How to Use an Exit-Popup Strategy to Grow Your Email List (Without Annoying Your Readers)

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by Alex Bashinsky
There’s no denying that popups, especially exit popups, work. But there’s also no denying that they tend to annoy website visitors. Some people even go as far as closing their browser window as soon as they see a popup.

Of course, that’s not something you want your website visitors to do.

So how can you make exit popups bearable (or even enjoyable) for your audience? The answer lies in having an exit-popup strategy.

Most people think offering up a cookie-cutter freebie is all they need to do. But that no longer makes the cut. It’s just lazy marketing. Your website visitors have gotten smarter and savvier. They can recognize lazy marketing at a glance.

So how can you use an exit popup without annoying your readers?

Most marketers think using exit popups is a necessary evil. Marketers who’ve tested their email list’s growth with and without exit popups have found that exit popups work.

They figure ignoring their reader’s annoyance is the price they must pay for growing their business and list. After all, the numbers don’t lie.

But exit popups don’t need to annoy your readers. All you have to do is think from your audience’s perspective.

Give them a way out

Before your exit popup does anything, it needs to give your visitors a way out.

Most popups have the option to turn down the offer or close the window, but my favorite popups are those that have a tiny little note at the bottom saying, “You won’t see this popup for the next 30/60/90 days”.

Makes closing the popup all the sweeter. Plus, it reassures me I won’t see the popup next time I visit the website.

But what this little note also does is make readers pay closer attention: Once they know they won’t see it for an extended period, they’ll want to make sure it’s not an offer they want to miss.

Don’t make them feel stupid

One of the latest trends with popups is that instead of offering a simple X to close the popup they give readers an entire button to do so.

Sounds helpful right? You no longer have to look for a tiny X to close the window. You now get an easy-to-access button.

Unfortunately, the text used on that button leaves a bad taste in the mouth for most readers.

Let’s suppose you’re visiting a marketing blog. As you’re about to leave, you get a popup that says the following: Hey, want to learn how to get more email subscribers? Sign up to get our free e-book!

And then you get the following two options:

  1. Yes, give me the free ebook.
  2. No, thanks. I prefer to have no subscribers.

A classic example of positive and negative calls to action (CTAs).

The problem is the negative CTA. It makes visitors feel stupid or annoyed, and nobody wants to feel that way.

Negative CTAs don’t need to be negative in nature. They just need to give an option to turn down the offer. Saying something that makes your reader question their decision to no sign up or guilts them into signing up is not a good marketing tactic.

Some marketers argue these negative CTAs are meant to be tongue-in-cheek and people understand that. But the only time these kinds of CTAs work is if you know your audience inside out and you’re sure they’ll take it as the tongue-in-cheek option you mean it to be.

If in doubt, don’t go that route. Make sure your exit popup’s button text isn’t turning readers off. It may sound witty to you, but to your readers it could sound like you’re mocking them.

In most cases, a simple “No, thanks. I’m good.” works best.

Use it as a reminder

Sometimes, all an exit popup needs to do is remind visitors of your offer.

Make it a friendly “Hey, just making sure you saw this before you left.”

If they’re interested, they’ll go for it. If not, they can always close the popup. And if you’ve enabled cookies on your site, then they won’t see it again for the next 30, 60, or 90 days.

Tell them something they don’t know

You know how they say leave something for your readers to say in the comments section of your blog posts? The same can be applied to your exit popups.

Instead of giving them an offer or reminding them of it, tell them related information they won’t find on the Web page they visited.

Let’s say you published a blog post about online readability and listed various ways bloggers can make their content more readable. For the exit popup on the post, you might say…

Hey, did you know? White space encourages visitors to read more content.

Want to find out how to use white space effectively in your content?

Sign up below!

Simple, effective, and attractive to anyone interested in finding more about making their content readable.

Surprise them with your offer

A lot of times, readers ignore popups because they see the same cookie-cutter offer all over the website. The popup offers them nothing new.

Be different and craft different offers for different Web pages and blog posts. It’s simple, really. For every blog post, offer a related-content upgrade.

If you’ve published a list post, for example, compile it into checklist form and offer it as a printable download. Easy peasy.

Other page-specific offers might be free reviews, special discounts, beta access, etc.

Create an exit-popup strategy

An exit popup strategy is like any other marketing strategy. You have to design a user experience for your target audience. You also need to have a plan for different scenarios:

  • What happens when a visitor sees an exit popup and chooses to close it or to sign up? What do they see the next time they visit your website?
  • If someone’s closed your exit popup without taking any action, how long before you show them the popup again? And when they do see it, is it the same popup or a new one?

Those are questions (along with others) you’ll need to answer when creating your exit popup strategy.

As complicated as it sounds, it’s not. All you need is good exit popup software that lets you do all those things. There are a bunch of them out there. You’ll be spoiled for choice.