What if I told you there’s a small piece of your website design that actually does A LOT of the heavy lifting? It’s the one that turns one-time visitors into returning readers or freebie-seeking customers into actual buyers. In case you haven’t figured it out… it’s your opt-in forms doing the valuable work here! Opt-in forms can offer visitors a small sample of your products or services while building a valuable list of subscribers who will grow to love what you have to offer, but ONLY if you put those forms to work.
It’s common for many new website owners to underestimate the power of well-designed forms in generating leads and boosting sales. Don’t be one of them! Opt-in forms should seamlessly integrate into your site, enticing visitors to exchange their contact info for valuable lead magnets while also reflecting your brand’s quality and value. Do your opt-in forms effectively accomplish this? If not, fix them ASAP. Let’s look at how to design opt-in forms and optimize them for the highest conversions.
Note: This post is part of a website anatomy series detailing important website elements. If you haven’t read my post about creating ah-mazing landing pages (the perfect place to add those opt-in forms), go check it out now! You’ll also find more website anatomy posts here.
Types of Opt-In Forms
The primary purpose of an opt-in form is to capture the email addresses of future consumers. Many website visitors may not have purchased anything from you (yet!), but if you can catch their eye with your opt-in forms, you can nurture the relationship over time with tailor-made content and offers in the future (Hello email segments, I’m looking at you!).
Opt-in forms are the preferred way to share your free resources in exchange for basic contact information. You provide site visitors with quality content (giving them a taste of what you have on offer) and in return, you receive a curated list of potential consumers who might be interested in purchasing your related products or services. As a bonus, you’ll also know exactly what type of content interests them most (we’ll dive into this more later).
First, you need to understand the three main options before looking at how to design opt-in forms.
This form is embedded within the content on your website (in blog posts, pages, sidebars, footers, etc). It fits and flows with the content around it.
Whenever you’re discussing a specific problem in a post and have a free resource to help solve it, an inline form is the way to go. For example, a blog post about classroom management could have an inline form offering a behavior checklist. Another idea is adding an inline opt-in form to a blog post about setting up an ideal homework station. The free offer would be a “Downloadable Homework Station Checklist” lead magnet. Positioning the form where readers are already reading about related content makes the freebie logical and desired.
For example, maybe you want to learn more about email marketing. I can help with that!
More generic embedded forms also make great staples in sidebars and footers. You can see one right beside this post!
Landing pages provide a place for long-form content related to your offers. With a landing page, you can use the entire page to explain why someone needs access to your valuable offer. As the visitor scrolls down to learn all about what you’re offering and how it will benefit them, encourage them to sign up by embedding the form throughout the page. Here’s an example of mine for the same free email marketing guide embedded above.
Another option with landing pages is to make the opt-in form “sticky” as they scroll. This works best for timed offers as the viewer will constantly be aware of time ticking down and will want to get in on the offer before time runs out.
For example, a tutor could host a webinar with homework tips for parents. As the reader moves down the page, there should be multiple opportunities to sign up for the webinar interspersed with details about the event itself. A sticky footer at the bottom counting down the time until registration is over increases urgency.
If you’re crunched on time (or just need a dedicated place to host a sign-up form without distraction), you can use a simple landing page from your email marketing provider. Here’s an example of mine with website and business launch guides.
Remember, it’s not enough to simply create stunning landing pages for your offers and hope your audience will inadvertently stumble over them. You’ll need to promote these standalone pages heavily across all your channels: social media, segmented email lists, strategic guest posts, and elsewhere to drive relevant traffic to them.
If you didn’t check out my website anatomy blog post on landing pages earlier, head over there now for more tips and tricks on creating landing pages that convert!
Popup or Modal Forms
Finally, let’s take a look at the popup forms. This style of opt-in form “pops up” in a window over whatever web page is being visited. The forms can be located in the center, corner, or a “sticky” bar at the top or bottom of your page. Specific actions (or time) can trigger the forms.
An exit intent popup is triggered when someone tries to leave your site. It grabs their attention for one final conversion opportunity before they go elsewhere.
A time delay popup is triggered when someone first arrives on your site and is usually set to a short delay of two to five seconds.
A scroll percentage popup is triggered when someone scrolls down a certain percentage of your page.
A behavior-based popup displays when a user acts, such as adding a specific product to a cart or clicking a specific link.
All of these popup forms interrupt your visitors in their web travels, so be 100% sure the offer your opt-in provides is of a high value equal to the interruption. Larger lead magnets, timely trainings, and even discounts work best when presented in this all-of-a-sudden fashion.
My own example invites users to subscribe to my launch series. This is my most generic offer that would appeal to all users (instead of a specific offer like the email marketing guide), but it also offers high value because they receive 9 weeks of FREE ideas and tutorials.
For teacherpreneurs, this style of opt-in form could be used to invite visitors to join your list for weekly Monday morning motivational emails with timely resources and tips to start the week off on a high note. I know I’d love an email with a free tip or resource every week and be likely to purchase related items to save prep time!
