The Definitive Email Marketing Guide Part 1: The 11 Highest Converting Sign-up Forms

By    Last updated October 20, 2016   Email Marketing

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Building an email list is the single most important thing you can do for your online business.


I don’t say this lightly. After all, I know how important social media, SEO, and other digital marketing tricks can be.


But none of them come close to the power of email.





Email marketing returns $38 for every $1 spent. It drives 174% more conversions than social media and creates 40 times more customers than Facebook and Twitter combined.


Collecting email addresses and converting subscribers should be your number one priority. But it’s not easy.


How do you get started? How do you convince people to hand over their email address? And how do you use it to sell products? This series will take you through the entire process from capturing as many emails as possible to nailing your subject line.


Before we get started, here are two essential sources for background reading:


A Mailchimp Tutorial To Rule Them All – This explains the mechanics of setting up an email list, and sending your first newsletter.


How To Create An Irresistible Lead Magnet – A ‘lead magnet’ is the tantalizing gift you’ll offer in exchange for an email address. It could be an eBook, a report, or a free trial. You’ll need a great one to lure in lots of subscribers.


With that info locked in, let’s start with the most important step: building your email list. In part 1, I’ll show you the most effective signup forms out there, and where to place them on your website for ultimate conversion power.


Let’s jump right in.



1. The Lightbox Pop-up


I’ll begin with the most controversial option: the lightbox pop-up. If you frequent digital marketing blogs regularly, you’ve definitely seen one of these.



The Lightbox Pop-up



The reason they convert so well is that it’s impossible to miss them. The rest of the screen goes dark, and the sign-up form dominates the screen. 100% of your visitors see it. It removes all possible distractions and focuses the visitor on one thing: signing up.


Template Monster reportedly increased their subscribers by 600% when they started using one. Their conversion rate jumped from 0.4% to 2.4%!


Pro tip: The lightbox pop-up isn’t always effective. It can irritate new visitors who haven’t even had a chance to read your content. Try placing a timer on the pop-up, so visitors have chance to browse first.


How to install it: OptinMonster is one of my favorite email capture services, and they’ll help you design and install a lightbox pop-up. Mailchimp also have a similar feature.



2. The Splash Page, aka Feature Box


Similar to the lightbox pop-up, a ‘splash page’ or ‘feature box’ dominates the entire screen, focusing the visitor on one simple goal. Again, you’ll often see this on digital marketing blogs. It looks like this:



Backlinko Splash Page



It completely takes over the top half of the screen, so it’s the first thing that any visitor sees. Typically, you’ll then scroll down to find the content below.


One website reported a 51.7% increase in subscribers overnight using this trick, so it certainly works. The big question is whether it comes at the expense of user experience.


Some visitors will prefer to explore your website and content before committing an email address, so keep an eye on your analytics to see if the feature box is having any negative impact.


How to install it: PlugMatter have built a simple plugin that requires no coding to implement. They also boast a 200% increase in subscribers, though I haven’t tested it personally.



3. The sidebar sign-up box


The sidebar is the natural home of the sign-up form. Websites have been using this placement for years. And there’s a good reason for that: it works!



sidebar sign-up box



Visitors expect to see it there, so if someone’s looking to sign up, it’s the first place they’ll go to.


Neil Patel – one of the most successful digital marketers on the planet – uses FIVE sign-up forms (or sign-up links) in his blog sidebar.


How to install it: If you’re using Mailchimp, they’ll walk you through the process, and show you how to implement the necessary code.



4. The exit-intent sign-up box


This is an ingenious idea that serves a pop-up or splash-page just before a visitor goes to leave your page. It’s a last-ditch reminder to sign up before they go.



exit intent offer



It doesn’t interrupt the user experience, because your user is already leaving. The software tracks the movement of the cursor, displaying the pop-up or splash page just as your visitor is about to close the tab. Social Media Examiner used ‘exit-intent technology’ to add 95,000 subscribers to their list.


It’s especially useful for e commerce sites. Let’s say your customer has a cart full of products, but forgets about it and goes to exit your site. A simple pop-up can remind them, and encourage them to sign up.



exit intent form



How to install it: Again, OptinMonster is one of the best services out there. It’s highly customizable and super straightforward.



5. The Scroll Box


So far, we’ve looked a lot of ‘intrusive’ models. Pop-ups and splash pages are powerful, but they can have a negative effect on user experience.


If you’re looking for something a little more subtle, try the ‘scroll box’ or the ‘slide in’. It’s a smaller pop-up that slides into view, usually in the bottom-right corner of the screen. It doesn’t obscure the content or interrupt the user experience.



Scroll Box



Even better, you can schedule the box to slide in once the visitor has scrolled a certain distance down the screen. It waits until a visitor shows interest in your website, when they’re half way through a blog or content page. At that point, a visitor may be convinced enough to sign up.


How to install it: The SumoMe app is a simple and good-looking plugin that works well.



6. A bespoke landing page


All of the tricks above utilize sign-up forms that float in and around your main website or content. But what about creating an entire landing page dedicated to capturing emails?



