Choices, Consequences and the Reason Every Pop-Up Box Needs 2 Buttons: Opt In, and Opt Out

Check out our list growth over the last 18 months:

Using consequences in opt-in boxes data

The graph starts in October 2013. Ticks along quietly for about a year. And then, as of October 2014, starts to swing up noticeably.

We went from daily sign-ups in the double digits… to daily sign-ups in the triple digits.

In this post, we’ll tell you exactly what changed.

Let’s start with where we were coming from.

(Hint: It’s probably where you’re coming from.)

We’d Been Using All the Tried, Tested and True Tricks to Get Signups… To Meh Results

About a hundred thousand posts have been written about how to get more of your visitors to opt into your list so you can build the hell outta that list, establish relationships, nurture relationships, sell, grow, hire, and on and on. A healthy-sized list with healthy engagement is a wunnaful thing.

The big to-dos for list growth are things that we started doing almost as soon as we launched Copy Hackers back in Oct 2011.

We put an opt-in box in the sidebar of our blog.
Opt-in boxes vs opt-out boxes

We put an opt-in box at the end of every blog post.
Put an opt-in box at the end of a post

We tested opt-in boxes at the end of posts and tailored them for different posts.
Opt in boxbottom of page opt-in box

We created a sign-up page with reasons to sign up.
Sign up for Copy Hackers

We had an opt-in form in the footer of our blog.

We had hub pages for top topics, with opt-in forms.

We had an opt-in form in our Hello Bar.

We put links to our sign-up page in all of our ebooks and in the ebooks we guest wrote for folks like Unbounce and Get Response.

We even used Pop Up Domination for a while to intercept visitors with opt-in offers.

We did all the things.

We left no stone unturned.

But our list growth was annoying at best and frustrating most other days. A tiny fraction of our new visitors converted into subscribers. The rest just… vanished.

That’s because, although we were doing everything right to capture subscribers, all of those “right things” were just a little bit wrong. And that little bit of wrongness was costing us 80+ sign-ups a day, on average.

What We Were Getting Wrong:
Asking Visitors to Opt In Wasn’t Good Enough

Choice without consequence is no choice at all.

When a visitor is presented with an opt-in form, it’s so often the case that said opt-in form has just one button, and that button is there to be clicked if you choose to opt in. If you choose not to opt in, you do not have to click a button to state your preference; you simply X out, click out or otherwise ignore the opt-in button. Most of our opt-ins are active and opt-outs are passive.

That’s the problem.

With passive or undeclared opt-outs, your visitors never have to actively state that they do not want your offer.

Further, they never have to actively state that they are willing to live with the consequences of opting out. They aren’t faced with any consequences whatsoever. So the easiest thing for them to do is not to opt in but to opt out – to reject your offer – which is the very thing you do not want them to do.

In her TED talk in 2011, Sheena Iyengar said:

“In order for people to understand the differences between the choices, they have to be able to understand the consequences associated with each choice, and the consequences need to be felt in a vivid sort of way, in a very concrete way.”

She cited 2 studies to support her statement:

  1. People spent less when they held cash in their hands than when they used debit or credit because cash felt real, and there was a clear consequence to parting with that concrete thing
  2. More people enrolled in 401(k) plans when they were asked to think about all the positive things that would happen in their lives if they saved more

People can better make decisions when they understand consequences in real ways.

There Are No Choices. Only Consequences.

Whenever a person is presented with a decision to make, that person automatically considers a sort of menu of options including but not limited to the presented option(s).

For every yes, there’s a no, whether that’s implied or explicitly stated.

So when you’re presented with this…

Opt-in boxes vs opt-out boxes

…it seems like you’ve only got one choice: Enter my email address to learn how. We marketers tell ourselves that we’re focusing the prospect on the one and only goal.

In fact, you have at least 2 choices no matter what marketers want to believe:

  1. Enter my email address to learn how.
  2. Do not enter my email address and do not learn how.

Each choice carries its own consequences. Some good. Some bad.

In the madness of the decision-making process, your visitor compares her choices and weighs their consequences, focusing on the one(s) she’s directly presented with and only vaguely considering the one(s) implied. Her goal is to make her life better, which often means making her life easier…

…And what could be easier than not taking action at all?

What could be easier than avoiding the decision?

If I go ahead and enter my email address in the form above, I will learn how to stop writing boring copy… but I’ll also have to 1) type and 2) deal with the possibility of getting sold to, getting overwhelmed by info, losing precious hours reading posts, actually taking time to implement what I learn, and more. We try to minimize the negatives in our copy; we write “no spam”, “quick and actionable” and “privacy guaranteed” and hope that that’ll do the trick. But that’s only dealing with the explicitly stated choice. That’s not even touching on the implied alternative: do not enter my email address.

Enter Bounce Exchange.

They’re the team responsible for most of the big ol’ pop-up boxes you’re presented with on sites from Conversion XL to Red Envelope, usually when you show exit intent.

Last fall, Bounce Exchange reached out to us.

