Exit PopUp Optimization: How I Increased Email Subscribers By 216% in One Month

Last modified May 29, 2018 By (Follow on ) 20 Comments

Today, I’m going to show you how I increased a news site’s email opt-in rate by 216% in 30 days.

We did this…

Without making popups re-appear every few seconds (and annoying readers)

And without having to make a unique lead magnet (content upgrade) for every post.

Instead, we used what I call the Topicbox Technique. I’ll walk you through exactly how we did it, step by step, in this case study.

Free Checklist and Popup Swipe File: Click here to get a free downloadable PDF checklist of the Topicbox Technique and my personal Evernote swipe file of 6 popup designs I love to inspire you. Follow the checklist step by step and you can get these results for yourself.

How We Increased ValueWalk’s Opt-in Rate by 216% in One Month with the TopicBox Technique

Let me make this clear: ValueWalk is not a mom and pop “blog”. It’s a major financial and current events news site with millions of unique visitors per month.

They also write dozens of articles a day, not a couple posts a month.

Despite that, when we met, they were only collecting 732 email addresses per month.

Valuewalk Mailchimp 732

So, you’re thinking: “Devesh, what an easy project, with that much traffic, just stick an exit popup in there, some opt-in forms at the bottom of articles, and you’ll be set.”

No so fast.

They already had a popup (timed instead of exit intent, but we’ve tested both), and they already had an end of post call-to-action:

end of post email optin

We did some initial A/B testing of those things, and got some good results, like a 145% increase in clicks to the newsletter page and 75% more email optins on the newsletter page.

All in all, the sum of all those things doubled monthly subscribers.


Doubling once is nice, but we wanted more.

Could we double it again? Or even triple it?

As readers on my email list know, the content upgrade is a technique I’ve talked about multiple times as one of the most effective ways to increase email opt-ins.

It’s insanely effective. We increased Jeff Bullas’s opt-in rate on 4 articles by 344% with content upgrades (he gets hundreds of thousands of monthly uniques):

conversion rate

But it didn’t make sense for ValueWalk.

Here’s why: there are five pages of Google results for articles published in the past 24 hours:

valuewalk articles

Are you going to make a unique content upgrade for each one, every day…

…then do it again tomorrow?

Neither was I.

That’s where the TopicBox Technique came in.

The Results: 216% More Subscribers Per Month

Before I break down the Topicbox Technique step by step, let’s look at exactly what happened to ValueWalk’s email subscribers.

First, after implementing Topicboxes, the total email subscribers per month tripled. Here’s a screenshot right out of Mailchimp:

Increase in email subscribers after exit popup optimization

Keep in mind this isn’t a proxy for subscribers, like some click rate on a submit button or views to a thank you page — this is actual confirmed subscribers in Mailchimp after double opt-in.

Stop and think about how far we’d come since the beginning:

700 subscribers per month…

to 3000 subscribers per month.

That’s the difference between 8,400 and 36,000 subscribers in year!

Results from Individual Popups

Before Topicbox popups, they had one sitewide popup converting at 0.27% over its lifetime:


After some A/B testing, we got it to go as high as 0.74%:

exit popup conversion rate after a/b testing

Again, that’s not bad, but after the Topicbox Technique, we had a series of targeted popups with conversion rates 10X higher than the original:

exit popup conversion rate after topicbox technique

Side Note: Not only does a high conversion rate mean ValueWalk is reaching business goals faster, it also means that readers are more engaged and less annoyed by the popups.

Now that we’ve seen the results….let’s get to how you can get the same results, without creating a unique opt-in bonus for each separate article or post, even if you have thousands of articles on your site like ValueWalk.

The Topicbox Technique: 3 steps

The Topicbox technique involves making a handful of popups (or lightboxes) around a few highly targeted topics on your site.

Here are the three steps:

Step 1: Find a handful of topics that cover most of your posts or articles.

Step 2: Create a bonus of each of those topics that your readers will actually want.

Step 3: Promote those bonuses with topic-specific popups, or Topicboxes that only appear for articles on that topic.

The advantage of this technique is that, unlike content upgrades, you don’t have to create a brand new bonus for every single post you publish.

When you publish 50 posts a day, that’s a huge advantage.

