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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. Like the idea, but just to let you know, something is not working right.. I went to http://digital-photography-school.com/blog/ and the window box popped up automatically for me to subscribe after a little time, but it showed with scroll bars and the close link was not visible.

  2. That is a lot of subscribers!

  3. I think they might work if you have tech-savvy readers, but I think they might backfire if you don’t.

    They remind me too much of the dreaded pop-up. Very intrusive. I don’t want to inflict something that I don’t care for on my readers.

    The thing is, I’ve been running into them a lot lately and I’m a little tired, as a websurfer, of clearing them. Having to deal with one won’t be a dealbreaker if I want the product already, but if I’m on the fence and I’ve had to clear a pop-up/pop-under? Um, I’m very liable to pass on principle.

    And now that they’ve been reported as successful, I suppose I’ll see them all over the place.

  4. This is one of those cases where the test results don’t lie. The reality may fly in the face of expectation or preconception, but that’s the point of testing: do what works.

    Maybe I should automate all my Twitter responses…

    Nah. :-)

  5. It looks like you’ve put a lot more eyes on you.

    Do you think that this traffic gain is cheap or in-expensive?

  6. bench – I’m not sure what the problem is. The button doesn’t say ‘RSS subscriber’s – it counts ‘readers’. Feedburner make this available and don’t seem to have a problem with it. I don’t think there is anything ‘morally’ wrong about it as the numbers just count how many people are subscribing.

    Snozz – I’m sure you’re not the only one who leaves sites with popups and I thought the amount of people who would would have been higher than it seems. From what I see I’m probably loosing less than 1% of readers (possibly quite a bit less) but hooking in around 5% of readers to be repeat visitors. I guess that’s an equation I have to constantly look at and count the cost of.

    Tom Kulzer – I did test timing of the pop overs and found that a little less than the average time on site was actually not the best performer for me. I found a 20 second delay seems to be working best (so far) – but I need to test further. I’ll let you know if there is any more feedback on the iPhone problems.

    Frugal Dad – yes I’d probably avoid such an aggressive technique in the very early days of a blog. Perhaps you could do a less aggressive system where the pop over only shows after a certain number of page views in the early days (as someone here suggested).

    Mark Mason – I think the audience here at ProBlogger would be more annoyed than the audience at DPS – mainly because on ProBlogger I have a readership of website owners who are typically more suspicious of intrusive kinds of ads than your average web user. If I do test it here at ProBlogger it’d only be in a much less aggressive way (ie targetting Search Engine visitors or showing only after a certain number of page views).

    Dave – Aweber isn’t the cheapest solution out there but I’m willing to pay for it simply because it’s reliable (a very low % of my emails get blocked as opposed to my last email provider), the features are excellent (there’s a lot of ways to improve and track results) and I’ve found the customer service to be quite amazing. Sure I’d love a discount now I’ve got so many subscribers (Tom…. come on, surely I deserve a discount! :-) ) but when you have 100k of subscribers and a few of them click on and respond to an affiliate link it can pay for itself over a month.

    Sital – the stats in the first picture are from Aweber itself – the page views per visit chart is from Analytics. Aweber gives a lot of different reports that can track a lot of things but you’ll also need a site analytics program also.

    To those thinking of testing this – good luck with it. Just watch the results. If you get push back from your readers or notice problems with decreasing page views etc keep tweaking and/or consider stopping the test. It won’t work for everyone but is worth a try.

  7. wow that is a pretty hefty subscriber increase there. amazing how something you would think would turn people off (thats what i would think!) actually does the complete opposite. Goes to show it never hurts to try! you might not ever know.

  8. Darren – I’m so glad that you posted this article, I had visited DPS yesterday and saw the pop-up for the first time, I thought to myself, I bet this thing is great (working for you), I felt that it was unobtrusive and I liked its simplicity – I even looked at your source to see what company you were using…thanks for this great article.

  9. I’ve looked for a WordPress plug-in to do this (without Aweber) but haven’t found anything that works well. I tried MaxBlogPress but it caused errors. Anyone know of something else that works?

  10. Darren – do you think it would be a good idea to include your logo/brand in the subscription form to reduce the “spammy looks”? Many of the obtrusive things you typically see in sites are third party ads and that’s what make them see spammy – I think that a clear reference to your own brand could reduce that effect. Is it possible to test that with aweber?

