Using lightbox popups to capture more email addresses

What are lightbox popups and why are they used?

It is highly unlikely that you haven’t ever seen or experienced a lightbox popup in some way, shape, or form. While they seem to have an equal share of lovers and haters (a quick search of ‘popup’ and ‘hate’ on Twitter will reveal plenty of people who reside in the latter camp), they’ve become one of the de rigueur methods for marketers to attract new subscribers and increase their data capture efforts, me included (if you’ve been on this website for more than 45 seconds you’ve probably already seen our newsletter sign up lightbox).

So, if you’re not currently using them, should you be? And if you already are, do you use them in the best way possible? Fortunately for you, the answers to these two questions are the focus of this article.


Benefits of using pop ups

The main benefits of using a popup or lightbox on your website is that it allows you to build up your subscriber base.

Lightboxes aren’t the best means of generating leads or subscribers for everyone, but for those that rely on generating leads and nurturing relationships with subscribers, prospects, clients, and customers, they can help you to reach your goals. When used correctly, they can also help you to deliver and / or improve upon a good experience for the user.

For a business like Pure360, we use lightboxes to encourage site visitors to subscribe to our email newsletter list.

Kissmetrics also use lightboxes for a number of reasons, including highlighting a case study. As opposed to collecting an email address for the purpose of sending a regular newsletter, they instead drive the visitor to a different page on the site where they can access the case study in question.


An example of how Kissmetrics use lightbox popups to drive traffic to different pages on site


For businesses like Skinny Dip or Urban Industry, they use lightboxes to offer discounts to new site visitors for their first purchase, an excellent incentive that will likely encourage the visitor to sign up and receive their exclusive discount code.


Skinny Dip offer 10% off an order as their incentive for users to provide them with their email address

Is this offer of 15% off your first order tempting enough to give Urban Industry your email address?


The type of business or company you are will likely dictate the types of lightbox you can or will use, and these examples here are by no means the definitive ways of using them ‘in the wild’.


Where, when, and how to use them

While the middle of the screen pop up is by far the most popular style of lightbox out there, you’ll find a number of slight variations that are used by other sites, and you may find that these approaches may work better for your site.

For example, Really Good Emails use the slide-in lightbox which appears in the bottom-left of the screen when you first visit the site and begin scrolling through their content. Their newsletter is pretty good and if you like email design then I suggest you sign up.

An example of how Really Good Emails use a slide-in lightbox

There are other variations on the slide-in model, where you’ll see them come in from the left, right, top, or bottom of the screen. Other variations include a sticky header that will drop down and sit at the top of the page.

If you are unsure about which of these would work best for you, then you should consider testing out a number of different styles to find out which one performs best. Which leads mean on nicely to the next section, testing.


How to test / tweak your pop ups to gain more subscribers

If you implement a lightbox and find that the conversion rate isn’t particularly high, or you feel that lightboxes just aren’t for you, don’t give up!

Instead, you should try testing and tweaking your popups to see if you can find a setup that works better for you. While you may think that there are two options – lightboxes or no lightboxes, there are in fact a number of factors that you can tinker with you find out what works for you, depending on how you’re using your pop ups. These include:


% scroll

Trigger your lightbox based on the % of which the user scrolls down a page. If you are displaying your lightbox as soon as the page loads then perhaps your users are finding this is being shown too soon.

By triggering the pop up on say, 50% or 75% scroll, you’re giving visitors a bit more time to consume your content or read what is contained on the page. And if they’re making it half to three quarters of the way down the page chances are they’re more engaged that those who aren’t doing so.


Time spent on site

As previously mentioned, if you’re triggering your lightboxes immediately once the page has loaded then you’re not giving users a chance to decide if they want to commit and convert on your lightbox, regardless of whether it is a discount, request for an email address or highlighting content elsewhere on your site.

You need to give your site visitors time to read your content or view your products before you swoop in with your lovely lightbox, otherwise all your hard work in getting them to the site will be for nothing.

Shortly after I started at Pure360 I noticed that our lightboxes were being displayed immediately on page load, so I made some slight changes. We saw a huge 690% increase in conversions just by tweaking the trigger for time spent on site until the popup is displayed from 0 to 30 seconds! This just goes to show that by testing and tweaking your lightboxes you can find that sweet spot that’ll start delivering meaningful conversions.


