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Why I Removed Extremely Effective Pop-ups From My Website

Every second website today greets you with a pop-up box. These boxes pop-up, slide-in or drop-down and must be actioned (completed or closed) before you can continue to look at what you were after. Most of the time, they appear when you arrive:


Or like this:


But also increasingly, when you leave:


I had never really considered adding a pop-up to Communicate Jesus, but I started to read some big claims about how effective they can be at growing your list of email subscribers. For example:


Who can argue with that?!

My first pop-up

So in December, I signed-up with OptinMonster and created my first pop-up. Every time people visited Communicate Jesus, they were greeted with a box inviting them to join the email newsletter. The results were incredible! Here's what happened:

Month #1

When I added the pop-up in December, 5 times as many people subscribed to my email list compared with the previous month.

Month #2

In January, this number kept on climbing - the number of new subscribers was more than 8 times that of November!


Unlike most of the big promises made by new online tools, I discovered that true to their word, pop-ups are a very effective means of growing an email list.

A growing discomfort

And yet, I became increasingly uncomfortable using pop-ups for one reason: I hate seeing them on other websites. Pop-up forms that suddenly appear and ask for your email address remind me of the people who hassle you for a donation when you’re walking to the train station. Annoying. Unwelcome. Frustrating. They are an unnecessary obstacle to negotiate on your way to somewhere else. But my objection to unrequested pop-ups isn't just practical. It's theological: [bctt tweet="Pop-ups should not be used because pop-ups do not put others first."] And this is the opposite of the Christian ethic. As Christians, we are to love our neighbour by considering what is best for them - not us. Matt Perman puts this well in his excellent book, What’s Best Next:

“We are to care about usability because hard to use products make life harder for people, not easier. And the Christian ethic is to lift people’s burdens – make their lives better – rather than create burdens for them by making their lives harder in order to save ourselves some time and efforts in the design of our products.”

As Christians, we are to be on about removing obstacles, not creating them! Helping people, not hindering them! He explains how this applies to marketing:

“It means that if you are in marketing, you need to create your marketing initiatives in a way that doesn’t annoy people or seek to use them but instead will serve them even in the way you market to them.”

In reading these words, I became increasingly convicted that using unrequested pop-ups is contrary to the Christian ethic.

No more pop-ups (despite their effectiveness)

And so, several months after their very successful implementation, I removed these pop-ups from Communicate Jesus. Although I was convicted, I wrestled with this decision because pop-ups are just so effective. This effectiveness can easily override all other considerations or concerns. As prominent blogger Michal Hyatt shares:

"I hate popups, so I was hesitant to try one on my site. But the results from OptinMonster exit-intent popup speak for themselves. I doubled my subscription rate immediately without annoying my users. I haven't had a single complaint. My only regret is that I didn't start using OptinMonster sooner. I can only imagine how many subscribers I could have added to my email list!"

Hyatt admits that he hates them. But he continues to use them. Pragmatics has trumped service. This doesn't sit well with me. [bctt tweet="As Christians, we can never allow "but it works!" to be our guiding principle."] And even if, as Hyatt suggests, no one else finds them annoying, I don’t believe we should pursue strategies that we find annoying. Surely the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” includes not doing things to others that you find annoying?

3 alternatives to annoying pop-ups

If you have quality content that serves your visitors, it is a good thing to encourage them to subscribe to your email newsletter (in fact, you might like to join the Communicate Jesus newsletter now!). The key however, is to never force your visitors to make a decision (by requiring them to either submit their email address, or close the pop-up). Let me repeat: [bctt tweet="Never confront your visitors with a pop-up they are forced to action."] I’d like to suggest some alternatives. These may be less effective, but they are also put the needs of the visitor first. In an interesting article entitled "How we doubled email sign-ups in 30 days", the team at Buffer share the techniques they tried, and the effectiveness of each:


As you can see, there are lots of other ways to grow your email list. Here’s 3 worth trying.

1. Add an email subscription form to the sidebar of your website

I’m sure you’ve come across these before - and you can see that I’m using one now on Communicate Jesus too (look to the right!). They are easy to create with OptinMonster (and many other tools), and provide a subtle option for people who want to get your updates to do so.

2. Add invitations to subscribe within your content

For example, include text links within your articles or blog posts that invite people to click on a link to subscribe to updates. These can direct people to another page, or can trigger a pop-up (as is the case with this link) where people can add their details. The difference here is key - the visitor opted to trigger the pop-up, it wasn't forced on them.

3. Add a call to action at the top or bottom of the page

Tools such as HelloBar or OptinMonster allow you to invite people to subscribe by placing a sign-up form at the top or bottom of the page, or within the content itself (In-Line). These are less subtle than a form in the sidebar, and provide an opportunity for visitors to respond as they read.

My recommended tool for easily create email sign-up forms

There are lots of tools available to help you create these forms. For my money, you can’t go past OptinMonster. I’ve been using this tool since December, and it can do much more than just create pop-ups. In fact, the list of features is quite incredible, and even if you don't make use of pop-ups, it's a super-useful tool. I've included links to OptinMonster throughout (because I recommend it) and if you sign-up for OptinMonster using these links, you'll also be supporting Communicate Jesus (thanks!).

In conclusion...

If you would like to grow your email list, I encourage you to do 2 things:

  1. Stop using pop-ups.
  2. Start experimenting with other alternatives.


As another example, this morning I followed a link to a website that I was visiting for the first time. Before viewing the article, a pop-up appeared, asking me for money:


It's an unpleasant introduction to a website, and as I explained above, an unnecessary obstacle to place in the way of website visitors.