Last Updated April 21, 2016


Move over, confirmation emails. People care more about a different type of 2-step opt-in now.

(By the way, who else finds this homonym unnecessarily confusing?)

More bloggers are getting smart to the fact that growing your email list is the best thing you can do for your blog.

And since that can’t be done with just one signup form on your blog, that also means more and more opt-ins are popping up on the internet (both figuratively and literally – badum chhh!).

Between your sidebar, after posts, and inline for things like delivering content upgrades, you end up with a lot of forms on your site.

Unless…the forms aren’t actually there.

I’ll let you ponder and imagine spooky movie trailer music for a second and go grab a Diet Coke.

Okay, I’m over that.

But there’s a great way to add opt-ins to your blog without cluttering the place up with text fields and shit like that.

You’ve probably seen them on the majority of your favorite blogs. You might have them set up on your own blog without realizing it.

Let’s talk about 2-step opt-ins.

Note: this post contains affiliate links ?

What Are 2-Step Opt-ins?

There are a few features that you pretty much need on your blog to sit at the cool kids’ table in the blogging caf. (At least, it can feel that way in Facebook and Slack groups.)

And one of them is 2-step opt-in forms: pop-ups that are triggered by clicking a link.

They’re triggered opt-in forms that pop up when someone clicks “download this freebie,” or whatever your call-to-action is, instead of after the reader scrolls a certain amount or has spent so many minutes on the page.

It’s one example of an “unannoying pop-up.” It only appears when the reader clicks the call-to-action and expresses in the offer, so it’s not disruptive or distracting or annoying.

It’s sort of like a pre-call-to-action call-to-action.

They’re the g0-to opt-in type for offering content upgrades, but they’ve been making their way over to other list building strategies like header opt-ins and landing page forms, too.

Want to use 2-step opt-ins and content upgrades more creatively? Download my free tips sheet for repurposing them!

Why Bloggers Are Obsessed with That 1-2-Step

“I looooove it when you 1-2 step, we about to geeet it on.” – Missy Elliott and Ciara, telling you you’re growing your email list in all the right ways.

Two-step opt-ins work because you’re splitting up the “commitment” involved in the opt-in process.

Instead of the user seeing a daunting form with fields asking them for personal information, they see an unassuming little link. Deciding whether to click the link or not is a smaller decision to make, and one that’s easier to say “yes” to.

Then once the actual form pops up after the click, the user’s like “Well, I’ve already started this…”

So they finish it.

This strategy takes advantage of someone’s desire to finish something they’ve already started. People are more likely to fill out a form they had to do some work (even just a link click) to bring up, than one that was handed to them on a silver platter.

They’ve also already clicked a button that says something like “download now” or “I want this,” so something in their mind has committed to that action. Even if you have a longer opt-in form – a length that would turn readers off with a regular form – people are more likely to stick with it.

It’s basically the same as how Tom Haverford and Ann Perkins lived together for a while even though they hated it and actually broke up, because they didn’t want to lose face and go back on their word (and bet) to everyone in the Pawnee Parks and Rec department.

There are always exceptions to marketing rules, and these 2-step forms are one case where making people work a little harder can come out in your favor.

The concept is known as commitment and consistency marketing, one of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence. #TheMoreYouKnow

When They Don’t Work

In my opinion, there’s a time and place for 2-step opt-ins. Just like there’s a time and place for wearing onesies, and that’s “all day” and “everywhere you go.”

Some tools only let you create 2-step forms, but I’m a fan of using them in tandem with other opt-in form styles as well.

Here are some scenarios where you might want to consider embedding a form or something other than a pop-up:

  • Long forms: Sometimes you need to ask for more than a first name an email. For example, a lot of solopreneurs hook contact and “hire me” forms into their email marketing, but they would probably need to ask so many questions that the pop-up would be huge and weird looking. If you score leads, you would probably have too much info in that case, too.
  • Mostly mobile visitors: You know how I said this works because you’re making readers do a little extra work? Remember that as great as smartphones have gotten, everything is still a bigger pain in the ass on them. If most of your website visitors are mobile, I’d stick with making things as easy as possible.
  • Super simple pages: I’ve seen a few landing pages that just looked like they needed more. More content, more elements on the page, etc. If you don’t have much info to give on your offer and your landing page template doesn’t have a ton of whitespace built into it already, you may be better off with a regular form.

How to Use 2-Step Opt-Ins to Grow Your Blog's Email List Like Whoa

Related: How to Write a Welcome Series That Turns New Subscribers Into BFFs

Tools to Create 2-Step Opt-Ins

Now that 2-stepping is where it’s at, it’s not hard to find a great tool to start using them on your blog or website. Most of the big tools will offer it, including those below.


OptinMonster is what I use for my own 2-step opt-ins, as well as 99% of the rest of the opt-ins on my blog (I have SumoMe running the banner at the top of each page, and some welcome mats).

