Fixing the “Cannot Modify Header” Error in WordPress

Here’s a frustrating yet common WordPress error that can appear out of the blue, bringing down your site in one fell swoop:

“Warning: Cannot modify header information – headers already sent by (output started at…”

What’s worse is that this error continues, listing paths to important files on your server which is a potential security risk.

But not to worry! It’s one of the easier errors to resolve and in this post I’ll show you how to fix it as well as how to hide error messages from showing on the front-end of your site.

Maybe it’s a Heady Problem?

Sure, this error may seem intimidating and almost like there’s an issue with your theme’s header.php file or something similar, but it actually has to do with extra spacing in one of your files. Sometimes they get added on unintentionally or automatically and need to be adjusted.

The error displays itself when there are:

  • Blank lines at the top or bottom of a document
  • Too many spaces before, in between or after the beginning <?php and ending ?> PHP tags
  • There are too many unneeded spaces or blank lines in a specific part of a document

In order to fix the spacing issue, you need to first know where it’s happening. Fortunately, the error message lets you know which file and line is affected. Keep in mind that you may see this sequence multiple times on the page which means there are multiple files that need fixing.

Here’s the basic structure to look out for in order to decipher the broken file:

Warning: Cannot modify header information – headers already sent by (output started at /path/to/file/broken-file.php:#) in /path/to/file/affected-file.php on line #

The first file listed as /path/to/file/broken-file.php would be the one that needs fixing and the # character directly after it would be replaced with a number which would tell you which line you need to fix.

The second file written in this structure as /path/to/file/affected-file.php is the file that isn’t able to work properly because the first file is broken. The # symbol at the end in a real world example would be a number which indicates the line in the document that’s affected and not able to work.

Here’s an example of what this error could look like on your site:

Warning: Cannot modify header information – headers already sent by (output started at /home/name/you-site/wp-content/themes/your-theme/custom-functions.php:1) in /home/name/your-site/wp-includes/pluggable.php on line 876

In this example, name would be the username of your cPanel or hosting account and your-site would be replaced with the folder name where your site is stored. The error you would actually see would look differently, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect.

In this example, custom-functions.php within my theme’s folder is the document that needs fixing and the error is on line one.

Fortunately, it’s not terribly difficult to fix this issue even though it may seem intimidating at first.

Read on for your options.

Heigh-Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go Fixing Errors

There are two main ways you can fix the “Cannot modify header” error. If you get stuck along the way, feel perfectly free to get in touch with our expert support team. They can also help you with just about anything WordPress-related, they’re available 24/7 and they’re happy to help you out.

They would otherwise be eagerly waiting until you ask them a question so you may as well stop by if you run into troubles, especially when premium and expert support is included in your WPMU DEV membership. If you’re not a member, you can still try us out for free and ask an expert for help.

Fix #1: Upload a Fresh Copy

When you read the error message and you determine that the broken file is a part of the WordPress core or it’s otherwise an inherent file of a plugin or theme, there’s a quick fix available.

If it’s a regular plugin or theme file, you can uninstall and re-install it.

If you would rather not do this or a WordPress core file is affected, you can download a fresh copy and extract the ZIP archive to your computer. Locate the file that’s broken on your site and replace the existing one on your server with the fresh copy.

You can do this with the help of FTP, SSH or directly through cPanel.

Fix #2:  Edit the Trouble File

Once you have identified the problem file, you can download a copy of it through FTP or SSH, or you can edit it directly in cPanel.

Clear any extra blank lines or spaces at the beginning and end of the document with your backspace button or Delete button for PC. Also, be sure there are no spaces before, in between or after the <?php tag at the beginning of the file. The same goes for the ?> tag at the end.

If the final line of the document doesn’t end in a ?> tag, then be sure there are still no spaces after the final character of the last line.

Save the file and upload it back to your site in the same place, overwriting the original file.


Awesome Whitelabel WordPress Video Tutorials

Educate your clients easily with 40+ white label WordPress training videos, embedded directly in the WordPress admin of their site, and included with your WPMU DEV membership. Cool? Yeah, thought so.


If All Else Fails…

If you try these fixes and you still see the same error for different files or lines, that’s normal. Repeat the steps and keep clearing those extra spaces or blank lines.

If you see the exact same error as before, here are some extra considerations for you to help you double check your work:

  • If you clear all the extra spaces and lines but press any other key in the process, it could bring the issue back so try again if this happens.
  • Make sure there aren’t multiple code blocks in your PHP file. You should only have one opening <?php tag at the beginning and one ?> closing tag at the end.
  • Be sure the encoding of the file is set to UFT-8. Make this change if it’s set to something else and try the steps again.
  • Use a proper code editor if download a copy of the file and saved it to your computer. I recommend Brackets (it’s free!), Adobe Dreamweaver or MS Notepad.
    • Don’t use common word editing programs such as MS Word since they add extra formatting to documents that with brake your site further.

Disabling Front-End Error Reporting

By now, you should have your files fixed and the pesky “Cannot modify header” error should be as good as gone. Still, nothing’s stopping those errors from coming back and being visible to everyone who visits your site, including hackers.

It’s not the worst thing to happen to your site, but revealing real, live file paths on your server could give a hacker the exact information they need to target your site. Instead of guessing where you files are to try to hack them, they would see them displayed in plain sight. Nothing would stop them from hacking that file directly.

