Let there be lightbox

Come, children.  Let’s gather ‘round the fire and I’ll tell you a tale of the Old Web.

Once upon a time, when you went to a site, you would be confronted with “pop-ups”.  These were new browser windows that would open when you would go to, interact with, or try to exit a site.  Sometimes, when you closed them, they would automatically open a new pop-up and so on.  

I’m told that the more ethically dubious the site, the more likely they were to have an endless loop of these.

We fought them with all of our might and hatred, until they became a casualty of the Second Browser Wars, as web browsers realized that they could make us happy by purging these from us once and for all.  Now only a few scattered pop-up survivors live among us, surviving on the barest scraps of attention.

Unfortunately, some of the stigma of pop-ups rubs off on lightboxes (or sha220px-fionaappleshadowboxerdowboxes, which I prefer (while less common) because I think of the Fiona Apple song)

You made me
A shadowboxer, baby
I wanna be ready
For what you do

People think that a light box* (slash shadow box) is just a glorified pop-up.  But when done properly, it has several advantages: it is easily closed, doesn’t cause a loop of pop-ups, and provides a quick guide to the first thing someone might want to do or know on a page.

But most of all, you should be trying light boxes because they work.  One report found that the average conversion rate for email acquisition light boxes is 1.66%.

So how do you make a lightbox work for you?  A few tips:

  • With a few exceptions, I would not suggest a donation ask lightbox.  Like we talked about yesterday, getting the first microconversion is easier and potentially more profitable that a straight ask on the home page.
  • Those few exceptions are:
    • End-of-year fundraising, when people are far more likely to be coming to your site with the express purpose of donating.  A light box will make it significantly easier for them.  (If there are similar campaigns for you, like Giving Tuesday or a special anniversary.  For your non-profit, not your spouse, although you should get them something nice.)
    • Any ask with urgency associated.  For example, if you have a matching gift campaign and can count down to the end of the match in your lightbox, I strongly recommend it.
    • When you are using the lightbox not on your homepage, but after some other action.  For example, shadowboxing the confirmation page of an advocacy action with a campaign-specific ask is a great idea.
  • Make them easy to get out of.  If this offer isn’t for the person, you want them to still enjoy browsing your site, rather than hating your guts.
  • Make them easy to get out of in mobile.  It is a little known fact that hell has expanded to a tenth level to accommodate new technology-associated crimes.  These include:
    • Making a lightbox that is unclosable on a mobile device because you can’t get to the X
    • Taking mobile phone calls in a public restroom
    • Replying all to company wise emails
    • Putting a conference call on hold so that 70 other people have to listen to your hold music before they hang up on you and call back in
    • Making a lightbox that is unclosable on a mobile device.  Oh, I mentioned this one twice?  That’s because it’s a special hell within the special hell.  Like child molesters in prison or Kourtney Kardashian**.
  • Make it smart.  Don’t show a repeat visitor the same shadow box over and over; use cookies to either vary your offer or leave it off altogether.  Research shows that you get the same number of sign-ups showing your light box every month rather than every time.  Also, customize your ask to the content a person is seeing.  If they go to your statistics page, give them an offer for your statistics white paper.  This will increase your conversions and their satisfaction.
  • Give a reason. You don’t want a lot of text on your light box, but you do want to have at least one statement that says why a person would want to take the action you want them to take.
  • Wait about five seconds.  That gives the person enough time to look at (and more than enough time to judge) your site, but not enough time to lose them to another offer.
  • Make sure you are layering in other techniques.  In particular, social proof XXX (“join the other 123,456 people who enjoy our email newsletter”), color theory (having a button color that stands out), and having a no option that doesn’t fit with a person’s self-image (“yes, I’d like to join the fight” versus “no, I don’t care about the environment”) can all be very effective.

So, pop-ups didn’t really die that day, kids.  They evolved to be less intrusive, more useful, and something that both users and nonprofits can value.  Now, alla you young’uns get some sleep, and dream of increased conversion rates.

* No, not a typo.  There does not appear to be a consensus on whether people say light box or lightbox or shadowbox or shadow box.  Thus, I’ve included all of the words in this piece so that they can be found by search engines.  I suggest you do the same in your content marketing.

** I don’t actually understand this joke myself, but I’m told it’s funny.

Let there be lightbox

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