You want a high-converting website, don’t you?
You want to maximize how many visitors turn into subscribers, and then go on to become customers.
But now I’m going to look into my Crystal Ball and make a prediction:
“You want perfect high-converting opt in forms right off the bat, don’t you?”
Unfortunately, perfection is a moving target.
As a conversion-focused company, it should come as no surprise to you that we are running AB tests every day and that we seek inspiration in the split tests other marketers have shared online too.
So in this article, we’re going to let you peek over our shoulder at our favourite split test results and show you what it takes to maximize your website’s conversions.
Q: What's a Split Test?
A: Also known as an A/B test, this is when you divide your website’s traffic between two or more variations of an advert, sales page, headline… or anything, so you can track which one gets better results! Once you know the winner, send all the traffic to that one and enjoy your higher conversion rate!
1. Single Step vs Multi-Step Opt in Forms: +46% Conversion Boost
A classic opt-in form requests an email address and perhaps a name or some other information up front.
But there’s a simple variation on this form type that can yield a boost in conversions. It’s known as a Multi-Step opt-in form. Hiding the form fields on the front end and then revealing them on click can result an increase in conversions.
Here’s an example of a 2-Step form:
When the website OnCarrot.com AB tested a single-step form vs a 2-step opt-in form, they saw a 46% increase in their conversions in the Real Estate niche.
Would you like your mailing list to grow 46% faster? Then perhaps you need to test a 2-step opt-in too.
Do multi-step forms always yield in better results? No, of course not.
Every opt-in form is influenced by the context in which it shows, the form copy, images, etc... and of course, your niche. But if you’re using a tool that can run a split test with a few clicks, just like Thrive Leads, then the solution is: test it for yourself.
Why It Works:
The reason 2-step opt-in forms can convert so well is because of something called ‘Micro Commitments’. Users are more likely to go through with an action after they start.
Asking them to simply click a button is a very, very small commitment. But once they’ve taken that step, that’s when you ask for their email address, a step they are now more inclined to go through with.
But never trust anyone else’s opinions. Only trust the data! Run your own tests.
2. Content Upgrades: +785% Conversion Increase
Years ago, Brian Dean from Backlinko tried a type of opt in form called a ‘Content Upgrade’ and saw an enormous boost in conversions. He reports that it took him only one day to implement the change, and he applied it to only two links on his website.
The result? He saw a 785% increase in conversions! He even goes on to say that despite having 54 opt-in forms on his blog, those 2 content upgrades account for 30% of all of his subscribers.
Here is a content upgrade in action:
Pssst… This is a real form, so click the link and see what happens!
A content upgrade is placed inside a blog post or featured article and it offers the visitor a way to get more of what they are already reading about. Hence the name: upgrade.
It uses the 2-step opt-in process mentioned above as well. The only downside is that using a content upgrade means creating new downloadable content that aligns with a specific blog post.
So it can be time consuming. For this reason, we recommend content upgrades only be offered on high-traffic pages and your most-read blog posts. (Or, if you’re clever, you might find a way to let multiple pages or posts benefit from the one content upgrade.)
Thrive Leads already contains 8 different Content Upgrade templates, all fully editable, that you can display on your chosen website pages or posts with just a few clicks.
The 8 Content Upgrade templates already in Thrive Leads
Upon click, each content upgrade template will load an opt-in form lightbox, just like this:
Why It Works:
Optimization is all about aligning with your visitors problems. If a visitor arrives at a page about email marketing strategy and you show an opt in form for a fitness plan, then it’s a frustrating intrusion. But if the lead magnet is an email marketing blueprint, then it’s no longer an intrusion: it’s a valuable upgrade.
Another reason it works so well is because visitors are often reluctant to hand over their email address until they’ve received value first. How do they know the upgrade is going to be worth giving their email address? If the publicly accessible content is high value, visitors are more inclined to trust that the upgrade is worthwhile.
A Mistake To Avoid:
The problem with content upgrades is that visitors on your site who are already on your mailing list may also want the upgrade. So, they’ll opt in to get it. The result? Your forms report a higher number of subscribers than you are actually getting on your mailing list.
The answer is to use SmartLinks. A SmartLink is a URL that you can send to your loyal mailing list subscribers that will show different opt in forms on your website. By using SmartLinks, subscribers on your mailing list can download your bonuses directly without needing to submit their email address again, while your new visitors still need to opt in first.
3. SmartExit: +112% Conversions
From our tests, we saw that Exit Intent forms converted terribly. Really, they do.
