Subscribe form showdown: Do sliders, lightboxes or tabs work best?

By Ros Hodgekiss on 12th June 2014

There are lots of ways to collect email addresses on a site. So, between sliders, lightboxes, tabs and regular subscribe forms, what's the most effective choice - and why? We got three popular services to share their list building techniques.

In addition to our own selection that includes hosted subscribe pages, subscribe buttons and of course, HTML forms, Campaign Monitor integrates with a variety of services that offer alternatives. As well as different types of subscribe forms, these often provide extra analytics, as well as the ability to customize their behaviour and appearance - like colors and artwork, or even the delay before appearing for site visitors.

Despite all this choice, for many web designers and site admins, often there can only be one. So, for a better understanding of each type of form, we gathered 3 people behind some of our most popular subscribe form integrations - Claudiu Murariu at PadiAct, Noah Kagan at AppSumo and Matt Farmer at Anchor Tab - and had them explain which works best and why.

3 types of form, 1 goal

When deciding what kind of form you should use on your site, most people will likely agree that there's only one goal - and that's to collect as many new signups for your subscriber lists as possible. However, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind in the process, including that the form doesn't:

  • Annoy, or interrupt site visitors - especially those on mobile devices, or who have signed up already
  • Force people to sign up to get what they want
  • Excessively add to page load times

With these requirements in mind, let's look at how each form works its magic.

Sliders: Claudiu Murariu, PadiAct

PadiAct slider

How do they work: Whenever you go to your favorite clothes store and look around for something to buy, but can't seem to find that perfect fit, the help of an ever-present, friendly shop assistant is always appreciated. Sliders work like a sales assistant would. Like an assistant, if a form appears the moment someone visits a site, you'll likely find yourself losing visitors before they get to browse around. However, at the right time and with the right content, most people won't see the slider, but only the message that you present to them. In this case, offering an email address simply becomes a formality; they want to stay in touch with you.

How well do they work: From the 3.5 million email leads that we collected with sliders, popping-up at the right moment with a customized message based on visitor behavior can bring subscription rates of 15% and above, with zero impact on other performance metrics - such as conversion rates, exit rates, time spent on website and number of viewed pages.

When targeted, sliders are very effective because they don't put all users in the same bucket, but instead allow users to form an opinion about the website before deciding to subscribe. Sliders also make it very easy, as visitors don't need to look by themselves for a subscription form.

Check out the sliders at PadiAct

Pop-ups: Noah Kagan, SumoMe by AppSumo

ListBuilder by SumoMe pop-up

How do they work: I think email pop-ups on sites are REALLY annoying but also the most effective way of getting new email subscribers.

Let's play out pop-ups in the real world.

You go to a restaurant, the food sucks and then you are asked to give your email address for their newsletter. You give it. They start emailing you every day for weeks. Will their emails have an impact on you besides hating that restaurant even more? HECK NO. You'll never go back to that place and are likely to not tell people to go.

Now, let's say you have a restaurant you love; you are likely to go back. But sometimes you forget to go back so a friendly reminder would be helpful.

That's what I think of email pop-ups - sometimes with customers or website visitors it's hard for them to remember you with all the options out there. They may not see another way of giving you their email address, so a pop-up is the most effective method I've found. As long as your products are great or blog content is amazing I encourage people to give them a shot.

How well do they work: Here's how many people sign up for Okdork using the List Builder by SumoMe.com email pop-up (see below). I don't try to optimize to get as many emails as possible but just friendly suggest to people to sign up for my newsletter.

Date Subscribers Pop-ups Shown Conversion Rate
04/10 26 754 3.45%
04/11 31 950 3.26%
04/12 14 568 4.46%
04/13 19 578 3.29%
04/14 24 1,005 2.39%

Lightboxes are available at SumoMe, by AppSumo

Tabs: Matt Farmer, AnchorTab

AnchorTab tabs

How do they work: When a user comes to your site, they generally come in with a very specific goal in mind. For most of your visitors, they are either there to acquire information about your product or to read some content on your blog. Likewise, you, the person running the website, have a goal: to seek to convert that visitor into a paying customer or regular reader. As such, you are found in dilemma that has plagued salesmen for decades. Consider the example of a car salesman. On one extreme, you have the pushy salesman. He is going to do anything he can to accomplish his goal of selling the car and isn’t really thinking about how comfortable or uncomfortable it makes you. He will follow you around, talk your ear off, and do everything to push the sale on you. This is a near perfect match to the email acquisition strategy that involves showing your reader a modal popup that sits over your content and forces them to make a decision about whether or not to subscribe. But tabs strike a balance that we like to call the helpful salesman. They're not in your face, or going to talk at you the entire time you’re trying to achieve your goal, they're always there.

tabs are optimized for blogs with lots of contentHow well do they work: By scrolling up from the bottom, tabs are especially optimized for blogs with lots of text content. Readers will notice the tab appear, but are not required to stop reading to answer it. And, as they finish the article they’re reading, their eye naturally flows to the tab next. With this strategy, you strike the balance between being so in-your-face that your reader gets annoyed, and being so absent that they forget that you’re there. You’re able to accomplish your goal of getting email subscribers, without resorting to tactics that interrupt their pursuit of their goal.

Using this substantially less intrusive method, we’re seeing sustained conversion rates of around 1.25%, putting us in close firing range of competing solutions. With the next major release of Anchor Tab, our helpful salesman will be getting more tools in his bag of tricks to help our customers drive that number even higher.

Tabs are available at AnchorTab

Which do you use?

Many thanks to Claudiu, Noah and Matt for not only answering our questions, but creating forms that are super-easy to add and also can be integrated with your Campaign Monitor account. Now that we've looked at the options outside of our regular forms, it's time for you to take a stand. Which kind of form have you had the most success with on your sites? We'd love to know in the comments below.

3 Comments

  • Finge
    13th June

    Excellent topic, Ros!

    I use OptinMonster, and are seeing some great results. The integration with Campaign Monitor comes out of the box, and I can run several different versions pointing to different lists as well.

    I am currently testing various options, but so far the leave intent pop-up has had highest conversion rates. It is the most obtrusive option, so you need to really think through how you use it. As with so many things today I think you need to provide something of value in return for people signing up, and with that comes good results.

    A lot of people argue that these are annoying, but the fact is that they are extremely effective. As always I recommend A/B-testing different versions, and OptinMonster easily lets me do that.

    Check how it works at http://conversionlab.no - and feel free to sign up while you are at it :-)

  • Christopher Payne
    25th June

    As a user, I hate pop ups. I think any pop up on first visit is a bad user experience, unless it saves me money on that visit. If your site drops a cookie and that user returns to the site after a certain amount of time, then a pop up is okay for whatever you think is more important than the product I am searching for. Forced signup or immediate pop ups on page load have prevented me personally from revisiting certain sites. I may already have an account but I don’t want to sign in or click out of a pop box every time I visit, I can get a better shopping experience elsewhere. I may be in a small percentage, but any pop up that doesn’t include a special offer is frustrating to me.

  • Finge
    12th September

    Hi Christopher. I tend to agree. They can be annoying - and have to be used with caution. Most importantly they have to provide value for you as a user!

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