You can turn off front-end error reporting and enable a private log with WP_DEBUG. You can check out all the details in one of our other posts Debugging WordPress: How to Use WP_DEBUG.


Fixing the “Are You Sure You Want to Do This” Error in WordPress

The vaguest WordPress error you’ll no doubt come across at some point, which also has a whole laundry list of probable causes, is…

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

What’s frustrating about this particular error is that it could mean you made a small fixable mistake or, worse, that you’ve been hacked (though typically it’s a security issue that’s easily fixed and not always the case).

Today, we’ll uncover the meaning of this mysterious error, when and why it happens, as well as troubleshoot techniques and fixes.

Getting an Error Accidentally on Purpose…

Unfortunately, the “Are you sure you want to do this?” error can happen while you’re trying to accomplish a wide variety of tasks:

  • Publishing posts or pages
  • Inserting an image into a post
  • Customizing a theme
  • Creating tags or categories
  • Uploading a theme or plugin
  • Updating WordPress core or plugins and themes

This isn’t by any means a complete list, but it should give you a good idea of when this error could occur.

When the error appears, it’s the only thing that’s displayed other than a link to try again, though, a second attempt usually doesn’t work.

Are you sure you want to do this error
The vague error on an otherwise blank page.

It may seem as though this is an odd error in its phrasing since it’s not specific. The phrasing makes sense because there are so many potential causes and most of the time it’s an error that’s caused on your end. Either you made a mistake or the developer who created the plugins and themes you use made the mistake.

The wording of the error is specifically set to make you pause and think about what happened and if it’s possible that you made the mistake after all.

Here are some of the most common reasons for the error:

  • You selected an incorrect file when trying to upload a theme or plugin
  • An improperly coded theme or plugin
  • You reached your PHP memory limit
  • A security issue

Before exploring troubleshooting steps and fixes, it’s important to explore the possibility that there’s a security issue since this would be a serious problem that would require special attention in order to protect your site.

What’s Security Got to Do with It?

In many cases, the error pops up when you try to complete an action that requires certain user permissions, but WordPress isn’t able to verify that you have access.

WordPress uses security tokens, often called nonces. They’re used to validate a user to verify that they are the owner of their account and they have the correct user role to complete the action they started.

If WordPress isn’t able to verify the security tokens, the error displays.

If your site is the subject of an attack, especially in cases of cross-site scripting (XSS) or cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attacks, you might see the error in the midst of an attack.

It could also occur if a plugin or theme has a security vulnerability or isn’t otherwise properly coded.

If this is the cause, installing and using a security plugin like Defender can help you locate and fix the vulnerability and end an attack in a few clicks. For other causes of the error, you can try the troubleshooting steps and fixes below.


Ultimate WordPress security with WP Defender

Defender protects you against evil bots and hackers with automated security scans, vulnerability reports, safety recommendations, blacklist monitoring and customized hardening in just a few clicks.


Holding Out for a (Super Support) Hero

Let’s take a look at several troubleshooting methods and fixes to help you resolve this error. And if you run into any troubles along the way, contact our expert support team for any kind of WordPress-related issue.

If you’re already a WPMU DEV member, our premium 24/7 support is better than free because it’s already included in your membership. There’s no need to sign up for anything else or fill out any forms. If you’re not a member yet, you can still get premium support for free with our 14-day trial.

Fix #1: Clear Your Cache

It’s not always a fix that works, but sometimes all it takes to resolve this error is to clear your browser’s cache. If that doesn’t work, you can try clearing your cookies as well. You can check out the post How do I clear my web browser’s cache, cookies, and history? for details on how to do this across the major browsers.

Fix #2: Plugin or Theme Upload Error

If you tried to upload a theme or plugin and the error occurred, then the likeliest cause is that you tried uploading a plugin or theme package rather than the ZIP file for only the theme or plugin.

These packages often include the theme or plugin ZIP file along with other useful documents such as instructions, demo content, licensing information and other similar files. Unzip the package, then try uploading the plugin or theme file that you find among the extracted files.

Fix #3: PHP Memory Limit Reached

In cases where you may have reached your PHP memory limit, you can check out one of our other posts, How to Increase the Maximum Upload and PHP Memory Limit in WordPress, for the fix you need.

Fix #4: Revert to the Default Theme

You can also try to activate the default WordPress theme if you’re using one you selected from the Theme Repository or from a theme developer.

In cases where you’re having troubles accessing your plugins, you can access your site’s files through FTP, SSH or cPanel. Rename your theme’s folder under /wp-content/themes/your-theme/ to manually deactivate it temporarily.

You can name the folder anything you want, but it’s a good idea to keep the original name intact so you don’t forget which theme the folder is for when you go back to it later. For example, you can rename the folder to include -deactivate at the end or something similar.

If the error goes away, the theme you were previously using is the culprit.

To fix it, you would need to contact the developer and let them know so they can create a patch and release a fix.

Fix #5: Delete or Deactivate Your Plugins

Similarly, you can see if any plugins you’re using are the cause of the error. Sometimes deactivating them doesn’t quite do the trick even though it’s the cause so the first thing you should try is deleting all the plugins you’re using.

