How To Collect Your Website Visitors’ Email Addresses Like A Pro

by Jul 24, 2017Conversion, Education

So you’ve created that Content Marketing Strategy document, have written your first few blog posts and are all fired up to promote them and start bringing visitors to your website?

Strap your galloping steed of enthusiasm into the methodical harness of discipline – there’s one more thing left to do before we can unleash that torrent of traffic into our corral! We have to build a sturdy fence and make a good knot in that lasso of ours.


Easy on the metaphors, cowboy!

But it’s true, we need to talk about that step in your content marketing process where you collect someone’s contact details.

Note that there’s other ways to gather email addresses to build your list, some of which are considered black hat (e.g. scraping from other websites for the purpose of spamming).

Here, we will only discuss how to legitimately get visitors on your website to opt into your content delivery mechanism.

Super short summary of this article:

  • There are many methods how you can capture visitors’ email addresses when they come to your website
  • It’s absolutely vital you do this before you start promoting your content like crazy, especially before you start investing money.
  • How many of these methods should you implement in what intensity?
  • That depends on your audience, and the more sophisticated they are, the more you can and should lay on them.
  • Each audience lives in its own Goldilocks zone where too aggressive pursuing will burn them and too little will make you miss out on audience growth.
  • Can you do without any proactive email collecting? Sure, if you’re Louis CK or Seth Godin.
  • And how are we at Kontent360 doing in this regard? Well, for some self-loathing, you’ll have to read on. 🙂

And thank you Shimrit Shiran for the inspiration and plenty of ideas for this article.


Let’s do some conceptual thinking first

From the marketer’s point of view, the step is located in the middle of the Content Marketing Value Chain.

Content Marketing Value Chain

From your customer’s point of view it’s here:

Customer's Content Marketing Journey

It’s absolutely critical you set up your email collection system before investing in the promotion of your content. Otherwise you’re just pouring water into a leaky bucket.

How much to do? How many email collection tools to implement and how frequently? That’s a topic for the end of the post. Read on.

So, here’s the Gang of Heroes that will turn your website into an email collection machine.

The heroes who will save the planet

Oops, wrong picture. HERE we go.

Let’s discuss them one-by-one.

The Classic Popup

The workhorse among the email collection methods, the popup has shedded its shoddy reputation from the bad old days when our computers threw up window popups like it caught the measles.

old school popups from the 1990s

Those days are gone

Well, to be fair, many people still hate popups. But not as much as they used to. And it’s a little bit like with ads – web users understand that ads are necessary to keep some websites going. And they also largely understand that websites want to build lists and that the interaction with a popup is the small price they pay to access a website’s interesting content.

a great popupA great popup

Popups come in many shapes and sizes, but there are a few sub-categories worth noting:


The forced interaction popup

These are some of the most controversial ones. I’m sure you’ve seen them. They sound like when your mum has a fit of passive-aggressiveness because you haven’t visited in months.

forced interaction popup

Some of the most hardcore ones even disable the little X in the corner and the click outside of it, so you literally have to click “No thanks, I hate creativity”.

There’s solid research out there that shows the effectiveness of forced interaction popups, but you have to ask yourself: Do you want to be the equivalent of the guy in the bar who gets squarely in the way of women going to see her friends? It’s just needy and borderline creepy.


The Slide-In / Fly-In

slide-in or fly-in popup

A more user-friendly version of a popup, as it can often be ignored when reading an article. When triggered at the right moment, e.g. when the reader has reached the end of the article, they provide the most natural transition from “I enjoyed reading this” to  “And now I will subscribe to get more of the same”


What tools to use and what success rates to expect?

WordPress has hundreds of plugin builders, and I won’t be going into review mode here. Kontent360 is using PopupMaker and I’m quite happy with it so far.

When it comes to performance, the best implemented and most value-adding popups reach conversion rates of 6.5%, and surely can go even beyond that, depending on what you offer in them.


The Value-Added Download

Often these take the form of popups but can also be in a sticky bar – it’s a promise of longer-form content that adds extra value to the reader – ebooks, white papers etc. Webinars also fall into that category.

value added content popup from

Value-added download content in a popup

In most cases, these value-added content downloads are also available on their separate landing page which presents a form to the reader they have to fill out.

value added content landing page

Most email collection methods only collect the email address, but the value-added download can often afford to collect a little bit more information – usually the name, and possibly age, job title, employer – anything that will help you in targeting in the future. It’s risky to try to pack too much into the form – the more you ask, the more likely people will abandon the form.

