Should You Use Pop-Ups on Your Technical Blog?

Many blogs have a pop-up prompting people to sign up for their mailing lists. As such, you might be wondering if using a pop-up on a technical blog is a good idea or not.

Before answering the question, “Should you use pop-ups?”, let’s start with two facts:

  1. Your mailing list can be your most important asset on a blog.
  2. Pop-ups are extremely good at capturing emails.

Essentially, they are a very effective, if on the nose, technique. Not having a pop-up signup is literally leaving money on the table. And that’s why they are so ubiquitous.

When you don’t see one it’s often either an ethical choice (the site owner decided to maximize user experience, not profit) or lack of knowledge of how effective these pop-ups can be.

I recently decided to run an experiment on Math Blog, going from an embedded form to a pop-up one, plus the existing form. I was blown away by the results.

Pop-up on Math Blog

On average, I received 20 times more email signups, and my mailing list is growing like never before. I thought I would receive some complaints about it. Surprisingly, so far nobody has opted to say anything negative about it. For this and other reasons, I now actually regret not adding one there years ago.

So should you use pop-ups? The answer thus far would seem to be, “absolutely”. I think that for most technical blogs, we don’t need too many qualifiers or caveats.

A tasteful cookie-based pop-up that appears only once some 10-20 seconds after the user has landed, or when they are about to exit, will probably do more good than damage to your blog.

Where it gets trickier is with programming blogs. Programmers are notoriously adverse to pop-ups and marketing in general. To date I have not placed a pop-up sign up on my programming blog. Following my Math Blog experiment, I’m really tempted to do. If anything, to see what happens both in terms of signups and complaints.

I suspect that submitting a post from my programming blog with a pop-up enabled to Reddit or Hacker News will likely generate some backlash. But I can only speculate until I give it a try, which I’ll likely do and then report back here.

Maybe I’m underestimating how much people, even programmers, are accustomed to pop-ups these days.

Ultimately, it comes down to a delicate balance between ROI and user experience. On the one hand, you want to maximize the number of people you capture, transforming them from random passerby to – hopefully – regulars.

On the other however, you want to provide a user experience that doesn’t disrupt whatever the user is doing (e.g., reading an article) or irritate their individual sensibilities (e.g., the stereotypical anti-marketing programmer).

It’s really up to you in terms of what you are comfortable doing. Knowing your audience is key as well. I think you don’t have too much to worry about there unless your blog is about programming.

Generally speaking, I would say don’t be afraid of trying pop-up email form out for a short amount of time before making a final decision.

And last, but not least, if you’re in the market for a smart pop-up that will let you customize cookie duration, when it appears, and so on, then I highly recommend Optinmonster or WP Subscribe Pro.

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About Antonio Cangiano

Antonio Cangiano is a Software Developer and Technical Evangelist for IBM, as well as a web entrepreneur, serial blogger, and published author. He makes extra income blogging in his spare time about technical topics. He authored a definitive blogging book published by The Pragmatic Bookshelf.

Comments

  1. Hi Antonio – I’ve been reading your blog for some time! Thanks for sharing so many great tips and tricks!

    This article in particular was very timely … I’ve been contemplating adding pop-ups to my technical blog for a while. I did some analysis this weekend and found that my conversion rate is about 3.3% (not bad, but not great).

    So, I took your advice here and am running an experiment for the next 2-3 weeks. I’m hoping that my site-wide conversion rates with double to 6.6%!

    Thanks again for sharing 🙂

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