Even if you publish 1 post a week, it can help a LOT.


…you get the benefit of specificity that content upgrades provide (each popup box is specific to a topic), so conversion rates are much higher, without all the work of creating a new one for each post.

Now, let’s look at each of the above steps in detail.

Step 1: Find 3 – 5 Topics That Cover Most of Your Posts

Almost every single content site on the planet can group their articles into a few topics. Aim for about 3 at first (we’ll talk about adding more later).

A Word of Warning: Obviously, the more content you have, the more topics you have, but resist the temptation to list out a dozen different topics (at this stage). The entire point is to not have to make too many different bonuses.

Here are two ways to find which topics should work:

Use WordPress Categories or Tags

If you consistently use WordPress categories or tags on your posts, do this…

(Note: for a good article on WordPress tag best practices check this out form ManageWP.)

1. Go into your WordPress dashboard and check out your categories and tags lists:
wordpress categories and tags

2. Look at the “count” column in the category and list your big hitters.

ValueWalk for example, uses categories religiously (when you publish 50 articles a day, you gotta stay organized), so we found some great gems that way.

wordpress categories

They also had over 90,000 tags to narrow down topics even more:

wordpress tags

3. If you have plenty to choose from, prioritize them by the type of readers you want.

This is subtle but important.

If you have a site with a lot of content, you’ll have plenty to choose from. But some of that content will give you the best readers:

Readers that make the best subscribers.

Readers that are interested in a product you’re getting ready to launch.

For ValueWalk, although they had articles about politics that were getting a ton of traffic and engagement:

blog comments

…they still wanted to focus first on their core audience: large and small investors interested in financial content. And that meant focusing on some “niche” but highly strategic tags:

warren buffett wordpress tag

If you don’t use WordPress, or don’t use categories or tags, the next best way is…

Google Analytics

This is more manual, but will get the job done.

1. Fire up Google Analytics and go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
google analytics all pages

The results will be automatically sorted by most pageviews. This is good, don’t change that.

2. Expand your search results to show your top 50 posts.

google analytics

3. Export the results to an Excel file.

google analytics export excel

4. Open up the Excel, add a column to the left of the URLs, and start writing down topics for each line.

Don’t worry about knowing what topics you should include at the beginning. Just write down what comes to mind. As you progress, patterns will start to emerge.

5. Add up how often each topic appears to find your top 3.

Put this formula in one of the latter columns on the right. Replace TOPICNAME with names of your topics.


There you have it, the top 3 to 5 topics that appear on your site. Now it’s time to create a killer bonus that your readers will actually want.

Step 2: Create a bonus for each topic that readers will actually want.

Most opt-in bonuses (or leadmagnets) are too generic.

“Get my top 35 marketing strategies!” No thanks, I’ll just read your blog for a bit and move on to watching the Bachelorette…and I wont opt in.

With Topicboxes, you get to create targeted lead magnets on specific topics, so you can avoid this “too generic” pitfall.

Note: This is just like content upgrades, except instead of a unique leadmagnet for each post, you can have one targeted lead magnet for tens or hundreds of posts.

Here are two we created for ValueWalk.

One for articles on a particular investor:
topicbox exit popup example

One for articles on China:
China topicbox email optin

You’ll have to experiment a bit with different lead magnets to see what works the best. For example, we thought we had a gem when we created this 20 page ebook on recent Russian politics for readers of Russia politics articles:

ebook popup

But it performed worse than a simple offer of a link to a page that lists all recent Russia articles that uses Putin’s face (I’ll show you this one below).

Oops. It turns out those readers didn’t want a history lesson, they wanted more short, breaking news and speculative articles. (Or “Know more than your friends” was not compelling.)

There are some good resources on the internet on the topic of making a good leadmagnet, so I’ll list two of my favorite here, but the number one lesson is: don’t assume you know what they want.

My 2 favorite lead magnet idea articles:

Word of Warning: Don’t get hung up here and keep Googling for more ideas. Pick something you think they’d like and get moving.

Step 3: Use Exit Popups on each topic to give away your bonuses

Next you have to create the topic-specific exit popups: the Topicboxes.

Here’s the basic popup strategy with Topicboxes: You’ll have one generic, sitewide popup that can appear on any article, combined with a handful of topicboxes that only appear for articles on specific topics.

So the basic steps are to:

1. Design your topicboxes.

Each one should have the core elements that make any popup or signup form enticing.

Word of Warning: Like anything in conversion optimization, take these “best practices” with a grain of salt. If there’s one rule in this club, it’s that what worked for one site may not work for yours. If you have enough traffic, testing it is a good idea.

Pick a headline that has a clear benefit, exact phrases the readers use, and/or an attention grabbing headline. You don’t need all three, but the more the better.

Pick an image or graphic that gets attention. I’ve found that popups do seem to benefit from brighter colors and attention grabbing images. Humor works as well. For example, for Russia specific articles on ValueWalk, we started with this popup featuring Putin:


but when we simply changed it to a full bleed image with Putin giving someone the stink eye stare down…

another popup

… conversions rose by 119% (p<0.0001):

popup conversion rate increase

As for other text besides the headline, you have to experiment with it. I have yet to find a trend or hard and fast rule for text on popups. Instead, our work suggests that what you’re offering is a lot more important than what you’re saying about it.

2. Target your topicboxes to only show on a specific topic’s articles.

This is the final step and where the magic happens. You need your newly created topicboxes to show up on only the articles on your topic. This is the key to a scorchingly high conversion rate. If a popup on Russia shows up on an article about China, people aren’t going to opt-in as much.

Note: I’m assuming you’re using a popup plugin. If your popup was coded and installed in house, then you’re savvy enough to skip this section.

There are two ways to make sure your Topicboxes only show up on given topics:

Topicbox Targeting Technique #1: WordPress Categories and Tags

If your popup plugin can target based on WordPress categories and tags, this will be super easy. Just set each topicbox popup to appear for categories or tags that define that topic and you’ll be all set.

For example, in OptinMonster (what we used for ValueWalk), we targeted certain posts to certain categories:

OptinMonster ValueWalk exit popup

And others based on tags:

OptinMonster ValueWalk exit popup tag settings

This ability to target based on WordPress categories and tags is one reason we love OptinMonster for popups.

Topicbox Targeting Technique #2: Dead Simple URLs

If you can’t target based on categories or tags (or you haven’t categorized or tagged your posts), don’t freak out, just use URLs.

For example, in SumoMe, just fire up List Builder, go to Display Rules:

Sumome exit popup display rules

Click “Add a Show Rule” and start listing URLs where you want this popup to show:


Every popup plugin lets you target popups to specific URLs, and before you complain that it’d be too tedious, remember that a bunch of things in life follow the 80/20 rule and traffic to posts on your site are no exception.

What the hell does this have to do with anything?

You don’t need to target every single URL on a given topic, just target your top 20%. Even if you have 100 posts on a given topic, copying 20 URLs into your popup plugin will take you maybe 10 minutes.

Expanding Beyond a Few Topics

Finally, once you have a few topicboxes installed and converting like crazy, then you can go ahead and start thinking of more niche topics.

How do you decide which topics to expand to?

Look for topics where you could create a killer bonus to get an outstanding conversion rate.


Look for topics that have really high quality readers, even if traffic and raw conversion numbers are low.

Let me expand on the second point…

For example, if you have enough traffic and enough articles, you’ll start to notice (if you track things properly!) that certain types of visitors are more valuable than others (that is, their LTV is higher).

For example, for a company like HubSpot, who sells marketing software, readers of super in depth marketing automation articles are likely to convert into paying customers better than readers of a listicle on 2015 social media trends that happened to get a lot of tweets.

That’s what I mean. And it’s true for basically all businesses. Certain content attracts your best customers.

In my Hubspot example, even if those in depth articles don’t get a lot of traffic, you should still spend time on a great lead magnet and great topicbox for them, because 1 reader from those articles could be far more valuable than 50 from another one.

You can see a bunch more examples of exit intent popups in this article from WisePops.

Your turn: What are your topics?

You can do the exact same thing with your exit popups and see a dramatic increase in conversion rate.

To help you start taking action, let me know in the comments what 3 topics you can think of for your own site. If you’re struggling or have other questions, let me know.