We’d written this post and this post, both of which featured Bounce Exchange and neither of which put the service in a particularly glowing light. We’d been rather vocal about our distaste for “scuzzy” opt-out messaging commonly used by services like Bounce Exchange, such as the No message here:

Propaganda messaging in marketing today

Our problem with those opt outs? They’re just not very nice. They can’t possibly create warm-fuzzies for the brands that use them. They make visitors feel bad about themselves. And they encourage opt-ins only because a visitor does not want to be associated with the negative alternative – and that’s no way to grow a happy list.

Bounce Exchange asked us, in the spirit of experimentation, to try their service out and just see if it worked.

We’re nothing if not up for a good experiment.

Here’s What Happened When We Started Collecting Leads Using Pop-Ups with Opt-In AND Opt-Out CTAs

(More about this in my interview on Social Media Examiner’s podcast)

Before I launch in, let’s be clear: I’m not an affiliate for Bounce Exchange. I don’t get anything for saying nice things about them, and I don’t get my hand slapped if I say harsh things about them. I’m objective, unbiased and just tellin’ m’story. Further, this isn’t a Bounce Exchange review, so I won’t get into the experience of working with them, but suffice it to say it’s been very good and filled with loads of great ideas, great tests, all that fab stuff you’d hope to get for $4000+ a month.

You may recognize this pop-up from our site:

Bounce Exchange pop up on Copy Hackers blog

What is that pop-up doing that most others are not?

There are quite a few secrets to the success of the Bounce Exchange pop-up, but the one that stands out clearly to me is the one we’ve been talking about throughout this post: I have to choose to opt-out, meaning that if I decide not to take the freebie offered, I have to choose (or say yes to) a negative consequence. 

I don’t get to escape unscathed. If I decide not to opt in, I have to live with the consequences of my actions. “No, I reject the persuasion guide.” It’s the expressly stated alternative choice that sets up a clear consequence for not clicking the orange Yes button: rejection.

When we added this pop-up to our site,* here’s what happened to our list growth:

Bounce Exchange impacts list growth

The dark blue represents the sign-ups our ol’ skool methods brought in. And the pale blue represents sign-ups the Bounce Exchange pop-up brought in. As you can see, November 2014 saw nearly 4 signups from Bounce Exchange for every 1 that the rest of our efforts brought in. March 2015 saw a nearly 5:1 ratio.

The lesson?

Stop giving your prospects a choice as if consequences are not built in. As if that makes you a nice guy.

Every choice has a consequence. Put the consequence on the page. Make the prospect aware of the consequence so they make a more informed decision. 

If you can express consequences in concrete ways, you may simplify decision-making for your visitors and see your list grow because of it. Just putting your offer out there isn’t enough. As Sheena Iyengar said in the same TED talk:

“We choose not to choose even when it goes against our best self-interest.”

Every choice you put before your visitors has its consequences.

Put the consequences on the page.

But Does the Consequence or Alternative Always Have to Be Negative?

Negativity is a broad spectrum in shades of grey.

That said, most consequences are negative. The question is, how negative do you have to get?

You may have noticed that our “rejection” opt-out button is not harsh. It’s not one of those “No, I choose to be a dimwit buffoon” buttons. But is it negative? Yes. Because there are negative consequences associated with opting out – so why would we present doing so as positive, especially given that we don’t want people to feel good about taking that option? (NOTE: We always want them to feel good about themselves. Their options are up for grabs.)

You do not have to be mean when you message a consequence of not opting in. Case in point:

Bounce Exchange pop up on sites like Social Triggers

And here’s another:

Bounce Exchange pop-op with opt-out button

(You’ll notice that the 2-button approach works best with interruptive elements, like pop-ups.)

In his TED talk, John Maeda of MIT and formerly of the Rhode Island School of Design talked about choices and simplicity (start at 12:53). A child presented with a big cookie and a little cookie chooses the big cookie; a child presented with a big pile of laundry to fold and a little pile of laundry to fold chooses the little pile. We want more enjoyment and less pain.

Simplicity of choice

Keep that in mind when you write your opt-in and opt-out button copy.

Test opt-in button copy that focuses on enjoyment and opt-out button copy that focuses on pain or work. This way, the opt-out button copy doesn’t have to be dark-grey negative; it’s on the brighter end of the spectrum, but it still registers as an undesirable consequence of not opting in.

And if, after all of this, you find you don’t really give a damn about building your list – you just wanna get more sales and clients today – use the idea of consequences like so: stop thinking of your prospects’ many choices when you write your copy, and try writing copy that instead expresses the consequences of not working with you.


*It wasn’t this exact pop-up. Bounce Exchange tested a few opt-in offers and variations on the creative.

About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Konrad Sanders

    Good stuff. I second Benjamin’s question down there. Would be good to know if you split-tested other phrases and what they were/how they performed.

    That way I can do less split-testing myself. Because I’m lazy like that 🙂

  • That’s fascinating. I noticed the “no” option often uses “I reject”. I assume this is a conscious choice. Did you try alternatives such as “I don’t need” or “I don’t want”?

  • Brilliant post Joanna, thank you so much for sharing, I’ve taken notes and will be saving this one as resource to refer back to. Looking forward to looking into and implementing the opt in/opt out strategy.
    In the process of developing our opt in process so great timing.

  • Thanx Joanaa for this great analysis. We are still testing this out until I saw your post. The best takeaway was implementation of choice and consequences model for opt ins. This is something every opt in lacks.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Amit! I’m seeing more people use an opt-in and an opt-out buttons on their pop-ups… so that’s a good thing. 🙂

  • GreatSpeech.Co

    Thx Joanna. Great post. Such a useful article on something I just wouldn’t even have thought of myself. Thx

    Question: Can’t justify the cost of Bounce Exchange as looking to get this for a charity website. Couldn’t really see on your other posts, which of the other popup providers also give the 2 button option. They talk about exit intent tech (but not clear if the 2 buttons option is included).

    Do you have a short list of some plugins that specifically offer the 2 button option? (and that are under $6,000!)

      • GreatSpeech.Co

        Thx Kyle. I’ll take a look

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Sure! We list out some alternatives here:

      That said, working with Bounce Exchange is about so much more than the technology. In 2015 alone, they:
      – Ran 30 campaigns,
      – Tested 54 variations, and
      – Developed 76 custom graphics for us.

      And at the end of the year, they reported it all in a beautiful infographic. So you get a LOT more than a pop-up tool when you use BX. If growing your list is important to you and if you don’t have someone on staff to run 30 campaigns and develop custom graphics for all the variations being tested, you should try BX. It’s like hiring a lead-gen guru that gets testing, can execute on experiments, can do creative, can report on it all and more… for $72,000 / year. (Again, I’m not an affiliate for them! I just believe in them due to sick-a$$ results.)

      • GreatSpeech.Co

        Woah. Just seen this response. Thx Joanna

  • Nancy Hildebrandt

    Wow, interesting to read the pro and con comments and reasoning from marketing people, and now I know who I have to blame for the annoying popups that hit me before I can even find out what the site is selling, offering something for free with an opt-out button that implies I’m either smug or stupid. If you’re trying to strong-arm me before I can even find out what you’re selling, there’s no point to proceeding further in a business relationship. There IS a third choice–I just close the browser tab.

  • Chuck Hess

    Thanks so much for this article! Very informative. So in the end it looks like you guys decided to go back to your normal signup method. I don’t see any Bounce Exchange type signups on your site. Is there a reason for this decision?

    • Hey Chuck! Bounce Exchange is still alive and well on the site. Their algorithm for matching visitors’ intent with the right offer/presentation continues to improve, too.

      • Chuck Hess

        I took a second look. Now I see how it works. It’s based many more factors than I had originally noticed. Thanks for the reply!

  • Wonderful article. Love the site as a whole. (And your style…but you already knew you are a #boss.)

    Question: how did you create that cool graphic at the top showing your email list growth? (Or does your ESP give you such lovely visuals out of the box?)

    <3 <3

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Laurence! So nice of you. The graph at the top comes standard in MailChimp.

  • Bonnie David

    Insightful Joanna! In your opinion, which is more effective conversion wise? A pop-up form or putting the sign-up form on your home page? I am experimenting with Genesis enews widget.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Worth a test – or put the form in both places. The more, the merrier. 🙂 A pop-up form naturally gives you the chance to do an opt-out button; an embedded form (e.g., sidebar, home page hero) does not.

      • Bonnie David

        Thanks Joanna.

  • Great info – thanks for sharing your results!

    Here’s another option that will allow you to do the ‘two part question’ on the pop up (for just $97) –

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yes, we love Nathalie! I haven’t tried AmbitionAlly, but I’ve heard good things.

  • Kristen Hicks

    I’m glad you addressed how obnoxious the passive aggressive language in some pop-ups are (and glad to see how many other commenters agree with me).

    I don’t care if it works, expecting me to either sign up for something or click a button saying something obviously false (like, “No thanks. I don’t like making sales/being a good person/happiness)” is not a good look for a brand from where I’m sitting. Like Upworthy-style headlines, it’s one of those marketing tactics that I wish didn’t work since it annoys me personally so much.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Understandable – you’re definitely not alone. But the facts being what they are, what CAN we do to help our visitors understand there’s a consequence for not taking an action? We can’t just say we “don’t like it” so we’re rejecting the idea entirely. What to do is supported with studies and split-tests; how to do it is up for grabs.

  • Geeze, Leadpages needs to implement this. It would seriously be one simple addition, of adding a second button to lead boxes. I can’t believe they haven’t already actually.

    I’ve always had an issue with popups in general. I’m still not sure how I feel about them. Blogs like Zenhabits, Boostblogtraffic and Copyblogger get by just fine without using any popups. But then other, very reputable sites, social triggers, Lewis Howes, Copyhackers, IWT etc use popups quite effectively.

    Personally, I have NEVER opted in to a popup. Seriously, never. And I’ve joined al to of lists. I sort of X out of them on principle, though sometimes the Bounce Exchange ones do get me to stop and read (they’re pretty good at catching my interest).

    Anyways, I’m just rambling now, but my point is… some people like them, some people don’t. I haven’t been persuaded to try them out anywhere yet, even with the astronomical growth possible. Does that make me a bad marketer or am I just being naive and idealistic?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Our story was *just* like yours, Jon… until the part where we tried the thing we’d rallied against and, in turn, saw huge gains… 🙂

  • Eric, the reason why you posted this comment is the reason why you don’t have $6,000 a month to spend on a service like Bounce Exchange. (Think about it.)