If you don’t have access to your plugins page, you can use FTP, SSH or cPanel to delete the folders you find under /wp-content/plugins/. You can also rename the folders as described above if you really don’t want to delete the plugins you have installed.

Try repeating the last action you tried before the error popped up. If everything goes off without a hitch, then one of the plugins you were using is responsible.

Install and activate them one-by-one until the error comes up again. If you renamed the plugin folders, change them back to the original title to re-activate them.

When you see the error, that’s how you can determine that the last plugin you activated was the culprit. At this point, you would need to contact the plugin developer so they can fix the issue.

Fix #6: Reset Your Security Keys

Another fix you can try that usually does the trick is to reset your security keys. You can find the details in our post How to Tweak wp-config.php to Protect Your WordPress Site.

If you prefer an option that doesn’t require touching code, you can install our Defender security plugin and reset your security keys in one click. Once it’s activated, go to Defender > Hardener in your admin dashboard.

The Hardener page
You can harden your site’s security with Defender.

Click on Update old security keys under the Issues section, then review how often you would like a reminder to update your security keys. This step is optional, but it’s also helpful because it increases your site’s security.

You can choose from the following times:

  • 30 days
  • 60 days
  • 90 days
  • 6 months
  • 1 year

Once you have made your selection in the drop down box, go ahead and click the Regenerate Security Keys button to update your site’s security tokens automatically.

Section once the accordion tab for updating security keys has been clicked.
You can choose how often security keys should be updated.

Keep in mind that once the update is complete, you will need to log in again.

Once you’re logged in, check to see if the issue has been resolved. Even if you’re free and clear, don’t uninstall Defender. It can help you keep your site secure on an ongoing basis.

You’ve Been Hacked!

If none of these troubleshooting steps or fixes resolve the error, you may have been hacked. You can go to Defender > Scan to start a search for any vulnerabilities. If any are found, you can patch them up immediately and in one click.

You may also find the following articles helpful for cleaning and securing a hacked site:

Keeping your site secure should be a priority since you could lose more than your site including your personal information and that of your users. These articles can help you keep your site and information safe.


There are a ton of reasons why the “Are you sure you want to do this?” error is displaying on your site, whether it’s human error or the result of a security vulnerability. In any case, you’re now armed with the tools you need to troubleshoot and fix this error.

It may also be helpful to note that Defender also features audit logs to help with the troubleshooting process and keep an eye on everything that happens on your site, from login attempts to creating new posts. You can check to see what users accessed and when to help you determine the cause of this annoying and equally mysterious error. Check out Track Hackers in Real-Time with Defender’s All New Audit Logs for more details.


10 Seriously Simple Ways to Grow Your Email List for Your WordPress Site

If you’re serious about your website becoming successful, there’s one thing you really need to focus on. In fact, some people say it’s the ONLY thing your website should focus on.

Internet marketing legends such as Neil Patel and Jon Morrow design their own websites around this very important strategy:

Building an email list.

Why is it so important for you to build an email list?

  1. Because email allows you to develop a trusting relationship with your visitor,
  2. You have a chance to warm people up to your offer, and
  3. An article only has one chance to convert. With email you get a chance to convert with each email.

Now, starting this post talking about conversion is probably the wrong way to actually begin this article.

Why? Because before conversion comes trust.

Only after you’ve earned your users’ trust can you get them to take the action you want them to take, whether that’s trying and buying your product, engaging your services, paying for your course, or, heck, even visiting your brick and mortar shop.

Yes, the most effective way of building trust with your user is through email. This is why email list building is the single most important task you need to focus on when it comes to your WordPress website.

Why Is Email List Building So Effective?

Because it’s an email list to help you build a relationship with your users.

Without delving too deeply into this, there are several phases a user will go through before they start to trust you enough to engage with you and your website.

The seven phases of what users go through...
The seven phases of what customers go through…
  1. Know – they become aware of your existence and/or presence
  2. Like – they are attracted by something you have to offer, whether that’s your content, your product, your services or anything else you have to offer them
  3. Trustyou earn their trust. Your users need to get to know you. You can do this by showing them that you are able to understand their situation/problem and can offer a solution for it
  4. Try – they test out your solution to their problem
  5. Buy – they are satisfied with your solution and are ready to give you their money
  6. Repeat – an existing customer is your easiest way to increase your sales. They already know you and trust you enough to buy, so they are your easiest sales target for repeat business
  7. Refer – they are so happy with your solution that they will actually be happy to speak about it with their peers

The first phase, getting to know you is outside the scope of this article. In the context of a website, this is about getting people to your website.

The second phase, Like, is what we will be discussing today; how your visitor can get to like you enough to give your their email address.

Once you have their email you can reach out to your users and nudge them towards the rest of the phases, from three to seven. Although I’d love to write about this, the subject is too deep and there are many articles out there that discuss these phases much better than I ever could.

Why Is Email List Building So Important?

People’s attention is limited. And scarce.

To make matters worse, everybody is clamouring for your attention. We are constantly assaulted by information and have almost become immune to it.

You usually only have a few seconds to REALLY capture somebody’s attention. If you’re not able to capture their attention in those initial few seconds, you’ve lost them (probably forever).

And, of course, the chances of you getting a second chance of meeting them again, virtually or otherwise, decrease significantly after that first encounter (with your content).