No matter which time of form you use, the goal is to make your high-value offers impossible to ignore through strategic visibility and urgent, targeted copywriting.
Best Practices for How To Design Opt-In Forms
Now that we’ve looked at the different types, it’s time to learn how to design opt-in forms correctly. Well-designed forms should align with your branding, speak clearly to visitors, and build trust.
Use Cohesive Branding
Everything you design for your brand (whether it’s a web page, product, newsletter, or email) should always follow your brand guidelines. That means your opt-ins should too! While you might not be able to create an exact match in your default email marketing settings, the overall design of your form should use your brand features. Match the colors, photos, and font styles so the form coordinates seamlessly with your other website pieces.
If you’re still defining your brand, this post has tips for developing a strong brand identity.
Offer Valuable Lead Magnets
Any time you create an opt-in form it should offer real value. Subscribers want to know exactly what they will receive by joining your list, whether that’s a digital download, access to a course, discount code, or specific type of information. These offers are also known as lead magnets.
If your lead magnet form isn’t converting, but you’re sure it has value, try sharing more details. If you’re offering an ebook, let subscribers know how many pages they’ll receive. If you’re offering a short course, tell them how many modules are included. If you’re offering a tip list, tell them how many are included.
For longer opt-ins, experiment with using numbers, presenting the offer in a problem-solution format, including customer testimonials, or writing a headline that addresses a specific pain point in the form of a question.
Create a Strong Call To Action (CTA)
The words you put on that button matter! Eyes naturally scan to the submit button, so experiment with different phrases like, “Download Now,” “Get Started,” or “Send Me The Tips.”
This post has more examples for creating strong CTAs.
Optimize for Mobile Devices
Many of us read on the go, so ensure that your opt-in form is optimized for mobile and tablets. Sometimes default popup forms are impossible to close on a small screen, which can send users away from your site. Test each form to make sure it’s easy to read and navigate on smaller screens!
Add Social Proof
You can also include testimonials, reviews, or subscriber counts to build credibility and trust. When you show that others have benefited from your lead magnet, it becomes more enticing for new users to opt in.
For example, add “Join our community of over 10,000 dedicated teachers who ….!” to a headline to convey the value of your list.
These design best practices are the starting point for creating your opt-in forms, but this isn’t a one-and-done task. You should consistently monitor conversion rates and test elements like copy, offers, and design to reveal what resonates best with your audience. You can also learn where your forms perform best with a little A/B testing.
Don’t be afraid to make changes if you feel a form isn’t performing as well as it should. Keep making adjustments and tweaking until you’re rewarded with a lead-converting machine.
Technical Opt-in Form Considerations
In addition to design and copy, there are also technical factors that enable forms to perform smoothly and compliantly.
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws require businesses to explain how visitor data is collected/used while also allowing visitors to control their data or opt out. As a business owner, you’re required to comply with GDPR or risk facing fines.
I can’t offer legal advice or counsel, but you should research what it takes to be compliant with GDPR standards. Some email services such as ConvertKit have features allowing you to explicitly ask for a subscriber’s consent, but you still need to be aware of your responsibilities regarding the personal data you’ve collected.
Email Verification Records
New email regulations require email marketers to verify their email addresses with specific records to prove their authenticity and reduce spam. These are known as DKIM, SPF, and DMARC records. These codes are added to the DNS settings of your domain.
It’s important to keep a “clean” email list. Part of this means making sure your list is authentic and all users have personally opted in. One way to ensure this is a “double opt-in” which requires subscribers to click a button in their initial email before officially joining your list. This prevents third parties from subscribing to your forms and also helps cut down on bots.
Test and Confirm
After creating your forms initially and after any changes to your forms or funnels, you should ensure each step of the process happens as intended. Are emails being added to your list? Are confirmation emails being sent? Did relevant tags get attached to subscribers? Was the download received? What about automations or sequences?
Automations and Funnels
Finally, it’s important to think of your opt-in forms as only the first step in your larger email marketing plan. You can read this post to learn more about the 3 must-send emails you should send your new subscribers.
This post is all about automated email sequences and funnels.
It’s Time to Drive Conversions
When you take time to create your client’s ideal lead magnets, optimize forms to promote them, and write follow-up nurture sequences, your email marketing funnels become a valuable part of your overall marketing strategy. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to design opt-in forms correctly!
If you aren’t sure how to move forward with your email marketing, I can help. It can be daunting to incorporate this new information into your site, but don’t let that hold you back! Let’s work together to drive those conversions with this newsletter start-up package. I’ve helped countless other teacherpreneurs, and I’m here to help you too.
I also offer teacherpreneur strategy sessions to cover all aspects of digital marketing, not just email. Have you ever wished you could have a one-on-one session with someone who has been there and done that? Whether you need help driving more conversions or are struggling with a tricky tech issue, let’s jump on a call and figure it out together!