Hopefully you know that email remains, by far, the engine for online sales and lead generation of all types. And that means you need to offer exceptional value based on trust to be invited into someone’s primary inbox.
Today, Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers and I geek out hard over email opt-in psychology. You’ll be listening in on a conversation we’d have even if no one were listening (so … you’ve been warned).
That means you’ll understand the psychological impact of choices and consequences when it comes to signing up to your list. We also have a candid conversation about the new Unemployable home page approach to attracting email signups.
The Show Notes
- Choices, Consequences and the Reason Every Pop-Up Box Needs 2 Buttons: Opt In, and Opt Out
- Copy Hackers
How to Grow Your Email List Much Faster
Joanna Wiebe: Hello, I’m Joanna Wiebe. I teach businesses to use their words and to my family’s great dismay, I’m unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our Free Profit Pillars Course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Hey there, Everyone, welcome to Unemployable. I’m your host Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, CEO of Rainmaker Digital, and here to tell you how important email remains if you are in the business of selling anything. That could be working with clients, that could be selling products and services, it could be ecommerce. It’s still the key transaction engine online. And there’s an art to almost every aspect of it.
Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about how you get that list to grow a bit faster. There’s no one better to have this conversation with than Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers. We’re going to geek out a little bit here, having a conversation we’d probably have even if you weren’t listening.
So, tune in, you’re going to hear some really good stuff about the psychology that’s a little counterintuitive and certainly interesting about email opt-ins. We’ll talk a little bit about the new Unemployable homepage and why I took that approach.
If you’re looking for something to sell by email and maybe you’re tired of doing the client services thing and all that, you need to look into digitalcommerce.com. That is our own Digital Commerce Institute. It’s designed to help people build great businesses out of digital products and services.
I have a secret thing here that’s not been made public yet. If you go to digitalcommerce.com/register, you will see an offer that is free access to select lessons from our online education course, our marketing funnels course, a couple of free members only webinars you’ll get access to. This has not been publicized yet. Head over there and get some free access to see what’s going on inside Digital Commerce Academy.
Then also, while you’re there, obviously check out Digital Commerce Summit which is happening in October. We’re about to raise the prices on everything after we make some big announcements about the Summit.
Head over there, try the free registration and give it a test drive. See if you like it. You don’t have to commit right away. That’s digitalcommerce.com/register. We’ll see you over there.
All right, well, let’s head into the episode by cutting over to Miss Joanna Wiebe.
Joanna, is your family really dismayed? Come on, now.
Joanna Wiebe: They don’t know what I do, like most.
Brian Clark: Oh well, welcome to my world. I mean, they still don’t know what I do, but they know I’m not in the gutter, so it must be okay.
Joanna Wiebe: They haven’t discovered that about me yet. So we’re just kind of okay, because then they don’t ask to borrow money or anything.
Brian Clark: I also like the fact that you said, “Use your words,” because that’s what I tell my kids.
Joanna Wiebe: Right, exactly. Repeat that as people get older too and try writing copy. Use your words, use your words.
Brian Clark: Today, as promised, you and I are just going to geek out about email and copy and psychology, and we’re going to let people listen. That’s the show.
Joanna Wiebe: Super fun. I hope everybody’s really excited about that. I’m excited.
Brian Clark: I hope so too. We always talk about, “We should have recorded that conversation.” So, today, we’re just going to do that.
Joanna Wiebe: Love it.
What Did You Discover About Sign-Ups?
Brian Clark: Here’s what I want to talk about. The subject, of course, today, is email marketing and it’s so vital, and there are so many components and moving parts to the whole thing. But first and foremost, getting some people, and hopefully more people, on the list in the first place. Nothing really happens until we can get that to go for us.
You have experimented on yourself like you always do, which is awesome. And then you test it and then you share the results, which is so much fun for me, which is why I love Copy Hackers.
One experiment and discovery, if you will, that really fascinated me and actually inspired me a little, which we’ll talk about, was you had… let’s just kind of walk through it. You weren’t getting as many sign-ups as you would like. You were kind of anti-exit pop to a certain degree. Tell us that part of the story.
Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, we weren’t getting the sign-ups. You talk to people who are doing the same kind of work you’re doing, and they’re like, “Oh, my list just doubled in 14 days. It went from 14,000 to 28,000,” and you’re like, “Oh, mine did not do that. Mine hasn’t done that at all.”
So, it was kind of just ticking along for a while doing all the usual stuff that people tell you to do. And that’s what we were doing at Copy Hackers. And it wasn’t working, so we had to find obviously a better solution.
Finding that solution was, of course, a challenge as always. Finding the thing that works is rarely like, “Do something and suddenly it works.”
We’d been noticing online people using a lot of pop-ups, obviously. I think all of us have noticed that. This was like two years ago, where more and more we were seeing these pop-up boxes from a company called Bounce Exchange. They had these two buttons, and one of the buttons was glowing — two buttons to opt in versus not to opt in — to get some opt-in bait.
The one button that they wanted you to click would be like super glowing, make you feel like a rock star, and the other button would make you feel like a total asshole. I hope it’s okay to use that word here.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it is. Let me say that I probably noticed this at the same time. And I thought the way the second option was presented was a big turnoff for me and I know it was for you as well.
How Were You Using an Opt-In?
Brian Clark: Before we get into that, because this is so fascinating, you were offering, I think, some sort of ethical bribe, some sort of incentive to get on the list, yes? Or did you write that later?
Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, we were doing basically a drip campaign is what it came out to. You would get a persuasion guide for signing up. Then that would put you into a seven-part course on copywriting, like a crash course in copywriting. That’s what we were offering and we were using an opt-in box in the sidebar of our blog. And at the bottom of every post, we’d have this opt-in box in our footer.
We experimented for a bit with PopUp Domination, I think it was that we used, and they probably work for a lot of people. For us, it was just another pop-up that people complained about. It wasn’t growing our list and it didn’t feel like anything was really going to grow our list.
Of course, that made me a little frustrated with our readers, frankly, which really meant I was frustrated with myself. But I blamed it on people coming to the site, like, “Oh, I guess these are people who just don’t ever want to get a newsletter. That’s weird, because a lot of them are writers and people who are creating their own newsletters. So why wouldn’t they at least want to opt in to have a better swipe file or throw our stuff in a swipe file or destroy it in a tear down or something?”
People weren’t signing up in any great amounts even though we were doing the usual stuff. The opt-in page and stuff.
The Power of Choice and Consequences for Sign-Ups
Brian Clark: Yeah. Okay, so now let’s get back to this choice thing. Now I want to make this clear, because I’m conceptually inspired by this approach, and yet I’m not using it in a pop-up context. The psychology here is really independent of a pop-up, and yet the way you present it makes perhaps a pop-up more palatable than otherwise, maybe.
Joanna Wiebe: Certainly hope so. For us, it does. Maybe I’m just justifying the decision.
Brian Clark: Whatever works, right?
Joanna Wiebe: Exactly. I don’t know if I even mentioned this in the post where I wrote about it, but I had been reading, now it must be three years ago or something. I read an article that a teacher wrote about how difficult it is to educate students when you’re not allowed to give them any consequences for not doing what he asked his students to do.
It was this interesting post where he talked about pedagogy (or pedagogy or however different people pronounce it) and how critical it is for people to offer a consequence. Because without a consequence, there really is no choice. It is just the thing. The easiest thing to do, you do without a consequence.
As soon as you put a consequence in place, students were more likely to learn more, to pay more attention, to hand in their assignments, to do all of those things that you want a student to do.
I didn’t know what to do with this. I kind of just put it away in a little bookmark, like “Return to that later.” I had had this idea in my head for a while, and then I saw these terrible opt-outs, like this thing we’re talking about, this pop-up box that has the two buttons on it. One is opt in, the other is to opt out.
I didn’t like the negative message on the opt-out. It felt wrong, it felt inappropriate for most brands. I wouldn’t want to use it. I assume, Brian, you wouldn’t want to come off as super negative.