You need to maximize that “chance encounter” and convert that one-off user into a regular visitor who knows and trusts you. Besides adding traffic to your website, you could actually turn that chance encounter into a lead.

But how do you actually get that user to give you their email address if they don’t know you?

A quote that's hard to forget.
A quote that’s hard to forget.

1. Focus on Your User’s Intent. Then Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse…

So we’ve been speaking about how capturing emails is important. How do we go about getting a user’s email address?

Let’s make one thing very clear: getting somebody’s email is very difficult.

In this day and age where unsolicited bulk email is prolific, people no longer regard email marketers as legitimate. In most user’s mind, any email that is sent with the intent of promoting or selling is SPAM.

We won’t go into the merits of that, but it’s the sort of environment you’ll be working in.

People simply don’t like being pitched to by sleazy sales people. Users know they have an agenda. And most people believe that any time they give an email address to a website they are opening their inbox to a deluge of “SPAM”.

Instead, you have to earn a user’s trust and make it clear that you will (mostly) not be selling to them.

How do you do this?

First of all, think about your user’s intent. Why have they visited your website?

Our assumption for every article we write is that the visitor has a problem they need a solution for.

Focus on that intent. Focus on that problem. And then give your visitors a solution.

Why should you make an offer they can’t refuse? Simply put, unless you have shown your users that your content is absolutely amazing, it’s hardly likely that they will “subscribe to your newsletter.”

On the other hand, if you make them an offer they cannot refuse, you are giving them value from the get go.

2. First Things First. Show Them Value through Your Content

A few paragraphs up, I mentioned like and trust.

To increase your chances of getting a user’s email address, you need to get them to like you and build up their levels of trust.

Building trust starts with writing excellent content.

Writing content so complete, so deep, so impressive and comprehensive around a specific topic, that your user will feel that they will be losing out if they walk away from it (and other content like it that you’ve created).

You need to convince users that sticking with you will bring them value.

That’s why I suggest writing in-depth content around a problem users are facing.

The article needs to say to the user, “look, I know what I’m talking about. You can trust me with helping you find a solution for the problem you are facing.”

3. Pique Their Interest. Give Them Additional Value (before Asking for an Email Address)

Once you’ve published some amazing content, your user is already pumped up. They are hyped and feel like your solution could be the one for them. They are ready to trust your next “phase” of the solution you are offering.

That’s when you make them an offer they can’t refuse.

The real difference between list-building that works and list building that doesn’t is this:

Give something. Don’t ask for anything.

Give something (of value to the user). Don’t (just) ask (for an email address).

Give them a valuable call-to-action, which includes handing over their email address to you.

Recommended additional reading: Everything You Need to Know About the Psychology of the Call to Action

Let’s discuss a few examples of how to give your users additional value.

The Free Download

The free download is a proven way of exchanging value for an email address. You provide the user with an offer they can’t refuse via a downloadable, which will clearly enhance their knowledge and/or build upon the article you have just written.

Example of free downloads include:

  1. Free ebook: This free eBook should compliment your article and offer new insights that you haven’t expanded on in the article. If we’re talking about email list building, you could offer an eBook, for example, about “10 email plugins to master communication with your subscribers.”
An excellent example of a Free Ebook
Source: Backlinko
  1. Content-upgrade: This is very similar to the ebook, but rather than offering a different aspect, it’s actually a necessary extension to your current content. In essence, the most important part of the article would actually be provided when it’s unlocked through their email address.
  1. A downloadable checklist: Checklists are a fantastic way to divide a problem into a number of easier tasks. If you’ve written an article that includes a checklist, provide the checklist as a PDF download for printing or safe-keeping. The WordPress Security: The Ultimate 32-Step Checklist is a great example of creating a downloadable checklist.
  1. Help users with their processes: If you’ve been discussing ways and means of performing a process and can create a spreadsheet or document that is able to implement this process and saves the user from having to do it themselves, this could also be your free download.
  1. Help users with their research: If you’ve been researching a topic and have compiled a number of resources around this topic, save the user some time and offer these resources as a free download.
  1. Freebies: Designers and design agencies and digital content providers have a nice trick up their sleeve of offering a freebie against an email address. Web designers can get themes, PSDs, fonts, icons, plugins, photography, video, design kits, mockups. Music providers could give away albums, or previews. If you’re in the digital content business, you can easily find a great piece of content and offer it as a free download. This works for quite a few industries where digital downloads and freebies are popular.

The Free Email Course

Some problems require more than just one article to completely solve them. This is where an email course can create excellent value and build trust with your user.

Offer a “10 tips towards success” email course, which users can join.

The Exclusive Tips

When a user lands on your website after searching for specific content, you’ve no doubt already determined that they are typically looking to solve a specific problem. Obviously, that’s why they performed the search in the first place!

You can ride this wave of interest in your user by figuring out their user intent and then offering exclusive tips by email to help your user towards addressing their needs.

The Bribe

Some people are simply able to get away with asking for your email address and telling you they will send you unicorns and rainbows of great content. If you are in an influential position this is typically enough. People already trust you. Asking for the email address is just another way of giving them more valuable content.

4. Diversify Your Offer – One Size Does Not Fit All

OK, so you want to make your users an offer they can’t refuse.

