After 13 days in optin Hell, I boosted email subscribers by 300%.

For the past few months, this site (which gets around 1500 visitors a day) has been averaging 10 optins a day for my “Guerrilla Publishing” free book offer. That’s mostly from an optin form on the sidebar, and a few content upgrades on relevant blog posts. But since I’m getting ready to rewrite my autoresponder series and launch an evergreen “Free video series” and book marketing challenge, I wanted to boost on-page conversions.

Unfortunately, what I thought would be a simple project has turned into three days of frustration, hours of customer support, and optin-form agony. In the process I’ve gotten to know Mailerlite, Clickfunnels, OptinMonster, Sumo and Thrive Leads pretty well. So this article will be a review of those systems, and also the process of trying to make them all play nice together. The GOAL is a 300% boost in conversions – from 10 optins a day to 30.

I couple months ago when we were in Vietnam, I made this post about reaching $500 a day in passive income. Basically, I can get there by doubling conversion, doubling traffic, doubling open-rates and clicks with email marketing, and then doubling sales with better sales pages and offers. But getting that initial optin is critical, so here are some things I’ve learned (below you’ll also find a gallery of my favorite optin design examples.)

Starting out (Round One)

I switched to Mailerlite recently and one of the great features are built-in landing pages. These look decent and convert at around 30% for me, which isn’t bad out of the gate. I could improve mine a lot and probably boost that to 40% or 50%.



I also built some better looking landing pages in Clickfunnels, however, which convert at 50% or more.



Also, the great thing about Clickfunnels is you can easily set up split tests – ideally I’ll be running split tests all the time and really honing in on the most attractive offer. Mailerlite lets you set up free/easy optin landing pages, and I also really like the built-in ThankYou page (although, you can’t change that to a thank you page link instead, which is stupid).

Also, Mailerlite’s reporting is pretty terrible. I can check the stats on a SPECIFIC landing page form or optin (clicks/conversions), and a nice daily chart… but only for the past 30 days. I can’t check longer historical trends or compare to earlier landing pages. I also can’t save earlier templates or drafts. And if I go into a specific email list, I have to manually count the daily subscribers to compare whether something is working compared to early settings. Mailchimp was driving me crazy, and it was too expensive, so I’m glad I switched, but Mailerlite’s reporting limitations are a major drawback. (I built huge lists, but in the future once I’ve fixed my conversion rate and email funnel, I’ll probably switch to something more powerful like ConvertKit and keep lean, targeted lists of highly engaged subscribers only).

Changes I wanted to make

Mostly, I wanted to add ‘click trigger popups’ based on content upgrades. My clickfunnels pages are overkill and a bit salesy – great for cold traffic if I was advertising, but over-the-top for casual browsers on my site. Plus popups, ribbon banners, and sidebar optin boxes don’t convert that well because people ignore distracting graphics. 

The best strategy is to hook them with content and add content-specific, relevant optin upgrades: but I wanted a beautiful, simple, clicktrigger optin form that displays on page, so they can sign up without leaving the site. I was using Sumo. It’s a great tool, but to get the clicktrigger features it costs $700+ a year and I didn’t want to pay that much. Instead I bought Thrive Leads, which is only $97.


Optin forms and landing pages price comparison:

  • Sumo Pro: $59/month
  • Thrive Leads $97 (lifetime) or $19 a month
  • Optin Monster Pro ($29/month)
  • ClickFunnels ($97/month)


Like I said, I started with Sumo because they have a free offer anyway, but I had to upgrade to unlock the click triggers and it was expensive. Nothing wrong with the platform or software, but Optin Monster was half the price and has the similar (or arguably better) features – Optin Monster also has a new drag and drop interface in Beta, so once they work the kinks out it should rival Thrive Leads, which was probably my initial favorite, but it’s harder to figure out or get working.