Brian Clark: No. And some of the negative statements I’ve seen just blow me away. I get being edgy or anything. It’s not like you’ve got Bob Bly coming after you for saying “Mofo” or something.
Joanna Wiebe: What would that feel like?
Brian Clark: That’s an in joke. I’m sorry, I’ll explain that some other time to the listeners.
Joanna Wiebe: That was fun. It’s true.
But I didn’t want to give in to this, although it was looking like, “Okay, well, if this teacher is talking about choices and consequences and it’s clear that although we’re asking people to opt in on our site, we’re not giving them a consequence for not opting in. We’re just saying, ‘Here, opt in or do the very easy thing, which is walk away, go on with your life, carry on just being who you are, and I’ll keep wishing and hoping and praying that you’ll come back here and eventually choose me.’”
We weren’t doing the negative thing. That’s the consequence of not opting in. And so this button, the second button on the Bounce Exchange pop-ups, it seemed to present a really interesting opportunity.
So we were connected anyway with the people at Bounce Exchange, because we’d written these scathing posts about…
Brian Clark: This all started when you kind of handed it to them a bit.
Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, and actually it was Lance that wrote that. He’s far more likely to write something like that, because I’d be like, “Oh, I don’t know, what are people going to say? I don’t know.” I’d need three years to work up to actually hitting publish on that post, so he does hit it right away.
It started ranking high for Bounce Exchange as a search term, which is why I assume they reached out to us to try to change our minds. And so, we decided to give it a shot, to try this opt-in and opt-out button and see if maybe there was anything to it. Maybe there was something to this consequence idea.
As copywriters, we know about this kind of stuff too, but you don’t necessarily apply it in new ways. Most of these opt-in boxes that you can choose to sign up for, they weren’t offering like the pop-up box. They didn’t have the two buttons. Bounce Exchange was really the only one that did at the time.
So, we ran a test, a couple of tests with them, and the results were pretty interesting of course. That’s why we’re talking about it.
What the Test Looked Like
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk specifically about results, but let me see if I can just summarize this.
So, the normal opt-in box, whether you’re offering an incentive or not, is essentially an offer. If you don’t accept the offer, you’re rejecting it, but that’s not made express. So, really, all that’s happening here is you’re making the offer and then you’re offering another choice, which is to reject the offer. You’re making it explicit.
I think if we didn’t know better about the foibles of human nature, we might think that’s ridiculous. Instead, I find it fascinating.
You’re offering two choices, yes or no, and then “no” is designed to communicate explicitly the consequences of saying “no.”
Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. I mean, there are huge conversations to have around that alone — what goes on that negative button, the opt-out button, the one where you say no? I had a separate post about Tim Grahl and what he was doing with his opt-out button. Anyway, that’s a whole other story.
But there is that question of “Well, what should go on that opt-out button?” Because you don’t want people to feel bad. I don’t want people to look at the Copy Hackers brand, they’re on our site, they see this pop-up, it says, “Copy Hackers presents the free 2015 Persuasion Guide. Yes, get the free Guide. No, I reject the Persuasion Guide.” We wanted to make sure that that “no” language didn’t make us look like we thought you weren’t very smart or something, which is what a lot of the negative buttons were doing.
So, it was just messaged to do exactly as you said, to reject the thing. And then you have to actually click a button now that says, “I reject it,” and that of course is a really powerful thing. I think there’s more to what Bounce Exchange does than that, but that’s a huge difference that we’ve seen.
Brian Clark: So, instead of clicking an X to make it go away, you have to say, “No,” literally. It’s very interesting.
Joanna Wiebe: It is. And people talk about hating it. Every conference I go to now — I was at CTA Conf in Vancouver in September, and everybody on the stage said — not everybody, there were what? 20 speakers? I think four of them said that they hate pop-ups, never use pop-ups. This was a prevailing… this is all people were talking about is this hatred of pop-ups.
But, like we’re talking about, this is list growth. And even though for some people it doesn’t feel great, well, I guess that’s the question.