This is all well and good, but what if the content of your content is pretty diverse?

Rather than having a single, one-size-fits-all offer, you’ll need to make several strong offers, each of which is customized to the specific content your user is visiting.

Now, this might seem like an impossible task if you have lots of content, though it is sufficient to simply change the wording around your call to action rather than the content itself.

At DART Creations, we have more than seven different campaigns, all making different offers depending on the content the user has landed on:

Various offers to appeal to different users

Good Examples, Bad Examples Of “The Offer They Can’t Refuse”

In theory, the offer they can’t refuse is great. But in practice, finding the right “offer” is tricky business.

Let’s review a few good examples, and then a few which, I believe, are not so great.

The Content Upgrade

This is an offer about more exclusive tips in a post about content upgrades. As you can see, it’s an offer you can’t refuse because if you’re on the specific topic. It would be great to finish off the read with three more exclusive tips.

The After Content Opt-In

Jonathan Fields creates an excellent and fun opt-in “bribe” without a bribe. It’s fun, it’s creative, it attracts attention. It ticks all the right boxes.

There’s another fun email opt-in pop-up too, so visit the site and see whether you encounter it.

Source: Jonathan Fields

The Exit-Intent Popup

A great popup which adds value shown upon Exit intent
Source: OptinMonster

Here is an exit intent popup which actually speaks about exit intent.

The Free Email Course

Joshua Earl, my favourite email copywriter, nails it when it comes to offering an email course that’s incidentally about email courses. Note the subtleties of this offer. An offer to help you boost income, but it’s fun. The privacy guarantee also assures the reader they’ll not be spammed. It also prepares the user mentally that they will be receiving nine emails for the first nine days after they register.

A great free email course which is spot on the intent of the user
Source: Joshua Earl


The Influencer

When you are already an influencer you can just rely on that to get people to subscribe to your email list. That’s a good place to be of course, and when that happens you can do this. And when you’ve got a beard like that, why wouldn’t somebody want to join your list?

Tobias Van Schneider can use the power of influence to get emails
Source: Tobias Van Schneider

The Free Guide

Simple offer with simple solutions to a problem you are bound to have (specifically if you are a freelancer, which is the target demographic of this website).

Millo makes an excellent offer for freelancers

List Building Sins: What You Shouldn’t Be Doing

The Persistent Nag

No. Just no. Not just arrogant, but repeatedly arrogant. This is all take, no give.

Email building bad example - can I have you email address before you scroll down?

It gets worse.

An ask only exit intent popup

And then it really takes the biscuit.

Once again, bad example of asking only

If you scroll down the page, you’ll see that we’ve also got an in-post subscribe box, and then we get a slide-in sidebar.


OK, this isn’t actually a real website.

All of the above are examples (courtesy of of how you could combine all of what we have discussed above to create a terrible user experience.

The Poor Offer

Not a very compelling offer is it?

Or even poorer.

The Submit Button

From the dictionary definition of “Submit”

Submit: “Accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person.” / “present (a proposal, application, or other document) to a person or body for consideration or judgment.”

None of the above meanings apply to your list building offer, right? Don’t use the “Submit” as your CTA phrase, just don’t.

The “Submit” phrase is a remnant of programming a form in HTML. But what are you submitting? If you have a CTA, use a keyword that is relevant to your offer – Download, Give Me, Click, Apply.

The Very Busy Offer

Your list building offer should be designed to be simple. Busy is overwhelming and will switch people off.

This offer is too busy

The Bad Design

The choice of colors and contrast is very important in email list building design. If you’re not a designer you might want to thinking about employing one to help you.

Wrong design, very wrong choice of colors

Aggressive Methods vs Passive Methods – What Works Best?

There are two types of methods to show your users your call to action. I like to call them the passive and the aggressive.

An aggressive CTA is one that actually stops the user from what they are doing (reading your article) and asks them to take action, e.g a page that takes over the screen completely and requires the user to subscribe or dismiss it.

A passive CTA is one that presents the opportunity to the user to take action, but the user can decide to ignore the opportunity, e.g. an in-content subscribe box.

Aggressive methods such as page takeovers and pop-ups have a much better conversion ratio, especially if you put the right offer in place. The downside of this is that some people find these aggressive actions quite annoying. You might have people abandoning your page just for that.

Statistically, aggressive methods work much better.

The key to make them work is to once again make sure you are providing value. That means that your user will go from:

“Oh heck, another popup, where is the close button?”


“Wow, I really need this right now! I’ll have to check it out right away.”

You’ve turned something aggressive into something that offers real and immediate value.

Regardless of the offer, some people will still be turned off by aggressive methods. You have to decide whether this is a risk worth taking or whether you should just stick to passive methods.

Passive methods are unlikely to annoy the user because they can simply be ignored. Yet the fact that users can glance over them will implicitly mean a lower conversion ratio.


SmartCrawl is watching. Simply scan, list & fix

SmartCrawl supercharges your SEO using effective and proven methods for optimization, ensuring high impact results with little effort. Set up automated sitemap generation, alert search engines when you have new and updated content, and control exactly how your web pages are displayed in search results.


5. The List Building Banner

One of the hottest places you can have to capture a user’s email address is the very first thing they see: the very top of your homepage. This is one of the most frequently viewed parts of your website so you will want to take advantage of that level of exposure to push your offer to as many people as possible.

