people.

I’ve begun to change my mind, however.

Earlier this year, I read this article on website pop-ups: How to Use Exit-Itent Popups to Grow Your Email List. It wasn’t exactly a disinterested post, as it was published by MailMunch, a service that specializes in, well, pop-ups.

But it was a really persuasive article because it shared concrete data that helped put at ease some of my anxieties about pop-ups—mainly, that they have more negative effects than positive. It showed that with an exit-intent pop-up (I’ll explain that in a moment), a site’s bounce rate remained the same. That means people weren’t leaving in higher numbers after the pop-up was added. Also, there were some pretty amazing stats on how effective the pop-ups were: one person found the pop-up drove 1375% more subscribers than a sign-up in the site sidebar. (The sidebar has been my default placement and still is for blog subscriptions.)

I was convinced it was time to try a pop-up myself. Here are the results.

Electric Speed growth

In this graph, the light blue is my existing email subscriber list; the dark blue is the number of new subscribers added each month. I added the pop-up in March 2016. I had roughly 5,200 people on my list before I added the pop-up; now I have 12,000. That means I more than doubled my list size in less than six months. Furthermore, my newsletter unsubscribe rate has not increased, although the open rate is about 5 percent less than before. My website traffic remains steady (it’s even increased a bit), and the bounce rate remains the same as before.

Here are the key reasons why I’ve changed my attitude, at least partly, toward pop-ups.

1. I’ve customized the pop-up to be as minimally intrusive as possible.

Through the use of MailMunch, I’ve been able to finely tune and control exactly how the pop-up behaves. If I weren’t able to do this, I wouldn’t use one. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

  • I’m using an exit-intent pop-up. An exit-intent pop-up only appears when people leave the site. If it works as it should, then visitors are not interrupted while reading blog posts or browsing content. They only see it once they demonstrate clear intent to leave. Then the pop-up appears.
  • The pop-up does not show on smartphones. Pop-ups tend to be most frustrating and annoying when you’re using a small screen and can’t easily get them to close. Therefore, my pop-up only appears to readers who are using desktops and tablets.
  • The pop-up does not keep re-appearing on subsequent visits. Some of this depends on how a visitor accesses my site, but once the pop-up has been seen and closed, it should not appear again for that visitor for at least another 180 days. However, it is possible to see it again if the reader switches browsers, devices, or locations.
  • It’s easy to make the pop-up go away. Some pop-ups are sneaky and don’t make it clear how to close them. My design has the traditional “X” in the corner.
  • I do not guilt people into joining the list. Have you ever noticed that some pop-ups make you feel stupid for not joining someone’s list? They’ll say something like, “No, I don’t want to become a better person!” I dislike that kind of overt and silly manipulation.

MailMunch offers a variety of different behaviors and formats for your pop-up; you can make it even less intrusive by having it appear in the body of the content, in a top bar, or in a scroll box.

2. It was increasingly obvious that most visitors never saw my newsletter sign-up.

I say it again and again to other authors and publications: most people spend very little time at your site, they may never come back, and they need to be given clear calls to action.

But sometimes it’s hard to take your own advice, and I was taking the issue of reader devotion a bit too far, by thinking that someone really interested in my content will find the sign-up. Actually, no, they won’t. The simple fact is that most visitors are going to miss the majority of what’s on your site, for a million different reasons. But it doesn’t mean they’re not interested in what you have to offer, if it’s made clear and valuable to them—which brings us to our next point.

3. I have a strong call-to-action and something specific to offer.

My pop-up has a very clear value proposition that is geared toward the large majority of people who visit my site. This is what it looks like:

Electric Speed pop-up

To be honest, though, I know I could do better if I added some customized visuals, as recommended here. But this quiet approach (at least as quiet as you can get with a pop-up) is more my style. I don’t like a lot of flash, and I don’t want people to feel like they’re already being sold before they enter their email address.

4. My website carries no advertising and offers a large volume of free content.

I thought it might be time to give myself permission for this one pop-up that can help me better build my email list, which is key for my business. This website and blog is at the heart of everything I do, and given the significant traffic that it attracts month after month, it would be strategically stupid of me not to build on that traffic in some way that provides a sustainable, business resource. And since I’m not interested in hosting ads, why not better advertise myself?

If you’re interested in adding a pop-up to your site, I highly recommend MailMunch. I’m still on their free plan, but they also have more advanced, paid plans. There’s lots of functionality than I haven’t even touched on, and so far I couldn’t be more pleased with the seamless and intuitive nature of their service.

Do you use pop-ups? What’s your experience been like? Let me know in the comments. And just in case you’re wondering, you can sign up for any of my newsletters here.