What do you do if it doesn’t feel great? For me, I feel like results speak for themselves and we’re not doing anything mean, because we don’t actually think negative thoughts about people who don’t opt in. We might get a little frustrated when people don’t sign up, but that’s like very minor, minor frustration. Not enough to cause us to put some really evil messaging on our button.
But frankly, from what we’ve seen, it works and it works extraordinarily well, that negative opt-out, the consequence for not opting in.
What Were the Results?
Brian Clark: What did your numbers look like after you implemented this?
Joanna Wiebe: We were in the double digits and that was low. That was like 30 to 50 sign-ups a day going to the triple digits. Of course, it fluctuates naturally, and we test different opt-in offers, like the bait itself. I know that’s a terrible word though, right? Bait sounds… I know.
Brian Clark: Ethical bribe.
Joanna Wiebe: That’s what you said.
Brian Clark: None of the terminology is all that great.
Joanna Wiebe: I think we would think of something better given what we do.
We tested different things and by far we found that the Persuasion Guide is the thing that brings people in the most, so it’s good to keep testing that stuff.
But the results have been going from 30 to 50 to several hundred or more a day, which is pretty significant. It’s kind of a major deal. It changed list growth for us. It completely changed it.
Brian Clark: One of the exit pops that you have says, “No, my copy is already stellar,” which is not a horrible thing. But we talk about a gut check, because you have to click that and if you actually internalize it at all, you may reconsider. That may have something to do with… it’s that type of thing. What happens within the process of contemplating this generous offer to trade for your email address, which we know is sacred.
Testing Unemployable’s Opt-In
Brian Clark: Here’s what I want to throw at you and just kind of get your gut reaction, because you haven’t had a whole lot of time to contemplate this.
Joanna Wiebe: I’m scared now.
Brian Clark: No, no, no, no. We just redesigned the Unemployable homepage. It’s a fairly young site. Initially, it really was just a podcast. I also did three webinars with the intention of then reformatting that into a course, which we did.
The whole concept of choice got my brain rolling. It wasn’t as much of a focus on consequence, although I think there could be some of that involved. It’s more of a different concept — it’s a stealth thing. It’s hide your true message within an alternative message. And nothing evil or anything here, I just want to make that clear. Also, if what you’re offering isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how tricky you are, people are going to leave you. But, okay, that’s said.
Basically, it’s a choice paradigm where the first choice is your typical, “You get this free course if you sign up for the curated Unemployable newsletter.” Basically, I bill it as the, “Top 10 Resources for Freelancers and Entrepreneurs Each Week.” Then I present another choice which basically says, “No, thanks. I don’t need that training course. Just send me the email, the Top 10 Resources for….”
Rather than consequences here, here’s what I’m creating: number one, I’m doing a curated email newsletter, because number one, I want the email to be the thing. The value is the email. It’s not an ancillary thing or anything like that. That’s my thinking, one.
And number two, offering the choice, my hypothesis is that it creates that stealth message of, “Of course, I want the email, but I’m going to make a decision about whether I need this free course or not.” And also kind of negating an implication that if your email is so good, why do you have to bribe me with this free course?
So this was my hypothesis and it’s different, obviously, than what you did. But it was your post that got my brain thinking in this way — that you’re creating an implication of value of that newsletter that someone might choose it without the ethical bribe, the course.
I did this and then I launched it live because my first test is: is anybody actually going to sign up for just the newsletter without the course? And guess what? They do. Isn’t that weird?
Joanna Wiebe: They do to what ratio of people who do to don’t?
Brian Clark: Yeah, the course option is more popular, as you would guess. It’s about 4:1 though.
Now I know what you’re going to say next. You’re going to say, “What we have to do, Brian, is test the two choices versus just the course plus newsletter option.” Which yes, I’m going to do under your supervision. But isn’t that interesting?
Joanna Wiebe: It is.
The Psychology of Contrast
Brian Clark: Because the next thought is: would those people have left? Would they have just said “no” if you didn’t give them an option that seemingly is less valuable, but for whatever’s in their head? “I think I’m going to get spammed if I take the course or I’m just not interested.”
