You’ve heard it before: “With great power comes great responsibility.
And while Uncle Ben wasn’t explicitly referring to overlays when he said these iconic words to Peter Parker, the same could be said about these handy little conversion tools.
Overlays are powerful marketing tools, not only because they are incredibly effective at snagging conversions, but also because they are so quick to launch.
This combination of power and speed means it’s dangerously easy to launch one without much consideration for user experience. Thus, they’ve developed a bit of a reputation for being effective… and disruptive.
But the disruptive nature of overlays is actually inherent to their effectiveness, because it focuses the visitor’s attention on a single offer. They eliminate the paradox of choice and present the visitor with a simple yes or no question.
However, there are ways to ensure the overlays you launch both achieve your goals and provide value to your visitors.
The first step in accomplishing this is to ask yourself the five Ws:
1. Why are you launching an overlay?
Overlays are most commonly used to accomplish one of three marketing goals: revenue generation, lead generation or traffic shaping.
Do you want to build your blog subscriber list? Divert traffic to your pricing page? Entice visitors to make a purchase? This is what you need to figure out before you even consider building your overlay.
The marketing team at Hotjar recently implemented an overlay in their lead gen strategy for the first time. But just because it was their first attempt didn’t mean there wasn’t a clear goal. Nick Helm, Director of Inbound Marketing at Hotjar explains:
“We wanted to be able to nurture the new leads coming from different channels and bring them back.”
If you don’t have a good answer to the “Why” question though, just stop. Overlays, when used irresponsibly, can be intrusive and annoying. So if you don’t have a solid, strategic reason for launching one, hold on until you do.
Nick et al had a clear goal for their overlay and a detailed plan for how to achieve it, and it paid off: “We did get the quantitative results — which for us, measure better than industry standards.”
Your reason for running an overlay might be lead gen, rev gen or traffic shaping (or maybe something completely unique), but just make sure you have one — plain and simple.
Need some inspiration?
2. Where will you place your overlay?
Overlays offer a reliable way to fill gaps in your funnel, but you need to figure out where those gaps may be.
The easiest way to do this is to visit Google Analytics to determine your highest-traffic pages. Then whittle down the list to only include pages that don’t have a clear call to action — these pages are the low-hanging fruit you can start with to see immediate results.
You should have already determined what the goal of your overlay is; the diagram below will help you decide which of the CTA-free pages pair best with the type of overlay you’d like to launch.
As you can see, different pages are associated with different levels of buyer intent, and so while a lead gen overlay might perform well on your blog, a rev gen overlay probably won’t.
Now, if you’re a keener and don’t have any high-traffic pages without a CTA then I present you with this anthropomorphic gold star:
But I also challenge you to consider how you might use overlays on your highest-traffic pages to get even better results (because even though you have a CTA, it doesn’t mean people see it).
Adding an overlay with a complementary offer to your main on-page offer can help bolster the success of your page, because overlays leverage the psychological principle of pattern interruption to focus the visitor’s attention on a single offer. Your sidebar CTA, on the other hand, can start to blend into the page, so people become blind to it.
Here’s an example from last year’s Digital Agency Day (DAD) signup page:
Whereas the signup page’s goal was to get people to attend the digital event, this overlay offered exiting visitors the opportunity to simply get the recordings, even if they couldn’t attend.
The results were some of the best we’ve ever seen: 1,991 full-form conversions on 10,005 views.
3. Who should see your overlay?
The key to high-converting overlays is presenting compelling offers that (1) align with the visitor’s buying intent and (2) are relevant to that visitor’s specific needs or interests. This means targeting, and the more granular you can get the better.
The first thing you want to find out is where your visitors are coming from. If you know that, you can better judge what type of overlay should be presented, because different types of traffic relate to different levels of buyer intent (social traffic, for example, is often less likely to make a purchase than paid traffic).
The following chart further illustrates this.
Another thing you want to think about is whether the traffic consists of first-time or returning visitors, and — if they are a returning visitor — whether or not they’ve already opted in.
Chances are, your page traffic is a mixture of different referral sources and visitor types, so it can be tricky to present an offer that’s relevant to everyone. Fortunately, Unbounce Convertables recently launched referral and cookie targeting, so you can present more relevant offers by customizing the overlays visitors see based on where they’re coming from or what pages they’ve visited before.
4. What is your overlay offer?
By now, you should be seeing a trend — that creating an effective overlay means keeping the visitor experience at the forefront of your mind. And the sweet spot is where your marketing goals align with the goals of the user: you want the sale, they want the bargain; you want the email, they want the ebook; and so on.
So when you consider what your actual offer will be, ask yourself if your overlay is valuable and relevant to your visitor. If it’s not both of these things things, your results will suffer and you risk being obnoxious.
Let’s break this down.
Conveying value means offering your visitor something worth converting for. Here are a few examples:
- Offer an exclusive discount, like this lead gen overlay from BustedTees, which offers a generous 40% discount on first orders:
- Entice visitors with free shipping, like this rev gen overlay from Diamond Candles:
- Present a free resource visitors can’t resist, like this lead gen overlay from Copy Hackers which offers a free four-part conversion optimization course:
Another thing to consider when deciding on your offer is whether or not it’s relevant to your audience.
Here’s a real-life example: At Unbounce, our analytics showed that a roundup of the 16 Best Digital Marketing Conferences of 2016 was bringing in a lot of organic traffic. Assuming that people who read about marketing conferences are also interested in attending marketing conferences, we served up this overlay (with a ticket discount to sweeten the pot) that directed people to our Call to Action conference microsite:
And, might I point out, the above overlay is also an incredibly valuable offer — $650 savings? Yes please!
5. When should your visitors see your overlay?
We’ve sorted where your overlays should be seen and by whom, but there’s a final piece in the puzzle: When.
You have a few options around when to trigger your overlay, and depending on the type of offer you’re presenting, different triggers may be more effective than others.
Let’s dig in…
On-arrival overlays appear when your page first loads. Use this trigger for offers you want users to immediately see (e.g., a coupon code or an event invitation) or for returning visitors who may no longer notice your onsite calls to action.
An overlay using an on-scroll trigger will appear once the user has scrolled through a designated percentage of the page. Use it to present relevant offers to users who have implied interest in a topic after spending time on the page (e.g., a free quote) or to catch the attention of returning visitors who may no longer notice your on-site calls to action.
Overlays that trigger on exit appear when the user moves to abandon the page. Use them for offers that can “save” a potentially lost conversion (e.g., a coupon code or shipping discount) or for offering free resources or collecting sign-ups that enable you to save a user’s details for future communications.
Sometimes you’ll want your overlay to appear after a designated time delay, typically between five and 20 seconds. Use this type of overlay to present relevant offers to users who have implied interest in a topic after spending time on the page or for returning visitors who may no longer notice your onsite calls to action.
Be a conversion hero
That was a lot of information, I know, but as a marketer it’s your responsibility use your powers for good.
And remember: A thoughtful approach to implementing overlays benefits you and your visitor, because your goals are aligned.
Have you had success with overlays? Tell us about it in the comments!