I’m going to be honest with you…
Your blog lives or dies by the number of conversions you make.
And I’m not talking about visitors – passive readers come and go. But loyal subscribers… your loyal subscribers remain.
Now, turning the former into the latter may seem really difficult, especially when you’re starting out. But there is a proven method to it.
Too bad that most blogs don’t optimize for conversions, and instead do only what one is supposed to. You know, the usual stuff:
- Create an opt-in bonus to urge people to subscribe…
- Put calls to action at the end of each post…
- Have a sidebar on the right-hand side of the screen…
Here’s the thing, though: following “common sense” isn’t just suboptimal… it actually hurts your conversions. And this means less people become subscribers, and lower income in the long run.
In this post, I’ve assembled 11 popular but dubious conversion conventions that you want to avoid for your blog. I also did my best to offer an alternative tweak for each – one that will improve your traffic, opt-in rates, and (ultimately) your blog’s profits.
#11 A Single Opt-in Bonus
You need to entice people into subscribing by offering them something useful – that’s obvious enough. But if you don’t blog on a super-specific topic, you will find that your target market doesn’t need the “Ultimate fix for their problems!” as much as dozens and dozens of valuable tidbits that help them in some small way.
Think less a 200-page ebook on something vague and general like email marketing, and more 20 ten-page checklists or small guides on separate topics like profitable sequences, different list-building strategies, winning email copy etc.
What to do instead: Offer smaller, super-specific opt-in bonuses, also known as “content upgrades.”
For example, if you talk about email marketing in one of your posts, let the readers download a swipe file of your most popular subject lines.
If you’ve put up a long, ridiculously useful post (like our “Make Money Blogging” guide) give them a chance to download a PDF version. It takes less than a minute to put together, and if you can add some neat bonuses (like scripts or case studies) to your free download, all the better.
#10 Right Sidebar
For a reason I can’t comprehend, a right-hand sidebar is the main lead capture element that bloggers use to collect subscriptions. In the saddest cases, it’s the only element they use.
It works for some bloggers, like Neil Patel from QuickSprout (and even he admits that placing it on the right-hand side isn’t optimal for conversions), or Derek Halpern from Social Triggers (who is relentless about decluttering his blog, and made it work).
On the other hand, I’ve read many CRO experts who loathe the humble sidebar in favor of other opt-in elements.
It’s hard to blame them: a simple, no-frills right-hand sidebar perform at a 0.4% conversion rate… on a good day. Which means that it needs (at the very least) some creative re-arranging.
What to do instead: If you want to use your sidebar to collect emails, move it to the left-hand side of the screen, where it’s more visible (think KISSmetrics and Hubspot blogs). If you want to display your bio, or your best posts in the sidebar, the right-hand side is fine.
#9 No pop-up
I know, I know. Pop-ups are annoying, they are the bane of every blog reader who has nothing better to do than complain about pop-ups.
They also convert like crazy. For example, this Unbounce case study cites 14.47%, which isn’t even that high.
That’s why popular bloggers use pop-ups: not to mess with you, but because they work. I bet you’ve seen a pop-up on Firepole’s blog today.and our total conversion rate on new visitors is 20+ percent.[tweet_box design=”default”]Remember: not using a pop-up = missing out on thousands of potential subscribers.[/tweet_box]
What to do instead: Get a basic pop-up (that shows up after a visitor spends X amount of time on the page), or an exit-intent pop-up (a “smarter” version that shows up just as the visitor is about to leave, probably never to return).
Sure, you will annoy a vocal minority of your readers, who might complain in the comment section, or send you an angry email. If that happens, I recommend that you find consolation in your increased number of daily subscribers.
Hint: if you’re still uncomfortable using a mid-screen pop-up, try a less obtrusive scrolling version that shows up in the bottom-right corner (e.g. like the one you’ll find on Wait But Why blog).
#8 Only One Lead Capture Element
Relying on just one pop-up, one opt-in form, or one sidebar to collect emails from readers is not a sound business strategy. Even the most interested visitors can forget to subscribe, or simply miss a low-key opt-in.
“But Oleg, what about removing distractions and creating a frictionless experience?” you might ask.
Well, don’t get me wrong: it’s great that you care so much about the comfort of your blog readers. But you have to balance it with your blog’s need for new subscribers.
When you don’t go overboard by plastering a dozen signup forms all over the screen, opt-ins aren’t a distraction. They’re a low-pressure offer of genuine value to those who are interested.
If your readers are looking for solutions, and you can provide them, isn’t it your obligation to show a modicum of persistence?
What to do instead: Usually, 2-3 strategically placed opt-ins are enough to get you a conversion rate of 10% or higher (as a fairly conservative estimate). It could go like this…
Opt-in 1: A feature box at the top (I’ll explain what it is in trick #5)
Opt-in 2: Post-specific content upgrades
Opt-in 3: Exit-intent pop-up
Or like this…
Opt-in 1: A small opt-in bar at the top
Opt-in 2: A left-hand sidebar that scrolls with the page
Opt-in 3: A timed pop-up
On some blogs, I see as many as 7 lead capture elements on any given page, but I wouldn’t recommend you go that far. It would take some mad design and UX skills to pull it off without coming across as the sleaziest blogger on earth.
#7 Social Sharing Buttons
The jury is out on whether social sharing buttons harm or help your conversions in the long run… but the way most bloggers do it sucks.
I mean, c’mon. You can’t just take every social network under the sun, arrange those ugly buttons in a punishingly long vertical bar and expect your social shares to go up.
Not only is this subjectively annoying for many website visitors, there’s another side effect…
Consider for a moment the concept of “social proof.” When readers see a blog post with lots of shares, they become more likely to share it as well. When they see a post with few or no social shares, their engagement with the content plummets. I’m not making any of this up.
