The Conversion Rate Illusion of Modal Newsletter Forms

Ever visit a site and had a modal window newsletter form smack you in the face? Of course you have, they’re popping up all over the web today. There’s a reason why many sites use them, but there are many reasons why they shouldn’t

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

A high number of email subscribers entices most sites. This justifies their use of a modal newsletter form without a second thought. But they’re fooled by this grand illusion because not all emails they get are equal in value.

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 may 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.

User 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%. The modal newsletter caused a huge decrease in user engagement that affected their entire site.

Engagement is more important than subscriber count because it determines how long users stay on your site and whether they want to come back. When you lose users at your modal, you cut short their willingness to experience your site.


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. They did this because unsolicited modal windows obstruct the user’s task. Users don’t visit sites to subscribe to a newsletter, they’re 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 of subscribers you should focus on quality of subscribers. High quality subscribers are users who open your newsletter and click the links to view your content. These are users who didn’t give you a fake email or subscribe because they felt forced to by your modal.

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

Better Ways to Promote Email Newsletters

To get users interested in your newsletter it needs to be displayed at a relevant time in their task. If your modal is displayed too soon, it can obstruct their task and alienate them.

Page Embedded Newsletter Form

Embedding your newsletter form on specific pages of the user’s task flow is an effective approach. Suppose users go to your site to shop and your newsletter offers deals and coupons. A newsletter form on the purchase page can get you high quality subscribers because it comes at a time that’s relevant to their shopping task.


Modeless Window at Bottom Right of Page

If you don’t want to embed your newsletter form on a page, consider modeless windows. Modeless windows are far less disruptive than modal windows and should pop up at the bottom right of a page at a relevant time in the user’s task.


For example, after the user scrolls to the bottom of an article, a modeless window can pop up to offer them article updates. Users have an incentive to subscribe now because they just finished reading the article.

Some sites may display a static modeless window that stays on the site until the user dismisses the window. While this approach is slightly less intrusive than a modal window, it’ll often get ignored by users 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 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 and enjoy an experience. Forcing a modal window on them right when they being their task is a nuisance that can cost you big down the line.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Clement Reply

    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 Reply

    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 Reply

    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.

  4. Chris Reply

    So true.
    How many times have you landed on a new site only to have a modal interrupt you within the first 10 seconds – asking you to subscribe? It’s insane!

    Anyhow – I appreciate your advice… don’t fall for the conversion rate illusion!

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