One Change, 73% More Subscribers

The Walden University homepage used to feature a button that prospective students could click to sign up for more information.


It doesn’t have a button anymore.

The university found a way to get 72.72% more sign-ups by changing the format of their offer. Keep reading to see how they did it – and the rule that can help you do the same.

What Walden Found

What Walden Found

The university wanted to make sure they were hearing from as many interested prospects as possible, so they split test two sign-up processes.

The first was their original button. Those who clicked it were taken to a separate sign-up page to enter their details. The second was a complete web form embedded directly into the home page.

Walden U 1

With 72.72% more sign-ups, the web form quickly became the university’s method of choice. They added the form to pages throughout their site so it would be available whenever visitors were ready to find out more.

What Process Are You Using?

What Process Are You Using?

There are several ways you might ask people to subscribe. You might use:

  • A form somewhere on your regular content pages. We recommend doing this anytime you have the space to work with. Then, when visitors are doing whatever else they planned to do, the form nudges them to consider subscribing. It’s easily available, so people can just sign up and continue with whatever they were doing.
  • A separate sign-up page, tucked neatly away from the rest of your site. It’s linked to from other pages, but doesn’t disrupt their design much. This is commonly used for larger forms with many fields or when there are already too many elements competing for space on other pages.
  • A form hosted by your email service provider, linked to from social sites, blogs and articles. This is especially appropriate for marketers without a web site.
  • A pop-up or lightbox form that you can set to appear a certain number of seconds after the page loads.
  • A link that invites viewers to sign up and causes a triggered lightbox form to appear

You have your reasons for choosing the methods you do. But there is one rule of thumb to keep in mind. Walden University increased their conversions hugely with it, and you may be able to do the same.

The Rule That Increases Sign-Ups

The Rule That Increases Sign-Ups

Minimize clicks to subscribe.

That’s it. The fewer steps people have to take, the more likely it is that they’ll sign up.

With a form on each page, visitors just add their info and click once, then continue with what they were doing.

The other methods listed above complicate subscription. Some potential subscribers will drop off.

And unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t make the mistake of requiring people to create a whole account on your site in order to sign up for emails. You’ll scare away anyone who’s not ready, plus anyone who’s wary of giving away all their details, plus anyone who doesn’t have the time.

Counting the Cost

Counting the Cost

These methods will help you collect as many subscribers as possible.

But sometimes, quantity isn’t the goal. Some marketers would rather have fewer subscribers who are willing to go through a complicated process – it shows they seriously want the emails.

Is your goal to market to as many people as possible? Or do you have a select crowd that you’re aiming for?

Your sign-up process should fit your goal. Should you simplify it for more subscribers or make it more complicated to narrow your audience?

32 Comments

  1. Del Chatterson

    12/14/2010 10:17 am

    Related Question: Does easier sign-up also lead to higher “Unsubscribe” rates?

    Easy come, easy go?

    Also: What is the effect of requiring confirmation by Double Opt-in. Is there lower sign-up because of “more clicks”?

  2. Brian T. Edmondson

    12/14/2010 10:33 am

    This is a really good case study… always like seeing real life examples of what others are doing and what’s working.

    I think another key to the sign up form was not just that the form was directly on the page rather than having to click to another page; but also the offer of “Request Information” over “Talk to an Advisor”… many more people are willing to get information rather than have to talk to someone.

  3. Mark Brownlow

    12/14/2010 11:08 am

    I’ve found this, too. Sign-ups dropped significantly when I switched from a form on each page of a website to a “link to a sign-up page” on each page. There were other business reasons for the change, but the price was fewer new sign-ups.

  4. Gregg Murray

    12/14/2010 11:39 am

    I agree one less click never hurts. But, I think the call-to-action, “I Would Like to…Request More Information” versus “Talk to an Advisor” may have as much to do with the increase than anything.

    I’ve tested home page link versus home page form, and there was no notable difference in my test.

  5. Michael Webb

    12/14/2010 11:47 am

    I took off the name requirement on my sign up form and got 40% more sign ups.

  6. Michael Williams

    12/14/2010 11:47 am

    This is an awesome article!!! I have been using sign-up forms on my various web pages with great success.

    This article simply reminds me and encourages me to continue to do so by quantifying the possible if not probable affect of using embedded forms.

    Again, wonderful article, thanks.