I’ve also written a follow-up post offering more stats and an explanation of autoresponders.

I added the pop-up in March 2016. I had roughly 5,200 people on my list before I added the pop-up; now I have 12,000. That means I more than doubled my list size in less than six months.

Posted in Digital Media and tagged , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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64 Comments on "Why I Started Using Pop-Ups on My Website"

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jeffo

Great article with compelling data. That’s quite a jump in your subscribers.

I really, really hate intrusive pop-ups, so good for you for going with the least intrusive style you could find.

One thing: the article you link to is actually a “how to use the twitter hashtag.”

Thanks for the great info as always!

Rhonda Lane
Thank you, Jane. Your timing with this post is perfect. I’ve been dragging my feet about starting an email list. But first, let me tell you, I’ve liked your popup for Electric Speed. Very classy about how the popup meets our needs and waits until we’re ready to leave for another tab or another site. Thank you for the tip on MailMunch. As much as popups other than yours have set my teeth on edge, I also know they work. In the early days of my horse blog, my first blog, I used a popup called “What Would Seth Godin… Read more »
Harald Johnson

Great post, Jane. And timely while I’m developing my author site. And good to know that MailMunch has a free-pricing option that includes their “slide box.” And “exit intent” is a great less-intrusive way to do it. But here’s the next question: Are you also using multi-step autoresponders (beyond the opt-in steps)? I’m guessing no, although I can’t remember from when I signed up here. “Author coaches” seem hot on this idea. Maybe for a future post?

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[…] Why I Started Using Pop-Ups on My Website  […]

Anne R. Allen

I hate popups for exactly the reasons you say. They are essentially a punch in the nose, telling customers to #@^& off. And as for those huge unclosable pop-ups that block your entire website–they’re the equivalent of slamming the door in a customer’s face before they have a chance to look at the merchandise.Their rudeness is only surpassed by their stupidity.

But if someone has indeed invented a polite popup, I might reconsider. Especially if the popup doesn’t appear to your regular subscribers.

Nate Hoffelder

I am vehemently opposed to pop-ups. That said, I do use Mailmunch to offer a pop-up that covers part of the sidebar. It’s much less annoying and yet still brings the mailing list to people’s attention.

Kelly Stanley

I think you mentioned this (or a similar one) a while back, because I read it one day and then couldn’t remember the name so Googled it. (And you’re my main source of this kind of info, so I know I didn’t come up with it on my own.) I went with the free plan of SumoMe. I get 50-75 new subscribers a month simply because of this, and I too had the same feelings so I customized mine in the same way. DEFINITELY worth using!

Henry Wise
I think popups are rude. If the first time I meet someone they either nag me or try to do things for them then I don’t want to meet them again. Same with websites. I find it just as annoying when they popup on leaving – I’ve then wasted my time on the site, and it feels like I’m being spied on on my own PC (i.e. the site is waiting for me to move the pointer to the close gadget). The argument that it increases signups is the same as saying “I personally benefit from being rude/irritating, so that’s… Read more »
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[…] Why I Started Using Pop-Ups on My Website (Jane Friedman) I’m not a fan of pop-ups. Like most of the Internet world, I find them at best a minor annoyance and at worst a reason to stop reading. I can’t recall a time that I ever signed up for someone’s email newsletter list as the result of a pop-up. I abandon sites when I’m assiduously and repeatedly begged to sign up for an email list. […]

rogerpacker
Very interesting article. I used to be very much against pop-ups until I realised how helpful they were for people looking for information, such as a newsletter, so long as they are relatively discreet and easily closed. I now use SumoMe and have had much the same experience as yourself in seeing a big rise in sign-ups. You mention in a comment that you can’t turn off the pop-up for people who have already subscribed. I’m not familiar with Mailmuch so I don’t know what options it offers but the facility to not show a pop-up to those who have… Read more »
Russell Phillips

I find it interesting that you’re using an exit-intent pop-up, because they’re the ones I find most irritating (I may be unique in this, of course).

Maria

This article persuaded me to sign up for Jane’s email. And it has persuaded me to add a long-dreaded pop-up to my own site in the near future.
I have visited Jane’s site in the past from links in newsletters. This visit was driven by such a link. While grateful to the newsletters, I think it is time for the benefit go to Jane.

Diana Losch

Impressive response! Explicitly offering value is critical as you have done. Arguably I wouldn’t eliminate mobile pop-ups if they follow other conventions you mentioned as you’re missing a huge user group. Why not test adding pop-ups to mobile at end of visit to compare?

