How to Persuade Without Pop-Ups

October 25, 2017

Have you ever been happy to see a pop-up?

Think about this for a second.

Do you find it helpful when you visit a website and just as you start reading, a bright yellow box spirals onto the screen and interrupts your workflow?

Do you like being told that in order to run a successful business or lead a happy life you have to give your email address in exchange for a free download?

Read the following copy from real pop-ups and note how they make you feel: 

Example A: 

5 Principles of Persuasive Web Design: Join my private CRO newsletter & get the answer instantly

YES: Reveal the 5 Principles of Persuasive Web Design

NO: I design websites that are unpersuasive

Example B:

Want to learn how to get 5,000 SUBSCRIBERS FOR FREE? 

YES: Download the FREE EBOOK

NO THANKS, I'll stick to my gut on how to grow my subscriber base. 

For most people, the above pop-ups make you feel bullied into action. No one wants to be the idiot that designs unpersuasive websites or the chump who builds their list based only on gut instinct. You may also feel indignant that some stranger has the gumption to insult your intelligence.

Much of the language used in pop-ups uses this type of scare tactic: sign up for my newsletter or risk making a huge mistake that could negatively affect your business or life. The thing is, people don’t like being manipulated or pushed into taking action. This doesn't establish trust with your audience. It may work to get an email address, but it often won't result in a highly engaged list.   

If pop-ups make you cringe, you shouldn’t feel pressured to use them on our website. It is possible to grow your list without sacrificing your site’s user experience and without doing something that feels off-brand.  

Here’s the thing: 

Truly valuable content doesn’t need to be pushed with pop-ups. We’re now trained to look for a subscribe button or a signup form when we want to learn more. I can choose to sign up for your list (or not), without the added peer pressure of a pop-up. And when there’s no pop-up involved, you know I subscribed to your list because I’m really interested in what you have to offer. That’s the audience you’re going for, right?

It All Comes Down to Engagement

It’s true that pop-ups can have really high conversion rates (if they’re done tactfully) but they also have been shown to result in lower engagement rates from your subscribers. They also risk scaring visitors away from your site. Just like social media, it’s not entirely about how many people are in your audience—it’s about how many of them are engaged.

Engaged subscribers are more likely to purchase your product, donate to your cause, or spread the word about your business. These are the people you should nurture and respect. These people should feel welcome on your site and they should be encouraged to explore, not punished with a pop-up when they make a move to click over to another page.

You can persuade people to do what you want and still be helpful and considerate. You can be the website that feels like a breath of fresh air. And you’ll get more engaged subscribers than you ever would with a pop-up.

There are gentle reminders and polite invitations, and then there are pop-ups. Here’s how to firmly and politely ask for what you want:

Pop-Up Alternatives

1. Put it at the top. Make sure no one misses your call to action by placing it right at the top in the main nav or in a header. This is probably the most effective alternative to a pop-up. It's still highly visible without interrupting site visitors when they're in the middle of exploring your content. HubSpot and Melyssa Griffin both utilize bright headers that draw your eyes to the CTA button.

Death to Stock makes it impossible to miss their call to action by making it the only thing you can see when you first visit their website. They also have direct copy that makes it crystal clear what value they're offering: "We send beautiful photos straight to your inbox." 

Stitch Fix has a bold, red 'Get Started' or 'Get Styled' button above the fold. A button also appears in the header as you scroll down the page, catching your eye without interrupting your reading. The Ocean Conservancy also chooses to put their subscribe button front and center on the homepage. 

2. Close your video, podcast, or blog post with a call to action.  Ask people to join your community at the end of a video or podcast. Krista Tippett reminds listeners to sign up for her newsletter at the end of each On Being episode. (Listen to my favorite episode here with Maria Popova of Brain Pickings.)  

Or include a newsletter signup form at the end of your blog posts. Copyblogger always includes a CTA button at the end of their posts with a specific action they want their readers to take. (It's not always to subscribe to their list.) The National Parks Foundation also includes their sign-up form at the end of each post overlaid on a stunning visual. 

And Ann Handley, a brilliant writer and marketing expert, appeals to our funny bone with a humorous CTA anyone who's ever started a blog can relate to. She includes it at the end of her posts and towards the bottom of each page on her site. 

3. Sprinkle CTAs throughout a long-form post and throughout your website. Try inserting relevant signup forms or free downloads in the body of your blog post, if it’s a longer post (at least 1,000 words). Raubi Perilli from Simply Stated Media does this flawlessly. You can also insert eye-catching CTA buttons throughout your website, not just in the header and footer.

4. Use the footer. This is a common place for the sign-up form but if growing your list is the number one action you want people to take, make sure you also post your subscribe link elsewhere. (Hint, see the four ideas above.) The sign-up form for the National Audubon Society is a good example. It's the main focal point of the footer and fits in seamlessly with the site’s design. (Plus, it's clever enough to make you smile.) They're main CTA, however, is to donate and sign petitions. These CTA's are sprinkled prominently throughout the site, closer to the top of each page. 

5. Get the most out of your byline. Put a link to your newsletter, free PDF, or ecourse in your byline when guest posting. See how Pamela Wilson does it in her post for Copyblogger.

It All Comes Down to Quality Content

If you’re creating valuable content you shouldn’t need pop-ups to convince people to sign up for your newsletter, subscribe to your podcast, sign up for your webinar, or any other specific action you want them to take. Your readers will be motivated of their own free will to stay in touch. (Just make sure you still make it easy using one of the above tips.) 

People are looking for the next action to take if they like your content, but first give them a chance to decide if they're interested. Try creating quality content and ask politely for people to join your community. This is how you create a website that encourages return visits because it's an enjoyable user experience. It also gains your readers’ trust and respect. 

We don’t all have to follow the pop-up trend—stand up, stick to your guns, and do what feels right for your brand. This should mean creating content that resonates with your target audience, whether you’re informing, entertaining, creating community, or providing some other service to your readers. Great content will speak for itself.

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