Email Subscription: Forms versus Links

By Daniel Scocco

First of all, if you are not offering email subscriptions on your blog, you should. It is incredibly easy to setup a RSS to email service through Feedburner, and this option will increase your audience with the folks that are not familiar with RSS (believe it or not this represents the majority of the Internet users).

The ratio of email subscribers to total subscribers (email + RSS) will vary depending on your niche. It can be as low as 3% and as high as 30%. Daily Blog Tips has a relatively tech-savvy audience (bloggers), and that explains why out of 5000 subscribers only 200 (4%) people are using the email service. My other blog, Daily Writing Tips, has a more diversified readership, and out of 2400 total subscribers 360 (15%) are subscribing via email.

Regardless of your niche, therefore, I think that email subscriptions are worth it. The numbers will be small on the beginning, but suppose your blog grows to reach 10,000 RSS subscribers, it would be nice to have 1,000 extra readers via email, wouldn’t it?

Now that you are convinced about offering email subscriptions we can enter into the central topic of this article. There are basically two ways to offer email subscriptions on your site: with a subscription form and with a subscription link. Which one is better? We are going to analyze each method individually, and then draw some conclusions.

Email Subscription Forms

emailsubscriptionform.gif

You can see live examples of email subscription forms on Copyblogger and Problogger. Basically there is an input form where the user needs to type its email address and click on “Subscribe.” He will then see the following popup window (for the sake of simplicity we will carry the analysis using the Feedburner service only):

emailsubscriptionformpopip.gif

On this popup the user will need to pass a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) filter writing down some letters. Finally, an email will be sent to the user email address containing a link which is used to activate the subscription.

Summary of the steps required for subscription:

  1. Type email address
  2. Click on the link
  3. Type CAPTCHA letters
  4. Click to complete subscription
  5. Open email
  6. Click on activation link

Email Subscription Links

emailsubscriptionlink.gif

You can see live examples of email subscription links on this blog and on FreelanceSwitch. With this method the user will need to click directly on the link, and as a result he will be redirected to a new page that looks like this:

emailsubscriptionklinkpopup.gif

On this page the user will need to type his email address and to pass the CAPTCHA filter by writing down some letters. Once again an email will be sent to the specified address containing a link that will be used for the activation of the subscription.

Summary of the steps required for subscription:

  1. Click on the link
  2. Type email address
  3. Type CAPTCHA letters
  4. Click to complete subscription
  5. Open email
  6. Click on activation link

Conclusions

As you can see, the number of steps required to subscribe with each method is the same. Fixing all other variables (e.g., placement, appeal of the blog, etc.) the chances of someone subscribing via email, therefore, should be similar with both methods.

In my opinion, however, the subscription form has some drawbacks. First of all it uses a lot of space. Precious space if we consider the monetization aspect. Take a look at the Problogger site, for instance. Should Darren decide to remove his email subscriber box and substitute it with an email subscription link below the RSS link, the whole “Sponsors” section would be lifted significantly, putting two more sponsor blocks above the fold (above the fold equals more money when you talk with advertisers).

probloggersubscriptionform.gif

Secondly, subscription forms might create confusion with search boxes.

These arguments do not apply to all blogs, obviously. If the style and positioning are right, subscription forms can be effective (Copyblogger is a good example). Some people also defend that forms are more eye catching.

What do you think? Forms or links are more effective for offering email subscriptions?

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49 Responses to “Email Subscription: Forms versus Links”

  • Darren

    could be onto something – although all I know is that since putting that email field up there that my email subscription numbers have risen significantly.

  • Michael from Pro Blog Design

    I prefer the subscription form. It is much more noticeable. You talk about saving space with the link, but look at your example. The size of button needed on FreelanceSwitch is as big as the form on Problogger. 🙂

    Also, the form splits the task into 2 sections. Once a user has filled their email address into that first box, the task is half done before the real form is loaded. I think that that can be encouraging.

  • Sheila

    I’m ok with either method. Perhaps the form method might be slightly more eye catching and transparent for the reader who isn’t as tech-savvy. FYI – 33% plus Go Visit Hawaii subscribers subscribe via e-mail.

  • Skellie

    I use the link method at Skelliewag simply because it fits in more nicely with the design… I’m also going for a more minimalist look so for me, a form would be too much clutter ;).

