Yes, Popups Suck. Here’s Why I Won’t Be Taking Mine Down Anytime Soon

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately:

A rash of “marketing professionals” who take down all the optin forms and popups from their website, then write crowing, self-congratulatory blog posts that get picked up and shared all over the place.

These marketers become instant folk heroes in some circles.

They’re lauded for taking the high road, standing up against the “dark side” of marketing.

Make your content free and it will spread to the four corners of the Internet.

Now they’re totally within their rights to do this.

I strongly support the right of every business to make stupid decisions, throw away their profitability, work longer and longer hours just to make ends meet, and generally commit marketing malpractice.

But to these marketers, I have just one question:

Do You Believe In Your Business?

If you believe that what you’re doing in your business really makes the world a better place…

If you have confidence and pride and know that your customers are better off with you in their lives…

Then it shouldn’t make you sick to ask your visitors for their email address.

That’s why I will not be taking down my popups anytime soon.

Because as obnoxious as popups are, they are still the king of converting casual website visitors into email subscribers.

And here’s a news flash for you popup haters:

If You Think Asking For An Email Address And “Giving Value” Are Mutually Exclusive, You’re Doing It Wrong!

I want every single person who visits any of my websites to sign up for my email list.

That’s where I’m able to give the most value, build relationships and even change lives at times.

Maybe that sounds grandiose or pretentious—I don’t care.

I believe that writing about email marketing and copywriting here on this site HELPS people.

Wanna know why?

Because every week I get people saying things like this:

Honestly I can’t remember how I ended up on your email list, but I really am glad that I did. Thank you for all the great examples and advice.


You’ve been instrumental in opening my eyes to how much goes into mastering the art of copywriting…


I honestly love your emails. Yours and Ben Settle’s are the only email I actually get excited to read. I look forward to reading them everyday!

(BTW, I’ve just launched a new email series that shows how to generate a reliable stream of sales and income with fun, informative email courses. The feedback I’m getting is excellent—you should totally go here and subscribe now.)

It’s the same way at Simple Programmer, where my business partner John and I get dozens of emails like this every month:

Just got a new job, and my pay instantly doubled! I am ecstatic to have begun my official career for such a great company. I probably haven’t emphasized it enough, but it really has been due in large part to John. When everyone else was telling me to be thankful just to have a job, and that I couldn’t do any better anyway; John has been the voice of reason saying that I can do better, and that I don’t have to settle.


I was completely broke, disappointed in my professional life, unemployed… I was an obese programmer with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a love for food. I partied harder and harder and my life started to crumble around me.

John gave me hope. I was impressed, another guy who obviously knew about programming and who obviously was also into fitness!

So I started to check out the site thinking that he would help me improve mostly on the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

What I instead found was a call—the call to take ownership of your life and realize that we have to own everything we do and everything that happens to us…


Some time ago, when I had a miserable job (though being the CTO), and I got some good advice from you. Now I have a new position I’m excited about…


Before find out about the Simple Programmer blogging course, my website was a tiny blog with no real traffic or direction. I didn’t know what it could be or how to grow it. When I first started the course, while was building a list of blog post ideas, I started to feel like I finally knew what I was doing, and my motivation skyrocketed. The tips worked too! Over just a couple months, I went from getting five random visitors a day to over 100 daily unique visitors and occasionally a couple thousand a day. My email list has taken off, I’ve launched a product that’s selling great, and I’ve never been so excited.

It’s because I believe in the value I give that I make no bones about it:

The main purpose of my website is to get YOU onto my email list—because…

The Internet Is A HUGE Place, Full Of Distractions

And if I don’t grab your attention in the next 10-20 seconds, there’s a 90% chance I’ll never see you again.

To me, taking down your optin forms and popups is like saying:

“I don’t invite people into my home—I like to keep them waiting on the porch so I can build a relationship with them first.”

Now let’s get one thing straight:

Popups DO Suck!

Personally I hate them, and I’m always looking for less obnoxious ways to bring people into my email list.

Right now one of my major goals at Simple Programmer is to make our optin forms less annoying and intrusive.