  7. Tati Leoni

    12/14/2010 4:19 pm

    When you are online,it’s never totally “safe” pushing a button.That’s what everybody keeps in mind,even if unconscionable.
    People relate this act ,many times, to those adds,and this kinda stuff.

    The way people think is complex, but always the act of pushing this or that can relate to banners and spam…

    Excellent article,by the way…

  8. Jason

    12/14/2010 4:29 pm

    Also, the color difference could have a huge impact as well as the title of the box they split tested.

    Keep in mind for your split tests, only change 1 thing at a time, that way you aren’t guessing which of the changes actually made a difference.

    My money is on the yellow box being the huge difference.

  9. Tony Argyle

    12/14/2010 4:54 pm

    Great article. We’re just in the process of changing our box now so thank you everyone for the feedback

  10. Tyler

    12/14/2010 5:38 pm

    Jason, I don’t know. You’re right that it isn’t a very effective A/B test, but personally I’m much more drawn to the box on the left.

    I’ve had some moderate success changing some things in my opt-in form. What I thought to be an incredibly attractive form that I created with a giant pair of lips (just to draw your attention) turned out to be fairly ineffective. When I changed to a plain, gray box with clear call to action that’s highly relevant to my target market, I’ve seen a large increase in subscribers.

    My overall list is still fairly small, but I’ve gone from 1-2 subscribers per month to 1-2 per day on average. I’ve also added multiple other calls throughout the site (at the bottom of each of my articles, for instance) to increase visibility.

    At some point, though, I think if you hit them over the head with it in too many places, it becomes a major turn off. It’s like you become suspicious of anyone who tries too hard to get you to subscribe.

  11. Emmanuel

    12/15/2010 8:16 am

    One change? It looks like several changes :

    Different colors
    added the input fields for Name and Email
    changed the button from “Submit” to “Continue”.
    larger size form.

  12. Amanda Gagnon

    12/15/2010 9:25 am

    Del ~ Those are some insightful questions. Also, would confirming the opt-in balance out the easier sign up? Only one way to tell…

    Brian, Gregg, Jason & Emmanuel ~ Yes, all those changes together made the difference. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to find out what part each change played?

    Mark ~ Just as we would suspect. 🙂

    Tyler ~ I would have picked the lips, too. But that huge increase proves differently! And you’re right, you need a balance – ask wherever appropriate, and nowhere else.

  13. John Manley

    12/15/2010 11:47 am

    There is a big advantage to having a sign up page — it’s so much easier to split-test (e.g. using Google Optimizer).

    In my experience the sign up page has worked better. Largely, I think because I can split test it but also because it’s not much of a commitment. They just click the ad, then they can get as much information as they need to decide whether to sign up or not. The first step is easy. Just click. Nothing bad happened. Okay, next step, enter my email address and click again.

    I think a big factor is the sign up page copy. If the sign up page is just a form — then why bother? Just keep the form on the original page. But if the sign up page includes good copy, testimonials, gets rid of objections to signing up, gives details/benefits about what they’ll get as a subscriber, etc., etc., then it’s going to have more power than a little form.

  14. Joe Mescher

    12/15/2010 3:52 pm

    A|B testing is a great way for people to discover what web users respond best to (The answers are often surprising).

    However I noticed an opposite trend in my own AWeber form submissions once I ‘spruced up’ the forms to include custom images.

    Wrote a tutorial about it today:

    http://www.socialmediacommando.com/tutorial/aweber-email-web-form-guide

    Cheers

  15. Ron Davies

    12/15/2010 9:34 pm

    Great article, and really proves that those that love to split test always end up moving forward.

    I would like to submit that they should now split test against a single name box, rather than first name and last name, as well as colors for submit buttons that we as professional list builders know far outperform the scheme they are using right now.

    I would replace “Continue” with “Click to Continue”, and it should be tangerine. Don’t ask why, we just know from testing.

    We would also split test “Request Information” with more action provoking statements like “Get Help Now”, “You Coach is Ready”, “Get Hooked Up”, etc.

    Well done! Keep testing 😉

  16. Amanda Gagnon

    12/16/2010 9:06 am

    Ron ~ Tangerine? That’s pretty fascinating. Is that an across-the-board find or does it depend on site design or audience?

  17. Esther

    12/16/2010 11:12 am

    Requesting information is more important if you are working with the success of getting signup for a particular scheme.

