Today, I’m going to show you how I increased a news site’s email opt-in rate by 216% in 30 days.
We did this…
Without making popups re-appear every few seconds (and annoying readers)
And without having to make a unique lead magnet (content upgrade) for every post.
Instead, we used what I call the Topicbox Technique. I’ll walk you through exactly how we did it, step by step, in this case study.
How We Increased ValueWalk’s Opt-in Rate by 216% in One Month with the TopicBox Technique
Let me make this clear: ValueWalk is not a mom and pop “blog”. It’s a major financial and current events news site with millions of unique visitors per month.
They also write dozens of articles a day, not a couple posts a month.
Despite that, when we met, they were only collecting 732 email addresses per month.
So, you’re thinking: “Devesh, what an easy project, with that much traffic, just stick an exit popup in there, some opt-in forms at the bottom of articles, and you’ll be set.”
No so fast.
They already had a popup (timed instead of exit intent, but we’ve tested both), and they already had an end of post call-to-action:
All in all, the sum of all those things doubled monthly subscribers.
Doubling once is nice, but we wanted more.
Could we double it again? Or even triple it?
It’s insanely effective. We increased Jeff Bullas’s opt-in rate on 4 articles by 344% with content upgrades (he gets hundreds of thousands of monthly uniques):
But it didn’t make sense for ValueWalk.
Here’s why: there are five pages of Google results for articles published in the past 24 hours:
Are you going to make a unique content upgrade for each one, every day…
…then do it again tomorrow?
Neither was I.
That’s where the TopicBox Technique came in.
The Results: 216% More Subscribers Per Month
Before I break down the Topicbox Technique step by step, let’s look at exactly what happened to ValueWalk’s email subscribers.
First, after implementing Topicboxes, the total email subscribers per month tripled. Here’s a screenshot right out of Mailchimp:
Keep in mind this isn’t a proxy for subscribers, like some click rate on a submit button or views to a thank you page — this is actual confirmed subscribers in Mailchimp after double opt-in.
Stop and think about how far we’d come since the beginning:
700 subscribers per month…
to 3000 subscribers per month.
That’s the difference between 8,400 and 36,000 subscribers in year!
Results from Individual Popups
Before Topicbox popups, they had one sitewide popup converting at 0.27% over its lifetime:
After some A/B testing, we got it to go as high as 0.74%:
Again, that’s not bad, but after the Topicbox Technique, we had a series of targeted popups with conversion rates 10X higher than the original:
Now that we’ve seen the results….let’s get to how you can get the same results, without creating a unique opt-in bonus for each separate article or post, even if you have thousands of articles on your site like ValueWalk.
The Topicbox Technique: 3 steps
The Topicbox technique involves making a handful of popups (or lightboxes) around a few highly targeted topics on your site.
Here are the three steps:
Step 1: Find a handful of topics that cover most of your posts or articles.
Step 2: Create a bonus of each of those topics that your readers will actually want.
Step 3: Promote those bonuses with topic-specific popups, or Topicboxes that only appear for articles on that topic.
The advantage of this technique is that, unlike content upgrades, you don’t have to create a brand new bonus for every single post you publish.
When you publish 50 posts a day, that’s a huge advantage.
Even if you publish 1 post a week, it can help a LOT.
…you get the benefit of specificity that content upgrades provide (each popup box is specific to a topic), so conversion rates are much higher, without all the work of creating a new one for each post.
Now, let’s look at each of the above steps in detail.
Step 1: Find 3 – 5 Topics That Cover Most of Your Posts
Almost every single content site on the planet can group their articles into a few topics. Aim for about 3 at first (we’ll talk about adding more later).
Here are two ways to find which topics should work:
Use WordPress Categories or Tags
If you consistently use WordPress categories or tags on your posts, do this…
(Note: for a good article on WordPress tag best practices check this out form ManageWP.)
1. Go into your WordPress dashboard and check out your categories and tags lists:
2. Look at the “count” column in the category and list your big hitters.
ValueWalk for example, uses categories religiously (when you publish 50 articles a day, you gotta stay organized), so we found some great gems that way.
They also had over 90,000 tags to narrow down topics even more:
3. If you have plenty to choose from, prioritize them by the type of readers you want.
This is subtle but important.
If you have a site with a lot of content, you’ll have plenty to choose from. But some of that content will give you the best readers:
Readers that make the best subscribers.
Readers that are interested in a product you’re getting ready to launch.
For ValueWalk, although they had articles about politics that were getting a ton of traffic and engagement:
…they still wanted to focus first on their core audience: large and small investors interested in financial content. And that meant focusing on some “niche” but highly strategic tags:
If you don’t use WordPress, or don’t use categories or tags, the next best way is…
This is more manual, but will get the job done.
1. Fire up Google Analytics and go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
The results will be automatically sorted by most pageviews. This is good, don’t change that.
2. Expand your search results to show your top 50 posts.
3. Export the results to an Excel file.
4. Open up the Excel, add a column to the left of the URLs, and start writing down topics for each line.
Don’t worry about knowing what topics you should include at the beginning. Just write down what comes to mind. As you progress, patterns will start to emerge.
5. Add up how often each topic appears to find your top 3.
Put this formula in one of the latter columns on the right. Replace TOPICNAME with names of your topics.
