The case for testing website floaters to increase conversion rates and build your email list
When website users are asked whether they like pop-ups, they say no. They’ll say they hate them. They’ll tell you they’re the most annoying things on the Internet. They might even tell you they never fill them out.
Well, I’ll politely call them fibbers, because every A/B test I’ve ever run and researched disagrees.
But we don’t like pop-ups either. They “pop up,” can ruin the user experience, and they can be blocked by pop-up blockers. What’s the fun in all that?
Floaters, however, don’t do any of those things. And when publishers test them, along with OFIEs, text ads and other elements of website conversion architecture, they see a 20-50% lift in website conversions; in some cases, even more. For many Mequoda System clients, we find that more than 60% of those extra website conversions come through through the floater.
Before you do anything, find out your email capture rate, that is, the rate at which your website converts visitors into email subscribers:
Divide the total number of new email subscribers you acquired via your website in one month by the total number of unique visitors you received in that month. This will give you your site-wide email conversion rate.
If during a given month you have 100,000 unique visitors arrive at your website (according to Google Analytics or a comparable measurement tool) and 2,000 of these unique visitors become new email subscribers (according to your email management program or service), your ECR is 2 percent (2,000/100,000 = .02 or 2.0%).
Most websites have an email capture rate of less than 0.1%. Last year, Mequoda Gold Members averaged a 2.49% rate across both B2B and B2C markets.
Benefits of Website Floaters:
- Floaters are rapidly replacing pop-ups and pop-unders.
- Floaters are not affected by pop-up blockers.
- Floaters can be deployed contextually on a site-wide basis.
- Floaters can be configured to stop bothering frequent guests.
Although a floater looks like a separate document floating on top of a website page, it’s really just a layer in the HTML code. To the user, it looks a lot like a magazine blow-in card.
There are “paid floaters,” as in floaters that promote a paid product like the ones on Better Homes and Gardens’ BHG.com:
But we prefer ones that promote free products (freemiums) so that we can build our email list and sell them a magazine, newsletter, event or information product later on.
We especially like it when they darken the background, which Don refers to as the Death Star Floater.
If you’re thinking that this is a recurring usability nightmare, don’t worry. The codes for floaters are designed to recognize users who have subscribed and spare them from having to see the floater again.
This provides all the benefits of a pop-up’s high conversion rate without the negative effects on the users’ experience with your website.
The Rules of Effective Website Floaters
- Except for the home page, floaters must promote a contextual free product.
- Floaters must not appear to existing email subscribers who are already logged in.
- Floaters must take a hiatus from appearing after a reader has seen the floater X number of times and has not converted (also known as not annoying your readers).
- Floaters must be mobile-friendly so that they can be easily closed on a mobile device.
While printing blow-in cards and inserting them into print products is cheap, floaters, like their pop-up predecessors, are virtually cost-free. Like blow-ins and pop-ups, floaters can irritate users if over used or used to promote offers that seem out of context.
That’s why every good Mequoda System is designed to offer contextual floaters.
We use floaters primarily to build email lists by offering freemiums (like a free white paper). So in order to make our floater contextual, that means that we must have one freemium for every blog category on our website. This way, when someone reads an article about, say, “baking an apple pie,” we can promote a freemium about “10 30-Minute Baking Recipes” or “7 Best Pie Recipes.”
As anyone who reads their analytics knows, most users don’t enter their website via the homepage. By design, most users enter through content pages one or more levels down from the homepage. This makes floaters ideal for site-wide use to entice users to download a freemium and build email circulation.
How Online Publishers Use Floaters
There was a very long period when the social media folks – the anarchists of the online marketing industry – refused to use floaters. They relied on their intuition instead of testing. They shamed companies for annoying people with marketing. “Just talk to them,” they said. “Write good content,” they said. Then the social media folks started actually testing.
The fact is, you can’t talk to everyone who visits your website. However, if you can get them on your email list, you’ll have a chance to talk to them later.
Several years ago, I read an interesting case study by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger who added a floater to his site Digital Photography School. He admitted that it took him so long because he was afraid his users would hate him for it. The social media peeps would judge him! “My fear was that they’d annoy readers, page views per visit would drop and that I’d end up with a lot of angry emails from readers,” said Rowse at the time.
But he went for it anyway. Instead of getting an inbox full of angry emails (he only got two), he went from harvesting 41 new email subscribers per day, to 350 new email subscribers per day — more than 127,000 new email subscribers per year. At the time, I had calculated that he was getting an 18% conversion rate on that floater, circa 2008.
Five years later and he’s still using floaters, but they’ve gotten quite the upgrade, along with his very successful website. Certainly this blogger has changed his mind about them!
Speaker and savvy marketer Chris Penn is another smart marketer who tried them out and saw a 733% increase in email subscribers. Smart marketers test, test, test.
All of our Mequoda Systems go live with floaters right off the bat, and the floaters are responsible for the majority of their email conversions.
Don once told me that people who continually close a floater and don’t subscribe aren’t our target customers — that if they don’t require our information on a daily basis to do their jobs or to improve their lives, then they’re also highly unlikely to buy a product or attend an event of ours.
So, who would we rather please? Our potential customers who we can make happy by writing useful content every day — or our non-customers? We don’t worry about the people who might not subscribe and instead spend our efforts making sure that we’re making new subscribers happy by publishing valuable freemiums that align with the content that’s being read, and by sending email newsletters packed with original, helpful content that always gives a take-away.
If you didn’t absorb today’s take-away yet, it’s this: Test floaters!
This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.