  • Eric- It’s relative to the ROI. If Copyhackers is at least breaking-even + acquiring new customers and subscribers, then Joanna & Lance would be insane NOT to pay $6k per month.

    Are email subscribers worth it? Let’s say each opt-in is worth $6. If they gain 1000 subscribers per month via the tool… then yes $6k is totally worth it.

    But I understand your shock. It’s a lot of money.

  • Joanna Wiebe

    Funnily, a $6000/mo budget for Adwords is totally standard, and the goal for most of those campaigns is to get signups. So.

  • My gosh I couldn’t even get through the page with out stuff popping out at me.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Well they’re called pop-ups, so they’d be buggy if they didn’t pop.

  • Bob Caples

    I do agree, though, that the price tag for this Bounce thing does seem a bit extravagant, not knowing the alternatives.

  • Bob Caples

    Yes, you add pain to the “avoiding pain” choice. The pain of missing out on something that could be good, even life-changing. I find it a bit depressing that people keep falling for this (moi included), but that’s the way it is.

  • Bob Caples

    Joanna, I asked for the Persuasion Guide but never got one.

  • Joanna Wiebe

    There are certainly a lot of people dividing people into groups. 🙂 Interesting take, Paulo.

  • Dion Swift

    I got this link in the first mail you sent after I got on your list. Lolz, Copywriters trying to teach marketing.

    Interruption marketing is like flogging a dead horse and it doesn’t work. Permission based marketing is where it’s at.

    I’m certainly not going to abuse my avid readers with pop ups, quickest way to get a “Bounce” lmao.

    • You should take a look around before you leave, Dion. You’re in the minority if you feel that way. Lolz.

      • Dion Swift

        C,mon now Lance, are telling me there is some sort of hidden value in this post? Well lets address the issues.

        Quick whois check on Bounce exchange shows they are hiding behind annon registration. If i’m paying 6k per month entry level to use the service looks pretty shady.

        PDNS86.ULTRADNS.BIZ (has 4,110 domains)
        PDNS86.ULTRADNS.COM (has 4,027 domains)
        PDNS86.ULTRADNS.NET (has 89,480 domains)
        PDNS86.ULTRADNS.ORG (has 120,970 domains)

        Hell, they are really riding high on a cheap shared host. Would have thought they’d be on a dedicated server considering what they charge.

        Probably no surprise why their page takes 2 mins to load.

        The website optimisation looks like crap, heaps of issues to resolve there.

        If people reading these comments have 6k to burn per month, leave a comment and i’ll come back and tell you how to build a list that will convert like crazy.

  • Bob Caples

    It’s always good to have a positive message and unnecessarily piss people off. However, I always take with a grain of salt people who say things like, “That would irritate me and I’d never come back, etc.” Well, maybe, but really, who cares what individuals have to say?

    Back in the day, folks who learned what I did for a living took great glee in telling me how they always threw out the junk mail I wrote. And, in fact, 98% of everyone who received my mail DID throw it out or otherwise ignore it. But the economics of the mailings were such that I could make a fortune on the 2%.

    This was the sense in which direct response was transactional and not brand oriented at all. IOW, you weren’t building a brand, and brand had very little to do with the sale. DRers used to mock branders as folks who didn’t know how to sell and whose advertising wasn’t accountable.

    But it is different if you’re running a Web site selling a range of things, and you want visitors to keep coming back to it to buy, even if they don’t want a particular offer. You don’t want to turn them off to future sales. But there are still scorched earth copywriters (e.g., John Carlton) who will say things like (not a quote), “Unless you’re getting 60% refunds, you’re working hard enough to make the sale.”

    Not being irritating has never been a good to producing good (i.e., working) advertising. Plenty of annoying ads work like gangbusters. The complainers (in the aggregate) just don’t want the product.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Sooo well put, Bob! High-five on all your points.

      I do marvel at the gutsiest copywriters out there that really put it all on the line – like John Carlton. Good for them. Obviously that approach doesn’t sit right with the whole world, but good for them.

      With so much resistance to pop-ups and ads (hence the explosion of ad blockers), it’s little wonder most marketers today hesitate to do things that make us feel uncomfortable, even if they’ll perform well. You really have to be made of a thicker skin to not buckle under all the shade that gets thrown your way the second a pop-up appears on your site.

      • Bob Caples

        One of the things that’s been defeating me of late, and it came up a bit when I had to choose the winning headline on another thread, is this fear: What if I’m wrong? Will I be the goat? Deemed to be not very good? Not trusted again. I’ll write 20 headlines and, aside from a few, won’t be able to tell which is the best or right one.

        I thought about the Tim thing this evening at the grocery store and think I should go with how I respond emotionally to headlines more than what I think will or should work. When I saw the Tim head, I thought: “WTF”? But I could also feel how I was reacting and really how cold and even bureaucratic the other headline felt.

        Of course, authors want to sell a lot of books, but they don’t think of their books as mass produced products. They’re close to their books and have lived a long time with them. And they DEFINITELY don’t want their readers to think that they’re consuming a mass produced product. They picture the writer-reader relationship as a tete a tete mediated through a medium called a book.

        So the second headline made the book feel like a mass-produced product. It might have worked better for a jobber or wholesaler of books whose job IS to “move a lot of books” and who never reads any of them.

  • [Daniel Dou]✰[]

    Awesome insights, Joanna! 🙂

    So… let me sort my thoughts:


    1. With the standard opt-in form, visitors only have to state that they want your offer. They don’t have to state anything when they don’t want your offer.

    2. Therefore, it is easier for your visitors to NOT opt-in, than it is for them to opt-in.

    3. Because people make all their decisions based on the consequences surrounding those decisions.

    4. There are less consequences to NOT opting-in, than there are to opting-in. Because…

    5. The consequence of opting-in is:

    “type and deal with the possibility of getting sold to, getting overwhelmed by info, losing precious hours reading posts, actually taking time to implement what I learn, and more. ”

    6. There is no consequence of NOT opting-in. Or so your visitors think. Actually there are consequences. Long-term consequences though. Not short term ones. So visitors don’t take the time to think that far.

    7. You get them to opt-in by explicitly reminding them of the consequences of NOT opting-in. And you do this by offering an opt-out button with the consequences of clicking that button stated clearly.

    8. Now that they are aware that NOT opting-in has heavier consequences that opting-in, they decide to opt-in.


    Pheww… it was a bit hard for me to follow your train of thought through that article.

    Did I get that right? 🙂

    Let me know if I didn’t. Or if I made any mistakes in my thought process.

    By the way, do you know any good affordable tools that give you the option for adding the Yes/No consequence pop-up to our sites?

    Unbounce is a bit too pricey.

    I know that Pop-Up Domination has the option, but their other features seem to be more limited.

    • [Daniel Dou]✰[]

      Also, I think this approach makes use of the Consistency principle. We take actions that are consistent with how we view ourselves.

      If an action is framed in a way that it seems like something we would never do, then we will be less likely to take that action.

      So, I think this can be further reinforced by creating an environment, where visitors reaffirm that they are the type of person who would opt-in.

      For example, having a small survey pop-in somewhere at the bottom of the screen asking something like:
      “Are you someone who continually strives for improvement and greater knowledge?”

      With yes/no buttons for them to choose.

      If they choose yes, I believe chances are even higher that they will opt-in for more knowledge.

      But I think I’m getting ahead of myself…

  • Matt Miller

    Am I missing something or does Bounce Exchanges pop up functionality have a minimum cost of $5995/month? If so, I know what app I’ll be coding this weekend…

  • Very interesting. I like how this tactic combines consistency, agency/freedom of choice and stakes/consequences. I wonder how the same type of copy or at least call to action would perform in the sidebar / beneath posts.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Totally – I’m sure it taps into a handful of psych principles not discussed here. That’s good for those who opt in, but it’s potentially problematic for those who opt out — in committing to rejecting an offer, are you telling yourself you also reject the site and, to act consistently, must then never return?

      As for sidebars, yeah, I made a brief note about that, but it’s a good point: does opting out work when the user isn’t directly ‘confronted’ by a pop-up? I can’t see how it would. Sidebars, footers, etc are so passive and ignorable.

      • Richard Garand

        No one’s going to click a button in a sidebar just to not do anything.. but maybe if you gave them a compelling second choice they would?

        Something like “here’s our best offer, but if you don’t like it maybe you should read this instead”. It could be a way to segment your audience.

        If you’re really aggressive about qualifying readers you could link to a weak competitor’s site 🙂

      • Bob Caples

        You remind of a tactic I’ve seen: “If you don’t opt-in, I’ll assume you’re not interested and take you off my list.” Not the words, but the message.

      • Richard Garand

        Just about every company in Canada was required by law to do that last year – a government-mandated copywriting test!

  • Our industry seriously needs a more rigorous study of the difference in lead quality based on what type of opt in form a prospect filled out.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Lead the way!

  • Hey Jo

    I never thought to try an opt out button on a pop up (only in a landing page) and it makes total sense to do.

    I wonder if the opt out copy to be “Not today but ill think about it later” might actually help convert those readers to come back and take action?

    Have you guys also tried creating content specific upgrades for posts also?

    As simple as they are, you can see huge boosts in email opt-ins from even a pdf version of the article, a checklist or better something that takes the story further.

    The article becomes the open loop and the download helps to close it…

    Love every article!


    • Joanna Wiebe

      That opt-out copy could be great. Hopefully Bounce Exchange reads that and gives it a shot as button copy in their next tests.

      We haven’t tried the upgrade-to-get-the-rest tactic for list growth, but it’s something we’re thinking about. We tend to give things a lot of thought before implementing, and we’ve tended in the past not to require people to opt-in for extras (like our worksheets and scorecards), so these things take time. 🙂

  • Bob Caples

    Hi Joanna. Ashamed to say this the first email of yours I’ve read. As a looong time direct response copywriter, I can tell you this is an old, old technique we used to call “yes/no.” It was easy in the mail; perhaps it’s taken a while to figure how to do this technically online.

    Basically, the negative thought you want to induce in the reader is: “If I say no, I’m going to miss out, not just on this offer, but on all future offers.” People don’t want to “miss out.” So basically, it can be as simple as: “I understand I will never (or may never) see this offer again.” You can also add: “I understand that by saying no, I won’t see any future offers either.”

    The underlying message is really quite positive: You’re giving the person the opportunity to take control and choose not to be bothered by you again.

    The next iteration was yes/no/maybe. The “maybe” was a relief for people because they didn’t have to accept or reject. They could go part way toward accepting without committing fully. “Maybe” signalled to the marketer that this person was still a warm prospect and worth staying in touch with. The key thing was you got the prospect to self identify as a warm prospect because he actually had to do something to inform us that he was a warm prospect, which act actually made him a little warmer than he was before.

    IOW, he’s not just telling you he’s warm, he’s actually warming himself up a bit more than he was before. He’s certainly warmer than if he just clicked out. In that case, you, the marketer, know nothing about his decision, and he hasn’t been able to warm himself up short of buying.

    So, in the days of mail, the economic consequences to knowing who was whom were huge. Today, when email costs basically nothing by comparison, some of the discipline of the days of yore have been lost.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      “The key thing was you got the prospect to self identify as a warm prospect because he actually had to do something to inform us that he was a warm prospect, which act actually made him a little warmer than he was before.”

      Love it! I totally appreciate every single comment left on our blog, but I do so love when copywriters flesh out the story.

  • Rachel Daley

    Thanks so much for this! Whenever I go on Neil Patel’s blog and click the “no I don’t care about traffic” button I feel kinda dumb but also get a bit annoyed to be honest – so I was skeptical… but I like how you clarify adding the negative consequence without making your peeps feel totally dumb! I see why it works.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I’ve felt exactly the same way. That’s why Lance originally wrote this not-so-glowing post about the negative messaging used in opt-out buttons:

      But if you can use the idea of consequences without making people feel bad, could be powerful. For us, it is.

  • Joanna, interesting write up and food for thought. Is there are way of doing this without paying $4000+ a month?

    • Hey Susan, I really should get an affiliate link for this but i’m playing around with Uber popups, and it seems to have the same functionality for a 1 time payment

      Was trying to add an image,

      I haven’t used the pop up much but it seems pretty good-will have to see if it integrates well with my email manager!

      • Looks interesting. Thanks for mentioning it. There’s no way to get it on their page though.

  • Mark @ Make Them Click

    Like others, I detest the way most of these options are phrased. As you’ve said, most of them are insulting the customer. Even if you do get more subscribers, you risk alienating the people who are most likely to become your customers.

    Like Deirdre, I’ll immediately leave the site and never return if the phrasing is too insulting, which it is in 90% of cases I’ve seen.

    The only time I’ll put up with it is if I really, really like the site and it’s content. And if that’s the case, then I’m already enrolled in the site’s message and there’s no need for the ugly talk.

    As others have said, you have to decide if you;re willing to sacrifice quality for quantity.

    The other issue is how badly it reflects on your brand.

    • I would agree. I think Joanna and some others are using this responsibly. When used in this way, it’s actually more honest and transparent to offer the opt-out box. There really is a consequence to opting out – missing out on what you would have gotten if you opted in. Nothing wrong with making the visitor aware that a choice is being made.

      • Joanna Wiebe

        Well put, Josh!

  • waynecarrigan

    Did the quality of opt-ins (leads) stay the same as the total of subscribers went up? Did it correlate into net-new revenue?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      The engagement isn’t what it was when we were slowly building our list, no. But it’s still above industry average, as I mentioned below. Of course, the size of your list doesn’t matter; as any email marketer worth their salt will tell you, you’ve only got a brief period of time to turn a new subscriber into a customer, so setting up the right drip campaigns and offers early in a subscriber’s experience is a big part of optimizing your business with email. Long story short: we’ve increased the number of opportunities to turn subscribers into customers, but it’s all about timing.

  • XpansionPak

    You are deceiving yourself about the nature of your work. What you are describing is a pop up advertisement which takes more time to figure out how to close. It’s only a matter of time before this type of ad becomes repulsive to visitors, harmful to search engine ranking, or prioritized by ad-blockers. I’m disgusted by the other comments praising this obvious way to waste people’s time a “fascinating” “experiment.” Are you deluded or just cynical? I don’t think this what any of you wanted to be as a child. I encourage anyone who works in advertising to quit their job and find a more meaningful line of work.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      haha – you’re funny.

    • Which is perhaps why you are commenting on this post.

      You might be surprised to learn that some of us actually wanted to be in advertising growing up.

      What’s that phrase? “Some men just want to watch the world burn”?

      Yeah, it’s kinda like that 😉

    • Congrats, Joanna – you inspired him to sign up for Disqus and leave his first comment. 😉

      Also, that whole argument on how it’s giving up when you grow up to do something that you didn’t want to do when you were a kid is ridiculous. What do you know as a kid? As far as you can tell, the whole world is made up of teachers, astronauts, doctors, police officers, and firefighters. Crazy, most kids want to be one of those things or what their parents are. Restricting yourself to childhood dreams only makes sense if you haven’t done any growing up yet.

    • Thank you having the guts to say what all of us are not thinking, Xpansion! But I can’t figure out if I’m cynical or deluded. Oh well, it probably doesn’t matter.

      Know what does matter, Mr. Pak? You have inspired me to do something meaningful by following my childhood aspirations.

      When I was a kid, I wanted to be Batman, Wolverine, Iron Man, a surgeon, and Indiana Jones – all wrapped into one.

      I will fight crime, evil mutants, terrorists, and appendicitis as I search for lost treasure!

      First things first: a costume. Off to Hobby Lobby!

      You can be my sidekick “Xpansion PakMan”!

      What do you think? Here are your options:

      Yes, I want to help you escape from a life of advertising so you can fulfill a meaningful life.


      No, I reject your meaningful ambitions – you should get into advertising or something.

      • Michelle Falzon

        This comment makes me happy 🙂

  • Cheri-CreationScience4Kids

    Most fascinating. I’m with you completely on presenting the consequences of not choosing; it’s as much of a choice as any other. I get Deirdre’s point, too. I can’t imagine telling people they are “rejecting” me by clicking out. I will however be looking up softer synonyms to add to my pop up.
    Thanks for keeping us on top of these things. Growing my list is the biggest pain point I have, especially since any premium service is beyond my means until I start selling something.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, Bounce Exchange has tested a lot of CTA copy and continues to test. The “reject” language seems to be performing well – they’re using it over on Social Triggers, too.

      • Cheri-CreationScience4Kids

        I’m sure it is about as powerful as you can get, but my reputation is being soft and approachable. Already updated my popup box and chose the words “pass up” to express the negative consequences without being over the top.
        Thanks again!

      • Joanna Wiebe

        Great! That’s where testing goes a long way.

  • Great article Jo – always interesting to learn about your experiments!

    The only thing that bugs me with pop-ups are when they don’t recognise you as a subscriber, so an active opt-out/opt-in with no ‘close’ button can set off my inner banshie {Scots-Irish: a female spirit who gives warning of death or disaster by wailing}!

    I can see how the numbers are persuasive, but we need the right people on our lists… so it’ll be interesting to see how the numbers directly relate to sales. I’m still on the fence on this one, but always up for experimentation. 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Oh, I know – I totally agree! It’s hard as a marketer to use solutions that pop constantly, no matter who’s subscribed. Lots of things for such solutions to work on, but they’re getting there.

      And getting the right people on your list is definitely more important than growing a list to some huge size. We’ve never looked for quantity – and here we’ve been lucky to find a great mix of quality and quantity. The engagement rate is slightly lower than it used to be, but still well above industry average.

    • Ted Goudie

      I agree, and it happens even on this great site where we’re commenting right now!

      There’s something easy to remedy this and not put your existing subscribers through the popup:

      Read the referrer string and suppress people who are already coming from your email (or your specific campaign if you have multiple popups and want to get granular).

      Are you possibly missing out on a tiny number of signups from people clicking on forwarded emails by suppressing people coming from email? Sure, but I bet it’s at least a 1000:1 ratio on existing subscriber clicks:forwarded clicks.

  • I’m more likely to close the page entirely (and never return) if the opt-out is phrased badly (I detest a lot of emotionally manipulative language). So while it may work, it can also burn you.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      It definitely can! That’s the risk a lot of marketers are willing to take. We know some folks don’t like those pop-ups, but, well, some folks don’t like paying for things, and businesses don’t stop charging simply because people don’t like paying. 🙂

      • I am a marketer and I am willing to pay for things, so I do understand the frustration. If I can be more articulate about my objection:

        What always irritates me are people who misrepresent my position.

        So a no button that said “No. I hate saving money” — well, I like saving money, so that button misrepresents my position. THAT is the kind of page I’m likely to close and the kind of site I’m not likely to go back to.

        If the button instead said, “No, I’m passing on this amazing one-time offer and understand I’ll spend more money for these items later” — that’s something that isn’t emotionally manipulative and doesn’t misrepresent my position.

        These days, it’s gotten to the point where, if I’m on a buy page, I’ll look at the opt-out offer text at the bottom before I choose to buy. Why? Because the language in that offer is very reflective of the kind of language I’ll receive as a customer if product support goes south. (Which, in my experience, if the language there is manipulative, it’s more likely to happen, too.)

      • Here, here! Amazing point, Deirdre. I love your litmus test.

  • Aaron Orendorff

    I’ve been seeing this more and more … but your write up, data, and visual examples were stellar.

    I’m over hear limping along with Squarespace … but as soon as I migrate to WP, Ima be all over the double opt in.

    Thanks, Joanna!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Aaron! I read and hear a lot about Squarespace (is there a podcast they don’t sponsor??), but I love me some WordPress.

  • I love that you break down why this “yes or no” option works so well. It’s something we’ve been doing with PopupAlly on our sites with great effect too – in case anyone wants to try this out without spending $4K/month. 🙂

    We’ve also experimented with 3 options – giving people choice to what they want to learn more about and tailor an opt-in to that specifically works well too! But more than 3 and people get confused and say no. 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Three options? That’d be very interesting to see. What happened??

    • [Daniel Dou]✰[]

      Cool! I just stumbled on PopupAlly just now, while searching for a cheaper alternative. Looks good, but I haven’t had the time to look at all the features yet. Will do so later…

  • Piotr Burzykowski

    The free guide pop up I just got lacks the X button. Is this on purpose?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Um… yes?

