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How to Drastically Increase Subscriber Numbers to Your Email Newsletter

Posted By Darren Rowse 23rd of October 2008 Blog Promotion, Featured Posts 0 Comments

Two weeks ago I was seeing 40 new email subscribers per day to my photography blog email newsletter. This week I’ve been averaging over 350 new subscribers a day. In this post I’ll share the story of how I did it.


In this months ProBlogger Newsletter I gave subscribers some inside information on how I’ve increased the daily newsletter subscriber rate to my photography blog almost tenfold in the last couple of weeks.

Before using this technique I was averaging around 40 new (and verified) subscribers a day to my email newsletter (I use Aweber to manage my email newsletters). To be honest I was pretty happy with that. 40 a day is over 14,000 per year – who would complain about that!

However last week I decided to experiment with a feature that Aweber offers its publishers that I’d resisted using previously – the ability to collect subscribers using a ‘Pop Over’ subscription form.

Most bloggers with newsletters put their subscriber form in a sidebar like this:


This is a good and prominent position above the fold and in a place that people notice.

The Pop Over on the other hand is a form that appears, hovering over the content on the page, after a certain predetermined time frame. Here is one of the versions that I’ve been testing:


These Pop Over subscription forms are of course much more intrusive to readers than a sidebar form – this is the reason I resisted using them for so long. My fear was that they’d annoy readers, page views per visit would drop and that I’d end up with a lot of angry emails from readers.

Aweber gives different options to limit how many times these Pop Overs appear on your site – you can show them to every visitor, limit them to show once per visitor or have them show every ‘X’ days. You can also use what they call a ‘lightbox’ which allows you to have the rest of your content fade and for the form to fade in, slide in from above, below or a side etc. I’m testing the Lightbox against the PopOver at present and my early tests are incredibly positive and are increasing subscriber rates even further than pop overs!

So what was the result of my testing?

I think this chart of my subscriber numbers says a lot:


I think it is probably pretty obvious when the test started. The last days results are still incomplete but look like being similar to the day before.

Average confirmed subscribers per day have risen to over 350 per day (over a year this would translate to over 125,000) so at least on that front it has been successful.

But what has the reader feedback been?

To this point I’ve had two readers email me to complain about the Pop Overs. One saw them multiple times (I suspect because the cookies associated with them seem to be associated with different versions of the Pop Overs). The other complaint came from an iPhone user who said that the Pop Over took up the whole screen and was impossible to close (something Aweber might want to do some testing on).

Did Reader Engagement or Page Views Suffer?

One of my concerns with Pop overs was that readers would be annoyed by them and surf away from the page. As a result I’ve paid particular attention to the ‘pages viewed per visit’ statistic on Google. Here’s how it looks (click to enlarge):


Pages viewed per visitor has remained stable – in fact if anything they are slightly up since I began the experiment!

Considering page views per visitor didn’t go down and I’m adding 350 or so new potential weekly readers to my blog each day I’d say reader engagement has actually significantly been increasing!

Split Test for Better Results

One of the great things about AWeber is that they’ve built in the ability to split test different versions of subscription forms.

This means that you can design two different forms and have them each show 50% of the time to readers of your blog. Over time it becomes clear that one version out performs another enabling you to then test the best performer with another version of the signup form – making incremental improvements as you go along.

I’ve been testing on two levels:

1. Timing – you can test subscription rates on forms that have a short time before appearing versus forms that have a longer time before appearing. I’ve found that forms that take longer periods of time to appear have a slightly higher signup rate. However these forms show to less people as some navigate away from the page.

2. Copy and Design – the copy and design in your signup form impacts signup rates. I’ve found pictures seem to increase signup rates – also giving benefits and strong calls to action seem to increase signup rates also.

As a guide – I’m seeing signup rates of between 4-5.5%, depending upon the forms. I’m still playing with the split testing though – there is lots to learn!

Final Thoughts

Over all I’m pretty happy that I began to experiment with Pop Over signup forms. On DPS they’ve worked very well and are helping me to make first time readers loyal readers.

I don’t think that they’d work with every blog in the same way. For example to this point I’ve resisted using Pop Over subscription forms here on ProBlogger as I think the audience here will be more annoyed by them than on my photography blog as ProBlogger readers tend to be a bit more skeptical of intrusive marketing.

