Email address popups: how to lose readers and annoy people

Email address popups are on every site these days. They’re touted as a surefire way to add subscribers to your email list. And growing a reliable subscriber list is an important goal for most businesses. As social media giants like Facebook and Twitter keep changing their rules, your mailing list is the only thing you can depend on.

If you use the internet at all, I’m sure you’ve run across email address popups. Here’s a run down of the main kinds you’re likely to encounter.

Welcome mat This full-screen window appears when you first visit a site. It blocks the content completely until you hand over your email address or close the popup. Less like a welcome mat, more like a portcullis.

Time delay This popup appears after you’ve been on the site for a set period, interrupting whatever you were doing on the site. The time delay varies from a few seconds to a few minutes, but it's nearly always too short.

Exit intent These popups show up when you move your cursor to the edge of the page. Not so bad if you really were leaving, but annoying if you were just heading for the site menu. The message on exit intent popups often sounds kind of clingy, as it begs you to stay a little longer. Or at least, hand over your email before you go.

Scroll box This window sidles into view once you’ve scrolled a certain percentage down the page. You can place them anywhere on the page but I find scroll boxes in the bottom right corner are the least intrusive. You can carry on reading while you decide what to do about them.

Announcement bar So discreet you might not even notice this as a popup. it hovers at the top of the screen. It might appear straight away or only after you’ve hung around for a while. They’re handy for adding a promotional message to your site and not particularly annoying.

Bribery popups The straightforward way to get an email address is to just ask. But people don’t hand their email over as readily as they used to. So it’s common to offer a bribe: a discount voucher or a free download.

Bullying popups A variant of the bribe: the message tries to shame you into grabbing the download. For instance, an offer of a free ebook to help you grow your email list would have two options. ‘Yes, I want to grow my list’ and ‘No thanks, I have enough subscribers’. (The latter option is never true. But you’re still not getting my email.)

Feedback popups As in, “Please rate your experience with us today.” Usually, it's a time delay popup that appears within 30 seconds of arriving on the site. That is: well before I’ve had enough experience to rate it.

You might have guessed that I don’t love email address popups.

I've experimented with them on my own site, using the SumoMe plugin. You used to need pretty fancy marketing software or a clever developer to add them to your site. But now, thanks to SumoMe, everyone can access the power of the popup.

I didn’t find they helped me grow my list though that might have been as much to do with traffic levels at the time. In the end, I removed them. Popups annoy the hell out of me on other people’s sites. Why would I want to inflict them on my readers?

Context and timing are key to getting it right.

Don’t get in your users’ way, and don’t interrupt.

If they’ve come to your site to read a blog post, don’t throw a popup at them half way through demanding their email.

If you want to offer a discount voucher they can use if they buy something today, you'll have to interrupt. Think of a time and place that is least likely to annoy. Try it out on a few friends so you can test their reaction.

Adding popups to your own site.

SumoMe is the place to start. You can try all kinds of popups out and see what works for you. It’s worth installing SumoMe in any case. It also has great content analytics and social sharing buttons.

HelloBar specialises in announcement bars.

ConvertKit offers subscription forms that you can trigger as a time delay, exit intent or scroll box popup.

All these suppliers have detailed instructions for adding their popups to Wordpress, Squarespace and other major website platforms. They also show you how to connect the popup to your email service provider, so you actually save the addresses you collect.

Alternative ways to get email addresses

You don’t have to use popups at all. I use inline forms - a subscription box inserted in the page. It’s clear to the reader where the form is, and what I’m offering. These have been more successful for me than popups, for getting email adresses.

My inline forms are usually at the bottom of articles. So what about the readers that don’t get that far?

To make sure early leavers don’t miss out on the free downloads, I use a simple popup triggered from a link. This means the popup only ‘pops’ when the reader wants to see it.

If you want to find out more about offering bribes for emails, you should search for ‘content upgrade’ and ‘lead magnet’. You’ll find lots of step by step articles showing you how it’s done. Here are some I found useful:

4 Cheap & Easy Ways to Deliver Content Upgrades

LeadMagnets - 11 ways to get more subscribers

This article from Paper & Oats shows how to do free downloads on Squarespace

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.