Thrive leads makes beautiful forms, and while not perfect, editing them and getting them to look good is pretty easy with a drag and drop editor. I made some forms I was super happy with. HOWEVER: I couldn’t get it to play nice on my site. While the lead groups work fine (ribbons, exit intent, etc) the clicktrigger popups asked for this:

I didn’t know how to do that, and everything I tried didn’t work. I found out from a developer (after days of struggle) that this only works if you’re using a Thrive Theme or Thrive Architect. There’s a clicktrigger option under ThriveBoxes though, so I set that up… and it looked amazing! The form seemed to work, and clicked seamlessly through to the thank you page. 


Only one problem… conversions were inexplicably terrible.







Even my exit intent popup was getting 2%… and this was from people who were clicking the offer. I was getting about 200 clicks a day and only 1 or less subscriber. So I imagined most of those people weren’t getting the free optin offer, or they WERE but weren’t getting added to my list (no subscribers were showing up in Mailerlite either). The form was just broken. Thrive customer support, as well as some developers I hired to check, all told me there was absolutely nothing wrong and the form was working.

So I gave up Thrive Leads and bought Optin Monster. 

Since then, I’ve realized:

1. This is a click trigger pop, and I think the actual impressions given by Thrive were way off. According to WP stats and OptinMonster I actually get about 25 clicks a day on the optin box (not 224, etc); and forms convert at 50%. So I was frustrated because Thrive was inflating the impressions.

2. Even so, with 25 clicks and 50% conversion I get around 12 optins a day – With Thrive it was one or two, which is why I gave up; especially because support kept telling me there was nothing wrong with it.

At the moment I’m still using Thrive Leads for the Exit Intent, but I’ll change that once I figure out a better way to do it. It’s converting at 2%, which is kind of terrible, but STILL works out to about 15 extra optins a day. If I start split testing different offers, I can probably boost that to 4%.



There are two features I really like with OptinMonster. The first is 2-step optin forms. So, rather than showing the email optin box, the optins will show a button, or something “yes” or “not” options, then when you click it the optin box will be revealed. Here’s how mine looks.

I think a 2-step optin would work especially well for an exit intent popup… for a click trigger popup, I don’t know it’s necessary, since they’re half in already. I really like how Optin Monster has a one-click setting to change it’s forms to 2-step. Technically, I think you can set these up in Thrive Leads also, but I couldn’t figure out how. Also, at least in the theme I chose, I can set up a simple thank you page immediately.

The other option was to send them to my nice ClickFunnels thank you page… and ideally a thank you page is where you’d introduce them to yourself, ask them to confirm their email, upsell them with a tripwire or one time offer, etc. You basically want to set the expectation, get them to recognize your name and face, and look for your emails in their inbox. BUT, I really like the idea of just giving them the download right away, instantly, without any fuss or taking them away from my site. (The other option is to have a share to unlock bonus or just social sharing links on the thank you page… I tried that though and you don’t really want to ask people to do things for you, before you’ve proven value).

Also, in my case at least, I actually have two things, so I can give them one right away but tell them the other is in their inbox. Also, I’ll rewrite these books soon and include more links to a limited time offer so EVEN if they aren’t opening all my emails, the books themselves will be set up to cultivate and convert leads to a paid course or product.

These forms are converting at 60%.

So far so good, EXCEPT…. One of the reasons this has all been a huge pain in the ass, is because everytime I change optin forms, I need to go through and change my content upgrade links on dozens and dozens of posts, which takes several hours. That’s dumb, obviously. Certain programs, like Thrive Themes, allows you to pick an optin from and display it in the content, either at the bottom or down a set number of paragraphs. Which is cool, but my in-content forms weren’t working that well anyway.

I think a simple yellow note box is better. But the main thing is, I need to be able to change my content upgrade offers site wide, so I can test and tweak different offers quickly, until I’m sure I have the best options.

I tried two WP plugins, Ninja Footers and WP Post Signature. Both work about the same; you can set up a post footer to display on certain categories… so in theory I could have different optin offers for different main categories (creativity, book marketing, writing, business, etc). BUT… actually it seems you can only set one footer. So what I’ll probably do is use one for one content upgrade on some categories, and use the other for another content upgrade on other categories.

