The Conversion Rate Illusion of Modal Newsletter Forms

by on 01/10/17 at 3:32 pm

Ever visit a site and had a modal window newsletter form pop up in your face? Of course you have, they’re all over the web today. There’s a reason why many sites use them. But there are reasons why many sites should reconsider.

Guaranteed High Conversion Rate

Many sites use modal newsletter forms because they guarantee a high conversion rate. This is because every user that visits the site has to interact with the modal before they can enter. The more people that interact with it the more emails you’ll get.

A high number of email subscribers entices most sites. This leads them to implement a modal newsletter form without a second thought. But they’re fooled by this grand illusion because not all emails they get are equal.

The Conversion Rate Illusion

Everybody gets excited over a high number of newsletter subscribers. But they fail to look at whether those subscribers are real or fake. Chances are you’ll have a lot of fake emails if you’re forcing a modal on your users.


This is because some users (usually older) believe that an email is required to enter the site. And some users don’t want to search for the close button so they’ll type in a fake email instead.

Either way, you will have a portion of users who will enter a fake email to dismiss the modal. Those users will never receive your email newsletter. This is why you can’t trust the accuracy of your subscriber count. Nor can you use that to validate your modal newsletter form.

Engagement Loss

You may think a few fake emails aren’t that bad. But modal newsletter forms also affect user engagement. One site experienced a higher bounce rate and a decrease in visit duration and pages visited.

While the conversion rate soared to 40%, the bounce rate increased by 9%, average visitor duration declined by 10% and pages per visit decreased by 9%.

Engagement numbers have more impact than subscriber numbers because they affect the entire site. When you lose users at your modal, you cut short their chance to experience your content.


They could have enjoyed your content or bought a product had they spent more time on your site. But all that is lost when users abandon your site at the sight of your modal.

Some users have such aversion to modals that they’ll send you complaints and hate mail. That’s what one site experienced that led them to take theirs down.

Slows Down Task Completion Time

Most users have a task in mind when they visit a site. A modal newsletter form popping up can interrupt and distract them from their task. They have to process the modal, look for the close button and click it before they can resume their task. This adds unnecessary seconds to their task completion time.


Modal newsletter forms are so disruptive that Google has decided to penalize sites that use them. The reason is because they get in the way of the user’s task. Users don’t visit sites to subscribe to a newsletter. They are there to access content. Your newsletter form should never block content.

Focus on Quality Subscribers, Not Quantity

Most sites make the mistake of focusing on a high quantity of subscribers. A high subscriber count is an illusion if you’re not getting a high number of email opens and clicks.

Instead of focusing on quantity you should focus on quality subscribers. High quality subscribers are users who open your newsletters and click through to content. They didn’t give you fake emails and didn’t subscribe because they felt forced to.

If you want high quality subscribers you need to promote your newsletter in a natural way. Modal windows are a forceful way that strongarms users into subscribing.

Better Way to Promote Your Email Newsletter

To get users interested in your newsletter it needs to be relevant to their task. Let’s say your users go to your site to shop and your newsletter offers coupons and deals. Placing your newsletter form on the purchase page can get you high quality subscribers. This is because your newsletter is relevant to their current task.


When users are shopping they’ll want to save money too. It’s a natural progression to subscribe to the newsletter during their task. It isn’t forced on to users at a random time like a modal window.

Modeless Window at Bottom Right of Page

If you don’t want to place your newsletter form on a page, consider modeless windows. Modeless windows are far less disruptive than modal windows and pop up at the bottom right of a page.


The modeless window should pop up at a relevant time during the user’s task. For example, after the user scrolls to the bottom of an article it can pop up to offer them article updates. A static modeless window that isn’t timed will often get ignored because it looks like an ad.

Don’t Fall for the Conversion Rate Illusion

A high conversion rate is a site’s dream but not at the cost of task disruption, engagement loss and user backlash. It’s easy to overlook the downsides to modal window newsletter forms if all you focus on is conversion rate.

If users visited sites with the sole task of subscribing to newsletters, a modal window would be perfect. But this isn’t the case. Users visit sites to access content. Forcing a modal window on them during their task is a nuisance that can cost you big in the long run.


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3 Responses to “The Conversion Rate Illusion of Modal Newsletter Forms”

  1. Clement

    Jan 11th, 2017

    Great article, thank you!

    I see another problem with impromptu modal windows: they are really not great for accessibility.

    First, making a modal window ARIA-compatible is possible, but requires an extra effort, so it is usually not done.

    Second, these windows are often challenging for people with a disability:

    – visually impaired people (the modal window can be hard to distinguish from the page content underneath);

    – physically impaired people (they need to make the effort to reach that tiny cross to close the window);

    – mentally impaired people (something pops up on screen although they haven’t done anything, which can be confusing).

  2. Stefanie

    May 13th, 2017

    Thanks for this article. As Clement has already pointed out there is
    a bunch of problems coming with this heavily misuse of modal windows: Another problem may be, that people will get so used to it crossing them away/ close it – so when a really important message appears ( like a critical warning) it might be easily overseen.

  3. Rachel

    Oct 31st, 2017

    The main problem I’ve found is that marketers are dumb enough to frequently over-estimate how dumb other people (i.e., potential customers) are. They don’t realise that most savvy web users have NoScript installed, and immediately add their site to the list of blacklisted URLs that are banned from running Javascript as soon as a popup is presented. Or, as you indicate, just enter a fake address to make the annoyance go away. If they were savvy enough, they could track which emails they send actually get read. But they’re not – they’re just dumb marketers doing dumb things that alienate would-be customers.

    I’m a software developer, and I’ve yet to meet a marketer that gets why having a big list of fake email address Isn’t A Good Thing. To them, getting a lot of subscribers is their goal. Getting a lot of people buying their product should be their goal. And they’ll never understand why one doesn’t directly correlate to the other.

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