heads-or-tails

Using a Popover as an Acquisition Tactic

  |  December 25, 2013   |  Comments

Using popovers as an email registration tactic is a two-sided coin. Can you balance a marketer's needs with your customers' wants?

You know the old saying, "There are two sides to a coin"? The subject of using popovers as an email registration tactic is certainly a two-sided coin for me. On one side, from a marketer's perspective, I identify with the need to boost subscriber acquisition and can fully appreciate the appeal and effectiveness of using properly executed email registration popovers as part of an overall list growth strategy. In my client work, I've seen several examples where popovers have shown great results:

  • Three times the number of database additions compared to the next highest month (pre-popover)
  • Six times the average number of monthly additions
  • 90 to 93 percent of new email subscriptions for these clients per month are coming from the popover
  • Clients have been seeing an average of 5 percent of all site visitors sign up for emails via popover

On the flip side of the coin, from a customer's perspective, there are times when I don't appreciate the popover experience.

In order to grapple with this awkward dichotomy I've decided to list my frustrations from a customer's experience (heads side of the coin) and then address them with smart marketing practices (tails side of the coin).

It's important to note that this somewhat aggressive acquisition tactic has received much scrutiny since it virtually replaced its pop-up predecessor. If you need a quick 411, check out this clever explanation of popovers.

And now on to our two-sided coin…

1. Heads: Don't you have any manners or understand website or brand etiquette? Why are you interrupting my experience right now? Your timing is very poor.

Tails: Admittedly, popovers can be intrusive. But it's because they're intrusive that they can be effective. To make them a useful interruption rather than an annoyance, popovers used to boost email registration must be implemented with optimized timing, during applicable website browsing, and with relevant incentive for the visitor to provide the requested information.

First, let's look at the timing. I'm sure you've experienced some sort of popover during various times while visiting various websites. There are some that happen immediately upon landing on a site, others that are a bit delayed or perhaps don't appear until you begin to navigate to internal pages of the site, and finally those that attempt to grab you before you leave. So, what's the best timing to trigger your acquisition popover?

As with many elements in digital marketing, the best application of a popover will vary depending on your unique business. This makes it especially important to create a test plan to evaluate what works best for your sites' visitors. When developing your plan, it may be helpful to use so a test plan should be generated. You may find the following common sense guidelines helpful when considering where to begin to optimize your timing for the most valuable and least disruptive acquisition request.

Website Type: Timing Consideration:
Content Sites Up to 30-second delay to give visitors an opportunity to explore some of the content and provide further motivation to sign up
General Sites If the site struggles to fit in a certain category or a starting point is required, consider looking at the average time on a site and start by setting the form to appear slightly before the average visitor leaves the page, then test shorter/longer delays
Retail Sites Consider displaying a popover on the home page immediately for this site type so the interruption is less likely to interfere with a purchase; additionally, it may be wise to avoid using them on product landing pages

Now let's consider the "applicable browsing optimization" more closely. A popover seeking email registration should enlist some rules of engagement that reflect good website etiquette by incorporating best practices around courtesy for the visitor's experience. I recommend starting with these rules of engagement:

  1. Never use more than one popover on a web page.
  2. If you use a popover on a web page, use cookie controls.
  3. Never use popovers on every page of your website.
  4. Always deactivate popovers for any links coming from your emails as well as for existing subscribers.

Popovers can be versatile and elegant. They are particularly well suited for quickly building new brands' or companies' lists, for capturing and capitalizing on PPC search engine traffic, and as an opportunity to collect visitors' information before they leave the site. Of course, the use of popovers must be incorporated into a larger effort providing relevant emails with particular content that ties back to the page where the visitor signed up if and when possible.

2. Heads: Why are you soliciting my information? And is your content/product/brand worth the exchange of information?

Tails: With so many questionable data uses in today's digital world, there is truly a moment of contemplation before I'm willing to share my information. The pay-off for my sign-up has got to be clear, to-the-point, and relevant before I'm willing to submit a completed form. A MarketingProfs' article on the subject of popovers articulated this particularly well by saying, "It's important to think in terms of relevant interruption. A popover will obviously interrupt your visitor's activity - but she is unlikely to mind if the popover adds value to her visit. This means it shouldn't interfere with an important activity, and should provide a discount or offer related to the content she is viewing." If possible, an incentive is a great addition to test in your popover. An introductory discount, coupon, special gift, or sweepstakes opportunity are all good options that can help to lessen the irritation of an interruption and convince a visitor to disclose an email address and other details.