  18. Jason

    12/16/2010 11:30 am

    Good case study and I can definitely see why the 2nd converts a lot better into opt-ins. The first one says talk to an adviser. If your just researching the school you want the basic stuff without talking to school faculty. That probably scared off a lot of people right there.

    Request information sounds a lot less stressful.

  19. Andrew

    12/16/2010 1:04 pm

    Hello Amanda,

    Been wondering a few things about sign up forms and giving away free info when selling info products.

    Is it better to have more subscribers or fewer subscribers who really want your stuff?

    Also, maybe giving away stuff for free reduces sales. For example, someone comes to your website and is interested in buying, but you give them something for free if they sign up for the newsletter. So they take the free stuff and don’t buy.

    Do not know the answers, but wondering.

  20. Malcolm

    12/16/2010 1:49 pm

    Hi Amanda

    Great information – thanks… I’d like to add something intelligent and useful to the conversation however it seems to me that most things I would have said – have been said except that it still seems that confusion reigns supreme when it comes to predicting what people will do, and trial and error (or Test and Measure) is still the best rule of marketing…

    Merry Christmas

  21. Paul

    12/16/2010 1:53 pm

    Andrew – I think it works both ways. Whilst some may leave with the free stuff, others may stay for more. . .
    Longer time on the site means more chance to sell.
    Also, giving away nuggets is a proven way to build trust.

  22. RJ Laffins

    12/16/2010 7:39 pm

    Amazing. I really need to take the time to start split-testing.

  23. Thea Westra

    12/17/2010 4:29 am

    The ‘Request Information’ button had my mind imagining that a lengthy, complicated process might be on the next page. A ‘button only’, means that you’ll be taken to a fresh page, and if a new page is needed then it implies that it must be more complicated than would fit on the page you’re on!

    With the short form & then the ‘Continue’ button, it appears easy & just about done.

    Not sure if I made myself clear. I know what I meant! 🙂

    I also wonder if ‘Continue’, rather than ‘Request Information’ was the thing that caused the increase.

    Too many attributes were changed to know which one made THE difference.

  24. Susan Lambert

    12/17/2010 3:46 pm

    I am wondering about the word “embed”. Does this mean that once the subscriber inserts their name and email address, they are NOT taken away from the page, and instead the fields just go away? I know that by inserting the codes on your web page the form is imbedded, but I have seen forms that do not take you away from the site once you click on ‘submit’. Is this a change in the “thank you page URL?

  25. Amanda Gagnon

    12/17/2010 4:58 pm

    Susan ~ The thank you page should open in a new tab, so the subscriber would still have the site open in the original tab.

    Thea ~ You might be right about that! Make it sound like too much of a process,
    and you lose people.

    Malcolm ~ It is! And Merry Christmas!

    Andrew ~ I think the hope is that they’ll like the free stuff enough to come back and buy more. 🙂

  26. Josh

    12/18/2010 3:28 am

    Makes sense…The visible form got more optins than the invisible one.

    They could probably bump it another 73% with a graphical arrow, headline, and list of benefits.

  27. Erik Emanuelli

    12/19/2010 4:08 pm

    I started using “version B”, as suggested from friends :
    let’s see first results !

  28. Kevin J. Timothy

    12/20/2010 4:31 pm

    Fewer steps!!! Absolutely! In this day and age where fast food chains are popping up and new gadgets are coming out, NO ONE wants to take the time to do anything (so it seems).

    Great tip, because at times it can be tempting to “fancy” up a web form with too much information.

  29. Tripp

    12/27/2010 8:57 pm

    I found the Aweber simple signup web form a very effective tool as well for increasing my adds.

  30. ashish patel

    1/12/2011 11:22 am

    Really a great article, I like split-testing on my various websites. That helps me a lot deciding whats going to work best with my site layouts.

  31. Yee Shun-Jian

    1/19/2011 6:21 am

    I just changed the layout of one of my sites and I couldn’t exactly put an opt-in form on the sidebar… end result: I used a link and sign-up rate dropped drastically… as predicted by this article.

    Now I just have to find a way to include the opt-in form inside so as to increase opt-ins again..

  32. Jessica Johnson

    5/17/2011 1:45 pm

    This is very interesting. I totally agree that the less amount of time that it takes for a customer to sign up the more likely they are to sign up. I also like how you have outlined not one specific way of doing things but that it depends on your site and who your customers are. You aren’t just going to set up a form if there isn’t enough space for one. Make sure whatever you choose that it is the best for your site and those visiting your site.