  • Max Pool

    If my non-tech grandfather was a reader, the form solution would be much more effective. He is literally scared of clicking, but fearless in entering in personal information into text boxes.

    On the other hand, I agree that it could be confused with search boxes and I find few designs that accommodate the form cleanly.

    I really think it is a scenario of – 6 to some, half a dozen to another

  • Daniel

    Darren, I was not aware of the numbers behind Problogger. Nice to know that the form boosted your email subscribers. Got take that into consideration on my analysis :).

  • Daniel

    Sheila, 33% of email subscribers is impressive. I updated the post to reflect that.

  • David Airey :: Graphic Designer

    Interesting, Daniel.

    I don’t use either method. Instead, I push the boat out and give my readers an extra hoop to jump through. I have a link on my homepage, taking the reader to my subscribe page, where the email form is located.

    The reason behind this was so I could explain in more depth that I wouldn’t spam, without taking up too much room in a sidebar.

    Having read this article though, and seen a list of all the steps required, perhaps it’s detrimental?

  • Daniel

    David, sometime ago I also considered to create a special “Subscribe” page within DBT with all subscription options and information about them. I refrained from doing so though exactly because it would add an extra step.

    In fact I wish that Feedburner would make the sign up process shorter. Maybe just a subscription form, and once the user clicks “subscribe” and activation email would be sent to him automatically. This activation email should be enough to stop automated bots.

    If this option was available then I would also opt for a form instead of a link.

  • Wallace

    i don’t suggest using email subscription as
    most of bloggers will unsubscription if you write more to 2 posts per day. It is annoying for some readers, surely it doesn’t apply to some super fans.
    anyway, if the form fit the design, why not use it for some reader that don’t know what RSS is.

  • Ray Fowler

    I prefer using the form. Mine doesn’t take up that much space and I think it is more noticeable than just a link. Also (at least in IE), the form loads yellow, making it stand out more and immediately identifying it as some type of contact field. I have the words “Subscribe by email” show up in the form when it loads to further identify its function.

  • Eli

    Links for the win, in my opinion. I’ve never offered email subscriptions before, but I’m going to be soonish 😉

  • Daniel

    Wallace, even if you write 20 posts per day the subscriber will only receive 1 email with all the posts.

    Offering weekly summaries should be a good option as well, but it would involve creating more choices, and I am not sure how you would display them.

  • Guillermo

    I may use both: link and form. On the top right I will change the link for a form so it gets more visual. At the end of the post, what I call the “And now what?” section, I already use a link.

  • Patrick Altoft

    Eamil subscriptions are great, its amazing how many people still don’t use RSS.

    Using a form is a bit of a waste of space. You could make it a hidden div layer that shows when you click a link but its easier all round just to use a link. Works fine for me on blogstorm.co.uk

  • Shankar Ganesh

    In my view, subscription forms are a better option. Though they occupy a bit more space, they’ve resulted in more email subscribers.

  • Ashok Arora

    Nice tip, going to add email subscription link on my blog

  • Aaron B. Hockley

    I just wanted to say thanks for defining CAPTCHA. I have used the term for a couple years and didn’t realize it was an acronym.

  • Paula Neal Mooney

    Forms are more noticeable.

    I’m up to 1,116 readers on my site — a LARGE percentage of which are email subscribers.

    And I know it’s because of that subscription box — plus I just changed the background color to a nice catchy yellow. Truly helps!

    Daniel, do an experiment and add an email sign-up box and you’ll see…

  • Miguel Vera

    I use both. I placed the form in the sidebar and the link in the post footer. For feed readers I placed a small rss image with the feed link next to the “subscribe” link. That way, the ones who know how to use a feed reader will notice the difference.

  • Miguel Vera

    By the way, what I like about the form is that I can write a text in it. After checking that inactive subscriptions were almost half of the list, I added 3 easy steps for people to follow in the form. That actually increased my active subscriptions.

  • JTPRATT’s Blogging Mistakes

    Thanks for the article! I use an email subscription form on my site, and people do seem to be using it. I may need to review it though for better percentage signups – I liked the comparisons you had.

  • Martin

    Thanks for the tip, I just threw up a link to the email subscription next to my RSS button.

