Want more email subscribers? One of the best ways to get them is to optimize your opt-in form. Forms might not be as cool as retargeting or Snapchat, but they play a big part in how fast you can grow your list. And the faster you can grow your list, the faster you can grow your business.
Because opt-in forms are so important, we’ve written extensively about them in the past. Just last year, we published the blog post “10 Opt-in Form A/B SplitTests [With Results]”. It advised things like having an opt-in form at the top and bottom of your pages, plus how to use pop-ups and content upgrades.
You gotta test your opt-in forms
That same post closed with instructions for how to set up a “split-test” aka “a/b test” for your forms. The instructions are still valid, and I urge you to read them and consider testing your opt-in forms. Unless you’ve got very little traffic to your site (like less than about 80 people per day), the best way to make improvements is to test.
CALL OUT: Newbie tip: Not sure what “split-test” or “a/b test” means?
The terms are used interchangeably. They describe a test where you create two versions of a form, then you set those two versions up to rotate evenly while you track how each performs.
Over time, the forms will accumulate enough conversions (in this example, email sign-ups) so you can tell which one works best. Or in testing lingo, which one “converts” best.
You may have to wait a bit for that to happen – at least a week – because you want statistically significant results. Without enough conversions, you could pick the wrong form as the winner.
If you’re interested in learning more about testing, check out the ebook we wrote about it. It’s got specific instructions for how to set up a slew of a/b tests in your GetResponse account.
Why am I so insistent about this testing stuff? Because while all the tricks I’m about to show you is are research-based best practices, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll work for your site, or for your audience. You gotta test them to find out.
If you just sighed, I empathize. Not into the idea of fighting with code and messing up your site? Me neither. But setting up a test of your opt-in forms is really simple. It’s about a fifteen-minute task – I swear. Our developers knew how important testing opt-in forms was, so they made a point of making it easy.
Okay – that’s the end of my testing pitch. I will now get off my soapbox and show you how to get way better results from your opt-in forms, and thus build your email list, and thus grow your business.
Sound good? Let’s go:
1. Avoid using a link as a sign-up prompt if there’s room for a form
Here’s some pretty basic advice: Use a form, not a link. So instead of having a footer that looks like this:
Try something like this:
This doesn’t just apply to website footers. Try to fit in an embedded form instead of a link in your site’s header area, in the navigation column, or anywhere else you’re trying to get subscribers.
Why do this? An embedded form will usually double opt-in rates over a link.
But not always. Here’s a case study where using a link to an opt-in landing page increased conversions by 167%.
Remember how I mentioned you have to test?
2. Show some social proof
Social proof is any way you can demonstrate that other people like something. So adding rave reviews to a landing page is showing social proof. So is showing share counts on your blog posts. Or showing how many email subscribers you already have on your opt-in form, like this:
3. Pre-populate form fields
In the example above, the email opt-in form doesn’t have a typical label. There’s no “Email:” and then a blank form field. They’ve moved the form field label inside the field itself.
Sometimes that little move results in a nice uptick in conversions. Not always, but often.
4. Try adding – or removing – the privacy statement
Audiences are fickle. Having a privacy statement right next to your opt-in form might either reassure them, or make them paranoid by reminding them that some people spam.
As with everything here, the only way to know if this will help or hurt your opt-in rates is to test it.
In this split-test from WhichTestWon.com, adding a short privacy statement resulted in 19.1% more sign-ups.
Sometimes just the phrasing of the privacy statement can make the difference. Here’s an A/B split test from Content Verve. Just a simple rewrite of the sentence resulted in either a 20% increase or a 20% decrease.
This is a great example of what’s technically called “A/B/C testing”. That’s because there were three variations of the opt-in form in the test. If you had four versions, it would be an “A/B/C/D split test”. Knowing that is a good way to be more specific in how you talk about your tests.
5. Don’t reject free email accounts… or do
This refers to a bit of advanced form magic that some companies insist on. They want you to use only a “business” email to sign up for their lists (or their webinar, or whatever). So – for example – if you tried to sign up with Susie@hotmail.com or Susie@gmail.com, their opt-in form would give you an error message, and demand a “business email”.
As a heavy Gmail user, I’ve always found this really annoying. So I was happy to find out that Litmus (an email rendering and optimization company) discourages the practice.
In their ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Email Signup Forms, they write:
It’s a mistake to try and prevent certain email domains from signing up using your forms. Some forms only allow you to use Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo domains. Others don’t allow you to signup using Gmail or free email accounts. Why? If your subscribers want to provide you with a fake email address then they will just make something up. This does little to prevent fake email addresses and adds a ton of friction.
Unfortunately, they don’t include a case study testing this. And IMHO, there’s a snag in their logic: If a website visitor wants a downloadable resource delivered to their inbox, they will give you a correct email address, not a fake one. Otherwise the resource will be sent to that fake email account they entered and they won’t get it.
Of course, if someone was expecting an instant download on the opt-in confirmation page, Litmus is right: The user could just put in a fake email and still get their free resource. Which is exactly why most companies don’t give their free resources away on the confirmation page (and you shouldn’t either). They make you wait to get the resource through the email message they send, with the download link, to your inbox.
But I still agree with them on the key point. Given how frustrating the whole “your email address is not good enough for us” experience has been for me, I’m pretty sure it’s causing other people to bail on this type of opt-in form, too.
Of course, there is a contrary example. The email agency Adestra requires “business” email addresses when you try to download any of their ebooks or research studies.
But if I try to sign up for their general email list (via the “Subscribe” link in the header area – another “best practice” they’re flaunting), they’ll accept my lowly Gmail account.
Here’s the deal: These people are very savvy email marketers. While I resent being told my email address isn’t good enough, and I’m pretty sure it’s hurting their opt-in rates, I bet they’re doing this for a reason.
I’m pretty sure they’ve tested this and found a data-based reason to do it. (Both for the “business” email requirement, and for not using an embedded opt-in form in the header.)
So that’s our little roundup of ways to improve your opt-in forms.
There are almost endless ways to set up and test your opt-in forms. It’s up to you to decide when you’ve got an opt-in rate that’s “good enough”.
Some people will be happy with 2%, but I recommend you keep testing until you’ve hit at least a 5% opt-in rate. That won’t happen overnight, but it’s more than worth the work.
Not sure about that? Just think of all the effort you put into getting traffic to your site. Maybe you make some money off that traffic, but most likely, you only see business results if people sign up for your list. So one of the basic goals of all that traffic is to get opt-ins.
If a few tests of your opt-in form could double the conversion rate – getting you twice the results from all that other work – wouldn’t that be worth a few tests?
What do you think of these opt-in form suggestions? Got any better ones you’d like to share? We’re all ears – share your thoughts in the comments.