What’s the fear there? Give me your gut. Tell me what you’re thinking is going on here.
Joanna Wiebe: It reminds me so much of everything that Cialdinia, an influencer, he’s talking about this huge persuasion concept of contrast. Everybody listening is going to be like, “Oh, I know where she’s going.” Yeah, with the bread makers. He just had one bread maker. Was it William Sonoma or something like that?
One bread maker was selling the catalog, not selling at all. They add a second bread maker and suddenly sales of the first one go up and sales of all bread makers go up, because there was suddenly something to contrast and to choose between.
I guess I wonder, is it the same thing? For me, I think part of the problem with the consequence situation with that whole idea that perhaps you need these consequences is that online there’s always a choice. There’s always something else I can do. And that is I can completely ignore what’s going on the screen. I can do whatever I want to do.
With a pop-up box, you can still leave the tab or close that tab down, but you can’t do anything else on the page without choosing, “Yes, I’m in,” or, “No, I’m not in.” That forces you to make the choice and to be aware of the consequence and be okay with taking that consequence if you choose the negative side of things.
When we’re looking at this, at what you’re doing, it’s very interesting to me. I didn’t know that these two were… I guess the way your page is set up and I hope everybody listening is on unemployable.com right now. But I guess it’s kind of a combo of both of the ideas.
For me, it looks like it’s really playing on the contrast idea, because there are these two different things with two different calls to action. One of which has a field. The other has “Get Access” without a field, but when you click “Get Access,” ta-da, there’s work to do. The work is showing on the “No, thanks” option. There are just so many things going on.
Brian Clark: I know. We can probably do five different tests, minimum.
Joanna Wiebe: Probably.
Brian Clark: It is fascinating to me. The first thing I want to test is if one in four people (approximately, I can get better data) is choosing not to get this additional value, would they have said no?
The easy way to test that, of course, is to do a split test with the homepage and just offer the course plus the newsletter with no other option. And then the other option is this version of the page and see which one signs up more people.
Joanna Wiebe: Yes. The other option would be to have two fields. Have the email address plus “Get Access” on the left-hand side one, and keep the email address plus “Join Us” on the right side. Change the, “No, Thanks” from the training course into a headline looking thing versus the “Get the Once a Week” on the one on the left. I mean, there are so many interesting things.
Try Something New and Test
Brian Clark: At least I’m not being boring. This is how I keep myself in this game. You’ve got to try new stuff.
I think that’s really the message that we need to get across here. Number one, humans are interesting and they don’t act necessarily logically — rule number one. Number two is try new things and then be scientific after you try them and figure out, “Okay, what’s really going on here?”
So often, I think that’s the part we leave out. We try something new, it works, and then we attribute motive A to it when it’s really something completely different that we haven’t thought through.
Joanna Wiebe: Totally. I agree. It reminds me of the post we did about Tim Grahl, which I was talking about a little bit earlier. I’m just going to try to go to it, but it’s really this question of what… because there are so many different things you can be testing and questioning and wondering about there.
Tim Grahl had – I’m just going to quickly run through it. He tested two pop-ups. Tim Grahl, he promotes authors or he helps authors get to The New York Times Bestseller List or whatever.
He had two different variations of a pop-up box, but they were each doing different things. Anyway, the control had the headline, “Want to sell more books?” And variation B had, “Hi, I’m Tim Grahl” as the headline. Everything else on the pop-up box was the same. “I’ve helped dozens of authors” – starts with that. “What you’re going to get, these three things.”
Then there’s a field, “Enter your email address” and then two buttons: “Download Now” or “No, I’m Selling Enough.” It would seem like, “Oh, okay, if B wins over A, then it’s because he did, ‘Hi, I’m Tim Grahl.’” But once you actually dig into it, and we do dig into it a bit in the post, and I think it gets slightly confusing, because we’re really just exploring what the hell was going on there, why he got these really odd, well, really, I guess, expected results.