There you have it, the top 3 to 5 topics that appear on your site. Now it’s time to create a killer bonus that your readers will actually want.
Step 2: Create a bonus for each topic that readers will actually want.
Most opt-in bonuses (or leadmagnets) are too generic.
“Get my top 35 marketing strategies!” No thanks, I’ll just read your blog for a bit and move on to watching the Bachelorette…and I wont opt in.
With Topicboxes, you get to create targeted lead magnets on specific topics, so you can avoid this “too generic” pitfall.
Here are two we created for ValueWalk.
One for articles on a particular investor:
One for articles on China:
You’ll have to experiment a bit with different lead magnets to see what works the best. For example, we thought we had a gem when we created this 20 page ebook on recent Russian politics for readers of Russia politics articles:
But it performed worse than a simple offer of a link to a page that lists all recent Russia articles that uses Putin’s face (I’ll show you this one below).
Oops. It turns out those readers didn’t want a history lesson, they wanted more short, breaking news and speculative articles. (Or “Know more than your friends” was not compelling.)
There are some good resources on the internet on the topic of making a good leadmagnet, so I’ll list two of my favorite here, but the number one lesson is: don’t assume you know what they want.
My 2 favorite lead magnet idea articles:
- Lead Magnets: Email List Building on Steroids by Peep Laja
- Lead Magnet: 11 Ways to Turn Readers into Email Subscribers by Bryan Harris
Step 3: Use Exit Popups on each topic to give away your bonuses
Next you have to create the topic-specific exit popups: the Topicboxes.
Here’s the basic popup strategy with Topicboxes: You’ll have one generic, sitewide popup that can appear on any article, combined with a handful of topicboxes that only appear for articles on specific topics.
So the basic steps are to:
1. Design your topicboxes.
Each one should have the core elements that make any popup or signup form enticing.
Pick a headline that has a clear benefit, exact phrases the readers use, and/or an attention grabbing headline. You don’t need all three, but the more the better.
Pick an image or graphic that gets attention. I’ve found that popups do seem to benefit from brighter colors and attention grabbing images. Humor works as well. For example, for Russia specific articles on ValueWalk, we started with this popup featuring Putin:
but when we simply changed it to a full bleed image with Putin giving someone the stink eye stare down…
… conversions rose by 119% (p<0.0001):
As for other text besides the headline, you have to experiment with it. I have yet to find a trend or hard and fast rule for text on popups. Instead, our work suggests that what you’re offering is a lot more important than what you’re saying about it.
2. Target your topicboxes to only show on a specific topic’s articles.
This is the final step and where the magic happens. You need your newly created topicboxes to show up on only the articles on your topic. This is the key to a scorchingly high conversion rate. If a popup on Russia shows up on an article about China, people aren’t going to opt-in as much.
There are two ways to make sure your Topicboxes only show up on given topics:
Topicbox Targeting Technique #1: WordPress Categories and Tags
If your popup plugin can target based on WordPress categories and tags, this will be super easy. Just set each topicbox popup to appear for categories or tags that define that topic and you’ll be all set.
For example, in OptinMonster (what we used for ValueWalk), we targeted certain posts to certain categories:
And others based on tags:
This ability to target based on WordPress categories and tags is one reason we love OptinMonster for popups.
Topicbox Targeting Technique #2: Dead Simple URLs
If you can’t target based on categories or tags (or you haven’t categorized or tagged your posts), don’t freak out, just use URLs.
For example, in SumoMe, just fire up List Builder, go to Display Rules:
Click “Add a Show Rule” and start listing URLs where you want this popup to show:
Every popup plugin lets you target popups to specific URLs, and before you complain that it’d be too tedious, remember that a bunch of things in life follow the 80/20 rule and traffic to posts on your site are no exception.
What the hell does this have to do with anything?
You don’t need to target every single URL on a given topic, just target your top 20%. Even if you have 100 posts on a given topic, copying 20 URLs into your popup plugin will take you maybe 10 minutes.
Expanding Beyond a Few Topics
Finally, once you have a few topicboxes installed and converting like crazy, then you can go ahead and start thinking of more niche topics.
How do you decide which topics to expand to?
Look for topics where you could create a killer bonus to get an outstanding conversion rate.
Look for topics that have really high quality readers, even if traffic and raw conversion numbers are low.
Let me expand on the second point…
For example, if you have enough traffic and enough articles, you’ll start to notice (if you track things properly!) that certain types of visitors are more valuable than others (that is, their LTV is higher).
For example, for a company like HubSpot, who sells marketing software, readers of super in depth marketing automation articles are likely to convert into paying customers better than readers of a listicle on 2015 social media trends that happened to get a lot of tweets.
That’s what I mean. And it’s true for basically all businesses. Certain content attracts your best customers.
In my Hubspot example, even if those in depth articles don’t get a lot of traffic, you should still spend time on a great lead magnet and great topicbox for them, because 1 reader from those articles could be far more valuable than 50 from another one.
Your turn: What are your topics?
You can do the exact same thing with your exit popups and see a dramatic increase in conversion rate.
To help you start taking action, let me know in the comments what 3 topics you can think of for your own site. If you’re struggling or have other questions, let me know.
Also, I’ve turned this technique into a checklist PDF for easy reference and I have a personal swipe file of 6 example popup designs that I love for inspiration. Use them to get these results for yourself. Get both of these bonuses here: