The Eight P's of Effective Email Signup Forms
Steve Shaw Wednesday, August 22, 2018
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An effective email signup form can be the difference between a thriving and growing business with a constant supply of new leads, and a business that struggles to survive barely.
It’s therefore vital to invest time in your signup forms to ensure they’re performing at an optimal level.
But how exactly? The good news is that effective email signup forms have a number of key elements in common. And, strangely enough, they all start with ‘P.’
Keep reading to discover what these are, along with some awesome examples of how different businesses have put them into practice.
Of course, it’s rare for a single form to cover all of them. But put as many of them into practice as possible, and you’ll be well on your way to a top performing signup form.
Before I begin, I’ll give credit where credit’s due. This post was inspired by Andy Crestodina excellent post on Orbit Media about the 3 P’s of email signup forms. I’ve updated, adapted and extended it here
Your signup form asks someone to give their email address to you.
But what do they get in return? What’s the incentive for them to do so?
This is your ‘Promise’. What you are promising to give them?
This is also known as the ‘lead magnet’. It’s something that attracts prospective leads in your market to join your list.
Here’s an excellent example from Kate McKibbin’s Secret Bloggers’ Business site. Her ‘Promise’ here is a 200+ page planner and accompanying workbook, designed to appeal directly to the type of lead she wants to attract.
Review the ‘Promise’ or lead magnet on your own form.
Ask yourself some important questions:
Is it of sufficient appeal to your target market?
What could you improve?
Is it attracting leads who are then interested in what you sell?
Would a different promise—an alternative lead magnet—potentially work better?
There are of course different types of lead magnet available, including:
Regular tips or updates
Access to content such as video
A free quote or consultation
And many more.
Test out different ones to see what appeals most to your market.
Remember too it’s not just about what you promise.
It’s also about how you frame that promise in the mind of your prospect, which other P’s on this list all contribute to.
However, one of the most important factors is the headline. A change in headline can have a marked impact on the number of leads a particular ‘Promise’ attracts.
Test different ones (see Performance below) to find optimal wording that resonates most effectively with your visitors
It goes without saying, your signup form needs to be noticeable. If people can’t see it, they can’t subscribe.
So the more prominent you can make it, the more leads you’re likely to attract. You can do this in different ways.
Place the email signup form higher up the page whenever possible.
Common advice also suggests that putting your form in a top right position outperforms a top left position.
However, research from BabelQuest found the opposite—top left outperformed top right across a range of websites by over 43%.
The lesson? Assume nothing. Test everything.
Use different colors to give your form more prominence and catch the visitor’s eye.
Does your current signup form blend in too much with your website’s existing color scheme?
Try a contrasting color or two to make it really stand out.
Try different fonts and font sizes to make your signup form stand out on the page.
Generally, the trend in recent years has been for fonts to increase in size.
However, there are still far too many signup forms where the font used is way too small, making it much less noticeable on the page.
Short, sharp copy is often most effective as it can be read in milliseconds as people read the page, making a form more likely to catch the attention of visitors.
Don’t fall into the trap of cramming everything in tightly on your web pages.
It causes too much visual ‘noise’ and can be overwhelming for visitors to make sense of. There’s no shortage of space available!
Try adding extra space around and within your signup form so that visitors can actually see it properly. UXPin found that adding whitespace improved conversions and engagement levels by up to 20%.
Make Forms Dynamic
Taking a static signup form—one that fits into the layout of your page—and making it dynamic can give you an instant boost in lead generation.
Common methods for doing this include using:
Sticky offers—your signup form is shown in a bar towards the top or bottom of the screen as they scroll. This makes it more likely to catch their attention, while still being relatively non-intrusive.
Popups—as the saying goes, love ‘em or hate ‘em but they work! An effective popup can’t help but attract the attention of visitors, and conversion rates usually far exceed their static on-page equivalent. If you fear annoying visitors, try one that appears when they are about to leave.
Welcome Mats—this is a full-screen overlay, usually appearing when the visitor first arrives on the page. They have to choose either to subscribe, or to otherwise dismiss it in order to continue.
As soon as the visitor subscribes, they no longer see the form.
Here’s a fine example of a popup signup form. This is from speaker and author, Hugh Culver’s website, hughculver.com, and appears shortly after you arrive:
Believe it or not, the fear of making the wrong decision terrifies some people. Princeton University philosopher, Walter Kaufmann, calls it “decidophobia”.