Number of pages viewed

This is another trigger that I tested and tweaked until I found something that worked well. Combining a set number of pages viewed in a single visit, combined with the time spent on site rule I was able to improve the conversion rate on our newsletter sign up lightbox by a further 30%.


Trigger only on certain pages

If you have pages on your site where users are required to complete other lead forms, for a pricing request or to access gated content for example, then be sure to restrict your lightboxes from triggering on these pages. The last thing you want to be doing is distracting a user from submitting a pricing request or completing a checkout.


Exit intent popups

Many lightbox providers will allow you to trigger your popups when ‘exit intent’ is shown. Exit intent basically amounts to when the user moves their cursor towards the top of their screen and away from the browser page. This is taken as a signal that the user is about to either close the tab, click back onto another tab, or click back and return to SERPs.

From my research on Twitter this type of pop up seems to be the one that gets the most negative comments, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. If you use this type of lightbox on certain pages, and not every single page, it can be effective.


A/B test designs, copy and creatives

Finally, if you have the means to do so, you should absolutely be testing your lightbox designs. Whether this amounts to tweaking the copy, the text on your CTA button, or even the overall design of the lightbox. You should also test different lightboxes for different conversions, so perhaps promote a content download or webinar instead of a newsletter sign up.

Test what you can and see what the results are.

I tested CTA button text and found out that ‘Sign me up’ performed almost twice as well as plain old ‘submit’ did.



A slightly odd type of lightbox has risen in popularity in recent years, being given the name ‘confirmshaming’. You might even have noticed it earlier on in the Skinny Dip example.

Basically, this is when the ‘no thanks’ option on a lightbox is, as the delightful Confirmshaming Tumblr page states, ‘some hot garbage’.

Now, this approach will definitely not work for everyone. If your brand’s style and tone of voice is quite playful and fun then you might be able to get away with it. However, if you’re a B2B business, or in the corporate sector, then you probably want to steer away from this style of lightbox. There are some very amusing examples on the Tumblr page linked above though.


Examples of nicely-designed pop ups

One of the nice things about lightboxes is that you can get really creative with them. Here are three examples I’ve come across which I think look great and work really well.



Braidbar's Lightbox

Quite a nice design, and the circular look is different to most lightboxes, making it all the more striking. It also does a great job of setting expectations early on by telling you what you’ll get in exchange for your details.

The CTA button could probably do with looking more like a conventional, rectangular button. However, if you’re following the form fields then it is natural that the button would be below the fields. Considering their good use of title (Get on the guest list) and the copy contained within, I’m surprised they haven’t used something other than ‘enter’ for the CTA text.



An example of a lightbox on KlientBoost's website, complete with 'confirmshaming' text

KlientBoost do a great job of appealing to the visitors potential pain points by suggesting that they’ve got the goods you need to become better at your job.

The white subtitle copy gets lost a little bit against the background, but the CTA is clear and bold.

Note the confirmshaming-style ‘no thanks’ link at the bottom. This type of language is in keeping with the KlientBoost style and tone, so it works really well and in some ways is expected from them. I don’t think anyone can compare their marketing to a T-800, so I imagine the conversion rates on this one are pretty good. I signed up.



A simple lightbox from Buzzfeed

I’m a big fan of Buzzfeed, and this nice little lightbox does the job. There isn’t much to it, but the beauty of this is that it makes it incredibly easy for people to sign up and begin receiving emails dedicated to their food offering, Tasty. I also love jalapeno poppers too, so I’m sold on this one.


Google’s ‘intrusive interstitials’ penalty

Finally, a word of warning for those of you who are looking at using lightboxes – be wary of full page lightboxes, or interstitials.

Back in August 2016 Google announced that they would be making changes and penalising sites that use ‘intrusive interstitials’ from January 10th 2017, because of the affect they can have on the user experiences on mobile devices.

You can read the post on their Webmasters Blog to learn more about the types of lightbox or popup that make content less accessible. They also detail examples of interstitials that won’t be affected by this new penalty; these include using them for cookies, age verification, and allowing banners that don’t take up too much of the screen.

Search Engine Land covered this and provided a good overview of the new changes. You can also expect them to report on the impact of this when it is rolled out by Google.

Don’t let this put you off though. Lightboxes can and will provide a rich source of new subscribers and sign ups for those who can implement them well and work them into their data capture strategy in a useful and meaningful way.

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