Sidebar and End of Post Email Opt-in Forms: Don’t Waste Your Time

Posted By Devesh Khanal | 8 Comments

A lot of clients ask me, “Can you help us grow our email list?”

So I ask, “Ok, what are you doing to capture subscribers now?”

If they have a blog, their answers inevitably involve this word: “sidebar”.

“Well, we have a form in the sidebar.”

“I’m giving away this ebook in the sidebar…”

“…something…something…sidebar…”

I take a deep breath, squirt some more Mio in my water, and ask “Ok, what else are you doing?”

Of course, 99% of the time, I’ve already looked at their blog — as I’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds of other blogs — and the vast vast vast majority of them have two opt-in forms that convert extremely poorly:

1. The sidebar opt-in form
2. The end-of-post opt-in form

So I steer the conversation towards things that will help them grow their list (and business) the fastest.

I also don’t want you to waste your time optimizing things that don’t make a big difference, so today I’m going to show you conversion rates on sidebar opt-in forms and bottom-of-post optin forms and compare them to other list building strategies.

You’ll see for yourself how the sidebar and bottom of post opt-in forms compare to other strategies.

You’ll see what converts the best, so you can spend your time on big wins, and stop wasting time on things that don’t matter.

Let’s get started.

Culprit #1: The Sidebar

Literally 99% of blogs on the planet have the sidebar opt-in form. (I don’t know if that statistic is true).

Here’s the thing with sidebar opt-in forms: They suck at converting.

Here’s a test I ran where I tried a couple variations of a sidebar opt-in form on a marketing blog that gets over 100,000 monthly uniques:

sidebar email opt-in form conversion rate

It was converting between 0.3% and 0.6%. It was so low I gave up on the test and moved on to bigger and better things.

Note: Don’t over-interpret differences between 9 and 4 conversions. It’s just noise at this point. The point is out of 4000+ impressions, it converted around 18 times, which is 0.4%…terrible.

If you have less traffic, and the sidebar form is more elaborate, it can be a bit better:

sidebar opt-in form conversion rate

But not much better.

I’ll show you what to do instead later, but first…

Culprit #2: The end of post opt-in form

The conventional wisdom is “But if someone makes it to the end of your post, that means they like the content, so it’s the best time to ask for an email!”

Sounds great. But how does it do?

Here’s the end of post opt-in form on the same blog from above:

bottom of post email opt-in form

It was converting at 0.4% before I made a variation that was almost like a content upgrade and seemed to be pushing it to 1.21%. But again, the conversion rate was low, the test would have taken 458.7 years to reach completion, so I decided to move on to better things.

I’ve seen blog post after blog post convert at 0.5% or less with these end of post optin forms on there.

Higher Conversion Rates: What You Should Do Instead

In my experience, these are the 4 highest converting opt-in strategies on a blog:

1. Content upgrades – or topic specific bonuses. I’ve written a case study about them here:

List_Building__How_to_Get_492__More_Email_Subscribers___The_Daily_Egg

They generally convert in the 2% – 10% range, depending on your traffic and the quality of your content. For the two blogs above, content upgrades increased their per post conversion rate by 500% or more.

2. Pop Ups – As annoying as they are, I’ve seen them convert in the 2%+ range for most blogs. High traffic sites (500,000+ views/month) see less, but you can usually expect 2% or more.

I turned my pop up off for a long time because I didn’t want to annoy prospective clients and content upgrades and my homepage featurebox were converting well, but I’ve turned it back on and overall it’s converting at 3.53%.

optin pop up conversion rate

If I wanted to focus on optimizing something, do you think I should focus on that, or a 0.3% converting sidebar form?

3. Homepage Gate – Turning your homepage into a welcome gate can get 10% or 20% of your homepage traffic to convert.

Bryan Harris of Videofruit had a homepage gate that was converting at 14%. Since then he’s improved the design significantly so it’s likely converting even higher.

4. Featurebox – This is the above the fold hero unit I have on my homepage, it converts between 5% – 7% of homepage traffic:

homepage conversion rate

I’ve seen similar conversion rates on other featureboxes.

So if you want to grow your email list, what would you rather spend your time on: 0.4% forms or 5% forms?

But don’t the little bits add up?

Yes, they do. I’m not going to argue with you that 0.4% is greater than zero. It is.

But distraction from less effective items (i.e. a sidebar opt-in form) can reduce the conversion rate on more effective items (i.e. a content upgrade). In fact, I did a study with Bryan Harris on a single post where I removed the sidebar completely, and we saw 26% more clicks on content upgrade links with no sidebar.

Although that’s only one post, removing distractions is a known conversion optimization tactic.

And more importantly, you know now that your attempts at A/B testing a sidebar form or end of post form are going to get you minimal results. An A/B test on one of those may increase conversions by 50% if you’re lucky.

But 50% of 0.4% is only 0.2%!

If instead, you spent your time building a homepage gate or content upgrade, you could be converting 5%, 10% or even 20% of visitors to those pages.

In fact, the easiest content upgrades you can make are checklists for the techniques you discuss in your blog post. They’re simple for you to make and useful for your readers to implement your advice.

I made a simple checklist to my Ultimate Guide to Email Drip Campaigns and over the past 6 months, that post has converted 5.94% of visitors.

To help you out, I’ve put together a template of 3 checklist styles so your checklists can look good without you spending time designing them. They’re in PowerPoint so almost anyone can edit them. You can get them here.

Questions about your blog’s conversion rate? Ask them below. I’ll try to answer every question.

  • Josh Frank

    Devesh… you mean a/b testing the color of my submit button isn’t going to 10x my conversions?!

    Love this post because it points out techniques that work because they are based on real principles like focus and value. 1. If you make an email sign up the focused goal of the page conversions go up. (Home page gate) 2. If you provide value (especially uniquely relevant value) conversions go up. (Post specific bonus).

    • Ah the button color. Haha. I swear about 50% of the time I say AB testing someone brings up button color. Sigh. Maybe if you have cnn.com traffic it makes a difference. 🙂

  • Devesh- Another benefit of checklist Content Upgrades- if you’re writing about tips techniques you use in your business, the checklists can be implemented in your own business to train staff and outsourceres in your business processes. I like using Process Street to document processes in my business, create the basic content upgrade,then use Google Docs to dress up and publish the content upgrade.

    • Walt, that’s a great idea…to have the internal checklist plus content upgrade be basically the same thing. Genius actually. Do you have a case study of doing that? If so feel free to send me an email, we could look into publishing a post about it here!

      • Devesh- got the idea working on a project with one of my clients. Unfortunately, his business is not marketing. I’m working on it in my business. I’ll shoot you an email with some ideas for a post- thanks!

  • stefan modlin

    Great Article. post . I loved the info ! Does someone know if my business could possibly obtain a blank Nestle Mini Nutritional Assessment form to fill out ?

  • Lorenzo Due

    My colleagues were looking for SC DoR SC1040 yesterday and discovered an excellent service with an online forms library . If people are searching for SC DoR SC1040 too , here’s http://goo.gl/BqyxB8

  • Gaman

    Not sure when this article was posted by it is very timely for me. I want to improve my opt-in at https://www.sabahan.com and was thinking of placing them on the sidebar and at the end of the post. I knew there’s a better location for it. This post gave me some idea. Thanks!