People. So typical.

Value-added download popups are probably more effective. The Kontent360 Content Marketing Strategy eBook has a much better conversion rate via its popup than on its own landing page.

More examples of White Paper Landing pages are here. 

And recently I stumbled upon this interesting concept of Content Upgrades.(watch the video). The way it works is that when people download one piece of high-value content, you offer them ANOTHER one in exchange for a tweet or a Facebook mention. It’s priced a bit steeply for what it does, I’m sure it’s useful though.


The Sticky Bar

So the reader is reading your article and at one point, unbeknownst to you, thinks:

Wow, that was smart. Actually, this is a good blog, I will sign up.

But she looks around and there’s no instant way for her to do that. No sign up box or anything. So she reads on. Then, the phone rings and she gets distracted or she switches browser tabs and the moment’s gone.

This wouldn’t have happened with a sticky bar.

sticky bar

With a sticky bar, you have a permanent reminder to the reader that they can sign for your work. At the same time, it is unobtrusive enough and doesn’t interrupt the reader.

Because of its unobtrusiveness, conversion rates are lower than via popups (sumo puts the best performers among their “smart bar” users at 1.4%)

Again, there’s plenty of plugins to choose from for WordPress.


The Homepage Call-To-Action

Sometimes we forget that our homepage is the busiest page on our website and presents a great opportunity to capture email addresses.

While practically no one will leave their email address upon their very first visit to a website, it’s really useful to have a simple call to action that people will always be able to return to after they’ve browsed through the website and got an idea about what you’re selling.

Reactful homepageReactful Homepage

If you don’t have a “free trial” to give away, here’s a few alternatives:

  • Zenefits – “See how it works” and a signup form
  • New York Times – “Get a weekly roundup of the best advice…”


The Content Page CTA

This is the equivalent of the good old banner ad. In fact, some companies who normally serve banner ads in a given location instruct their system to serve their own “house ads” when the likely revenue from an ad is about to drop below a predetermined level.

This can take the form of an actual ad that directs towards some immediately monetiseable content like here:

Call to action on

Or it can be simply another instance of email collection.

Kissmetrics blog content page CTA email collection

Simply reserve a certain element on your website for a permanent placement of a call to action that directs the visitor towards a desired behaviour.


The Exit Popup

Technically, this is a simple popup, only that it’s triggered when the user is about to leave (a swift move with the cursor, usually).

Exit Intent Popup

A bit desperate, a bit needy, but hey if it brings more legit signups, power to you.

Most popup makers have this as a standard optional feature in their toolbox. Kontent360 Popup Maker does.

And here’s a good article on how to improve Exit Popup performance.


The Welcome Mat

This is one of the most brutal and intrusive methods and belies its friendly name.

One moment you’re on a site, unsuspectingly reading along, and suddenly this Persian blind comes rattling down and forces you to interact with it.

Kissmetrics Welcome Mat PopupKissmetrics

Welcome mats have almost as good conversion rates as Popups (Sumo speaks of 6.3% average among the best performing). So they are definitely in the category Annoying but it works.

Sumo is one of the leading providers of Welcome Mats.


The Chat Window (Lookalike)

The opportunity for site visitors to simply start talking to a customer service representative, either to be initiated by the user like here

Neura on-site live chat

Or by the company when the user has performed certain tasks. “Hey there, can I help you”?

The latter can feel a little bit intrusive, especially when it happens early on during the site visit and it requires the user to enter their email address before the chat can commence. Do avoid asking for their email address when you initiate the conversation.

In cases where you are offline, the chat window simply directs the users to a form where they can ask a question. Some companies even use the familar shape and location of a chat window to put a standard Call To Action in front of the user.

Chat window lookalikeKissmetrics


Here’s a few providers of live chat.


So – how much to do?

It’s a tricky question – how many email collection touchpoints to implement and how often to have them appear on your website is part science, part personal preference.

It’s clear that doing too little doesn’t serve anyone. If your audience only sees one popup every 20 page views and nothing else, you’re wasting goodwill. Sure, people can subscribe to your stuff if they are looking for it, but people don’t WANT to be looking for it. There’s a lot of good content online and if you, the marketer, don’t work for the visitor’s attention, they will shrug their shoulders and leave.