Now if you really want to be aggressive, put that banner up on each page of your site. That way, as soon as somebody lands on your site, the first thing they see is the offer they can’t refuse.

The list building banner
Source: SumoMe
Excellent list building banner with an excellent offer
Source: SmartBlogger

This, of course, will take a design rework of your site. This is something you should plan for from day one, ideally.

6. Timing Is Everything. And Location, Location, Location!

So far we’ve discussed the reasoning and the logic behind successful email list building. We’ll now look at the when and where of email list building.

I’ve already explained how earning a user’s trust is key to getting a user’s email address.

So how do you choose the right timing to make them an offer they can’t refuse?

You need to make the offer at the moments when users are most engaged and most satisfied with the content you’re giving them.

There are three best timings to get a fully engaged user:

  1. After the introduction to the article: Most times, whether your article will be read or not, is determined by the introduction of the article you have written. If your visitor gets past the introduction, chances are you have them hooked. If you are offering a free download, this is probably the best place to offer it, right after the intro.
Download at the beginning of article
Source: BeeWits – The Ultimate Web Design checklist – 128 tasks to create an amazing website
  1. In the middle of the article: A user in the middle of your article is fully immersed in the content. They have taken the time and effort to actually read past the first few paragraphs and you have managed to keep their interest. The middle of the article is a very good location to make them an offer they can’t refuse.

This is an example which you can see on our very own WPMU DEV blog. You’ve probably seen this over and over again here. That’s because the visitor is immersed in the content and is ripe for the offer. To see the example, scroll up a few and see our offer:

  1. The closing paragraph of your article: If your user has gotten to the end of the article, congratulations! You’ve written an article that has kept the user on your website for the entire length of the article. If you read my recommended reading earlier in this post, The Psychology of the Call to Action, you’ll know that this is a very critical point and is one where the human brain is expecting to make a decision. Help the user make that decision to move to the next phase of “solving their problem” and make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Neil Patel after article offer

7. What Location Doesn’t Work? (Unless You Really Make a Spectacular Offer)

The sidebar.

Sidebars have been used and abused to display adverts, “Read More,” and lots of other non-essential content that most users simply zone out these locations – they become blind to any content located in sidebars.

If you “hide” your offer in the sidebar, chances are it’s not going to get much attention and you’re not going to get many conversions.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned Neil Patel, a master in conversions who can make a good CTA work anywhere, including the sidebar. You can see that this sidebar CTA offer is great for the demographic, it will work anywhere.

Neil Patel sidebar offer

Now, onto the action. Let’s see how to set some of these up list-building techniques with WordPress.

8. How to Perform Email List-Building in WordPress

As always, at WPMU DEV we’ve got quite a few ways to help you get started with your list building efforts.

We have you covered both in terms of passive and somewhat aggressive methods too.

First of all, it’s a good idea to keep email subscribers in a list that can be automatically maintained and to whom you’ll be able to send emails to after you’ve built your list of email subscribers.

e-Newsletter is a full-fledged newsletter package for keeping in touch with your email subscribers.

1. The Download Against Email

When you’ve actually created an excellent article that has a complimentary downloadable asset, you really want to implement a download against email function.

There are multiple WordPress plugins that can enable you to do this. My favourite ones are Double-Opt-In For Download and Email Before Download.

The great thing about the former is that it automatically performs a double opt-in. For your user to get the download they have to confirm their email address. This is because the actual download link is sent to them by email. This allows you to eliminate a bunch of junk email addresses.

2. The Pop-Up

OK, so you’re probably not very impressed with this suggestion.

But wait, there is a massive difference between pop-ups that suck and pop-ups that convert.

Done right, the pop-up (or pop-in, or whatever you want to call it), is one of the most effective ways to get your visitor to take a specific action.

I’m going to explain the difference between a pop-up that converts and one that doesn’t.

Let’s consider Hustle, WPMU DEV’s new opt-in plugin. It’s the perfect tool to enable various forms of pop-ups with various CTAs.

The great thing about Hustle is its absolute flexibility. We want to create a CTA that is tailor made for the content the user is viewing right now, which is why we want to use a plugin that is fully configurable and flexible to our requirements.

I won’t go into all of the configuration details available in Hustle – it’s absolutely easy to configure – so you should go give it a spin yourself.

Here are my recommendations for creating a popup that converts:

Get the Timing of the Popup Right

The earlier you make users an offer they can’t refuse the better. Some people drop the offer only when the user is about to leave, but that may be too late. I’d suggest being aggressive here: 10 seconds after the user starts reading the article, which is about as aggressive as you can get. The more seconds you allow, the larger the possibility that you’ve lost the user’s interest. Twenty seconds is fine too – you’ll have given the user some time to settle in. Overall, if your primary aim is email list-building, the quicker the better.

There is another possibility you may use. This is quite a nice middle ground, though the conversion ratio will be lower than more aggressive popups.

You can choose to show the pop-up when a user has scrolled through a specific percentage of your content. Showing the pop-up after 20% of the article has been read is good timing but you run the risk of losing some of the first users.