If you’re not familiar, an exit intent popup will track a visitor's cursor and sense when they are going to close the window. Right when it knows they have the intention to leave, the popup appears.
Here’s an example:
For a while there, they were all the rage, with people claiming that Exit Intent forms were the solution to annoying interruptions on your website.
But we don’t trust hearsay, and prefer to let the numbers speak for themselves. So we ran a split test to see how Exit Intent forms compare to forms loading earlier. These were our results:
The verdict? Nearly half as many conversions.
That said, there are times when an Exit Intent form is a good choice. When? A landing page or sales page.
Think about it… if someone visits your sales page, you don’t want to thrust a new offer in their face and distract them from buying. You’ve worked to get that traffic there, so leave them to soak up your sales page.
But, if they go to leave? Well, that’s when you want to catch them on their way out with an Exit Intent offer.
We wanted to see how we could improve Exit Intent forms and we came up with SmartExit+, a feature inside of Thrive Leads that definitely got more conversions on our site than regular Exit Intent forms did. Just look at these results:
So, what is SmartExit?
Well, an exit-intent form will show when we detect the visitor’s cursor is being moved to close the tab or window.
But on mobile, there is no cursor.
So SmartExit will detect if a visitor is viewing from desktop or mobile and change the trigger to match.
If they are viewing on desktop? It will wait for an exit intent cursor movement before it triggers. But if they are viewing on mobile? Then it will display the same lightbox after a timed delay instead, since it's pointless to wait for a cursor that isn't there.
That means the same form will trigger under different circumstances for mobile or desktop.
But we took it further with SmartExit+, which means you can set any time-delayed lightbox to also trigger on exit intent if a visitor goes to leave before that time delay has passed.
Will these options work better for you? There are never any guarantees, but this adds a new variation worth a test.
Why It Works:
Mobile usage has been continually increasing so it’s important to optimize for the your mobile visitors too.
SmartExit combines the best of both worlds, making sure that you still reach visitors who are leaving your sales pages even if they’re viewing on mobile or tablet. And the stats that we have seen show that it’s worthwhile!
4. On Page Load vs After a Time Delay: +236% Increase.
I’m sure you’ve heard people curse the pop-up opt-in form on a website. Because they’re… so... annoying... right?
We see it differently. Lightbox or pop up forms can be annoying if they are made by lazy marketer who thrusts unwanted offers into the face of website visitors. But if those same forms offer something that is tightly aligned with content that the visitor wants and employs well written, intriguing copywriting in the form… then the lightbox is one of the highest converting forms you will likely use on your site.
But we wanted to put that theory to the test. So, we ran a split test on opt-in form timing.
We tested the effect on conversion rates when a specific lightbox triggered on page load, after 10 seconds, after the visitor scrolls 80% of the page length, and then on exit intent.
Here are the results:
The results are definitive. We saw a 5.42% conversion rate, the highest of all, when the form loaded immediately.
That means we saw a 236% increase to conversions… without even changing the form. All we did was change when it loads. If you have a lightbox that loads after a time delay, run a split test on your forms and see if your conversions increase when it triggers earlier.
Why It Works:
When a visitor first arrives at your website, they are somewhat open minded. Sure, there’s a reason they clicked a link to get there, but as your page begins to load they start to visually discover your site and become accustomed to what is there.
Loading a lightbox on page loads means visitors are seeing it during their discovery phase. But if they’ve started to read your content or scroll down the page, then they are no longer in the discovery phase, they are now consuming content. Interrupting them at that moment is more frustrating than interrupting on arrival.
Don’t be annoying: Be charming!
There is a skillful way to use lightbox popups on your site that won’t annoy your visitors. If this is your concern, we have a detailed article that shows you how to create perfect popup opt-in offers that have eloquence and class, sure to please your visitors.
5. Multiple Choice: +212% Mailing List Growth.
In yet another test that we ran some years ago, we took the idea of the multi-step opt in form even further by creating what we called a Multiple-Choice opt-in form in Thrive Leads. As always, we ran an A/B test to see if it created an improvement.
Here’s how the form works:
The first state of the opt in form poses a question to the visitor, with 3 options to choose from. This is still a multi-step because we are not asking for an email address upfront, but it’s also a multiple-choice, since the user can only click on one option. It looks like this:
When the visitor clicks any of the 3 options, the form will switch to the corresponding state, where they are then shown an opt-in form that offers them something specific to what they selected.
This allows visitors to self-segment where they will be shown something in alignment with their interests. For example, if they click the first option that answers with ‘Creating My Landing Pages’, then this is what they will then see:
So, what differences does it make?
We bumped our conversion rate from 5.5% up to 11.7%. That means we were able to generate more than twice as many subscribers from a form that was already doing well! (5.5% ain’t too bad to begin with!)
But we aren’t the only ones that reported multiple choice opt-in forms being so successful.
The website nichepursuits.com tested this same type of form with Thrive Leads on their website and they saw an increase of 246% on their daily email subscribers! Just look at their results!
Why Does It Work?
We’ve seen that micro commitments on 2-Step forms are effective… but only if your visitors want what you are offering. Multiple Choice takes that a whole step further by making sure that their micro commitment (a click) results in something they actually want.
This also aligns with the trend towards interactive content, which we’ll dive into further in another upcoming test.
6. 2-Step vs Multiple Choice: Non-Conclusive!
Sometimes split tests reveal that some changes don’t make a difference. But you never know until you test.
Some time after we discovered the Multiple Choice form above was successful (and it got a design upgrade), we tried testing it against a 2-Step form for Thrive University.
Both of these are essentially for the same offer. The multiple choice will direct visitors to a specific course in Thrive University, but they still get access to all the other free courses too. The 2-Step form doesn’t direct them to any specific course, but rather shows visitors the variety of courses available.
Have a look at the results:
Almost no difference. But this doesn’t mean the test wasn’t worthwhile! We learned that showing one great offer can be just as appealing as showing smaller specific offers. And that’s a lesson we can weave into any future marketing.
Why It Made No Difference:
In this case, Thrive University is a pretty strong offer already. The 2-Step form might not show an offer that is specific to what the visitor chose, but access to a library of 35+ courses is already attractive.
This is a test that could very easily have gone either way, depending on what you are offering. So don't ever assume our results are what you will see too!
7. Welcome Ribbon: 15 minutes = 196 New Subscribers
Another way to approach Conversion Rate Optimization is to consider the time it takes to make improvements. If you could increase your conversion rate with either 15 minutes of work or a month of work, which would you prefer?
15 minutes, of course!
Well, this is exactly what Raelyn Tan discovered with her website. She added a 2-step ribbon opt-in form to her website and got 196 new subscribers from only doing 15 minutes of work.
So how does a Ribbon opt-in form work?
Essentially, it’s a very thin 2-step optin form that stretches to the screen width, usually made with a contrasting color to the rest of the site, and it remains stuck to the top of the screen on scroll. Upon click, a larger form pops up appears asking for an email address.
Originally, Raelyn was trying to use ‘Hello Bar’, a now aging plugin. But as she learned:
“Unfortunately, Hello Bar didn’t quite work out for me… After a few minutes, I realized that Hello Bar’s free plan has quite a lot of restrictions. Particularly, there’s a huge “H” at the left side of each Hello Bar – this will direct people away from my site to the Hello Bar website.”
Making ribbon opt-ins like this is very easy with Thrive Leads, by selecting any of our sticky top-ribbon templates, like this one:
To get an effect similar to Raelyn's, you can adjust the font sizes and the ribbon width until it’s a very thin strip that looks like this:
Now when a visitor clicks the button, the linked popup will open up on their screen:
15 minutes of work for a whole new opt-in form that you can display on your website and grow your mailing list even quicker? That is time well spent.
Why It Works:
A sticky ribbon form stays visible on scroll. This means that no matter where the visitor scrolls to on the page, the button is always accessible and waiting for their click. One of the barriers to conversion is difficulty, and a ribbon like this is super easy to get to.
Some ribbons will include the opt-in email and name fields right there, but these can quickly get cluttered. By using a 2-step opt-in, you can reduce the amount of screen real estate taken by the form whilst asking for more information the moment they make their micro commitment.
8. Screen Filler vs Lightbox: +80% Conversion Boost
What converts better: a Screen Filler or a Lightbox pop up?
This was one of our more interesting A/B split tests, where we really didn’t know what to expect.
We’ve already mentioned that a well made popup opt-in form can get a high rate of conversions, specifically when they are set to page load.
But we wanted to test those results against the similar Screen Filler opt-in instead.
What is a screen filler? Well, have you noticed how a lightbox pop-up is a box with the background of the website greyed out behind it?
A Screen filler instead does what the name says: it fills your entire screen! That means no greyed out parts behind it. We were skeptical that this would return more results, since we figured that it was even more intrusive. But boy were we wrong! Have a look at the results:
It wasn't even close.
