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How to Convert Anonymous Web Visitors [5 Proven Methods]

Michael Becker
Michael Becker

Acquiring new customers is critical to business growth. This post is the first of a three-part series where we’ll show you how to get unknown visitors to opt-in or purchase. Today, we’ll talk about how to do this on your website.

Customer Acquisition Matters

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One common denominator sits at the core of every successful, profitable, and self-sustaining e-commerce strategy: acquiring new customers.

Customer acquisition is all about getting unknown website visitors to willingly subscribe to your brand. Doing so rests on your keen ability to prove that the value exchange (handing over personal information) will be worth it.

#CustomerAcquisition means getting anonymous website visitors to willingly subscribe or purchase — which means proving the value exchange will be worth it      CLICK TO TWEET

Ultimately, if you want to increase revenue and turn unknown contacts into active customers, you have to optimize your website for conversions and provide personalized experiences — which will help you sit a notch above the other brands all vying for that same customer.

There are many ways that today’s most successful and innovative brands are getting anonymous contacts to give their information and become known members of their community/database. We’ll show you how to use 5 tactics, including:

  • Classic acquisition box or sign-up forms
  • Entry overlays as soon as contacts land on your website
  • Banners or ribbons that sit at the top of your web pages
  • Re-permission forms (which help toward further GDPR compliance)
  • Strategic exit-intent popups

Best practices for website acquisition

According to web marketing expert Andy Crestodina, anywhere you have an email sign-up box (footer, popup window, top of your blog, etc.), be sure to include the Three Ps:

► Prominence. It stands out from the rest of the page. It’s high up in the visual hierarchy because it’s large, it’s a contrasting color, or it uses imagery.

► Promise. It tells the visitor what they’ll get if they opt-in. Indicate the value or the discount they’ll get, and be as specific as possible. You can also let the potential customer know how often you’ll communicate with them.

►  Proof. Give them some evidence that you are legitimate. If you’ve got a big list, let them know. “Join the 5,000+ people who receive…” If you don’t have a big list, add a testimonial with a few words from a happy subscriber.

“The worst possible acquisition box lacks all three Ps. It’s hidden, vague and untrustworthy. If your subscribe box just says “sign-up for our emails,” you’ve got a big opportunity to grow your list faster.”

Andy Crestodina • Co-founder, Orbit Media Studios@crestodinaLinkedIn

Alright, now let’s get to it. What do these techniques look like in practice with brands that are winning at new customer acquisition?

Types of Website Email Collection Tactics

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When it comes to new customer acquisition for e-commerce brands, there are essentially two main ways to go about it:

  • Earning email addresses by prompting new website visitors to subscribe to receive updates, an e-newsletter, or discounts
  • Using tactics on your website that get new visitors to buy on the spot

Since there can certainly be overlap here, we’ll cover these 5 methods in succession (and in no particular order).

Acquisition box

These are your most common website forms to encourage people to opt-in to your marketing communications.

“Acquisition box” is a blanket term that refers to any form, widget, or other element appearing on your website which asks visitors to enter their email address.

Acquisition boxes often sit or float in the sidebar, or appear as overlays.

Related Content: At the Intersection of Personalization, CRO, and SEO: Q&A with Andy Crestodina

Swedish retailer Happy Socks, uses a simple acquisition box that’s both prominent and makes a promise:

The sign-up form appears as an overlay, and works for the brand because of its prominence and promise of value — visitors know what to expect when they hand over their email address: the newsletter and an added 10% off and free shipping on the first order.

mytheresa uses an acquisition box that points users to a separate landing page for email collection.

mytheresa.com, a luxury fashion online retailer, uses an acquisition box at the bottom of its website for a different purpose: to point unknown visitors to a separate sign-up page:

Pro Tip: In order to go beyond prompting visitors with the same opt-in box, use technology that can distinguish between those who are subscribed vs. those who are unsubscribed – then only show the e-newsletter subscription box to the unsubscribed visitors. You don’t want to show the same opt-in form to people that have already signed up.

Entry overlay email sign up

You’re probably familiar with exit intent overlays. But entry overlays work in the same way as soon as visitors enter your website.

Butter London, a cosmetics brand, uses an overlay (also an acquisition box) on entry in order to acquire new email addresses so it can begin a relationship with new contacts:

Entry overlays don’t have to be giant mats that cover the screen. Butter London presents its entry overlay as a simple, condensed sign-up box.

