Behind the Envelope: The Easiest Way to Capture More Subscribers

Close Up Of Graphs And Charts Analyzed By Businessman

Welcome to Behind the Envelope, a series of posts exploring ways to get the most from GovDelivery. We’ve covered topics such as the GovDelivery Network, increasing subscribers and administrator access, amongst others. Check back often as we’ll continue to publish information that we hope you’ll find valuable. Today we’re talking about overlays and how they help you communicate with a larger audience. Have an idea on something you’d like us to cover? Email us today.

Do You Want Fries With That?

If I told you that you could add one line of code to your website and substantially increase the number of subscribers you have, and at no cost to you, wouldn’t you want to hear about it? Great. You’re in the right place to learn more.

When you visit a website to order a pair of shoes, a book, tickets to the game, or just about anything else, you see what email marketers call lightboxes or pop-ups. They’re the option of providing your email address in order to receive newsletters, updates or coupons. There’s a reason you see them everywhere. They work. So well in fact, that even people that sell cheeseburgers and fries for a living use them:

At GovDelivery we call them overlays and we’ve been a big fan of them for years because they produce great results for our clients. 


Overlays can significantly increase the number of subscribers you have and your ability to keep the public informed. We’ve seen clients grow subscribers by 200% – 500% when compared to the typical subscription process. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these random examples I pulled while writing this post. The numbers show the increase in subscriber profiles (people subscribing) via an overlay vs. subscribers coming directly*:

Example 1:

Example 1Example 2:

Example 2Example 3:

Example 3

*Direct subscribers came to your account by using a link or form on your website to subscribe.

What Others Have Done

Most overlays are square or rectangle, but they don’t need to be that way. Last fall Travel Wisconsin took advantage of people wanting to enjoy the fall colors and used a beautiful leaf design for their overlay:

Wisconsin Fall Color
They’ve also used a photograph in the background of an overlay:

Travel Wisconsin

The City of Detroit often uses text messaging to communicate with citizens, so their overlay provides the option to subscribe via email address or a phone number:


Deconstructing the Overlay

I know what you’re thinking, these overlays will just keep popping up and irritating people who visit your site. Not true! We want our overlays to be a painless experience for citizens. Let’s use the City of Livonia and their overlay as an example of how they work.


  1. No Thanks. The citizen will not see the overlay again unless they clear their browser’s cache
  2. Remind Me Later. The overlay disappears for a set number of days, typically 30
  3. Clicking X. Same results as clicking “Remind Me Later”
  4. Clicking on the translucent background around the overlay. Closes the overlay for the current browsing session
  5. Subscribing. Closes the overlay until they clear their cache

Overcoming “No”

As easy and beneficial as overlays are to use, we understand you might encounter some resistance within your organization. Here are some of the most common objections we hear:

“My webmaster is too busy. They’ll never get to it.” The work required of your webmaster is minimal. All they need to do is add one line of Javascript on the page and we’ll do the rest.

“I love the idea, but my boss won’t go for it.” Prove to your boss it’s a good idea. Overlays aren’t required to only be on the home page, so find an internal page on your site the overlay could be placed on and tell your boss you want to test the idea. Give it 30 days you’ll be able to show them how many subscribers came via the overlay. We think the results will be positive and you’ll be able to back your argument with data.

“We’re government, we’re conservative.”
Expectations of your citizens are rising and increasingly they want government to communicate just like the private sector companies they interact with. Citizens are used to seeing overlays and won’t think twice of one on your site. You want to communicate with more of your citizens, right? Add one. The benefit far outweighs any pushback you might get.

Getting Started

Adding an overlay to your site is easy. Visit the “Planning Your Overlay” page in our support area. The page takes you step-by-step through the process and what we’ll need from you in order to get started.

I hope you take the time to add an overlay to your site. Overlays are an easy way to connect with more of the people you serve. A larger audience ultimately means keeping more people informed, driving greater attendance to events and getting more people to take advantage of the services available to them.

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