We managed to improve our conversions on this specific optin offer from 2.98% up to 5.37% just by making it a screen filler lightbox! That represents a conversion rate increase of 180%
Why It Works:
Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason why one form converts more than another. But there is a user experience difference which might be causing this result.
When a visitor clicks outside of a popup form on the greyed-out background, the pop up will close. But on a screen filler, they must click the ‘x’ in the top right corner of the form. Clicking vacant space won’t do anything else.
Perhaps the knee-jerk reaction to close a pop-up is slowed on a screen filler when they have to find that ‘x’, and that extra half second might be all it takes for the visitor to actually consider the opt-in form offer. Who knows why, but always let the test results speak for themselves.
9. Use Quizzes: Up to +1900% mailing list growth
We saw a lot of value in testing 2-step forms against 1-step, and then putting the winner up against multiple choice forms.
The discoveries here highlight an important point: interactivity can increase conversions.
So what is the ultimate version of interactivity you can think of?
Quizzes are considered one of the greatest mailing list hacks ever.
Why? Well, not only do they convert at a very high rate, but visitors often share quiz results on social media! So a well built Quiz platform, like Thrive Quiz Builder, will generate leads for your mailing list whilst promoting easy social shares that link back to the top of the Quiz funnel.
From just a small advertising spend, your quiz can spread around the world like a viral outbreak!
Don’t believe me?
- Neil Patel saw a 500% increase in lead growth after he implemented quizzes on his website.
- Dr. KellyAnn collected 40,145 health leads in 5 months from Facebook, using Quizzes, at a cost of $0.38 per lead. If you’re not running paid facebook traffic, let me tell you this: 38c per lead is extraordinarily cheap.
- According to BuzzSumo, the average quiz is shared 1900 times online! How’s that for going viral? And they get 33.6% average conversion rates, too. That means 1 in 3 who start a quiz will join your list… and that’s just an average!
- Word on the street is that Kayla Hollatz brand-voice quiz gets an average 55.8% conversion rate.
- And Conversion XL reported an increase of 1900% list growth by adding quizzes to a client’s website!
Get the picture?
I know these numbers are overwhelming, but the point is this: if you want just one type of opt-in form that can really move the needle for your business, then you’ve got to at least try a quiz.
We created Thrive Quiz Builder with conversions in mind, to make it super easy for you to get interactive content on your website.
Check it out! If you don't have a Thrive University account yet, you can get one for free right here.
Why It Works:
A well made quiz is addictive. Visitors won’t know what result they get unless they go through with the quiz, and mystery is half of the recipe to getting attention. A high converting quiz also asks for an email address after the visitor has answered questions but before they get their result, known as an opt-in gate. If they’ve committed to a number of clicks so far, they’ll hand over their email address in exchange for their result.
But more than that, social shares are a sign of status. The higher score someone gets, the greater their likelihood of sharing on social media. So what does that tell you? People only want to share what makes them look good. Quizzes can leverage all of this and more.
10. Using Numbers in Headlines: +31% Increase in Conversions
This is a copywriting trick that has been repeatedly tested and has shown worthwhile results: the use of numbers amidst text.
When web developer Paul Barrs tested different ways to improve conversion rates on pop up forms, he turned to one of the smartest tests that we recommend everyone starts with:
After a series of tests with 6 different headlines, the two winning variations contained numbers. (There was another that also used numbers but it wasn’t as convincing an offer)
Here were the 6 headlines:
- 1"Sign Up for the Shoemoney Newsletter"
- 2"Limited Offer: Get the 7 simple tricks I used to become an internet millionaire" +29% Conversion Increase
- 3"Get my 13 money-making secrets guide - it's FREE during reader appreciation" +31% Conversion Increase
- 4"Get the skills to pay the bills before it's too late"
- 5"FREE downloads, pdfs, and other insider information only available for a limited time!"
- 6"Download my 7 top business strategies guide - full of tips, tricks and secret hacks - to maximize your profits"
The two headlines in green got the most conversions, with +29% and +31% respectively
When other conversion boosters in this article boast more than a doubling of conversion rates, 31% increase might not seem like much. But when you can get that boost literally by changing one sentence… then it’s a worthwhile use of your time.
If you are new to AB testing, Headline tests are one of the easiest ways to dip your toe in the water and can generate substantial results.
Why It Works:
When a visitor scans a webpage, they are looking for anything to grab their attention that will communicate the gist of what they are reading. This means good copywriting will add extra emphasis on some elements over others.
Amidst a wall of text, numbers consistently grab attention. We know at a quick glance that numbers mean something, and need to be interpreted.