3. Heads: Even worse, why are you soliciting my information again? Why can't your website be smarter about these intrusive popovers?

Tails: Implementing business rules for popovers is a must! Minimize the potential disturbance and poor showing by demonstrating that your brand knows its customers well. Take the time to think through various scenarios for the different types of visitors on your site and then optimize as many of those experiences as possible. A few to consider include:

  • Be absolutely certain that your subscribers do not get your acquisition popover.
  • Deactivate popovers for all of your email links.
  • Consider the possibility of versioning your popover for those who have inaccurate or incomplete subscriber information.
  • Determine if there are there other forms of popovers on your site. If so, ensure that the timing of your acquisition ask does not compete with them.
  • Consider a parameter to ensure your sign-up request does not appear too often. A good standard practice to adopt: present the acquisition popover once per visit, repeated to non-subscribers every 14 to 30 days.

4. Heads: What exactly am I signing up for by divulging my personal information?

Tails: The end goal for acquisition popovers and opt-in pages is the same. Therefore the good habits that have become standard practice for opt-in pages and forms should be applied here too. They probably need to be even more stringent because a popover can be closed out of quickly if interest isn't piqued in a matter of seconds. Plus, it doesn't have nearly the real estate that an opt-in page commands. This requires precision on the presentation of important details about how you will use subscriber data and the value of the content you will provide in return for subscriber information. Absolute, succinct highlights should suffice here. Keep in mind that this acquisition tactic, like all list-growth activities, should be supported by subsequent contacts that will provide many more opportunities to both share and collect additional information.

5. Heads: Seriously? You need all of this info just to send me emails about your content/product/brand?

Tails: Above all else your aim is to get the site visitor to become an email subscriber. Do not make the mistake of asking for too much information here. Acquisition popovers are much more suitable for list-growth information than profile data collection. Asking for name, email address, and possibly Zip code are all appropriate fields. Minimal use of additional preference check boxes may also be fitting for your brand. When considering which data elements to include, be sure to focus on making the users' effort as simple as possible.

As previously mentioned, your subsequent supporting communications can drive the new subscriber to preference centers and other creative means of data collection.

6. Heads: Alright, so you talked me into it and now you've gone dark?

Tails: With today's automated messaging capabilities in email there is no excuse for letting a newly acquired subscriber go cold. Before you implement your popover, ensure your follow-up communications are ready to go. Additional communication about your brand and the value of your email program will be especially important for this group of subscribers because the popover will have provided limited initial information. A specific welcome email as close to immediately after sign-up as possible should confirm the new subscriber's details, thank her for signing up, and reiterate both the safety of her data and the promise of relevant content. Of course, the better option is to develop a specific welcome series (or at least touches within an existing one) that progressively introduces the new subscriber to your brand and offers many engagement and additional data collection opportunities.

The End of My Tails

As with all marketing tactics, the key to success is testing. Your subscribers interact uniquely with your brand so you owe it to both to identify the optimal application of any tactic. This becomes especially true when implementing an element on your website with potential impact on the overall user experience. While developing a test plan, be sure that your top consideration is to evaluate the effectiveness of the acquisition popover as a list-building tool for your company. If you don't see an improvement in your sign-up rates or you become suspicious of the quality of subscribers you're gaining from the tactic, make adjustments to compensate for those pitfalls.

I hope I've convinced you that there are eloquent and responsible ways to implement acquisition popovers. The digital space is constantly evolving and I believe the application of popovers will continue to evolve as well. While I've covered several current popover practices here, there are many more to come and I welcome your insights and comments to keep the conversation going.

Coin image on home page via Shutterstock.

Editor's Note: As 2013 comes to a close, we're pleased to share our top email columns of the year. This article was originally published March 26, 2013.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tia Matsumoto

Tia Matsumoto is a Senior Planner on the Strategy & Analytics team at e-Dialog. She has 12 years of integrated marketing experience with an extensive background in business development, client services, and expertise in direct marketing with a digital emphasis. With proven success translating performance data into strategic action plans that increase brand exposure and leverage organizational position she has been integral in the development and execution of multichannel database marketing strategies for clients including: Abbott, American Airlines, AirTran, Calendars.com, Emergen-C, Kellogg's, NAPA Auto Parts, and The North Face.

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