As always – it’s something to test and track. Pay attention to signals of how readers are receiving it and tread carefully. However don’t rule it out completely too quickly – you could be missing out on a significant way to convert first time readers into loyal ones.

One thing that I think would also be good to experiment with is targeting specific types of readers with Pop Overs. I think specifically targeting search engine visitors with these would make more sense than to target those coming from RSS Readers for example (or at least to be able to present different versions of the pop overs to different readers). Aweber didn’t seem to have plans for doing this themselves but suggested that it would be possible to do with a little coding (I’ll need to work out how).

PS: Tomorrow I’d like to follow up this post with the answer to the most common question that I get when I talk about newsletters – why should a blogger consider starting a newsletter? Stay tuned to my RSS feed for this followup post.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Really a nice post.Thanks for this help dareen.
    Thanks a lot.

  2. for me, I don’t like a website with that kind of “pop”, very annoying.

    it makes your website looks “cheap”.

    again, it’s for me ;)

  3. Interesting post, and great numbers – congratulations! My perspective as a user is that I’d be annoyed at multiple forms (every time I clicked through or visited the site, for example), but once or twice would be fine.

    Can you track how well it performed with returning vs. new visitors?

  4. Cool info! I love seeing hard statistics like these to back-up these types of claims. I don’t have a newsletter for ym blog, but I do have one for another website and I’ll be giving aweber a serious look to replace my current newsletter service.

  5. Good tip and I may use it, but those layover pop up things sort of annoy me…. Sort of hard to argue with the results, though.

  6. I was just checking out DPS when you wrote about it the other day, and noticed the “pop up”…which I immediately closed without reading since I thought it was just an ad. Couple suggestions/thoughts:

    1) It obviously works, but it is annoying. I would suggest enabling it maybe just a few days out of a month.

    2) I would design it to better match the site if it’s possible. This way it looks less like an ad, and more like something I would have a second to read.

    Regardless, driving 7 times as many subscribers per day is quite impressive. It’s just a matter of juggling the line between effective and annoying. You could also make more money by adding another ad spot, but the line stops at some point.

  7. Hi Darren,

    I tried contacting you for a guest post through this form [https://problogger.com/contact] I am not sure whether you have received the mail or it has gone into spam.

    If you have received and are not interested, please ignore this. Otherwise you can contact me on the mail id mentioned in the comment.

  8. Oh, if it’s possible to pop on the SECOND page view, that may work better from a users perspective. That way new users don’t get immediately turned off. While I wouldn’t leave a site from that popping up, I know many others would. It does come off as “cheap”, especially when designed the way it is, as one comment above stated.

  9. That is an interesting idea. Do you know of any other email services that can do this?

    I don’t like pop-ups either, but those are often ads.

    If I’m subscribed already I would never want to see this. But I wouldn’t mind if it was my first time on the site.

  10. You are merging aweber subscribers with your RSS subscribers, which is resulting in artificially increasing your feed reader count. Your “regular” feed readers are still the same, but your subscription numbers are fake.

    If I understand this correctly, if this is what you are doing (along with Yaro Starak who also increased his 20k feed subscriber count to 45k over night), I think this is wrong; if this doesn’t break any feedburner TOS, atleast its morally wrong.

  11. This is absolutely super! Thanks so much for sharing in such a transparent way about building an email list. Passing this one now!

  12. Now we just need to wait that someone make wordpress plugin for that , with feedburner email subscriptions :)

  13. Great information! I am going to go test this right now. BTW, found your post from Twitter! Someone was sharing it.

  14. Hey Darren!

    The feature that allows you to program when the pop-up window should be launched, seems like a practical tool.

    Great post +_+

  15. I use the pop over sign ups for specific pages of my site to add to a specific list rather than the general list where I have the static sign up above the fold.

    It works well and I did not a significant increase of subscribers using this. I have another product I am going to try and if it works well I’ll be implementing across my websites.

    Glad to see your numbers and actual documentation on what I suspected.

  16. That’s some impressive results! Now if there was just some way to reduce the unverifieds. It looks like you are running about 25%, which is consistent with my results.

  17. Thanks for explaining this Darren. I noticed these pop-ups on DPS last week (oops I don’t subscribe…but that’s because I just visit daily anyway!!). My first impression was to be a little annoyed by them, but now that I see your results, I am intrigued. Well done!

