Opt-in forms come in many different shapes and sizes and can be put on many different places in your website’s layout. Some opt-in forms are large, hard-to-miss and somewhat intrusive. Others are smaller and less intrusive, but are also less likely to be seen by users. Opt-in forms that are larger, well-placed and hard-to-miss will generally get much better opt-in rates than those that are less visible, in a sidebar or below the fold on a website. As the use of opt-in forms on websites has expanded in the last decade, several broad categories of opt-in forms have been created by the internet marketing community.
Here are some common types of opt-in forms that are used on the web today:
- Entry Popup – This is a rectangular opt-in form that appears at the center of the user’s screen when they first navigate to your website. Typically the rest of the web-page will be dimmed to place an emphasis on the opt-in form. Entry popups will also usually contain an “X” or close button that allows users to close the opt-in form so that they can view the rest of the website. To avoid being overly intrusive, many webmasters will only show a popup to their users the first time they visit your website each week. Entry popups are an extremely effective tool to gather email opt-ins and can often get opt-in rates that are three to five times higher than an opt-in form in a sidebar or at the bottom of an article. You can view an example of an entry popup opt-in form on the MarketBeat website at marketbeat.com
- Exit Popup – An exit popup operates very similar to an entry popup, but only appears when the user has taken an action indicative that they are getting ready to leave a website. If a user’s mouse cursor leaves the main window of your website or if a user clicks on a link, an exit popup will appear. Webmasters sometimes choose exit popups over entry popups because they are perceived to be less obtrusive, but they are also less visible than entry popups because not all users leaving a website will see an exit popup before moving on to another website.
- Welcome Page – A welcome page is an entry pop-up on steroids. A welcome page will cover the user’s entire screen with a large opt-in form and require them to click a close button or scroll down to see the webpage that they are trying to access. You can view an example of a welcome page on Spencer Hawes’ website, nichepursuits.com.
- Footer Opt-In – A footer opt-in is simply an opt-in form that appears at the bottom of an article. After a user is done reading an article on your website, they are naturally ready to read another article or take another action, such as signing up for your mailing list. Footer opt-in forms can attract highly engaged subscribers, because every subscriber that completes a footer opt-in has probably already read at least one article on your website. Footer opt-ins are also very unobtrusive, because they appear below-the-fold and only command a user’s attention after they are reading an article. You can view an example of a footer opt-in by reading any article located on americanbankingnews.com.
- Sidebar Opt-in – A sidebar opt-in in simply an opt-in form that appears in the sidebar of your website. Sidebar opt-ins often get lower opt-in rates than other types of opt-ins because they are not in the main column of content that a user is reading. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid sidebar opt-ins altogether, because sidebar opt-ins can complement other opt-in forms your website. You can view an example of a sidebar opt-in by visiting americanbankingnews.com.
- Hello Bar – A hello bar is a wide rectangular opt-in form that sits at the top or bottom of your web-browser. A hello bar will typically be about 50 pixels tall and span the entire width of your screen. Because of their relatively small size, a hello bar will typically only have a headline, a textbox for your email address and a submit button. You can see what a hello bar might look like on your website by using the demo tool provided on https://www.hellobar.com/.
- Scroll Box – A scroll box is a square or rectangular box that appears in the bottom right corner of your website after a user scrolls down. A scroll box will float above the rest of the content on your website and is generally viewed as unobtrusive because they do not cover up the main content of your website. You can view a demo of a scroll box or add a scroll box to your website using plugin produced by SumoMe at http://sumome.com/app/scroll-box.
Which opt-in forms work best?
While there are several types of opt-in forms that you can place on your website, some work much better than others. As a baseline, I recommend implementing an entry popup and a footer opt-in form on your website. The entry popup on your website will be visible to everyone that visits your website for the first time. The footer opt-in will catch the attention of readers that have finished reading an article on your website. If you want to be more aggressive, you can also add a sidebar opt-in form to your website in addition to your popup and footer opt-in form. Using multiple opt-in forms on your website will generate a higher opt-in rate than using any single opt-in form because users that miss your entry popup may sign-up through another opt-in form on your website.
Keep your opt-in forms simple in order to maximize their effectiveness. Use the minimum amount of copy necessary in your headline and description to ensure that your potential subscribers will read all of your copy. Use a simple and consistent value proposition so that users know exactly what they are getting in exchange for their email address. While it’s tempting to try to collect a lot of information about your users up-front, such as their name, gender and interests, your best bet is to only ask for their email address on your opt-in form. Asking for additional information beyond a user’s email address will make them less likely to complete your opt-in form. You can always ask for additional personal details later in your auto-responder series.
Your opt-in forms should have a good validation script in order to make sure that users are entering valid email addresses into your form. If a user doesn’t enter an email address and tries to click the submit button, they should receive an error message telling them that they didn’t enter their email address. If a user enters something that isn’t in the format of a valid email address, they should receive a different message indicating that they entered an invalid address. If a user makes a common typo, such as indicating their email address is from “@gmial.com” or “@hotmial.com”, your opt-in form should automatically warn the user that they may have typed in their email address wrong. Ideally, your opt-in form plugin will do these validation tasks for you. If you are using a form that you created yourself or a form that a developer made for you, you can use a script called MailCheck.js that will automatically check for erroneous emails (https://github.com/mailcheck/mailcheck).
While I recommend using an entry popup, a footer opt-in form, simple and clean copy and minimal form elements, what works well for my companies may not work equally well as yours. Your website will have a different structure and audience than mine, so your mileage may vary with the recommendations listed above. For this reason, it’s important to regularly test different messaging, lead magnets and opt-in form plugins to see if you can improve your opt-in rates. Consider the recommendations listed above to be a good baseline until you find something that works better for your website.
Worried about annoying your users?
Some webmasters will refuse to place large and hard-to-miss opt-in forms like popups and welcome pages because they believe those types of opt-in forms are obtrusive, annoying and degrade the user’s overall experience. Don’t let any personal feelings or opinions you might have stop you from using large opt-in forms. Remember that you are not your users. Many technology enthusiasts think that all ads are annoying and should be avoided, but that doesn’t mean that your potential subscribers think that. Your subscribers may be glad that you have a large opt-in form that appears when they first visit your website because they want your lead magnet and other email content that you produce.
If you truly believe that a large opt-in form or a popup is too annoying for your users, let the data do the talking. Run a split-test with half of your website visitors seeing the opt-in form the other half not seeing the opt-in form at all. If the users that see the opt-in form visit the same average number of pages on your website that users that don’t see the opt-in form do, you know the opt-in form isn’t driving any visitors away from your website.