How a Two-Step Opt-In Compares to an Exit Popup [A Psychology Principle & Conversion Data]

I’ve no idea how to actually do the two-step. Apparently it looks a little something like this:

It’s way too complex for me. Fortunately, when it comes to marketing, the two-step opt-in form is much simpler.

What is a Two-Step Opt-In Form?

Well for starters it’s a two-time hyphenated term that’s really annoying to type. Functionally though, instead of including a form on your landing page, blog, or website, you use a link, button, or graphic to launch a popup that contains your form.

Why are Two-Step Opt-In Forms Good For Conversion?

There are two reasons why this approach is good for conversion rates, both of which have an element of behavioral psychology.

  • Foot in the Door (FITD): The FITD technique is an example of compliance psychology. By design, it’s good because the form is launched after a user-driven request. They clicked the link to subscribe with the intent to do exactly that, subscribe (or whatever the form’s conversion goal is). The click demonstrates the reaction to a modest request, creating a level of commitment that makes the visitor more likely to complete the form (the larger request) when it’s presented.
  • Perceived friction: Because there is no visible form, the idea of filling out a form is not really top of mind. This reduces the amount of effort required in your visitor’s mind.

What Does a Two-Step Opt-In Form Look Like?

They look a little like this artful sketch I did last night.

Let’s try a demo. You can subscribe to follow along with Product Awareness Month by clicking the banner.

Clicking that banner uses the two-step concept to launch a popup containing the subscribe form.

Pretty simple, right?

You could also click on any of the images below to do the same thing.

I configured all of these with Unbounce Popups by targeting this blog post URL and using the “On Click” trigger option set to function when an element with the ID #pam-two-step-v1 is clicked.

This trigger option is awesome because you can apply it to any element on your pages. And as you’ve just seen, you can have as many different popups as you like, all attached to different page elements.

You Can Also Use a Sticky Bar for a Two-Step Opt-In Form

The functionality is exactly the same if you want to use a Sticky Bar. Click the image below to show a Sticky Bar with a form, at the top of the page.

How Do Two-Step Opt-In Forms Perform?

Great question! I’m glad you asked.

Throughout Product Awareness Month I’ve sprinkled a few two-step opt-in popup opportunities like this one:

I’m also using the exact same popup using the exit trigger, so visitors see it when they are leaving the page (to compare performance). 100% of visitors will get the exit popup (once only), and the on-click triggered links are also available to all (just less likely to be seen).

To compare the data, the exit popup obviously gets seen a lot more as it triggers once for everyone. Conversely, the “On Click” popup gets fewer views because it’s a subtle CTA that only appears in a few places.

You can see some initial conversion rates below from the Unbounce dashboard.

I know, I know, not big sample sizes just yet (I’ll report on this again at the end of the month), but the difference is looking impressive.

The “On Click” triggered popup conversion rate is 1,147% better than the exit popup.

There is the argument around conversions is more important than conversion rate, but that doesn’t take into account any negative perception from the exit popup (thousands of people seeing it and not converting) vs. no negative perception from the on click version.

Convinced yet? I hope so. Now I’d like to challenge you to try your own experiments with popup triggers and the awesome two-step opt-in form.

Sign up for a 30-day trial and build some Popups today. You also get the Sticky Bar and Landing Page products included in your account.


p.s. Come back tomorrow to see a video interview I did with the awesome Head of Marketing at Shopify Plus, Hana Abaza.

About Oli Gardner
Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner has seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. He’s obsessed with identifying and reversing bad marketing practices, and his disdain for marketers who send campaign traffic to their homepage is legendary, resulting in landing page rants that can peel paint off an unpainted wall. A prolific international keynote speaker, Oli is on a mission to rid the world of marketing mediocrity by using data-informed copywriting, design, interaction, and psychology to create a more delightful experience for marketers and customers alike. He was recently named the "The 2018 Marketer to Watch," in the under 46 category, by his mother.
» More blog posts by Oli Gardner


  1. heidicohen

    Oli–I love the idea of a 2 step form. It’s like getting a warm lead. Thank you for sharing this experiment. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen Actionable Marketing Guide

  2. Will Plusch

    Hi Oli,

    You had me convinced until I saw the numbers behind your conversion rates. I’ll take 3x more sign-ups using the exit popup any day over the 2 step popup. Also, perhaps your conversion rate is higher because your sign-ups are more intentional. By making it a link that is less in your face, you unintentionally filter out those who are not as interested in signing up, unlike the exit popup which virtually everyone sees. They aren’t really more invested because they clicked on the first link, they were more invested from the start and that’s why they clicked on the first link.Your population that sees the exit popup is pretty much everyone, and most are not interested. But in reality it seems you actually convert better with the exit popup (in terms of overall signups) by convincing some who wouldn’t have clicked on a link to start with. Just a different perspective. Would love to see how your numbers play out after more time.

    Thanks, Will

    • Oli Gardner

      Hey Will,
      When you say “they were more invested from the start”, do you mean that the folks who are interested in general would have converted on exit if they hadn’t seen and clicked the link? And thereby the conversion rate for those people is the same regardless? I don’t think we can make that assumption, but it’s an interesting idea.