  18. The content there is already way awesome. Having an intrusive pop up box wouldn’t affect much at all. :)

  19. snozz says: 10/23/2008 at 1:32 am

    i gotta say, i absolutely and without exception do leave a site when a pop over appears.

    assuming the best, a site creator or blog author creates content to share information with others or to communicate what they perceive as an important message; as a visitor i am doing my part by seeking and consuming information i need or considering the message they want me to.

    to interrupt me in that by obstructing the content you have created with a commercial message (and *any* sign up is a commercial message or it wouldn’t exist) immediately flags the content as existing solely to get my email address, and trivializes the entire site to the point of irrelevancy and my exit.

  20. Hi Darren ,

    Excellent post on the extras offered by Aweber. Shall definitely try it out.

    Aweber’s blog updates can be very informative I find and their service is superb as you know!

    Found you via Twitter..Many Thanks…

  21. Great post Darren, excellent summary of experiences. Used correctly a hover popover can be immensely helpful in building a quality subscriber list.

    You mentioned testing the timing of the pop. One thing we’ve tested and noted is typically the sweet spot for the pop delay is the average visitor time for the page or 10-20 seconds less than that time. While it may be seen by fewer visitors, the ones that it are shown to are much more engaged with your content and you’ll get a much higher quality subscriber.

    Just tested the iPhone issue you mentioned and we can’t seem to reproduce the problem here. Everything seems to work fine and the pop can be easily closed on the iPhone. Please let me know if you hear anything else that might allow us to reproduce the issue your site visitor noted.

  22. Great tips Darren! WOW! 109k subscribers?!!?!?!?!?!? HOLY MOLY, thats a lot of people. I’ve been trying to get more subscribers to my blog, maybe I’ll try this method.

  23. Very valuable information, I deal with a 9000+ subscribers newsletter but the growing rate of new suscribers is not as high as it could be. Btw, I am using opensource software Phplist to manage the news, this feature is not included as far as I know, is there any other service available for Europe ? As Opensource to manage on my own or as online service ?

  24. I think Daniel Richard (commenter above) made a good point. I’m not sure how successful this would be when starting up a new blog, but once the content has grown to a point where it is of significant value I think readers become more forgiving of things like this. This may be why the experiment worked so well for Darren, but might bomb for others with much less-established sites.

  25. Awesome idea…I now see how this can help my business…thanks.

  26. What an incredibly useful post. I remember that Aweber was mentioned a few times at BWE08, but I had forgotten about it until you mentioned it again. Thanks for the review/testing/explanation. I’m going over to look at it now.

  27. Great post. You are not testing on ProBlogger because you think we will be annoyed — but isn’t that the same thought you had on DPS? I think you should test it here.

  28. I currently use Constant Contact and have been tempted to use Aweber for this feature. But I really like Constant Contact and am a little hesitant to try and move all my current subscribers, settings and emails. So I have looked into separate pop over programs and have come up with Advanced DHTML Popup. I have played around a little with it but am wondering if anyone else had any experience with this or any other similar program.

  29. Very Useful post. I have been thinking about putting together a monthly newsletter for our site to recap everything that we talked about in the month and I’ve been looking for some good ways to get people to sign up. I will be exploring this further.

    Thanks Darren,
    Dr. Ben

  30. Darren, correct me if I’m wrong but Aweber charges $149 per month for 25K subscribers. 100K subscribers obviously would cost quite a bit more. Is it really worth the expense to maintain an Aweber mailing list at those prices ?

    I’ve tried my hand at maintaining email lists before but the results were so poor it wasn’t worth it. In most cases, people use their junk email addresses to subscribe, so most of the time you’re sending to a dead email address.

    Even if they are reading the mailer, you’re lucky if you could get 1-2% of your subscribers to bother to click anything.

    Is there something I’m missing?

  31. Thats a great improvement. What I believe is that as you made clear it is all dependant on your target market. As you said if you were to put it on here although you would probably see a significant increase in subscribers many people would probably get annoyed and email you with their complaints.

    It all depends on the market if, generally they are not regarded as being tech savvy this could work as both an advantage and disadvantage.

    The advantage being that they would probably not feel as annoyed or suspicous that it may be a marketing ploy.

    The disadvantage would be that they may feel weary to sign up to something thats just suddenly appeared.

    They may even regard it as a pop up advert and you know everyone hates them.