J.M. Ney-Grimm

How does the pop-up software determine “exit intent”? When I clicked on one of your links to MailMunch, I exited your site without ever seeing your pop-up. And since the link didn’t open in a new tab, I was truly gone from your site. I hit the back button, so that I could post this question. 🙂

ETA: I did get the pop-up when I paused to switch tabs, so that I could copy and paste the URL to my website in the appropriate blank box below the comment box.

Rick Taubold
Sorry, Jane, but I totally agree with Henry Wise. Further, your pop-up DOES reappear on subsequent visits. I tried the same browser 3 times, clicking on the same link to access the site, and I got the pop-up all 3 times. Try to justify it all you want, but it’s still presumptuous and rude to have it. Anyone who finds your site and books interesting enough will either subscribe without needing an intrusive prompt or will follow and support you by spreading the word. I definitely will not be doing either as long as the pop-up remains on your site.… Read more »
S. J. Pajonas

Very interesting blog post! I had the SumoMe plugin on my site for a long time and it did increase sign-ups for me, people who have since become loyal readers. I just switched to MailerLite and found that wanting to switch over SumoMe means I have to start paying. Not happening. But the MailerLite free pop-ups had pretty much everything I needed!

Michael LaRocca

If I really liked your articles (I always do), but didn’t know how to subscribe to your newsletter (I did it months ago), I’d probably be grateful for the exit pop-up. And wow, I can’t believe I said that. I’m a pop-up hater from way back.

joanna elm

Totally agree with your entire comment, Michael. I am a pop-up hater (please give me a chance to see if I like your blog/website before you get in my face) but an exit pop-up sounds like the best solution.
Also I love your new blog look, Jane.

Madison Woods
I think one reason sidebar signups don’t work so well is because they don’t show up until a reader on a cell phone scrolls all the way past the article or post. So most never even see it, because most of my viewers use a phone iOS and many may not go beyond the article they’re reading, if they even read it all. I use a top-bar signup list from the Mailchimp plugin that has worked very well and is easy to get rid of on cell phone screens and doesn’t take up the whole screen to begin with. I… Read more »
Melissa Van Dover

Hi Jane! I found this article extremely helpful. I just recently started publishing fiction novels and I’ve been looking for a way to improve conversion on my newsletter sign ups. I particularly appreciate the detail on how you customized the pop-up to be as minimally intrusive as possible, I think it was a great call to make the sign up less intrusive as I agree popups can be annoying at times.

I was wondering if you’ve made any additional changes to your “pop-up” newsletter sign up since and if they’ve improved your conversion further? Thanks again for a valuable post.

L Valentine
I remember commenting quite a ways back (in response to a post you’d written, asking), that I don’t usually respond to direct requests to follow someone if they don’t already follow me. My time is valuable and I want something in exchange. But then, I think you’re associated with Publisher’s Lunch, right? That’s something of value. I’ve subscribed to that since around the time Miss Snark took her first victim. I just got the pop-up. Oh, that was nice. Thumbs up. I x’d out on it because I already subscribe to Electric Lunch and your weekly digest, which is how… Read more »
Christina Katz

I am trying this! I hate being bombarded by pop-ups while reading, but this strategy just might overcome my hesitation. I’ll keep you posted!

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[…] week, I discussed why I added a pop-up form to my site (which gathers email newsletter subscribers); the following post explains what happens once […]

Sonia Lombardo

What newsletter service do you use?

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[…] Grabas lays out how to build an epic visual strategy for your author brand. Jane Friedman explains why she started using pop-ups on her website and Becca Puglisi illuminates the most neglected resource for reviews: […]

Bill Cokas

Late to the comments here, Jane, but given the increased number of people doing everything on their phones, would you reconsider enabling this pop-up for mobile devices? Are you worried about losing potential subscribers because they’ll never look at your site on a tablet or laptop?

RoseMary Griffith

Thanks for sharing this. Like you, I have long been torn about the desire for email subscribers and the irritation of pop-ups on sites that interrupt my reading. You’ve encouraged me to give this a whirl.

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[…] WHY I STARTED USING POP-UPS ON MY WEBSITE […]

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[…] owner and publishing expert, Jane Friedman, is not a fan of pop-ups. Like most folks, she finds them a major annoyance and a darn good reason […]

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[…] “Why I Started Using Pop-Ups on My Website” on Jane Friedman […]

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[…] You should have a dedicated spot for email newsletter sign-up on your homepage, or you should use a pop-up. (I discuss using pop-ups here.) […]

Katharine

I usually exit when I encounter a pop-up. My favorite sites (will never unsubscribe) do not use them. I subscribe according to, 1) content, and 2) no pop-ups.
However, I have subscribed to yours, for some unexplainable reason.
nable reason.

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