The key to knowing what percentage you should set this at is to know how much of your content is actually being read. Ideally, you would use a content analysis tool to know how much of your content is being read. Then set the percentage to 5% less than the average content being read. That way, most of your readers will actually see the pop-up.

Show Different Pop-Ups and Offers for Different Categories

Remember a few paragraphs back I said that you should diversify your offer? It’s my very strong recommendation that you create tens of different kinds of pop-ups with different CTAs all targeted towards the specific content the reader is viewing. The more targeted the offers, the larger the conversion rate you’re likely to get.

You should at the very least have one different pop-up CTA for each category.

The Higher the Frequency of the Pop-Up, the Better the Conversion Ratio

This is also a question of aggressiveness. The most aggressive you can get is to show the pop-up always and on every page. The number of conversions you get will be higher, though the risk of annoying a user with pop-ups may also increase.

Spend Time and Money on Getting the Pop-Up Design Right

Get your user to trust you with a great pop-up design. You’ll want to spend as much time, money and design time as necessary to get this one right. Your design must be spot-on. Design that can be trusted. Also, remember that the right imagery can make a real difference. Let’s illustrate this with an example.

Which design would you trust? Which one looks like they care about you?

This one?

Poor desgin

Or this one?

Email List Builder beautiful design

Want to make it aggressive? In the Hustle pop-up Custom CSS section, add the following code to make the pop-up takeover the entire user’s screen.

div.wpoi-popup-overlay {opacity: 1;}

From this:

CTA not aggressive

To this:

Aggressive full page CTA

3. The In-Content Opt-In Widget Shortcode

A few paragraphs up we looked at how a user can become immersed with your content as they are reading it.

So that’s, of course, where you should make the offer they can’t refuse.

Once again, Hustle comes to the rescue, enabling us to drop a widget right in the middle of our content.

When you create a Hustle pop-up, a WordPress shortcode will be created with the following syntax:

[wd_hustle id=""]

Wherever you want your opt-in to appear in the text of your WordPress article, just enter the shortcode and this will be replaced with the opt-in you have designed.

4. The Slide-In

A slide-in widget is another semi-aggressive pop-up. It’s not as aggressive as a pop-up or a page takeover, but it’s not as passive as an in-content widget.

Hustle once again comes to the rescue to allow you to create slide-in widgets.

The parameters are not very different from those of the pop-up, with the only difference being that rather than seeing a pop-up you’ll get the pop-up sliding into the content.

Hustle SlideIn parameters

5. The Widget

Although we’ve said that widgets in the sidebar or other locations that aren’t prominent may not work very well, if you do have a great compelling offer you can still create a widget effectively.

Creating an email list building widget is easy to do with Hustle. Once you’ve designed your widget, activate the widget in the settings.

Hustle Widget

In Appearance > Widgets, add the Hustle widget to the theme widget position where you want it to appear.

Hustle widget Settings

And then select the widget you have designed in Hustle.

Hustle add Widget

6. The List Building Banner

Using the shortcode or widget function, you should be able to easily implement a list building banner using Hustle.

Design an appropriate banner with the right offer and then using either a widget (which shows up in the appropriate position) or the shortcode, add the opt-in to your homepage.

9. Test, Test and When You’re Done Testing, Test Some More

I’ve given plenty of suggestions and recommendation of what we believe are effective ways of increasing your email list with WordPress through relevant offers you cannot refuse.

Yet, it’s ultimately you and your users who will decide what works best for your website.

You’ll have to create a number of variations of the email list building suggestions we’ve made and then see what works best for you and your users. When you determine which types of offers are working best for you, try tweaking each offer a bit to see whether it converts better (or worse).

Keep on testing slowly until you find the optimal conversion rate.

Just for you to have a bit of a measuring stick, here are rough numbers that are probably useful for comparison purposes: this article by SumoMe shows the conversion ratios across the internet for different types of list building formats.

Email sign-ups (all formats): 1.06%

If you’re converting better than this, well done! If not, something is seriously wrong with your offer – time to go back to the drawing board.

Sites with the highest conversion ratios convert at roughly 7%.

If you are converting at anything about 5% you’re doing great. Anything around the 3% mark means you’re doing OK but you’ve got room for improvement.

Anything lower than 2 to 3% means, you should rethink your offer and come up with something better or diversify your offer further.

10. Maintain the Trust of Your Email Subscribers

One you’ve actually convinced your visitor to trust you with their email address, how do you maintain the trust?

  1. Deliver the offer: You’ll need to first and foremost make sure you deliver on the offer. You’ll need to put some automation in place which actions the offer you made.
  1. Don’t become a salesman: I discussed above that you should be able to build a relationship with your user. Create an automated email campaign that builds on that relationship.

Even, if you want to eventually make a sale, you’ll need to first explain in a non-salesy way how your “product” is going to help solve your user’s problem.

Start your first few campaigns by sending a few emails that pique your user’s interest and offers tidbits towards solving the problem they needed solving. Eventually, you’ll be able to switch to a bit of a sales pitch.

Even after you’ve made your sales pitch, your user may still not be ready to buy. Keep helping the user regardless. If you keep showing your users that you are there to make their lives better, when the time is right for them you’ll be in their good books.

Successful WordPress List Building Done Right

There are quite a few things you’ll need to keep in mind if you want to be successful building a solid email list for your WordPress website.