On the other hand, there are some sites out there that bombard you with popups, page takeovers, banners, sticky bars – and it’s just all too much. It makes you wary of scrolling for fear of triggering yet another gimmicky animated popup dangling on your screen.

Goldilocks comes to mind.

goldilocks zone for email collection intensity

The closer you move to the sun (= the more methods you implement with more frequency), the more people will sign up. But you will also lose goodwill because you don’t give your audience breathing room and treat them like a pushy salesman at the bazar. The sun will end up burning your impressive list.

This is best illustrated by adding long-term monetisation and audience frustration graphs:

Long term monetisation initially grows the more email collection touchpoints you implement. But the closer you move to the absolute point of overkill, the more you will end up burning your list – people will hate you for being too pushy. And you will have to compensate for that with truly outstanding content (a feat that allows the incredibly pushy to thrive).

At the same time, audience frustration rises quite linearly (except for a spike at the far left end where you don’t give people any chance to interact with you and sign up)

You have to find that spot where long-term monetisation is at its highest and its distance from the frustration curve is the widest, at the same time.

Of course, this is just a hypothetical exercise, no general studies have been conducted that you could use as a guide post. Because the thing is: The width of the three zones, and with them, the position of the optimum, completely depend on your audience. You can’t serve 18 year old fashion freaks the same types of calls to action in the same intervals as you would offer to middle-aged IT Directors in the insurance industry. Every company’s audience is slightly different.

So what do you do if you don’t know how intense to go?

A reasonable proxy to gauge the ease of frustration of your audience is their sophistication with all things web. The more web-savvy they are, the more calls to action you can and should serve them. That’s why websites that educate about marketing often bombard visitors with many creative calls to action – they know that a simple popup won’t cut it with their hard-nosed audience.

In contrast, your blog about health tips for senior citizens should probably go easier on the flashy “Click Here” popups if you don’t want to annoy your audience. Their frustration curve is much steeper than average. You should see my mum. She goes nuclear at every innocuous fly-in popup that crosses her path.

So the best way to go about it is:

  1. Locate your audience on a scale of web sophistication.
  2. Based on this, formulate a hypothesis on which of the 8 tools you will deploy on them in what intensity and frequency
  3. Implement these tools.
  4. If you have enough traffic, run AB tests where you move along the Goldilocks scale, testing the territory closer and farther away from the sun, and evaluate the results.
  5. Whenever you run an audience survey, include a question about whether the email collection methods on your website are too intrusive.


Can I do completely without?

Look, I get it. Everything about these methods has the air of neediness, to varying extent. The artists among us would love to just be able to create amazing content and attract an audience who is whacking their way through to our door.

But that’s not how the world works for 99.99% of content creators.

You simply HAVE to sell. Collecting email addresses is a way of selling. And I dare you to create content that is so VASTLY superior and so secure in its uniqueness that you can do completely without any means of proactively collecting email addresses.

Very few people have pulled that off. Seth Godin comes to mind; Or Louis CK, who famously has an unchecked opt-in button to his mailing list when you buy something from his website.

Louis CK email optin

Those two guys have no popups on their site. You have to actively look for ways to subscribe to their content. And they have email lists in the millions.

Until you get a passionate followership like they do, build an email list the old way.

Or just go and create such outstanding content that people will find you and WANT to hear from you.

You may have a couple years of work ahead of you.


Coda: How are we at Kontent360 doing across all these methods?

Oh, not that well at this point, to be honest with you!

We only have a slide-in popup and a value-added content popup. And our email collection bar at the bottom (and sometimes top) of the page is visually sub-par (doesn’t stand out). Finally, the form on our subscribe page is rather ugly.

One of the next things we will implement is a visually more appealing sticky bar and content page CTAs (the banner ad equivalents). Also, we’re not doing well on means to grow social sharing (for example, you can’t easily share this blog post with one click) and having arrived here, we’re not giving you a good way to read the next or previous blog post. But that’s a different chapter.

The point is: There’s always something to do and we are working with enthusiasm to get better every day. (Ok, every week. More likely month – we have a lot of clients!) And we’re looking forward to correcting the above paragraph as we improve.

Further reading


Image credits: Den of Geek, NASA, Adobe Stock, and the respective quoted websites.


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