Though they’re used for the same purpose, these differ slightly from acquisition boxes as they grey out the background, and force the visitor to convert or click off the box.

Rawlings — one of my favorite brands — uses an effective entry overlay to not only capture an email but to also learn a little bit more about who new people are:

Upon entry to its website, Rawlings prompts unknown visitors with an entry overlay that includes a discount offer.

American horse supplies brand Schneiders Saddlery uses an entry overlay to really familiarize itself with unknown website visitors.

If you want to get to know Schneiders, they want to get to know you — the horse supplies brand asks new customers to agree to receive emails, as well as let them know more demographic information so it can truly get to know new visitors. Source: Schneiders

Program your marketing platform to only show these to anonymous visitors so as not to annoy those who have already subscribed.

It’s important to distinguish between a pop-up and a modal/overlay – overlays are a visual of some type that asks users to enter their information in exchange for their information. These don’t create as many issues as pop-ups, from Google’s perspective.

Pro Tip: Timing matters. When the element shows up initially upon page load, it will be considered differently than something that happens during scroll depth. There’s no right or wrong time to wait until triggering your overlay; just consider the customer experience you want to provide. Also ask: can the element easily be closed? Does it interfere with the visitor’s ability to read the page? If so, Google may penalize your page.

Ribbon campaign

Ribbons or banners (headbands) offer a viable option to add a sign-up strip to your website, usually situated at the top (and sometimes bottom) of the page.

These work well if you want to spark your anonymous visitors’ interest and grab their attention by encouraging them to sign-up with an element that’s front-and-center.

Re-Permissioning for GDPR Compliance

Asking users to re-subscribe is BIG, especially in the post-GDPR marketing world.

Related Content: The Definitive Chapter Guide to Re-Permissioning Campaigns for GDPR [Examples]

You can automate this process, too. If you’re able to distinguish between unknown visitors and people who’ve opted-in, you can “re-permission” your known contacts to ensure they want to stay part of your database.

You can target only “lapsed” contacts if you choose – showing the form to contacts who haven’t engaged in a specific period of time, like six months.

Permission-based marketing isn’t a new concept, but regulations like GDPR have recently shined the spotlight on it again — and we have to re-focus on gaining clear consent to communicate with contacts. This is a good thing!

You can use re-permission forms to clean up old data and ensure GDPR compliance.

Exit intent

Exit intent pop-ups are a last chance effort to capture attention and information of those who are leaving your website. They can help win back people who visit your website but show “exit intent” without making a conversion. These work for both known and anonymous users.

“Take a quick look at your analytics, and you’ll probably see that more than 70% of your visitors don’t come back. In an ideal world, you’d give visitors enough justification to subscribe before they leave. But by using exit intent popovers, you can increase the likelihood that someone will subscribe – provided the offer is persuasive and targeted enough.”

Adam Connell • Founder, Blogging Wizard@adamjaycLinkedIn

There are two main options if you’re using exit intent overlays to drive purchases: 

► Option 1:  Include product recommendations for existing contacts onsite to drive engagement and next best action.

► Option 2:  Show anonymous visitors an overlay with a promotion, including a request for their email address.

But you can also use them in other ways if you don’t want to try to sell someone as they leave your site. For instance, well-known retailer PacSun uses an exit intent popup to seek visitors’ feedback, and sends them to a survey instead of making a hard sell (it’s also using a headband and wheelie popper):

Source: PacSun

Final Thoughts

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Getting opt-ins and converting unknown website visitors to known contacts and eventually into customers isn’t an easy feat. Requesting an email address of a new, unknown visitor – whether using a form, buttons, or boxes – requires both sensitivity to your audience and a calculated strategy that’s optimized for web conversions.

It requires a conceded effort to capture email addresses or drive purchases, and learn more about database contacts over time as they interact with your brand.

Used strategically, and in tandem with one another (and to complement the rest of your digital marketing strategy, not to replace it), these five best practice techniques for capturing anonymous website visitors will give you a leg up on everyone else who isn’t prioritizing new customer acquisition. ◾

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About the Author


Michael Becker is the Digital Content Manager at Emarsys where he manages the enterprise editorial strategy and content marketing program. Michael has developed thriving content programs with three SaaS companies in Indianapolis and is a published author on Forbes, Elite Daily, Jeff Bullas’ blog, and more. He is a proud alumni of Butler University.

Connect with Michael: LinkedIn@mjbecker_