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Does a pretty opt-in form matter?

Credit: cdw9

Credit: cdw9

One of the most valuable steps you can take to building a successful blog is to start an email newsletter. One of the best ways to get subscribers to your newsletter is to use a lightbox popup inviting them to join.

What if I told you that having a well-designed lightbox is as important as whatever offer you have inside of it? That an ugly lightbox with a free offer so severely underperforms a pretty lightbox with no offer, that you’re better off working on making the lightbox pretty than creating a freebie?

It’s true.

One of my other sites is, a site where I write about scotch whisky. It’s a fun little hobby site that I enjoy testing some ideas on, including Aweber lightboxes.

A short time ago, I put up an ugly lightbox. I took one of Aweber’s lightboxes, edited some text, and threw it up in about twenty minutes (lightbox, followups, the whole deal). My goal was to just capture emails, conversion rate and all that was not a concern. I wanted fast. Eventually, I came up with a giveaway (a gift guide) and edited the text to include it.

“Ugly” Lightbox

aweber-old-popupTo the left you see the ugly lightbox. It’s dark, it has no images, it’s pretty barebones.

On 54,772 displays, it captured 106 submission for an abysmal conversion rate of 0.193%.

You’d almost expect people to accidentally enter in their email at a higher rate. 🙂

Of course, I didn’t spend any time on this lightbox and I shouldn’t be surprised that the performance was horrible. Garbage in, garbage out.

I knew that I could do better and, honestly, I had to. I couldn’t look at the list, see the 0.193%, and have any sort of pride in what I was doing.

Two New “Pretty” Lightboxes

If you’ve seen the opt-in lightbox on Microblogger, then the new one on Scotch Addict should look somewhat familiar (they’re from OptinMonster).

I’ve been split testing two versions, one with no bonus and one with a free scotch gift guide offer (these are not to scale relative to the earlier one):


Gift Guide Version

Both out perform the old ugly lightbox.

On ~3,500 impressions each, the gift guide offer converts at a little under 1% and the no-gift offer converts at around 0.45%. Both beat the pants off the old lightbox at the 95% confidence level.

The prettier lightbox with no incentive beat the ugly lightbox with a gift guide offer.

(also, the gift guide offer beat the no gift guide offer at the 95% confidence level, no surprise there)

This should come as no surprise – a well designed opt-in lightbox with a relevant image and copy that matches the reader beats out an ugly black popup (who even cares what it offers?). Hold the presses!

Why bother testing?

By all accounts, a 0.193% conversion rate is terrible.

Why even test this? Technically I didn’t. I didn’t run the ugly lightbox against the two OptinMonster designed lightboxes. I simply replaced them and use their conversion numbers to compare against the ugly lightbox so it’s not a 100% true comparison, but it’s close enough.

If you want to do this 100% by the book, you would run each box 1/3 of the time and then compare the numbers. You never know how traffic might change, different people behave differently, and the people visiting in August are different than those visiting in December. Still, at 0.193% I felt anything could be better.

That said, in most cases I would’ve tested it by the book. You never want to make assumptions, even obvious ones like this, because you can always be surprised. It only takes a few extra steps to test, so you might as well (plus, you might discover something new and unexpected… which is always exciting!).

Can we really conclude pretty is better?

No, so many things changed between the ugly lightbox and the two prettier ones you can’t point to “prettiness” as the reason (plus pretty is subjective). The lightbox was bigger, it had a picture of a bottle of scotch, it wasn’t black, it had a blue button with an action verb, etc.

What we can conclude is that the new way is better than the old way. 🙂

If you are using a generic looking lightbox, you’re missing out on subscribers.

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In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog ( that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

10 responses to “Does a pretty opt-in form matter?”

  1. Glen Craig says:

    I need to work on a new pop-up box. What made you pick OptinMonster vs all of the other options out there?

    • Jim says:

      I purchased Popup Domination, used it, and found it to be clunky. I met the guy who owns Optinmonster at Fincon and he gave me a copy of it to try out after I mentioned how annoying Popup Domination was. So far, pretty happy with it. Tech support has been very responsive too, found a few bugs and they fixed them that day.

      • OptinMonster looks pretty interesting. One thing that leaves a bad taste is spending $199 for unlimited sites and getting updates for one year. You don’t want to find that WordPress 4.0 a year from now breaks the plugin and you are left with something that doesn’t work.

        Also, I’d only want to use it on two sites, so I’m stuck paying $100 for the exit intent feature.

        If you have the ear of the company, I’d like to pass on the ability to customize a plan that fits (unlimited updates, no support, a few sites, and exit intent) many different use cases.

        • Jim says:

          I’ll pass that along, I agree with you on the $199 plan only have 1 yr of support/updates. Actually, if it were me, I’d decouple updates from support. I’d give lifetime updates with Pro but not necessarily lifetime support, so people could update it and ensure it worked with future WP versions.

          • Also it seems like the Pro and Ultimate allow people to install it on client sites (if you look at the common questions at So if they gave you one of these accounts, can I hire you to put it on a couple of my sites for $10 a piece? 😉

            What is to stop anyone from buying the Ultimate plan, reselling the installation service, with exit intent and lifetime updates for half that OptinMonster is charging?

          • Jim says:

            A conscience? 🙂

  2. I’m really behind in creating a mail list. In fact, I don’t have one at all. I have an Aweber account wasting away.

    Have you thought about putting together a guide for someone to go from zero to a 1.2 million email addresses super easy ;-)? I’m joking, but I never would have stumbled upon (pun intended) OptinMonster.

    It seems like getting 1% is good, so what about the other 99% of people who are likely annoyed at having to click a close “x” everytime they visit your site?

    • Jim says:

      Dude – start one. Like right now. 🙂

      The guide is simple, create some sort of giveaway, use a lightbox, pimp the giveaway. Then email those people.

      Repeat visitors only see it once every 14 days and anyone else who is annoyed by having to click X before seeing free content can go pound sand. Honestly, I don’t want to connect with people who are annoyed by that.

  3. I have been working on an opt-in form and switched newsletter providers over the holidays. I have looked at Optin Monster, but can’t justify the price right now.

    Are you satisfied with the conversion rate you are getting now? My current rate (with a regular ugly form and not even a pop-up) is terrible. I’m wondering what a well-designed form would do for me.

    • Jim says:

      It’s possible to build a pretty opt in form without Optinmonster (or Popup Domination or any of the other pay sites), they just make it easier. That said, the ugly light box at fifty-four thousand chances to convert people and got a hair over a hundred. The pretty ones were five times better so it was worth it to me.

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