Editorial

Time to Seriously Reconsider the Pop-Up Opt-In

Knock it off

I think one of the most infuriating things on the modern Internet is this increasing tendency to throw a pop-up in your face demanding I subscribe to a newsletter before I can get three words into reading an article, or viewing a video.

I clicked a link because I was promised an answer to the curiosity-generating headline published on some media outlet. I'm already waiting for a crappy Internet connection (on mobile, for example) that's in the way of reading the answer and the longer I have to wait, the more irritated I'm going to be if the article isn't as good as the promise in the headline. (And frequently these days, it isn't, but that's a story for another day.)

But then I finally arrive and the page finally loads and, as I read the first few words, I am suddenly assaulted by a pop-up that covers the screen and demands I join a mailing list.

If you manage a website and care about your readers/viewers, here's why avoiding this tactic will reward you mightily.

When I arrive at your web site, I don't know you. I don't know your site. I don't know the quality of your work. I don't know if I ever want to come back and the only thing that's going to answer all these questions is your writing (or your audio or video), which is now conveniently hidden behind your demand that I trust you and give away my email address so you can hammer me with more of your work.

You see the problem here. I don't know you and you won't let me learn about you before you demand something from me. And worse, I'm already feeling the FOMO (fear of missing out) levels increase every second I invested in your dubious link, believing your promise that I would get an answer to an interesting question.

All the other links I could have clicked are calling my name—the Sirens are screaming and you're busy playing games with the promise you made in your link. The promise you made is this: give me your attention and I will answer the question posed in the headline. Since you didn't indicate in the link that the answer required any payment, we all understand that it will be free of any demand for payment, including the cost of an email address (and my time finding the ever-changing-moving close box on your crappy pop-up).

If times have become so desperate, OR your material, whatever it is, is so crappy and uninspiring that you know that once I've experienced it there's no way in hell I'd sign up for your newsletter and you need to twist my arm to get my email address, you need to fix your material instead of using more and more irritating and obnoxious methods of demanding I give you my info before I can read yours.

If your work is amazing (and it should be), I'm going to look for a signup form. You won't have to force that on me.

I can only imagine being invited over to the home of a friend I've just met and, as I arrive at the door, he throws a big screen in front of my face and demands I promise to invite him over to my place next week before he lets me in the door. How incredibly idiotic would that be? Incredibly.

I'd turn around and go home and count that person as one less possible friend and one more ridiculous weirdo I need to avoid in the world.

I think the same thing of you and your site when you do that pop-up crap within microseconds of my arrival. You don't even know who I am or what I'm actually looking for and you start our relationship by virtually yelling at me to do something for you.

Exit pop-ups are only a little less evil, but even those are irritating and suggest you did a crappy job of placing opt-in forms in and around your excellent and endlessly compelling material.

Exit poopups (I'm leaving that typo because it's hilarious and actually a more accurate commentary on my thoughts about pop-ups 🙂 ) are crappy because they imply that I'm either too stupid to see the opt-in form in the article, OR I'm even stupider and, even though I saw the opt-in form near the article, I didn't realize I wanted to join the mailing list because I didn't have a pop-up slam me in the face and now I'll totally join your list since I almost missed out because I'm just that stupid. Not a good way to think about your future online friends.

The truth (and your opportunity as an online publisher) is this: I didn't want to subscribe to your mailing list because you either failed to create an interesting offer in the interstitial and surrounding opt-in forms and/or your material was just too crappy and you need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to create more compelling work.

If people are not subscribing, the answer is not to twist their arms and slam even more pop-ups and barriers to your work in their faces. The answer is to create better work! Do a better job and people will flock to your site and DEMAND to subscribe to your mailing list.

Sheesh.

PS – I thought we established that everyone hates pop-ups back in 2004.

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