A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Opt-in Form Type

Jay   60

Updated on March 2, 2022

Do you remember that feeling when you were 8 years old, ogling at the flavours at an ice cream stand, unable to choose because they all looked equally good?

You could've stood there for hours, weighing the pros and cons between pistachio and mango.

Then, in the end, your mom made you choose chocolate, just to get it over with.

You were frozen by decision paralysis, which is caused by the huge mental strain trying to choose between a variety of equally good options.

This is what happens to some of us when choosing an opt-in form type.


A superb list building plugin like Thrive Leads is armed with an array of endlessly customizable opt-in form types.

... and to the untrained eye, they all look equally good.

Then you choose the lightbox because it's a safe and popular choice. Just to get it over with.

But what if you had a guidebook that told you exactly what flavour of ice cream to get? You'd be in and out in no time.

Disclaimer: A guidebook for choosing ice cream doesn't really exist. That would be silly.

But rest assured - a guidebook for choosing a suitable opt-in form type exists, and you're reading it. Soon you'll be making that choice in seconds!

Step 1: What Are Your Goals?

In this first step, you'll need to ask yourself a few questions to find out what you're actually trying to achieve with your opt-in form.

1. What am I trying to accomplish?

What is your goal with this opt-in form? It might sound like a simple question, but the answer isn't always immediately obvious.

Here are some common goals you could have with an opt-in form:

  • Collecting leads
  • Promoting your opt-in offer
  • Promoting a product
  • Collecting social media likes and followers

Every opt-in form should have one specific goal. What is yours?

2. How annoying do I need to be?

Opt-in form types are designed with different levels of distraction. Yes, some of them are annoying by design! There's a simple reason for this: more annoying equals more attention.

Is your offer something time-sensitive? Do you need your visitor's attention immediately? Did your visitor just arrive on your site? Your form needs to be ANNOYING.

Not all offers need urgent attention NOW. Evergreen offers can sit on the sidelines, letting a visitor delve into the content without distractions. That's why some forms are built for a subtle, smooth entrance.

Smooth Operator

  • Older opt-in offers
  • Content related offers
  • Narrowly targeted offers (meant for a specific reader)
  • Lead generation as a secondary objective
  • Collect social media followers

As Annoying As Possible

  • New opt-in offers
  • Seasonal coupons
  • Lead generation as primary objective
  • Something exciting and topical
  • A time-sensitive, soon to expire-offer

3. Who do I want to target with my form?

Obviously you're targeting your VISITOR, right? But hold on.

Visitors come in different shapes and sizes. Some are new to your website and some have been subscribers for ages, which means they will react differently to offers and forms.

A newcomer doesn't know how awesome you are yet, so aggressive attention seeking (read: annoyance) is key. They usually land on your front page or a popular blog post, which is why those pages often throw the most annoying opt-in forms at you.

A subscriber or regular visitor is already interested in your content. They're the people who go through all of your articles and read all your emails. A more subtle nudge with a more targeted offer is good for this visitor.

So when you're building a form, ask yourself:

  • Has my visitor to this page been on my site before?
  • Is my visitor a subscriber?
  • How well does my visitor know my content?

Step 2: Which Opt-in Form Type is For You?

Now you have three criteria to help determine which opt-in form type you need.

Next we'll take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the most common opt-in form types. Once you gain some experience in using different form types, there's no limit to their application.

Right now though, we need to establish a foundation - a baseline from where to begin.

Ribbon-type Form

For subtle lead generation and offers you don't want disturbing your reader

  • Good for narrowly targeted offers for subscribers and engaged visitors
  • Does not interrupt article reading!
  • New visitors will ignore it
  • Not good for primary front page lead generation




Allrounder for front page lead generation and offers that absolutely must be seen

  • Suited for front page lead generation
  • Show to new visitors and low-engagement visitors
  • Potentially highly annoying! Use for offers needing instant action.
  • Note: it will distract your readers and direct their attention away from the piece of content it's placed on.