  11. Hey Darren, I like how that pop over works for you…but you know, as you’ve probably already read, most of us hate these things…but it seems to work for DPS….so, to each his own….

  12. I like this, thanks for the report. I to have resisted the use of popovers for my newsletter now with what your results so and what Aweber also says I will add this feature.

  13. Darren,
    These results are amazing, but I am not altogether surprised. It is astounding that people sign up with the pop up, just as people seem to respond to those obnoxious long sales letter in large bold red and black lettering.

    Too bad…I prefer subtle to obnoxious. But I also like a substantial database.

    Thank you for sharing those stats…something to think about!

  14. Pretty tough to argue with the results but it is also not surprising as people often ignore sidebars at this stage.

  15. Thanks for the analysis. I’m really hesitant to use pop-up forms for the reasons mentioned above, but if it works then it works. I know I’ve got to find a better way to get my signup form in front of the reader…I’m trying to give away a free e-book here!

  16. I have been blogging for about a year now. It is the main page of my wedding photography site. I have aweber and just configured the subscribe form and the pop up one. It seems that if you delay it that it will give people a chance to look at the site and decide for themselves if they want to sign up. Analytics stated that on average a person stays on my site for a little over 2 mins before leaving. So I figure I will start with the delay going for about 40secs. This will at least get people who are little more committed that those who just look and bounce.

  17. I am not convinced by pop ups, I like the idea of the lightbox pop up. I am really impressed by the results you achieved from the pop up though I would have thought more people would have clicked off.

  18. I did some testing like this some time back and had similar results, though on a much smaller scale. Thanks for this nice reminder and wake-up call.

  19. “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).”

    I emailed you regarding how to target the pop-over…

  20. well all I can do is post my opinion and obviously I wasn’t one of the 350 a day to subscribe. I really only find the pop-overs annoying and really cheapen a site, and now I just get in the habit of closing them as a rule without reading them first. I think while the numbers are great congrates on that, if you continued to keep this level of targeting, you would start to lose people.

    Just my 2 cents.

  21. Looks great! I wonder if iContact has something like this.

  22. Magneto says: 10/23/2008 at 11:18 pm

    I would agree with graphicdesign brisbane. I do not think viewers deserve this. It increases your count all right, that is no surprise, but this is like forcing people to do it.

  23. In regards to the controlling who will see the pop over signup forms. I know there is a word press plugin that I use to show my adsense ads to only search engine visitors that is called “Who Sees Ads”

    You may be able to use this plugin and modify it to suit your aweber popover needs.

  24. That’s good idea to make my blog subscribers to increase, but your blog has been known by tons of people now. Does it work on new blog?

  25. 125,000 readers in a year? Twice than problogger’s readers. This is a very helpful article specially how effective aweber features are. Is Aweber a free or paid service?

  26. I go to Aweber to check it out. Try to sign up. Get this message:

    We are currently not processing new orders online. Please contact customer service at 800.531.5065 or [email protected] to order.

    Great way to convert leads.

  27. I had my Entrecard account deleted today for taking this advice, Darren! It’s against their terms… AdSense also doesn’t like pop-overs.

  28. This is fascinating insight. I’ve always understood the effectiveness of pop-overs, but harbor a personal disdain for them. It’s my nature not to subject my visitors to something I myself dislike. But you’ve got me thinking that I should take another look. As you say, it’s definitely worth testing!

  29. I have a popover on my new domain sales marketplace @ http://AQDN.com and it works wonders, my opt-in rate went up significantly and I have no complaints.

  30. I hate pop-over and pop-unders! I’m sure alot of readers do as well.

    I don’t think I’ll risk turning away visitors because I want a couple more subscribers.


    A Weber doesn’t work with Youtube and may not work with other embedded content while using the “Light Box Hover” feature of the program

    Just look at this screen capture:


    As you can see, Youtube overlays the subscription area which is a BIG PROBLEM

    I contacted John Chow who is having the same problem. He had no idea what I was talking about. I guess he didn’t know there was an error.

    I contacted AWeber customer support and they basically told me to fix it myself or get rid of the videos on my site. Right… Get rid of videos on a site called, “Video Blogging Tips.”