I’m testing different types of forms. I’m experimenting with delays and scroll depth triggers and only triggering the popup when visitors start to leave the site.

But you know what?

A simple popup… One that displays as soon as the page loads, that clearly states an offer, that asks the visitor to enter their email address… That popup SLAUGHTERS every other option.

It’s not even close.

I tested a “welcome mat” that didn’t force the visitor to click an X to dismiss it.

The simple popup walks all over that to the tune of 200-300%.

I tested waiting to show the popup until the reader had decided to leave the site, and that REALLY tanked the optin rate.

The “exit intent” popup lost by over 500%. It was a bloodbath.

I have a test running now to see what happens if I wait until the reader has scrolled 30% of the way down the blog post vs. showing the popup on a 5-second delay.

Waiting longer should work better, the theory goes, because why would I want to opt in when I haven’t had a chance to see if I like your content first?

The 30% scroll depth trigger is LOSING by 297%.

I’m testing “inline” offers that embed a download link or button for a content upgrade right into the body of the blog post.

Result? These actually work well—I have one that’s converting at a healthy .

But if I make that exact same content upgrade offer in a popup that displays instantly, it converts at 4-6%.

Every test I’ve run to date shows that the sooner you ask the visitor to opt in, and the more upfront you are about what you’re offering and what action you’d like the visitor to take, the more signups you get.


Why Am I Making Such A Big Deal About This?

My burning passion with this site is to help entrepreneurs, bloggers and small business owners sort through all the garbage and misinformation that swirls around marketing.

And I HATE to see entrepreneurs work their fingers to the bone, and pour their heart and soul into their business, only to watch their life’s work wither and die because they’ve been fed bad information.

I’ve seen what having a healthy, growing email list can do for a business.

I’ve witnessed the harm that NOT having a well-kept customer list can do too.

So go ahead and take down your optin forms and your popups if you want.

That’s your choice, and I won’t stand in your way.

But don’t strut around proclaiming that it’s better for your business and better for your customers.

And keep your condescending remarks about “dark marketing” to yourself.

You do that—and I promise not to make a big fuss when you quietly put your optin forms back 3 months from now.


Tales of Murder Press - May 7, 2016

Yup…you and Ben Settle. About right for me. And I have zero interest in your email course program. Don’t need ’em for my market; not a fit to my customer & my site. But worth reading your stuff anyway. And business is about what works, not assuming any assumption is correct and testing everything. It ain’t about following the crowd just because they’re the crowd. That’s a great way to fall off a cliff, lemming-style.

    Josh Earl - May 9, 2016

    “Business is about what works, not assuming any assumption is correct and testing everything. It ain’t about following the crowd just because they’re the crowd. That’s a great way to fall off a cliff, lemming-style.”

    Love this. I think I want to commission a music video called “Lemming Style.” 🙂

      Atticus - May 11, 2016

      Haha. I heard that tune in my head, too, when I wrote that. Definitely go for it!

saumil - May 7, 2016

” And I HATE to see entrepreneurs work their fingers to the bone, and pour
their heart and soul into their business, only to watch their life’s
work wither and die because they’ve been fed bad information. ”

I completely agree with this. This is bitter truth . And yes , if I have a business in which i believe it will change somebody’s life, its it my DUTY to ask for their email address so that I can contribute in their lives . It would be a dis-service to my audience if they don’t know or can’t take my help/guidance which I know I am capable of delivering .

And yes. I only read Ben Settle’s and lately your emails only daily .

    Josh Earl - May 9, 2016

    Thanks, Saumil! There’s so much crap and misinformation out there—when you have the knowledge and experience to weed through all the sewage and pull out the pearls, that’s hugely valuable to people. That’s what I try to do here as much as possible.

Kestrel Blackmore - May 7, 2016

Great post Josh.

Most of those removing popups already have massive audiences and got those audiences from popups! Oh the irony.

It’s almost like now they have their huge audiences they have become self-righteous.

Keep preaching the truth brother Josh!! 🙂

    Josh Earl - May 9, 2016

    Exactly! Once you hit a tipping point your audience grows organically. The earlier on you are, the more aggressive you have to be, unfortunately.

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