      • Piotr Burzykowski

        It goes against the standard acceptable methods of dismissing an intrusive element on a Web page. This would also be clearly prohibited in the case of ads served by reputable platforms.

      • Yeah, I hate that too, but reloading the page works.

      • Piotr Burzykowski

        I am actually surprised that a browser hijacking technique is presented here as a best practice.

      • As a former browser QA engineer (Safari), I share your concern. it’s not something I will be using. In fact, I may noscript it.

      • I’m against the term “best practice” — not that you care. 🙂 But I would say Bounce Exchange and its competitors offer a highly effective way to grow your list. If that’s your desired outcome, then you should strongly consider implementing something like this.

      • Speaking only for myself, my desired outcome is not using skanky practices. I consider not allowing standard dialogue dismissal techniques (e.g. escape key, command-period on a Mac) skanky.

        This “solution” is basically a Rickroll, speaking as the most Rickrolled person in the world apart from Rick Astley. (Everyone thought it was *hilarious* to file Rickroll bugs, and I got all the incoming ones, so….)

  • Michelle Falzon

    Love this Joanna. Thank you. I particularly liked how the actual pop up appeared right as I got to the end of the article 🙂 Great post.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I’d love to pretend I timed it that way. 🙂 Thanks, Michelle!

  • I’ve always found this tactic to be interesting and quite powerful.


    Even though I’m a marketer, even though I know the “trick”, it gets me every time.

    Every time I’m on the fence, that is.

    And this fence is where I find myself second-guessing and hesitating to click the opt-out.

    Why do I hesitate?

    On the surface it’s because I either reject or disagree with the consequence.

    But deep down, I hesitate because I haven’t been convinced.

    If I am convinced, If I’m sold, If I want something or see the immediate value, I don’t even read the opt-out (if I do, it has little to no effect).

    Two quick examples:

    CONVINCED: Your Persuasion Guide is a no-brainer for me. I want it. I click “yes”. And I can’t get to my email fast enough so I can download and dig in!

    As for the “I reject” button… I ignored it.

    UNCONVINCED: While considering a particular social media course, the opt-out said “No thanks – I’m a social media expert”. I sat there and mulled over it as if it were real. As if I could never come back. As if they would ban me for life.

    I was pulled in to consider the consequences: lie about being an expert & miss out on the free training.

    And so I clicked “yes”. Even though I knew it was a psychological game, I didn’t want to lie about being a social media expert.

    Very powerful Jedi mind-trick this is. 😉

    Thanks Joanna! I’m glad you wrote about this.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Funny you say that — I’ve totally had the same thought about possibly being “banned” or unable to access the freebie again. I’d forgotten all about that. Interesting – worth more thought!

      • I know, right?! — Like it’s being recorded or something. If I reject will my name get sent to a “blacklist”? Will the blogger remember me and confront me later? Funny stuff.

        But I definitely agree that it’s annoying to get the same ultimatum every time I visit a blog. Even worse – it’s a huge disconnect.

        I’m thinking “Don’t they know I’m a subscriber? Don’t they know I came from an email link?”

        What really gets me is when I optin for a second time (just in case), and the automated message says something like “you are already subscribed, you silly goose!”

        In your experience, is this a marketing software issue? Or a user issue? (In reference to not knowing if a reader is a subscriber or not)

  • Rory Johnston

    Great article. I’d been noticing that explicit opt-out buttons had been appearing on a lot of sites but hadn’t read into it any more. As you said, the negative copy that makes you feel like you’re clicking on a button saying you’re stupid are just annoying and don’t leave you with a good feeling.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, the really harsh opt-outs feel like they’re going way too far. But the idea of the opt-out is certainly worth testing on your pop-ups.

  • Very interesting.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Sasho.

  • Peter Michaels

    “Test opt-in button copy that focuses on enjoyment and opt-out button copy that focuses on pain or work. This way, the opt-out button copy doesn’t have to be dark-grey negative; it’s on the brighter end of the spectrum, but it still registers as an undesirable consequence of not opting in.”

    – I like it. Kinda like the ‘Crossroads Close’ beloved of many Direct Response-rs, but without implying anyone’s a sucker for not acting right away. Audience-friendly sign-ups all round!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Cool! Mind sharing with the group what the “crossroads close” is?

      • Peter Michaels

        Sure thing…

        The ‘Crossroads Close’ appears in sales messages after the case has been made for a product or service – often in long(er)-form sales copy.

        Then, right before the CTA, the reader’s offered a choice: carry on as you are, with whatever problem drove you to look for a solution… OR make the purchase and live life blissfully problem-free thanks to whatever widget’s up for grabs on the page.

        Marketers of all stripes use it (and sometimes abuse it), but the key to making it work relies on good future pacing – when the copy helps the reader picture themselves in both situations: struggling along without vs sprinting along with the product. They have two directions they can take – hence the ‘Crossroads’.

        So they’re offered not just a choice, but two sets of consequences, like the opt-in you talk about in the post.

      • [Daniel Dou]✰[]

        I’ve seen this on many a salesletter. Didn’t know it was called the “Crossroads”. He he… 🙂

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