    Next, I would recommend the pop-up system that AWeber offers as an alternate, but nobody likes pop-ups and almost everyone these days has a pop-up blocker.

    With that being said, AWeber is almost a garbage program. At least, until they fix this feature that is.

    If anyone knows anything about this issue, please contact me at [email protected]. Also, contact John Chow at [email protected].

    Please be sure to post a comment here too.

    Taylor Thompson
    Video Blogging Tips dot Com

  32. I have my own doubts. Visitors will definitely get annoyed on experiencing pop ups and my refrain from coming back. However if content is good, visitors will keep coming back.

  33. I personally don’t like pop-overs or pop unders because I find them to be very annoying but your results speak for themselves.

    Maybe it makes a difference what you say in the pop over to make people want to put in their email address.

    Thanks for letting us know about your results

    Robert Garcia

  34. Interesting post – I was looking at another (very similar) service earlier today and decided not to go with it because of the pop up the company employed, but I think I will into AWeber service. I tested your pop up at DPSchool and liked the fade in – it ‘introduced’ itself in a nice kind of way. I had no problems closing it btw.

    I guess the main points for anyone to consider is the audience of the website and the frequency the pop over is displayed. I think the delay you employ is also a good idea as a new visitor will have already decided to stay or leave and if they have decided to stay they are quite likely to also sign up for the newsletter.

  35. Hey. I was just wondering if anyone has acknowledged my post above?

  36. Thanks Daren. I have signed up an account with them. Let me see some improvement in my blog. :)

  37. I’m attempting to see if this works for my readers. My main worry is that it will annoy them but if I get a lot of complaints I’ll take it off.

    For WordPress users, there is a decent plugin that works wonderfully. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-popup-scheduler/

  38. Exellent, this is is exactly what I have been looking for. I am in process of creating my oen email list, will implement your tips. Thanks again.

  39. Chris (@money making scoop):

    Glad to get this feedback. Maybe Tim from Aweber will come back and clarify on this matter. As this could be terrible for an Adsense blogger who installs the pop-up and loses account or gets banned for using it. Ouch.

    Good looking out. I use both EC and Adsense. Yikes!

  40. Very good thing to check out, thanks Darren…

  41. Taylor Thompson:
    Please note that the problem you saw with flash videos showing thru pop-overs HTML layers is a browser/html issue. It’s a technical limitation of how the current generation of browsers work with flash. It’s not something that can be fixed on our end until Adobe flash properly respects the z-index attribute in HTML.

    Stephen D
    There is a very distinct difference between pop-overs which Darren is talking about in this post and pop-ups when it comes to the terms of service at Google. Hover pop-overs are perfectly fine, pop-ups are prohibited. When in doubt I also recommend contacting google directly with an example page to confirm.

  42. Hi Darren,
    I played around with the pop over and have set one up but how did you get the photo of the camera into yours?

  43. Hay darren, This information looks rocking, hope i will try this out…

    Thanks for this great information.This will increase my readers…

  44. @ Kathy,

    I believe in AWeber, when you edit your form, you can also add images. In the Webform Option, when you’re at Step #2, you can easy put in images.

    You’ll have to use an image that you have uploaded to your site already, and put in the url. I don’t believe you can upload from Aweber itself.

    I just joined Aweber 4 days ago, and I have to say, the experience has been more than satisfactory. It’s amazing! The service is great, but especially the customer service and tutorials. They even called me to make sure everything was okay. That’s getting personal right there, and I love it.

    I’m going to try using the pop-up form next week. Right now I have an inline on my blog, and it’s been doing ok. If I can raise my subscriber rate by almost 900%, I think that’s a good thing.

  45. 125,000 readers in a year sounds really great. definitely worth trying

  46. Using pop-ups to gain subscribers is a cool strategy. But I guess it won’t work in a tech oriented niche like making money online. People will just consider your blog to be one of those useless $97 dollar products. Trying it on a photography blog is sure to work. Thanks for the good post.

  47. Hmm very interesting info, thanks for the tip.

  48. This is amazing pop up stuff. I will use this. Thanks.

  49. I signed up for a.weber after reading this article and even included the pop up just as suggested. You were SO right on this one!
    Thanks for another great bit of help!
    Christy :)

  50. Good insight from the post…..just wondering how to run newsletter …….how we can colected………the source and where we get that one.

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