What to do instead: Focus only on those social networks that your audience uses the most. Consider phasing out the sharing buttons in favor of follow/subscribe buttons that will build your social media following, as opposed to encouraging one-off sharing.
And if your site gets low traffic, it’s better to hold off on social sharing buttons altogether. First off, promoting content for your fledgling blog is your job, not your readers’. Second, if the content is truly great, you will find people spreading the word anyway.
#6 End-of-Post Author Bylines
It’s simple, really: not everyone reads every blog post until the very end. Anything you put at the bottom will have limited utility, as far as conversions go.
Besides, even if everyone reads your posts to the very end… unless you’re the most interesting man (or woman) in the world, most visitors will skip bios and bylines in favor of the comment section, or some other bright shiny object.
What to do instead: If your goal is to put a call to action in front of your readers, do it in the body of the post, or elsewhere on the page. If you want to encourage people to learn more about who you are and what you do, a better option would be a more detailed bio in the sidebar, or on a dedicated About page (as discussed above).
Hint: If you feature guest posts on your blog, consider introducing them at the beginning of the post, rather than at the end. Your readers will engage with guest authors much better that way, and you’ll get all the credit!
#5 Inconspicuous Header
Your blog’s header is the first thing a new visitor sees – and it’s a terrible thing to waste.
Sure, you have a menu and a nice-looking logo, but not much else going on to convert more visitors for your blog. And as you look at your bland, low-key header, somewhere on the planet, a CRO expert bursts into tears.
To make the most of your header, you need to put an eye-catching opt-in there, in one of two conversion-boosting ways…
What to do instead: One method would be to use a “welcome mat”: a full-screen opt-in that greets a visitor and goes away with one click, revealing the rest of the content. Here’s a great example of what it looks like.
The other option is to create a “feature box” that has a compelling offer and an opt-in added to the header, just below, or right above, the menu. You can see neat examples of high-converting feature boxes on blogs like Backlinko and Kopywriting Kourse.
#4 A Single Landing Page
A landing page only has one job – to convert visitors into subscribers. But not every visitor is going to fit the mold of your target market with 100% accuracy. So by extension, “one landing page to rule them all” is a suboptimal solution as far as conversions are concerned.
We live in a world where any marketing message has to be super-relevant to the person receiving it, otherwise they will walk away. Customizing your landing pages to specific subsets of your target audience is a guaranteed way to boost conversions.
What to do instead: I know, building custom landing pages for every possible type of visitor sounds like a lot of busywork. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to make everything from scratch, every time. You can use your go-to landing page design, and just tweak the messaging a little bit.
For example, when you publish a guest post on a popular blog, instead of driving traffic to a generic all-purpose landing page, do this: create a landing page that’s exactly the same, but make one tiny change. In your landing page headline, write, “Greetings, readers”… and then proceed to deliver your message.
That’s it. This 2-second tweak is enough give your landing page a personalized, custom touch. Now wasn’t that easy?
#3 Text Based CTAs
Yes, an end-of-post call to action is better than nothing. No, it’s not the best thing you could do for conversions. When you write something, anything, at the end of a blog post, or even in the beginning, some people will miss it. Or they will want to come back to it but forget.
Even if you bold it. Even if you put it in bold italics. To get noticed by as many readers as possible, your calls to action need to grab attention immediately.
What to do instead: Use a combination of images and text for your end-of-post content upgrades and opt-ins. For prominent but unobtrusive calls to action at the beginning or in the middle of a post use a button or a highlighted box.
#2 Unscrollable Opt-ins
Here’s the trouble with blogging: most of your carefully placed opt-ins that you put above the fold, or at the end of the post, will vanish as the visitor scrolls down to the body of the post, or dives deep into the comment section.
In a sad twist of irony, the longer your posts are, and the more value you try to provide, the more likely your readers are to forget about subscribing and leave. Fortunately, it’s really easy to fix.
What to do instead: Use opt-in elements that can scroll with the page (like a “sticky” left-hand sidebar, or a bar on the bottom / top of the screen), or can appear at a certain point (for example, when they have scrolled down to 50% of the screen).
#1 No Dedicated Homepage
You’d think that the best “homepage” for your blog would be the page with your most recent posts in chronological order, right? Just let people dive in and read your stuff!
Well… not quite. When it comes to creating a great user experience, and driving higher conversions, there’s nothing like a dedicated homepage to do the trick.
You see, when a visitor lands on your website, with a dedicated homepage you can show off your absolute best content, and make a terrific first impression. Not to mention that you can get an opt-in form in front of them while you’re at it.
My point is, you don’t control how visitors consume your content when they’re browsing through blog posts. You do control their experience on a dedicated homepage, and that opportunity is just too valuable to squander.
What to do instead: Set up a dedicated homepage that invites people to read your best blog posts, or tells them a bit about what you do, or displays some impressive examples of your achievements (like a few choice testimonials). It’s your blog, do whatever you want – as long as you don’t forget to display an opt-in there as well.
When you do your research, you’ll notice that some homepages are short and sweet, and others… not so much. Our own homepage is one example of what kind of content you might want to feature. Other interesting ones include OkDork, Videofruit, and 4-Hour Workweek blog.
Well, this wraps up my list of 11 “common sense” conversion tricks that you should take with a grain (or a mountain) of salt! Try some of the alternatives on your blog, and come back to share your results with us.
In the meantime, I’d be thrilled to know your perspective on conversion rate optimization.
Have you had smashing success with some of the conventional techniques? Or have you blazed your own trail to ridiculous conversion rates? Please leave a comment, and let me know!