Also, I’ve turned this technique into a checklist PDF for easy reference and I have a personal swipe file of 6 example popup designs that I love for inspiration. Use them to get these results for yourself. Get both of these bonuses here:

Bonus Downlaod 


  1. Emily Brown
    September 10, 2015

    Thanks for the article!

    Our company MaxTraffic offers exit-intent technology and we have experience the
    effectiveness of this solution. Thus, the ad editor on our
    platform allows creation of complex overlays containing subscription forms
    without any programming knowledge.
    If you want to check how this works in progress sign-up for a free 14-day trial here!


  2. illoh ifeoma
    September 10, 2015

    This is a perfect alternative to creating too many content upgrades. Thanks Devesh.

    • DeveshKhanal
      September 10, 2015

      Indeed, it is, glad you liked it! Any questions along the way, just let me know!

  3. Chris Von Wilpert
    September 10, 2015

    Nice one Devesh, I’m working on something similar for a client. They target 5 vertical niches and we are creating 10, 400 word blog content articles on 1 topic for 1 niche each month (with a 4-part email mini-course bonus for all 10 common articles). I’d love your advice… do you think 10 articles on 1 topic for 1 niche in 1 month is overkill? How would you advise the blog article content is split up each month so you can start to run with this strategy but not give your readers content overkill on 1 topic?

    • DeveshKhanal
      September 10, 2015

      Chris, my concern wouldn’t be on content overkill — most people don’t manually check blogs, so they won’t know unless you email them.

      And you can always stagger emails. (e.g. an email a week with 2 or 3 articles in it)

      My concern is quality. Ten 400 word blog posts feel like the quality won’t be as high as two 2000 word blog posts.

      …then promotion and link building (if that’s one of the goals). It’s a lot harder to get people to link to a 400 word post than a long, epic one.

  4. Alex Denning
    September 10, 2015

    This is really awesome, thanks for sharing. I’ve barely properly got stuck into properly optimising popups, but definitely going to be trying this out.

    • DeveshKhanal
      September 10, 2015

      Sounds good Alex. In fact, this is a good alternative to “optimizing” your popups in the conventional way of tweaking copy and A/B testing — this will likely get a much bigger lift in shorter time.

  5. Sue Anne Dunlevie
    September 10, 2015

    Loved this article, Dev! Great idea that I’m going to implement.


    • DeveshKhanal
      September 10, 2015

      Great to hear Sue Anne, definitely let me know how it goes! If you need any help tracking conversions on it, just send me an email.

  6. Robin
    September 11, 2015

    Amazing article Devesh, so much value! The Topicbox is an idea I had to come up with because a recent client ( a high-end shoe seller) was too lazy to come up with specific lead-magnets for every single one of his blog posts. However, I would still create big-ass, specific bonuses for the 3-5 best performing blog-posts!

    • DeveshKhanal
      September 11, 2015

      Awesome! And how did they do?

      • Robin
        September 11, 2015

        The best one was converting at 37% a little less than one month ago! The trick is to really emphasize the benefits with DS copywriting and nice bullet-points. I try to get to the point where the reader thinks “Man, It would be downright stupid not to grab this right now, on the spot!’.

        • DeveshKhanal
          September 11, 2015

          37%?! that is amazing! Would love to see a screenshot or link to it.

  7. Niklas Göke
    October 7, 2015

    Ha, this is good stuff! You’re a true Padawan of Bryan 😀

  8. Zach
    November 25, 2015

    Makes sense. I can already feel the relief of finishing a post–and rather than creating the dreaded content upgrade–just adding the new post URL to List Builder’s display rules.

    One suggestion, though… it would make for a nice demonstration if you added a Topicbox popup to this post. 🙂

    • DeveshKhanal
      November 27, 2015

      Haha, good point! There are no popups anywhere on the site right now, but great idea!

  9. Ellen Dubois
    December 10, 2017

    Oh man! I went through the signup process but there was no download on the Thankyou page. Just a proposal for paid services. Could you send me those downloads? at ellen.dubois1@gmail.com. I was especially interested in the swipe files. Excellent article BTW

  10. Gregoire d'Aboville
    December 11, 2017

    Love this technique Devesh
    And I’m not surprised by your results. They confirm what we see with our clients at WisePops: the more specific specific you can get in your popups, the more subscribers you attract 🙂

  11. Christian David
    June 12, 2018

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