  32. You’re a genius! I will definitely try this! Thank you.

  33. One thing that I love about ProBlogger is that you have another blog that’s even more successful and you’re able to translate results that you see over there into useful articles for us! Incredible job of using visual aids to supplement the text and support your argument! It’s great to hear your positive results and I am glad that you share this information with us.

  34. I had thought of this about 3 days ago but then was wondering if it would be a violation of Google’s adsense policies about pop overs and unders. I know it says “that interfere with navigation” but wonder how broad that term interfere is.

  35. great topic… i’ll have to try this and see if it works for my blog…thanks for the tip!

  36. Thanks Darren

    I have resisted this too thought it annoys peopl.

    But based on your comments I think it’s worth testing and watching the stats.

    Question – I use google analytics. Are the all the stats you use above from GA or elsewhere?

  37. I have a website that when you click on our “Join the Newsletter” it takes you to a page that you can sign up to become a member. My question for your readers is: is it wise for me to create a member registration newsletter separate for just a basic newsletter or continue what I’m doing?

  38. Nice approach, I would be weary of doing this on a tech blog though…you would certainly annoy those type of users.

  39. Interesting. I would have been real nervous about trying this out. I know that those bug the heck out of me. But if it works…great.

  40. Thanks for sharing your results of your testing with us. I can’t believe how dramatic that increase was. And by the way, all this talk about subscriptions has caused me to subscribe to your ProBlogger newsletter! Even more subscribers just by talking about subscribing!

    – Jack Rugile
    Simple Sapien

  41. I recently started a newsletter at my blog and I can say, the sign up has been pretty good. I have not tried the pop-over signup for the same reason you state as to why you have not done it here on Problogger.

    I am trying other ways to get subscribers, like putting a reminder at the bottom of each post and also at the bottom of the RSS feeds that go out via email. Aweber and FeedBurner have been wonderful tools to use for this too. I would also highly recommend Aweber as a auto-responder and newsletter management tool.

    Like you Darren, I have always had a fear such pop-overs would turn visitors and readers off at the blog for using them. Your stats are certainly interesting and something to think about. When we did the redesign on Blog For Profit, we decided one of the things we were going to do was try some new techniques to build its community. And a newsletter was one of them. Using different plugins and widgets were also on our list.

    While I may not try the pop-over on BFP, we may try it on another of our blogs when we do its redesign soon.

    I look forward to your follow up post on this one about why a blogger should do a newsletter. Building a community was my key reason. Thanks again.

  42. I would be very interested in knowing how well this would work with blogs like yours (Problogger), but I guess they wouldn’t work out too well – as you said above.

    I guess it’s because many more of the readers already know these marketing tactics, so they wouldn’t bother.

    But hey! Maybe you should try!

  43. Aweber huh? I wonder how long it will take FeedBurner to get something similar going. I would also be hesitant to include this due to the annoying factor, but it seems that really isn’t a factor, not much anyway. Thanks!

  44. Wow! I’ve heard great things about Aweber, but I had no idea they had a popover option. I am so impressed by your results. I will have to look into this on my own. Thanks for posting, Darren!

  45. This post was excellent. I came over as soon as I saw the tweet. Just what I have been looking for. Having been turned on to AWeber now, I am looking into how I can expand by putting them to work for Southern Plate!
    Thank you very much. I always look forward to increasing my productivity through Problogger.

  46. This is really great, I’ve been toying with the idea of a drop down subscription box for a newsletter for one of my other sites but was put off by idea that most people avoid pages with drop downs and navigate away from the site, but your results prove me very wrong indeed…this is worth trying, thank you!

  47. It seems like this has genuinely helped out your blog a huge deal. I’m definitely going to have to look into this further. Thanks for the advice and the recommendation, I hope this works out as well for me as it did you.

  48. This innovative pop up stuff. I will definitely use this. Good one here thanks.

  49. Interesting. Balancing what’s best for the readers while achieving business goals is one of the toughest things. Obviously, you’ll feel a lot better if what you’re offering with the pop-up is of actual value to the reader.

  50. Extremely helpful post must I admit blatantly. I have been thinking of using Aweber for some time, they are bit expensive yet very very good. Have known them since 1999 they did wonders for our mortgage business when web was new and I would send out series of emails and convert them. I used a newsletter even though I was available by phone.

    The last paragraph of this post is where it all meets.. A blogger or a Salesman— needs to be in touch with its potential customers base ! I made a good living doing it.

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