      Not sure how you get to the exit converting better. Sure there are more of them based on volume, but the success of the technique isn’t comparable. The goal now would be to optimize the number of people who see the link to push more conversions. This could be through the use of a more obvious image/banner – which I will try on the post now.

      I believe the investment by clicking the link is a true affect of the psychology principle. This technique has been tried and tested many times with primarily successful outcomes.

      Agree on the sample size, and I will update at the end of the month.

      • Oli Gardner

        Of course, a cleaner experiment would be to have the form embedded on the page to see how people relate to that vs. the link/banner.

        The current setup is more an interesting difference between two interaction modes.

        • Will Plusch

          Totally agree. I was thinking a good A/B experiment would be to have one page with the exit popups and one with just the embedded links. Then you’d have a better indication if you’re getting more conversions in the exit popup than just the visitors that would sign up regardless (and seemingly would click on the embedded link in the other version). Great point about the negative experience and that can’t be discounted in a long term strategy.

          • Isaac Ryan Mathews

            Agreed with Will. Having both on the same page isn’t as good of an experiment as splitting traffic. I would tend toward taking more conversions vs. the better percentage. As far as “negative perception” this is hard to quantify; so I’ll take the trade off.

            Very good article either way! I’ll probably start using a 2 step form in addition to my exit overlays. After all, more is more.

      • Oli Gardner

        I’d also add, that there is the debate over what’s more important, conversions or conversion rate. In this instance, the negative experience potential of the exit popup affects thousands of people, versus no negative affect from the on click version. Hard to numerically represent that, but it does need to be considered into the overall result.

  3. Kymmberly

    Great information. Getting a stronger lead just makes more sense.

    I have seen a lot more unsubscribes with popups, since most people (in niches other than marketing/digital/online etc) simply fill them out to get them out of their face.

    • Oli Gardner

      Oh that’s a brilliant – and too often overlooked – micro metric to measure. The unsubs by cohort. I’ll think about a way that might be possible. Might just be able to use a hidden field on the forms to log them in Pardot.

  4. Will Laurenson

    Looks pretty good, I like the idea. Is it GDPR compliant? While they are taking 2 steps to specifically opt in to a blog mailing list, do you still require the opt-in checkbox to be compliant?

  5. Filip Hvizdal

    Hey Oli,

    would you have any stats on a really big data set accross different industries classic opt-in vs. double opt-in, if the difference is significant? To me, with 10k visits per month for the whole website, my data doesn’t say much (and as a good student of yours, I should rather disregard the example in your article as well:).

    Also just wonderin if in the future there might be some cross-product conversion tracking in Unbounce as with 3 products things can get more complicated.

    Let’s say I have a sticky bar where one version goes to a landing page and another version to a popup to to test which works better, both of them containing the same form. Kind of no chance to put the results of the form conversions together without doing it in GA right? Also the two popup versions, even with the same desig, might have different CTR thus makind the interpretation again a bit more complicated (so it actually makes sense to measure both CTR and conversion rate now).

    And another thing, I’m sometimes using the external conversion tracking with my landing pages. It doesn’t work with the convertables or does it? Wasn’t able to find any details in the documentation. Thanks, your blog serie is awesome.

  6. Eric McCarty

    I would tend to agree with the others that a page conversion rate would be a better indicator of value than form conversion rate. But if you can find a way to nail down the unsubscribe rate by cohort or the negative brand influence of the exit popup, that might work in favor of the two-step. Good post, though.

  7. Mark Stofko

    Great food for thought. It would be interesting to see how changing/enhancing the design cues in the banner, e.g. adding a button or underlined link text, impacts click-through and conversion rate. I feel like I, personally, have become trained to look for those direct-response cues in a banner. I also wonder how many marketers are willing to trade off the potential negative perception of an exit popup in exchange for a greater overall number of conversions.

    I’m really enjoying Product Awareness Month, thanks for the many excellent ideas…

  8. Gill Andrews

    Hi there, Oli. I must say I thought the day when Unbounce will start saying that maybe popups aren’t the best thing to grow your list after all would never come :) The higher number of conversions makes total sense in this case because the visitors triggers the popup themselves and a) are paying more attention and b) are less annoyed by it.

    I love how you mentioned the negative perception of a popup and thousands of people seeing it and not converting. It warms my heart to hear that (nope, not an exaggeration).

    May I offer some concrete numbers for the negative perception aspect?

    On average, a small/medium business owners need 1319 people to see their popup before they get one (!) subscriber who will click on a link in their email.

    For large businesses, it’s 271 people. If you don’t care about your subscribers clicking on your link and just want them to open your emails, it would be 158 and 144 people respectively.

    But you don’t need to rely on an average and can calculate the numbers for your own website using this formula:

    # of people who will have to see your popup for you to get a subscriber who will click on a link in your email newsletter


    100/[your popup CR, %] x 100/[your email CRT]

    (Source: “The #1 Reason to Get Rid of Pop-Up Forms (Backed by Data)”)

    Anyhow :) Really happy to have stumbled over this today. Off to spreading the word.

  9. Server Rental

    Very nice information thanks for sharing
    GlobalNettech offer Dell workstation, HP Workstation, Mobile Workstation with NVidia Graphics on rental for Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, and Delhi.