Thinking of Getting More Subscribers With a Mailing List Popup? Don’t.

Popup ads are awful.  They’re intrusive and frustrating, interrupting your browsing experience to shove spam in your face. They’re so reviled that their original creator, Ethan Zuckerman, posted a public apology in 2014

“At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising,” Zuckerman explained. “I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.” 

You know what they say about good intentions.

Particularly in recent years, popup ads have fallen out of favor on the modern web, particularly since most major browsers now include popup blockers by default. They’re a dying medium, and very few people will be sad to see them go. 

Yet in their wake, something else has surfaced. Pop-up mechanisms are now increasingly being used to pester users for their email addresses. The idea is that doing this can significantly boost engagement and generate leads. 

Some evidence exists to suggest that this is true. Marketing expert Matthew Woodward, for instance, discovered that implementing a popup led to a 44 percent increase in email signups. Yet this also led to an approximately nine percent reduction in engagement.

He got more subscriptions, but these came at the expense of his audience.

Mailing list overlays have the same problem as traditional popup ads. The same problem as the intrusive on-page ads that led to the rise in ad-blocking software. They interrupt the user experience.

Pay attention to me, they demand, heedless of the audience’s needs. What you were doing doesn’t matter. What you want doesn’t matter. Give me your email. 

That isn’t what you want to say to your audience.  But if you shove an overlay in someone’s face the moment they visit your site, it’s the one you will inevitably send. This is especially true if it’s a full-page overlay. 

“Blocking the whole page behind an overlay is about as interruptive as you can be,” writes Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at digital marketing specialist SaleCycle. “It also suggests you’re becoming a little too desperate to grab the visitor’s attention. It does force the user to take some action, and for that reason, they probably deliver some results, short-term at least.”

We aren’t saying you should stay away from overlays altogether, mind you. Rather, we’d advise keeping them low-key. Wait until a user is done reading a blog post to show them a popup, or simply include a soft call to action at the bottom of relevant pages urging them to sign up for a mailing list.The modern web provides users with a positively massive volume of information. One side effect of this availability is that if they don’t like what your website is doing, they can very likely go elsewhere. Keep that in mind with all your design decisions, and avoid mailing list popups wherever possible.

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