Primarily, however, make sure to focus on the following:

  1. Write compelling content to make sure you pump up your visitor
  2. Give before asking. Make them an offer they can’t refuse (in exchange for their email address)
  3. Design an offer that is trustworthy
  4. Be a little bit aggressive without being too annoying
  5. Test until you find what works and what doesn’t work for your website.

Image credits: 7 Phases.


Improve your small business SEO today

Small business owners often struggle with their SEO. You have your business, your customers, and now your website demands attention as well. I frequently talk to business owners that just use their website as a reference for real life customers. To be honest, that is a bit narrow-minded. There is so much more you can do!

In this article, I’ll go over some improvements any small business owner can easily do by himself. It’s going to costs you time, not per se any money. Use this article as a checklist, and see how you are doing. Here we go!

Manage your expectations

Let’s start with the most important one: be realistic about what you can rank for and what not. Manage your expectations. If your competitors are giant companies with huge marketing budgets, you’ll probably not going to rank number one for your main keyword (f.i. car insurance). Aim for specific keywords instead, not the general, high-end keywords.

What’s your niche?

Take some time to find the keywords that describe your business best. If you are a local grocery store that also delivers to people’s homes, aim for ‘order groceries Springfield’ not ‘order groceries online’. See how you can differentiate yourself from the horde, and focus on that. This also includes focusing on longer tail keywords. That brings me to my next tip.

Use mid-tail keywords

Adding the city name

Do not keyword-stuff your website with your location’s name. If you really want to rank locally, try to include the city name in a way that makes sense. Add LocalBusiness schema, for instance via our local SEO plugin. And get some local links to your website. That will already help you a lot!

No need to go overboard in specifying your niche. ‘Sports gear for teams that is easy to wash in Vancouver’ will probably only give you one new visitor a day. Focus on mid-tail keywords like ‘team sports gear Vancouver’. You’ll see that for a small business, it usually pays off to add the city name to some optimized pages as well. More on keywords in our article on the long tail.

Utilize online platforms

If there is one thing I can tell you from my experience in this, it is that local small businesses communicate a lot via social media. Use that Twitter account actively, set up your Facebook page and maintain it. Add your business to Google Business and make sure your opening hours are filled out if you have any. Every Google search for your company or closely related searches might show these immediately, before any organic search results. The same goes for sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. They have their marketers working 24/7. In the end, it doesn’t matter if people find your business through websites like Yelp or Google, right?

Utilize offline platforms

New website? Contact your local newspaper. New products? Contact your local newspaper. New business? You get the drift. Do not underestimate the reach these local news companies have. People read these publications. If you have anything newsworthy, please contact these publishers and see if they can help you to promote your business offline. If you participate in a local event, by all means, add a blog post to your website as well. Just be sure it is relevant.

Make sure your customers find your shop! Optimize your site with our Local SEO plugin and show you opening hours, locations, map and much more!

Buy this plugin now

Local SEO for WordPress plugin

Word of mouth

Create buzz around your shop, for instance by asking people to leave a review on Google Business or Yelp. Do sweepstakes or giveaways for your online visitors. 500 likes on Facebook? Give number 500 a coupon for your shop, online or offline. Have a sale for a specific brand? You could consider promoting it online only. Sponsoring a local event? Be sure to set up an event specific landing page and ask them to link that one. These are all little things that might trigger people to talk about your website, next to your shop.

Add evergreen content

If you want to rank, just adding blog posts or opening times won’t be enough. You should add pages with so-called evergreen content. These pages have content that won’t expire anytime soon. Evergreen content can be at the top of your keyword research pyramid, so a bit less long tail than the rest of your keyword focus. This content can be the solid base of your websites. Expand this base per product, service or business value so that you can focus on all the dynamic content you’ll write on a daily or weekly basis.

Small business blogging

The easiest way to keep your customers (and others) in the loop about your products and offerings, is by adding a blog to your website. That blog will fuel your social media and newsletter, so it’s a much more extensive tool than ‘just an addition’ to your site.

Please keep in mind that ‘no inspiration’ is a sad excuse for not adding that blog. Marieke just did an article with a load of tips that will give you that inspiration. Just start, and see where it goes. You’ll find your way in this for sure.

Get local links

To emphasize the local character of your shop, it will pay off to see what related business there are in your local area. By reaching out to these companies or websites you will a) expand your local network and b) create an opportunity to get valuable backlinks. Just because of these local backlinks, Google will understand your geographical reach/positioning.

Contact details everywhere

For most small business websites, the main goal is to get in touch with your potential customers. The simplest way to make this crystal clear is by adding your contact details to every page. It doesn’t matter if that is in the footer or sidebar by the way. Add your phone number or an email form so that people can reach you in the easiest way possible.

Realize your website is your online shop window

Putting in all that effort might seem like a hassle, as you are already putting so much time in local networking, redecorating your shop’s windows and more. You have to keep in mind that for someone that finds your shop online first, it matters what that shop looks like. Your website is the online replacement for window shopping. If your actual shop is decorated for the season, I would also suggest taking a closer look at how you can translate that to your website.

Make sure people feel welcome, and are enticed to buy your products or services online. Or at least feel the urge to come by your local business to see what you can do for them.

Read more: ‘What is Local SEO?’ »

View @ joostdevalk