Landing page



I like to use Facebook adverts to drive tons of traffic to one landing page. On that page I’ll create compelling content that inspires and convinces people to submit their email address.


Landing pages are a science of their own, so check out my guide to landing page optimization to learn how to boost conversions.


How to install it: Leadpages is hands-down the best landing page creator, but you can also use a free landing page plugin on WordPress.



7. After a blog post


You may remember I wrote an article recently about how no-one really reads online. In fact, less than 20% of people make it to the end of a blog post… So why would I suggest putting a sign-up form there?


Well, those few people who do make it to the end of your blog post are super engaged. They read every word, right to the end. That’s someone you definitely want on your email list! And it’s someone who’s much more likely to subscribe – they clearly enjoyed your content.


As this graph (courtesy of shows, most of your website’s engagement (i.e. time spent reading, clicks, signups etc) happens below the fold. There might be fewer visitors in this area, but those that make it are much more active, and therefore more likely to subscribe. Make sure you give them the chance.



Engagement heat map



How to install it: The most simple of sign-up forms will work here. MailChimp, Aweber and all the top email providers will walk you through the process.



8. A ‘content upgrade’ during the blog post


The ‘content upgrade’ is probably the newest form of email capture floating around the digital marketing blogosphere. It’s also one of the most powerful out there.


Backlinko reckon they increased their conversion rate by 785% with this one little trick. So, how does it work?


It’s simply an ‘upgrade’ tailored to a specific blog post or piece of content. Here’s what it looks like in the wild:



content upgrade



This is one I’m currently using on Bitcatcha on a blog post about landing pages. Notice how the ‘lead magnet’ I’m offering is highly specific to what’s in the blog post. It ‘upgrades’ the content.


It’s more specific than, say, an eBook or report, so visitors are much more likely to download it and subscribe. You can create five or six of these smaller ‘upgrades’ and place them on your top-performing blog posts.


It’s not intrusive, it’s highly relevant to what you’re reading, and it provides extra value.


How to install it: This one’s a little trickier to set up, which is why ‘Part 2’ of this series will focus specifically on the ‘content upgrade’ setup.



9. The Hello Bar


The ‘Hello Bar’ is a beautiful little design that floats at the top of your website at all times. It provides a constant reminder to subscribe no matter where visitors are on your site.



hello bar



Derek Halpern at Social Triggers captured 1,000 extra emails in 30 days using this one plugin. The beauty of it is that it’s not intrusive or invasive. It’s just there for your visitors when they’re ready to commit.


Pro tip: The conversion rate of Hellobar is highly dependent on the copy you use. There’s only a small space to play with, so choose your wording carefully, and test, test, test until you find the highest converting option.


How to install it: Start at and follow the steps to install it.



10. The ‘Content Gate’


This trick is a risky maneuver, but it’s still worth checking out. The ‘content gate’ hides your blogs or videos behind a sign-up form. In other words, visitors can’t access it until they hand over their email address.



Content Gate in NYTimes



It’s used by some of the bigger names in publishing, like The New York Times and Financial Times. These sites often allow you to read four or five articles before slamming the door. By that point, the website hopes you are sufficiently intrigued to enter your email address.


While it works for the biggest sites, be careful about using this technique too heavily on your own site. It may have the opposite effect and simply drive visitors away.


Pro tip: Try using a ‘content gate’ for your very best, premium content, like access to long-form articles, videos or reports. Make the user feel like they’re getting a behind-the-scenes experience.


How to install it: A plugin called ‘Before and After’ allows you to hide content behind a ‘gate’.



11. Additional places for email signup


Your ‘About’ page is probably one of your most popular, ‘evergreen’ pages. Check your analytics and see for yourself. Thousands of new visitors come here to find out more about you, so it’s the perfect opportunity to capture some emails.


With some clever wording, a great image, and a compelling ‘lead magnet’, you’ll snap up curious new visitors here every time.


Another good spot is your footer. Only your most engaged and intrigued visitors will find themselves at the footer. People will instinctively scroll here to find out more information.  These are people you want to capture, so don’t miss the opportunity!


These won’t be your highest converting sign-up spots, but you’ll sweep up a few stragglers, and every little counts!


But don’t just stop at your website. Think outside the box. Place sign-up forms or links on your social media platforms and add one to your email signature.


Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn are all high traffic areas that can add hundreds of subscribers to your list. And just think about how many emails you send out a day with your signature in. Don’t miss these opportunities.


How to install it: Add simple links in your signature and social media bios and use a simple MailChimp form for your footer and ‘about’ pages.



That brings us to the end of part 1, folks. Now you know exactly what signup forms to use on your website, and where to place them.


Experiment with the different options, and find the highest converting solutions for you.


In the second part of our series, we’re going in-depth with one of the most effective techniques, the ‘content upgrade’. See you soon!


Daren Low

Daren Low is the founder of and co-developer of the free Server Speed Checker. With a decade of experience in website development and internet marketing to his name, Daren is considered a premier authority on all things related to building and managing an online presence. Feel free to pick his brain by connecting via and Twitter.

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