Right now, I have a mess of three different offers: I like the IDEA of a very clean and simple white box with a thin outline and a big button; the big bold image is more eyecatching but also distracting. It’s hard to know what will actually work best without testing but *probably* a simple yellow notebox and text link will convert better than a big graphic or button, because they’ll actually be reading. Now that I’ve installed a footer plugin, I can go through and REMOVE all those graphics I spent hours adding, and just change the footer plugin to test sitewide and see which offers work better. I’ll probably have a couple big general offers, and also SPECIFIC and relevant content upgrades for my main traffic posts (which I’ll have to add later, after I’m 100% certain which optin popup plugin or landing page I’m using, so I don’t have to go through and revise them all).


None of these are perfect, but at least now I can start testing out variations of popups and content upgrade offers… I want them to look amazing and match my site without being distracting. I also need to seriously improve the copy on both the offer and popup, especially the exit-intent popup.

Now that I basically have a system set up, I’ll spend a few days cleaning things up and testing forms and then do a follow up.


Tripling Conversions (Round Two)

Now that I kind of have a system to implement changes quickly, I need to focus on my VALUE. This site is meant to help artists and authors sell more work, but probably 80% of my traffic are here for book design or marketing advice. Also I need to know what my audience is looking for and what resonates with them. 

Other considerations:

  • Style and branding consistency
  • I need to affirm and repeat my core benefits and values in a way that attracts my audience
  • I need to use images and offers that instill an emotional need or response
  • I need to get people to like and trust me (authority, testimonials, awards, etc)
  • I need to position my offers without begging, and boost conversions with: scarcity, urgency, community
  • I need to get them to CLICK before the popup shows up, so I need benefits FIRST

So with all that in mind, I created a variety of offers, ads and images to test.

I’m especially excited about my exit intent popups, meant to attract attention and get them to make a micro commitment. 

HOWEVER… at this point I’m getting frustrated with Optin Monster.

  1. The campaigns should only display on desktop. Special campaigns need to be set up for mobile. BUT my popups are showing on my iPhone and don’t look good.
  2. Some of the ads just don’t work sometimes, or get stuck or you can’t close them. They’re also sometimes still going to the optin monster page instead of staying as an overlay on my site.
  3. I set some A/B tests and all the popups are showing up on after the other.
  4. Reporting is TERRIBLE – 24 hours or 48 hours later, so I need to wait to see what’s going on (unlike Thrive or Sumo, which had in-Wordpress, near instant reporting.

But whatever… At this point I’m going to let them run until I have enough data to make some decisions.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, OptinMonster’s exit-intent popups are buggy as Hell and their customer support sucks (no ticket system; a chat box that deletes history, no follow up by email)… I enabled A/B tests and now they just keep showing up, you can’t set them to STOP displaying for 5 days or so, after the first time, like you should be able to. Also, the 2-step YES/NO click trigger popups look shitty on mobile devices.

Which means…

  • Mailerlite’s landing pages are simple but they look good on mobile, so I might just focus on boosting conversion with those.
  • Sumo is expensive for clicktrigger popups but the free version covers exit-intent popups (and has better reporting)
  • Thrive Themes also has exit intent popups with A/B split testing and better reporting.

I want to test fast and see results quickly so I can make decisions and stop wasting time with this stuff. BUT it’s also important to test things out and see which is better. It’s ridiculous that none of these programs will do everything I want and be 100% functional (especially the more expensive ones).

Final point: OptinMonster’s clicktrigger popup boxes are broken on mobile, barely functional, which is a big problem.





(coming soon)



For fiction – I haven’t tried this yet but just got a tip… on my own site I was trying to offer a “content library” – but then because the books are in KU, I restricted it to the first few chapters of each. A better idea would be to give them a free book, but be very clear and specific.

Nicole Locker says “I put a message in my exit pop-up that says “You’re going to miss this!” and go on to say “fans of x, y, and z won’t want to miss this series” and while Book 1 is already free, I’ll give you Book 2 free (Regular $2.99) in my Welcome emails once you subscribe to my newsletter.” 

Once you have a strong offer, you can convert.


Popup design examples Gallery





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