Screen Filler Lightbox/Overlay

The unignorable opt-in form, when you absolutely need to show something to EVERYONE

  • Extreme version of the Lightbox
  • Good for huge promotions and event requiring instant action
  • Good for time sensitive, important messages that everyone needs to see
  • It's great for grabbing a new visitor and showing them your most important offer, but if visitors see these everywhere on your site, it can lose it's effectiveness.


Record Scratch

Widget Bar Opt-in Form

Passive back-up lead generation and offers in the widget area

  • Static form, does not interrupt article reading
  • Good for evergreen offers that don't require much explaining
  • Subtle and passive, but clearly available to anyone who looks for it
  • Not good for primary front page lead generation
  • Conversion rates tend to be very low, but it's a good backup for people who come to your site trying to get on your mailing list



In-line and Post Footer

Lead generation, content upgrades and content related offers that don't interrupt reading flow

  • Good for re-engaging visitors who are losing their interest
  • Good for content upgrades
  • Present an offer without interrupting reader's flow
  • Lead generation for segmented lists based on interests
  • Must relate to content
  • Not good for primary front page lead generation



Slide-in Type

Good allrounder for every non-frontpage opt-in offer and lead generation

  • Less intrusive than lightbox, but almost equally attention grabbing
  • Good for content related offers
  • Present an offer without interrupting reader's flow
  • For best results, trigger to show halfway into the page
  • Not good for primary front page lead generation



Scroll Mat Type

The welcome overlay for showing off your best lead generation offer BEFORE your visitor sees your site

  • Essentially just an overlay (like the lightbox), so no harmful effects on Google search indexing!
  • Good for welcomes, lead generation, product offers, social media promotion and things you want to show visitors before they browse your site
  • As big and attention grabbing as a screen filler, but often perceived as being less intrusive
  • Use sparingly on pages other than frontpage
  • Logically functions as a coverpage for your site, and works best as a welcome


Record Scratch

Quick index

Form Type


Interrupts browsing / reading

Best placement





Content page





Front page


Screen Filler

Record scratch


Front page


Widget Bar



Any page


In-line / Footer



Content page

Content related




Any page

Topical or content related


Record scratch


Front page

Urgent, topical

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Step 3: Test and Revise

In ice cream flavours, opt-in forms and conversion optimization, there are no written rules. Sure, this article gives you an excellent foundation to build on, but at the end of the day, no situation is exactly the same.

That's why the last and most important step is testing. We need to see how actual real live human beings react to your opt-in form choice. If you think testing sounds intimidating, don't worry. It's actually quite a simple thing to do, and Thrive Leads makes it even easier!

Using what you've learned in steps 1 and 2, you probably have a good idea of which opt-in form types might work for your situation. So here's what you do:

  1. Create the opt-in form and choose where on your website you want it shown. Remember when you defined your visitor in Step 1? This is where you need that information.
  2. Choose and create an opt-in form you would like to test against your first opt-in form. Use another form type for this one!
  3. Start a test between two form types.

Note: this test becomes available in Thrive Leads as soon as you have at least two different kinds of forms created inside a lead group.

Then we wait. Go make a sandwich or have some ice cream, because a good A/B test only works with sufficient data.

After your forms have a few hundred impressions each, you start to have some idea of the results. Ideally there will be a huge difference in conversions, and you can easily choose a winner.

Whichever form type wins the A/B test is the opt-in form type you should choose for your application.

Testing might sound arduous at first, but it's really the only way to be sure how theory relates to practice.

A/B Testing tips

When you have a really popular page that constantly gets a lot of traffic, but your opt-in forms aren't performing as well as they should, it's also a good time for some tests. it's also worth testing different designs and different sales copy against each other. But remember to first test huge differences and only then move into small details!

Become the Quickest Draw at the Ice Cream Stand

Using the guidelines above, you no longer need to choose one specific opt-in form type just because it's an easy safe alternative.

Even if chocolate ice cream is always your favourite, you now have the power to be brave with your opt-in forms. Try out a new form type. Start a test today. 

And if you REALLY want to take your opt-in forms to the next level. Click the button below to sign up for our free course to learn how to use the power of multiple choice opt-in forms on your website.

