Email marketing services like MailChimp, Aweber, and ConvertKit are usually the single highest bill a blogger faces each month. We love ConvertKit, but Abby and I spend over $400/month on our account! Paying that kind of money each month, I want to make sure we are getting as many new subscribers as possible.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Unfortunately, some of the services mentioned above do not have great built-in list building tools. The exception would be ConvertKit, which excels in gathering email subscribers with in-line, slide-in, pop-up, and landing page forms. It really does set them apart from the competition.
If you use MailChimp or Aweber, you will almost certainly need to look into an additional email opt-in plugin. It would be a waste to spend money each month on an email marketing account and not make an effort to maximize your signups.
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My favorite list building plugins for WordPress
1. Hello Bar
Hello Bar is most well-known for their thin sign-up or announcement bar that you see at the top of many sites, but you can also create pop-up, slide-in, and page takeover signup forms. I like how you create your sign-up forms and pop-ups while logged into their web app outside of WordPress.
When using Hello Bar for the first time, you’re walked through the process of selecting a goal (email signup, link click, social, announcements, etc..), your form style (bar, modal, slide-in, or takeover), colors, text copy, and then targeting.
Hello Bar uses very simple but well designed forms. If you’d like to customize more than color and text, Hello Bar isn’t right for you. Removing the branding and the ability to target specific pages and categories requires a “pro plan” at $15/month. Most people should look at the free Hello Bar plan if they just need a simple site-wide sign-up form.
SumoMe is a suite of WordPress tools, a few of which are designed to gather email addresses on your WordPress blog.
Their free list-builder tool is a simple modal pop-up box. They also have a scroll-bar, which is a slide-in email signup form. If you’re looking for an alternative to Hello Bar, SumoMe has a “Smart Bar” with similar functionality. One of the more intrusive but interesting list-building tools they offer is their Welcome Mat. This is a full screen takeover email signup form or call to action.
All of these SumoMe tools are free, but they have limited design options and output functionality until you upgrade to a “starter” or ”pro” account at $10/month and $100/month, respectively.
If I was to use SumoMe, it would only be the free version of the scroll box. It’s a nice looking opt-in form that catches the reader's attention but doesn’t get in the way of the article. I wish their list-builder pop-up had more advanced page targeting which is only an option in the paid account.
One thing that does make SumoMe stand out is their very simple but attractive design. None of their forms look scammy or out of date. They also tend to display well on mobile, which is an important issue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been faced with some old outdated pop-up on my iPhone and I couldn’t even click to get out of it. That doesn’t happen with the mobile friendly SumoMe forms.
This is the email list building service I have the most experience with. When I purchased the service over a year ago, there was a one time purchase fee for the WordPress plugin. They’ve since changed their business model and require a monthly or yearly subscription for their paid features. Pricing is $49/year for a basic account, $99/year for a plus account, and $199/year for a pro account.
With the $49/year basic account, you get a full featured and fully customizable pop-up service. OptinMonster has a web app for creating and customizing your opt-in forms that I prefer to making changes within the WordPress dashboard.
Even with the $49/year basic account, I can deploy my popups on very specific pages or categories. I even have the option to disable a popup on specific pages like the home page or a landing page.
The form creator has a lot of nice, customizable form and pop-up options. Some look clean, simple, and modern while others look a bit dated. OptinMonster could do a better job continually updating their form options and deleting the ones that look like they are ten years old.
The OptinMonster stats and analytics are excellent. Typically, I shy away from A/B testing because it’s a pain to duplicate everything and keep track of the stats. With OptinMonster, I A/B test everything because they make it so easy. This feature is available even for their lowest level $49/year account.
As you go up in pricing with OptinMonster, you gain access to slide-in forms, floating bars, and after post forms. The pro account has what’s called “exit intent” technology which seems to be all the rage right now. The plugin will detect when a user is about to close out of the tab and then display a pop-up in the hopes of turning a one time visitor into a long term reader by collecting their email address.
There’s no question that this “exit intent” technology works. For most people it would skyrocket your conversions, but it’s a balancing act between trying to grow your email list and still creating a good reader experience on your blog.
Another absolutely killer feature of OptinMonster is what they call “monster links.” This is a similar feature to what you see with LeadPages, but for a fraction of the cost. The user reads a call to action somewhere on your blog, they click a normal looking text link, and then a pop-up form appears.