So the use of numbers often poses a question to any reader. What are the numbers counting? What do they refer to? What do they ultimately mean?
11. Less Fields: +26% boost by removing fields…. Or -14%?
Marketers love data. The more the merrier! But don’t get greedy now… If you ask for too much information from your prospects, you might get nothing at all.
And this is what Neil Patel has reported:
In the past, I reduced the number of form fields at NeilPatel.com from four to three, for booking a consultation with me. This boosted my conversion rate by 26%."
The less hoops your visitors jump through, the more likely they are to convert.
But, before you get too excited… there are exceptions, too.
In this study by ConversionXL, they reduced the number of form fields and saw a 14% decrease in conversions! Yes, they actually reported the exact opposite of what Neil Patel saw.
So, who is right?
Neither… and both. The only way to know is to actually test how your specific market reacts to your offer.
Why It Works:
The less friction in your opt-in forms, the higher your conversion rate. Generally.
What makes a difference can be the context. Most examples where more fields yield higher conversion rates are with application forms. Sometimes providing data up front can communicate greater value afterward.
Don’t forget: Quizzes require the visitor to make lots of decisions and they get high opt-in rates.
So as a general rule of thumb, if your goal is to grow your mailing list, keep your form fields to a minimum… or use a quiz.
12. Rules For Snappy Opt-Ins
Once again, copywriting is king when it comes to conversions. Identical designs in opt-in forms will perform very differently depending on the actual text that surrounds it.
But it’s difficult to make industry-wide observations on test results, since the difference is largely to do with the offer and the intended audience.
So as always, you should run your own AB tests to see what works.
But where do you even start? Well, OrbitMedia wrote an awesome post on the 3 P’s of email sign up forms to point you in the right direction. We’ll give you the lowdown right here:
- Prominence: Is your form bold, clear, attention grabbing and easily found?
- Promise: Does your form declare clearly what visitors will get, and what to expect?
- Proof: Can you use testimonials or stats to show your brand authority?
Before we even found this wonderful list of 3 P’s, we made this opt-in form which you can see puts it all together in one sequence:
In terms of prominence, large text on a screen filler definitely ticks that box.
When the user takes action and clicks through, they see:
This second state is where they see the Promise: a Free Mini-Course tied to a benefit the visitor wants.
And of course, right underneath is a testimonial about Thrive University, satisfying the need for proof. Prominence, promise and proof, all wrapped up in one multi-choice opt-in form.
Why It Works:
Opt-in forms need to grab attention; that much should be obvious. If someone visits your site and never actually noticed they could join a mailing list, then don’t expect conversions.
But visitors also won’t commit more than a fraction of a second to considering your offer before they scroll on or move away. This is why it’s so important to get their interest and promise something they want very quickly.
A little bit of proof to make the visitor more comfortable, and voila! New subscriber.
13: Screen Filler with Video vs Without: +30% Boost
After enough of our own tests, we decided that screen fillers were the way to go for our site. But, never one to settle for results, we wanted to try significantly different screen fillers against each other.
We call this a bowling ball vs paper clip test, and it’s a type of test that doesn’t require a lot of traffic.
So we decided to test a screen filler that features a Video, with one that is just text.
Form with video (blue), vs form without (green)
You’ll see there’s some design and copy differences, but at the heart of the test, we wanted to see if a new opt-in form with a free video accessible right there could increase conversions.
It did. Have a look:
The green screen filler with no video converted at 10.3%, which is quite high for an opt-in form. But the video variation increased conversions by 30%, to a total of 13.3%
Why It Works:
The average person doesn’t really want to give out their email address, not for anything. Unless you can provide value first, in which case visitors might be more than willing to opt-in.
Video marketing is a great way to provide huge value from a small amount of screen real estate. A visitor can watch the entire video, or just a portion, and skip ahead as they feel. But if they choose to watch the video, they will be given enough value to make that opt-in offer very tempting.
The Path To Conversion Rate Optimization
So, when you look at all these extraordinary conversion tips, what do you make of them?
Some are easy to implement, others a little harder. But the best approach to increase your conversions website wide is to make gradual improvements and run tests.
As you've seen, many of our tests were for small improvements on forms that were already doing ok.
What you should try to avoid is making a new form without testing it against something else. You might be convinced that a prettier form will mean more conversions... but what if it doesn't?
The path to a high-converting website is earned gradually over a series of tests.
Over To You:
Which of these conversion boosting split tests did you find the most insightful?
If you’ve run any AB tests that have yielded interesting results, please leave a comment below to let us know! Always Be Testing.
Now go forth and improve your own websites!