    I prefer the link, because like you said, that is valuable real estate on the sidebar.

  • Dean @ Technical Itch

    I use both styles on my site.

    On my sidebar I use a link. I used to have a subscription form there but people confused it for a search box.

    At the end of each blog article I use a subscription form. That has worked very well for me. I tripled my email subscribers that way.

  • Ramkarthik

    I have been using email form on my blog and it seems they are doing well for my blog. But haven’t tried the link. So I cannot comment on it. Will try it soon.

  • inspirationbit

    neither a link nor a form – I’ve just created a tiny button instead for my blog to offer email subscriptions and placed it right underneath my feedburner stats button. Curious to see how many subscribers it would bring.

  • Tai Tran

    I’d like to add to the comparison:

    Form
    0a.Move cursor to the textbox
    1. Type email address
    2. Click on the link This can be done by pressing Enter
    2a.Move cursor to the textbox
    3. Type CAPTCHA letters
    4. Click to complete subscription Enter please
    5. Open email
    6. Click on activation link

    Link
    0a.Move cursor to the textbox
    1. Click on the link Can’t be replaced with Enter
    1a.Move cursor to the textbox
    2. Type email address
    2a.Press Tab
    3. Type CAPTCHA letters
    4. Click on the link This can be done by pressing Enter
    5. Open email
    6. Click on activation link

    In this comparison, you see that the Link subscription option requires more mouse motion from user.

    I hate mice, they corrode my wrist!

    Tai

  • Transcriptionist

    I prefer keeping the subscription form in a separate page with a no spam notice, privacy policy if any, choice to opt out etc., as I did it on my site (only 2 months old), so that a not-so-techie reader is comfortable before he subscribes you.

  • George

    I think it depends on your goals.

    If you want more people to sign up for email notifications use a form. If you just want people to know that they have that option, use a link.

    I would be surprised if a link ever were to consistently outperform the form option.

  • Ad Tracker

    My email subcribers was stuck at 3 for weeks with a link. I changed to a form this week and gained 2 almost immediately.

    I know we’re not talking about the same kind of numbers but I was impressed.

    Thanks for opening this discussion.

  • dave

    I want to put the form on my blog, but I’m not too familiar with PHP yet and can’t figure out where in the code on sidebar.php to insert the feedburner code. Can someone tell me how or point me in the right direction (like a tutorial of some sort) where I can find out how. I’ve searched high and low and found one site that said “in the location, insert the code” hmmmmm, it would help if I knew WHAT friggin location!

  • INGRID

    what is internet?

  • iyabo oyawale

    This is an interesting topic and I have gained from all the views expressed but I will go for email subscriptions anyday,anytime.This is because they have boosted my subscription rates so far. So,why change a winning formula?

  • hso

    Email form works best for me. I do think bringing it up towards the top of the page might help boost subscription; right now I have it way below in the sidebar.

  • Yogesh Batra

    gg

  • Synusiek Starej Kurwy

    I dunno what to say 🙂

  • Brian

    Daniel – I am setting up a new blog and plan to use the email subscription. In my trials though, using FeedBurner, I see that it sends out the entire post. That doesn’t drive readers to my site nor tempt them to hit my ads. I have searched and am unable to find a way designate that I only want the summary/excerpt of my post sent in the email so that folks will visit the site. Suggestions? Thoughts?

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Aweber.com will do anything you need.

  • SEO Genius

    Email subscription is definitely something i have considered but like your article stated they do take up a lot of space, space i really have not got to give it away too an email box.

    Maybe not for now.

  • Tech magazine

    I’m looking for a small subscription box but can’t find any, i need it to be fully customizable.
    any thoughts

  • sbunting108

    Thanks I personally use a subscription box! It removes a step!

  • Net Movie Blogger

    I use the Feed Burner form box on my page. I think it’s easier to see and looks quick and easy.

    As for the e-mail updates… Feed Burner e-mails all of my new content in the e-mail. Will people visit my site if they can read it all in their inbox?

    I would rather only a portion of my update was in the e-mail and you would have to click read more or something to continue to my site to see the new content- like Google Alerts do. Does any program do this or can we add Google Alerts as a e-mail subscription to our blogs?

Comments are closed.