Link click to modal pop-ups generally have very high conversions. The idea is that people like to finish an action once they’ve started. Traditionally, a reader will see an email signup form embedded on a site. They have to enter their email address and then click a button. With monster links, the reader has started the action by clicking the link and psychology will tell them to finish the action by entering their email address.
Another benefit to OptinMonster, and this is a major reason why we use them, is that they integrate directly with ConvertKit, our preferred email marketing software.
4. Bloom by Elegant Themes
Bloom is a powerful and well-designed email optin plugin by Elegant Themes. If you’re not familiar with Elegant Themes, they are the creators of the popular “Divi” drag and drop WordPress theme. For $89/year, you get access to all of the Elegant Themes WordPress themes (including Divi) as well as their Bloom email optin plugin. Pretty good deal, especially if you already use an Elegant Theme.
Because the plugin is fairly recent, all of the sign up forms look very nice and modern. They offer pop-ups, slide-in, and inline forms. Bloom also has pinpoint control over which posts, pages, or categories will display the custom forms.
The biggest downside to Bloom is that it’s purely a plugin and not also a web app like OptinMonster. The experience of is just never as good trying to create forms inside of WordPress.
5. Popup Ally
Popup Ally is a WordPress email form and pop-up plugin from Ambition Ally. If there was ever a pop-up plugin that had a distinctly feminine feel, Popup Ally would be it.
With the pro version, you can create time-delay, scroll trigger, and exit intent popups from within the WordPress dashboard. Like the monster links from OptinMonster I mentioned above, Popup Ally offers click-based pop-ups as well. This feature allows for a two-step optin process that has been proven to increase conversions.
The thing that makes Popup Ally stand apart from some of the other services I’ve mentioned is the look and design of their forms. Not only do they look great out of the box, but you have almost unlimited control over customization.
All of these advanced features and templates require the pro version of Popup Ally which is $97 for a year of support and updates. The only negative I see with Popup Ally is that all of the controls are from within the WordPress dashboard.
6. Rapidology from LeadPages
This a recent entrant into the email opt-in plugin space. If you’ve been paying attention to tech news in the online marketing space, you’ll know that Rapidology is a “fork” of the Elegant Themes Bloom plugin I mentioned earlier. Bloom requires a paid Elegant Themes Membership, but the Radiology plugin from Leadpages is free.
I don’t want to get into the whole ethical debate of using the open-source codebase of another product, but if you Google the issue you'll see lots of opinions on both sides of the argument.
Being a free plugin with some powerful features, I was anxious to test out Rapidology. For some reason, the form design editor did not work well for me. It could’ve been a plugin conflict or some type of caching issue, but I didn’t spend the time to figure it out. Like I’ve mentioned before, that’s why I prefer a dedicated web app like Hello Bar and OptinMonster for creating the pop-ups and email forms.
Even though I didn’t get it to work, I could see in the Radiology dashboard that there were quite a few nice form designs and specific output control. They even recently added the link click to pop-up feature that is becoming more popular.
If you don’t have an ethical issue with Leadpages using the code base from Bloom, Rapidology may be worth a look. It is by far the most feature rich free pop-up solution on the market.
My final WordPress list building plugin recommendations
I hesitate to give a final analysis or my closing thoughts on which pop-up or email opt-in plugin you should use because it’s such a personal decision with dozens of individual variables. I can at least tell you my thought process and what I use…
We are currently a paid subscriber of OptinMonster. They have a dedicated web app and, most importantly, integrate seamlessly with ConvertKit, our email marketing software. None of the other options mentioned have that same seamless integration.
If I used MailChimp or another email marketing platform, I would be a paid user of Popup Ally. They have all the features I need, and I firmly believe they have the best looking forms. If Popup Ally ever integrates directly with ConvertKit, we would likely move away from OptinMonster.
For a free solution, none of the options can compare to Rapidology on a feature by feature basis. If my struggle with the plugin was unique and they’ve worked out the bugs, it’s worth a shot to see if you can make the plugin work for you. It’s certainly on my list to explore again in the future.
Hello Bar and SumoMe are fairly basic free options which don’t have the page, post, and category control until you become a paid member. The price point for their premium version seem out of line for the features you get compared to the other services I’ve mentioned, but that’s not say they aren’t good products.
With any email marketing software, we always have to strike the balance between being smart and collecting email addresses while also not annoying our readers. Reader experience is extremely important, and if you're providing tremendous value and giving them an easily navigable site to click around, the sign-ups will come!
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This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.