When there are different things going on in those different variations that you’re testing, which is why we love to have just one different thing to test, so that you can actually tell what changed. As soon as we have two different headlines, and knowing that those headlines work or do not work with buttons and knowing the psychology, the way that we make these decisions or fail to make a decision…
Anyway, there’s so much to be said. Now, I’m looking at your page and comparing it to the Tim Grahl situation. There’s a lot to test.
Also on your page, I’d want to see a version of it where you don’t have anything below those two options, so people are really forced. Maybe even getting rid of the header. But, of course, that just turns into pure landing page at that point.
Brian Clark: We could make it a non-home page landing page and throw some traffic at it.
Joanna Wiebe: And just see. What if you force people… it sounds bad to say “force.” Let’s find a better word than that. But if you compel people in such a way that they can only choose between those two things (that’s their choice), now it becomes a lot like a pop-up without being a pop-up. I wonder what would happen.
I also wonder if those two boxes you have were combined visually to look like they’re part of one box, would that change things too?
Brian, you have like two years’ worth of tests to do on this single page, it’s crazy.
Brian Clark: That’s why we hire you to come up with things to test.
Joanna Wiebe: It’s so fun.
Brian Clark: Oh God, who has time to do all this? Joanna has time.
Joanna Wiebe: Joanna’s not doing anything.
Brian Clark: No, no. We know that’s not true.
All right, I’m going to link up both of those articles in the show notes, because it’s really fascinating, and there’s a lot to dive into. I think you’ve done a great job of blowing people’s minds on how many variables there can be.
But that shouldn’t scare you off, because there’s always a beginning point and it’s a very methodical thing. You test one thing and then you move on and you learn each step. And sooner or later, you start really jelling on what’s going on here.
Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. As long as you’re recording your results as you go, I think that is the best way to keep testing from being like, “Oh, what should we test?” And then you forget a year later that you ran a similar test. Although it might be worth testing a year later, because your business could change by that point.
There are lots of things to test, sure. But hopefully, it’s not too overwhelming, because once you do it, it’s really exciting. It’s frustrating too, but exciting.
Brian Clark: Of course, if you’re not on the newsletter list and you’re listening to this podcast, and now that you know how I’m psychologically manipulating you, please head over to unemployable.com. It’s really in your best interest, trust me.
I mean, the fact that we’re transparent about this stuff is kind of a double-edged sword, isn’t it?
Joanna Wiebe: It is.
Brian Clark: You’re hoping that people appreciate it instead of going, “Wow!”
Joanna Wiebe: Now they’re skeptical all the time. “I can’t trust Brian Clark.”
Brian Clark: I know. Well, if that were true, I would have been done 10 years ago, because I was pulling the curtain back on the wizard right from the very beginning.
Brian Clark: So what is going on at Copy Hackers? You’ve got a lot going on. You’ve got big plans for this year or just kind of growing, staying the course.
Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, big cool plans. We’re kind of getting, I don’t know, more real as a business. I think because Copy Hackers started as this lean startup sort of experiment, it frankly has gotten away from me a bunch of times. I sit back and let it happen. I just hope I can keep up.
But now, I’m getting ahead of it, trying to at least get a little under control. I’ve got a little team I’m building, finally, in a real way. So, that’s exciting. And yeah, working on a solution to help content creators, so we’ll see how that goes.
Brian Clark: Nice, I’m intrigued.
Joanna Wiebe: I’m intrigued. I want to see what happens too.
Brian Clark: Well, that’s why you don’t say too much early on, because you’re like, “Oh yeah, did I say that?”
Joanna Wiebe: Everybody’s waiting for me to do that “Oops, I’m not doing it anymore.” Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.
Brian Clark: Joanna, thank you so much for your time. Like I say, when I need outside copy and conversion help, Joanna is the first person I go to. And thankfully, she hasn’t told me no.
Joanna Wiebe: That would never happen. That’s nice of you.
Brian Clark: Thanks for being on the podcast. Thanks for geeking out with me.
All of you out there, come up with some new ideas, test some stuff. Don’t be afraid. It’s fun when you figure out these really cool things, because like I said, humans are interesting.
In the meantime, keep going.