And most people have it to a certain degree.
It can make filling in a signup form quite a challenge for many potential subscribers.
The more you can help them overcome that fear, reassuring them it’s a good decision to make, the higher your conversions will be.
You do that by providing proof of your authority and credibility, and that what you are offering is genuine.
Here are a couple of main approaches.
You’ve no doubt seen this in signup forms yourself, perhaps with language such as, “Join 10,068 other subscribers by signing up today…”.
What could be more reassuring than knowing that thousands of others have already trodden the same path before you?
Here’s just such an example from Orbit Media:
You can also provide social proof via a testimonial, something that works particularly well when the testimonial from someone prominent and well-known in your niche.
It can also be provided by evidence of popularity on social media. You can do this by say referring to social media follower figures on the form itself, or show it in some other way on your website, such as by using a follower widget.
You can even refer to traffic levels. Here’s an example from Jamie Turner’s 60 Second Marketer website:
Is there an image you can add to the signup form to help prove the value on offer for potential subscribers?
A good way to do this is through say a 3D representation of a report, or a thumbprint of a video. Presuming it’s a good quality image, doing so gives your offer more credibility and value in the mind of your visitor.
Other ways include:
Before and after pictures—ideal for niches such as weight loss, fitness and home improvements
Evidence of ‘success’—for example, the expensive car, large check, exclusive property, exotic holiday and so on. Works well for websites focused on business success, investment and wealth-building.
Evidence of authority—for example, the picture of you speaking on stage to a rapt audience, or media logos indicating where you’ve appeared or been featured.
With rising concerns about data privacy, people want to feel that you will take their own privacy seriously.
With this in mind, providing an appropriate privacy notice can improve conversions. But, as I’ll show you, not always.
An example from Which Test Won shows that the addition of a privacy notice (Version B here) increased conversions by 19.47%.
However, they also show that the wording used makes a big impact. Using a different notice with the wording, 100% privacy - we will never spam you, led to a decrease in conversions of 18.7%.
It’s possibly because the word spam made people feel less secure.
Similarly, VWO provide an example of a website which introduced a privacy notice, We respect your privacy, together with a small padlock.
Compared to a version of the signup form with no such notice, conversions dropped by 24.41%. The reasons are unclear. One possibility is that perhaps it didn’t sound very convincing and again introduced, rather than allayed, fears of data privacy..
The lesson? A privacy notice can make a signup form more effective.
It’s also a good idea to show one for the sake of transparency with visitors.
But you need to test it carefully to ensure it enhances rather than damages conversion rates.
Its visual impact on the form is minimal, while providing welcome reassurance to those prospective subscribers who are looking for such information:
The presentation of your email signup form should make your offer clear and visually appealing, and your form easy to use.
Here’s an example from Ian Cleary’s RazorSocial:
It’s very clear what’s on offer. The copy is short, sharp and to the point, and the design is clean and crisp.
As in this example, the use of suitable images and graphics can be effective.
However, they’re not always necessary, as some of the examples in this post attest. Here’s another example of a well-presented text-only form. This one’s on jenlehner.com:
People love connecting with people. Your signup form is no different.
By injecting some personality into your form, whether it’s through imagery and/or suitable language, it becomes far more appealing and you’ll likely improve conversions.
An excellent example of this is from Donna Moritz at Socially Sorted. Rather than a stiff, corporate-feel portrait that doesn’t invite connection, you can see the personality all over her face and instantly feel like you’re going to get along!
(Note she’s also looking towards the right of the page, subtly guiding the visitor’s eyes to the call to action and opportunity to subscribe.)
Here’s another awesome example of a personality-infused signup form, using personable language to engage and resonate with the visitor. This is from Sarah Morgan at xosarah.com—clicking the button via the ad in the sidebar launches the popup:
(Fit for) Purpose
Okay, I cheated a bit with this one. But we’re sticking with the ‘P’s, right?
What does this mean?
Your signup form should be problem-free, and not suffer from common obstacles that frequently cause form abandonment.
If your signup forms been effective enough to encourage the visitor to start entering their email, you don’t want to lose them at this point.
Here are some examples of problems you may have on your own forms. It’s a good idea to carefully check for these and correct any issues.
Overly Keen Validation
I’m sure you’ve seen forms where, as soon as you start typing into the email field, a validation message appears telling you it’s invalid.
This issue can lead a various factors liable to cause form abandonment such as:
Annoyance and irritation
Confusion—making users feel like they had done something wrong
Distraction—disrupting the flow of entering information, leaving a window for something else to sneak in and grab their attention
Ensure any such validation waits until after the user has left the field.
If you have email validation on your form, does it work as it should?
Are you validating against perfectly acceptable email addresses?
For example, make sure it allows new domain TLDs. If someone typed in email@example.com, would your form allow it?
Other such issues include:
Asking visitors to fill in fields that don’t exist
Validation messages that don’t match the field—for example, “Please enter your full name”, when the field is labelled First Name
Supposedly optional fields which are validated as required
Error messages, with errors—I won’t reveal the website, but this is one example from a popular blogger and social media personality, where the error message is simply incomplete:
Making Them Reenter Information
If they make a mistake, is the visitor able to simply correct the information previously entered?
Or is the field emptied, making them start from scratch?
If your prospective subscriber gets something wrong on the form, is your messaging overly negative? Does it make them feel stupid just as they start their relationship with you?
Here are some examples of messages that set a negative tone:
Oops, your email’s wrong
This form has errors
Form submission failed
2 errors prohibited submission
You forgot to fill in the form!
Instead, focus on language that’s more positive and helps them fix the error:
Please enter a first name
Please enter a valid email
Have you ever come across a signup form that simply doesn’t work?
You click to submit. Nothing happens.
Believe it or not, it’s an all-too-common issue.
More often than not, it’s an issue with a specific browser.
The website owner will be blissfully unaware, often for some time, as they’re still getting leads coming in via other browsers.
Sometimes, the form works fine—but it just looks ‘messed up’ on a particular browser, causing potential subscribers to click away.
It’s crucial to check your forms on as many browsers as possible, to be sure they work exactly as intended.
Have you checked your signup form on mobile?
Tried to submit it?
Unfortunately, issues on mobile are all too common and again need to be carefully checked.
Sometimes the button is off-screen and can’t actually be reached in order to tap it, however hard you try to scroll.
Other times, the signup form looks all out of place, sometimes with multiple layout issues.
To avoid these issues, first ensure your signup form looks correct, on different types of mobile phone.
Secondly, check it behaves in an optimal way on mobile to maximize conversions.
For example, in the underlying code for the form, does the email field use the type email?
By doing so, the smartphone user gets a keyboard optimized for entering an email address. They may also be able to enter their email with a single tap, making subscribing very quick and easy.
Otherwise, it’s harder work for them to fill in the form, it takes longer, and you’ll be losing subscribers as a result.
Thoroughly test the form on mobile to see what happens, including when you enter incorrect or incomplete information.
Too Many Fields
The more fields you have, the lower your conversion rate will generally be.
It’s partly due to the time it takes to fill in the extra information. Understandably, it’s even more pronounced on mobile.
It’s also a trust issue. If someone’s just downloading a PDF, why should they give you their full name, home phone and address?
Stick to the bare minimum number of fields you need. If possible, just ask for an email address.
Once they’re on your list, you can always ask for additional data via some other future offer.
This is probably the most important ‘P’ on the whole list, and I’ve mentioned it throughout.
In brief, you need to optimize the performance of your email signup form by continuously testing different aspects.
Flying blind and using guesswork based on what you think would work or ‘looks nice’ is likely to mean you’re getting far fewer leads than you otherwise could be.
So make sure you are continually split-testing your signup forms.
If you’re not testing, you’re wasting valuable data, when you could be using it to indicate a change that would give you say a 50% lift in conversions.
After all, it’s not hard to achieve conversion increases of 20-30% (and higher) via some simple changes.
Even better, it only takes three tests giving you a 20%, 30% and 30% lift to double your conversions.
So if there’s one ‘P’ on this list to prioritise, it’s this one.
By putting as many ‘P’s on this list into action as possible on your email signup forms, you’re almost guaranteed to start increasing your conversion rates and attracting more leads.
However, remember never to just assume they’re going to work. Test their performance, get some real data, and verify that the changes will benefit you.
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