Steal Our List-Building Hack [100% Free Course]

by Jay  January 29, 2016


Disclosure: Our content is reader-supported. This means if you click on some of our links, then we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that we believe will add value to our readers.

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Leave a Comment

  • What a great post Jay..i love the product & features. You guys are delivering absolute value, far better than any other product in the market.

    Keep it up guys.

  • Excellent article Jay! This is a great guide with some awesome tips for each opt-in type. Thrive Leads testing is the “banana split” of the ice cream world. πŸ˜‰

  • Great article Shane! Would be good to have an opt-in form at the end to receive it as a PDF to read offline. Just a thought and I (and I’m sure many others) would certainly use it as a reference guide:)

  • Thanks for this article! It answered one of my primary questions when I first started using Thrive Leads… (What type of opt-in do I use?) I must say, I struggle with the idea of creating annoying opt-ins. I have never taken the wanted action on the very annoying ones. But that’s just me… maybe other people are different. A test could probably tell me the story.

    • Hi John!

      Yeah it’s a simple question with a not so simple answer. You’re not the only one struggling with the more advanced forms, I can tell you. I hope our articles make it less of a struggle and more of a fun challenge!


    • John, I put off using the annoying opt-ins for a long time. Then I finally broke down and started using a popup. Wow! What a huge difference. I was suddenly getting four times more subscribers. Mind you, I designed my popups to only show once a month for non-subscribers, and not at all for my subscribers. So, I don’t really feel they are too annoying. (I really hate sites that show a popup for every single page you go to!) But Jay is right – testing is the best way to go. Have fun!

      • That’s great to hear, Debra! It does make a huge difference, even if you are careful about the impression rate. Remember that the opt-in form is only annoying if it doesn’t serve the visitor. In other words – if the visitor WANTS to hear more, they’ll actually be looking for a way to subscribe!


      • That’s great to hear, Debra! Glad you took the leap with some mildly annoying opt-in forms. πŸ™‚

  • Thanks for the summary explanation! It is nice to have a go-to resource for deciding which option is the better choice.

  • I have all the Thrive themes and plugins- but I want to use thrives plugin (opt-in form) for a site using a different wordpress theme- will it still work well or does it need to connect to thrive themes?

    • Thrive Leads will work perfectly with other WordPress themes. Same goes for Thrive Content Builder and Thrive Landing Pages, by the way!


  • Hi Jay, wanted to send you a PM but no idea how to do that. I have a comment but it is not about the content. I really like the design, colors, and font and fontsize of this page. Would you be so kind to tell me the font and size you have? I notice that it improves reading through the entire article, and that’s something I’d like to have as well for my coming new blog. Kind regards, Remi

    • Hey Remi!

      Sorry about the late response. I wanted to be sure. So the font we use is Open Sans and the font sizes I go with are the default sizes in TCB (paragraph-19, H2-43, H3-27). Hope that helps!


  • Great article and very helpful. I felt a little lost in all the possibilities Thrive Leads contain. I will read the article again and I will change the logic of my website in next days. Thanks, Jay. πŸ™‚

    • Hey Arvin!

      I’m not sure what you mean. You click on the link and get an opt-in form pop-up, correct? Then you should receive the PDF into your inbox.


      • Jay, I think Arvin meant that when you click on the PDF reference link, it redirects to this page, not to an opt-in form pop-up.

  • The most wonderful reference guide! Thank you, Jay and TT team!
    This was so important for me to understand, I couldn’t wish for better round-up article, amazing! So, I’m rolling up my sleeves, lots to do. Exciting! πŸ˜‰
    It is such great content that you can send it to everyone who purchases the Thrive Leads plugin or membership… just a thought.
    I’m definitely saving this article as a pdf for future reference (and think many of your readers would be thankful too if you offer it as downloadable .pdf at the end; anyway, doable from the browser).

    Thank you for the great work guys!

  • With valuable posts like this one makes me doubly thankful for the Thrive team. Oh, and their software doesn’t suck either.

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