And I. Love. It. So. Much.

I originally went with OptinMonster because:

  1. The price was right. Tools like these have a lot of features, and sometimes a 2-week trial isn’t enough to be able to implement them all on your site. It starts at $9/month, so I was cool trying it for a few months instead of rushing to experiment with something pricier within a trial timeframe.
  2. It has all the forms I need. I was previously using a few different tools to get all the opt-in forms I wanted on my website. While I still use SumoMe, I don’t actually need to – I haven’t switched everything over since I like that tool, too. OptinMonster has pop-ups, top banners, overlays, inline forms, etc.

I quickly fell in love with the targeting options (which is really my favorite, but that’s a post for another day) and trigger types.

I didn’t actually realize OptinMonster even had the 2-step option. But they do have a triggered pop-up option called MonsterLinks.

You just create a regular pop-up form, but when you’re selecting how it’ll be triggered, you can choose “on link click” instead of the common options like setting a time limit or portion of the page to scroll to.

The overall tool is really easy to use, you can easily work 2-step into the rest of your list building strategy. For example, duplicate a regular pop-up and add a click trigger to A/B test timed pop-ups against click-triggered ones.

Thrive Leads

Thrive Leads is another full-function opt-in form plugin where you can add a few different styles and form types.

I haven’t used it myself to speak to how easily you can set it up, but I’ve used other Thrive tools and they were easy to learn how to use and everything, so I would expect the same from Leads.

It’s pretty similar in features and functionality to OptinMonster (which is why I haven’t gotten around to trying it). You can create several types of opt-ins, there are fancy and fun targeting options, and there are several ways readers can trigger a pop-up form – one of which being a link click!

And one place where Thrive Leads really stands out compared to OptinMonster and LeadPages is with analytics and A/B testing. So if you’re not completely sold on the 2-step opt-in process yet and want to collect some trial data, this choice will give you the most detailed insights.


LeadPages is the most well-known way to create these pop-ups. To the point that people think it’s what LeadPages is for and get it just for that, leaving 99% of the tool’s hundreds of features unused…I’ve ranted about this before actually, lol.

In fact, I think LeadPages actually came up with the idea of a click-triggered pop-up, since I can find them writing about it earlier than any other company (that’s still around, at least).

And obviously, they became well-known for them for a reason. LeadPages is a great tool, there are just a lot of bloggers putting it to waste, and it frustrates me for some reason. If you’re actually going to create landing pages frequently, LeadPages will make your life very easy.

However, it’s not cheap. If you’re not going to be creating landing pages, you’ll be paying for much more than you actually need and you might want to look at a more focused plugin with a smaller price tag.

If you’re adding 2-step opt-ins to landing pages, they’re your best choice. But if you’re adding 99% of them to blog posts, I think one of the other tools will be simpler and more affordable for you. (That’s just my opinion.)

Want to use 2-step opt-ins and content upgrades more creatively? Download my free free tips sheet for repurposing them!

How to Make Your Opt-In Links Stand Out

So just dropping your 2-step link into a paragraph of your content is not going to 2x – let alone 10x – your email list.

I mean, how likely are you to notice this?


You want to make that shit stand out.

My 2 favorite ways to do that are through custom CSS and images. Since I can’t recall seeing many other options out there, I think they’re everyone else’s favorites, too.

Custom CSS

If you want to use text calls-to-action for your upgrades, you can apply custom CSS to make the text stand out from the rest of your paragraph text in the post.

The simpler (but longer) way to do this is by just manually adjusting the text for your CTAs – making the font bigger, changing the color, etc.

But we know I like to work smarter. 😉

So even though I’m sure as fuck not a coder, I have a custom CSS class just for 2-step CTAs. It wasn’t hard to figure out on my own, and thanks to this post, you won’t even need to do that.

If you’re in WordPress, what you want to do is edit the CSS using Jetpack (and for the love of God, be careful) to create a class with a unique name. I used “bberg-callout.” I then changed the background color, font color, etc.

Now I just write my call-to-action, add the 2-step opt-in link, and apply the class to that paragraph of text. And it shows up all bright and bold (which hey! are my mantras for blogging!):

Create a custom CSS class for your content upgrades that style them so they stand out

Pretty pictures

Never discount great graphics, either! Honestly, I wish I was creating custom CTA graphics for every content upgrade. But between the regular blog post graphics, content upgrade, email automation, Pinterest graphics, etc….no. Just no. This blog is a side hustle, and that means having to suck it up and say “not yet” to a lot of ideas.


Custom CTA graphics. I likey!

This gives you the chance to give a preview of the actual upgrade and create a shareable graphic for social media, in addition to making your CTA stand out well. So it definitely has an edge over custom CSS if you can fit it into your blogging process.

Here’s an example from a recent post Femtrepreneur:

Create custom graphic CTAs for your content upgrades

So are you doing the 2-step yet? How has the dance treated you so far?