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Exit Intent Overlays: What They Are & Why You Need One

exit intent overlays

An exit intent overlay is kind of like rocket fuel. When used responsibly it can be a powerful tool to boost performance, but when thrown around willy-nilly, things can get a tad… unruly.

The truth is, any tool you use on your website is only as good as the logic behind it. Let’s dive into how you can use exit intent overlays responsibly (and to great effect) on your site.

1. What Is an Exit Intent Overlay?

At the risk of stating the obvious, exit intent overlays are exactly what they sound like. Before your visitors leave your site (or express “intent” to do so by moving their cursor to the top of their browser window) an overlay pops up in the same window with a message, prompt, or offer.

Now, overlays and traditional popups are slightly different. An overlay shows in the same active window or tab as your content, whereas a popup opens in a separate window. We’re going to use the terms interchangeably here, but recognize that there is a slight difference in UI.

This is where the rocket fuel comparison comes into play. You may be thinking “ugh, popups” but here’s the deal: if you’re a website owner, you secretly love them because you know they drive results (email signups, clicks, downloads). They can also help reduce your bounce rate.

Many of your visitors may also secretly like them. Your overlays just need to be useful, provide some sort of appreciated value like discounts or exclusive offers, and they need to function in a way that doesn’t hurt the user’s experience on your site. (I have visited numerous sites in Incognito mode to try and trigger an overlay to see if there are any deals or discounts being offered.)

So why give overlays a shot? Because all of the things we just outlined above are possible! If you follow our website overlay best practices, the reward is worth the work of getting it right.

2. Get Your Visitor’s Attention Before They Bounce

Did you know that two-thirds of traffic exit a site with the intent to come back, but only one-third of them actually do? (Tip: Check your top exit pages in Google Analytics for an indication of where you might want to start using an exit intent overlay.)

I do this all the time; open a ton of tabs to do some comparison shopping or to read an article, and then get distracted by any number of things (email, text messages, etc.). Users like me are the ones you want to keep around. We like your site! We’re interested in what you have to offer, but in the shuffle of things your site drops out of attention and into the void.

And let’s get real, when was the last time you spent more than 10 minutes in your browser with only one tab open? I have 12 tabs open right now, and that’s just counting one browser window.

There’s a term for this, it’s called page parking. So, now while your users have good intentions to continue browsing or return to your page, they also have a ton of parked pages, which is not a winning recipe for getting noticed or sealing the deal in the form of conversion.

This is where an exit-intent pop up is a great choice. It’s a little nudge that appears as your users go to open or close a new tab and says to them, “Hey! Before you go, here’s a coupon (or whatever you’re offering) because you’re awesome.” Attention: Regained. Likelihood of Conversion: Higher. Positive brand experience? Established.

3. Offer Something of Value

Let’s keep going with this positive brand experience angle because it goes against conventional wisdom when applied to overlays or popups. Change your thinking of overlays from a purely promotional tool to that of a brand touchpoint, and imbue it with a sense of purpose.

This may mean offering a promo code (just be careful not to devalue your offering) or repeating your sales message to leave your visitors with a specific sense of who you are, and why they were there in the first place. You can also use website overlays to promote white papers, free trials, resource downloads, and more. These are commonly referred to as “lead magnets.”

You may not seal every deal, but you’ve planted a seed in your visitor’s mind linking back to their original intent while making them a final offer before they leave.

4. Encourage Your Visitors to Take Action

Anyone who has been to the Cheesecake Factory knows that having a ton of options doesn’t make decision making any easier. In fact, that feeling you have when you’re flipping through menus going “uh… one second…” is called analysis paralysis.

With so much information to weigh, we can’t make a clear decision without feeling like we’re forfeiting some sort of advantage. A huge menu becomes a roadblock to conversion, rather than offering up whatever the visitor could possibly want.

The moment before your visitor leaves your site is an excellent time to exercise a Hail Mary overlay (which sounds kind of awesome) and remove the analysis paralysis by giving a recommendation or incentive to act. Again, this could be the discount they were hoping for or the ebook download they didn’t know you offered.

Combine this idea with both of the prior points and you have a great opportunity to be a helpful agent, guiding your visitor along their journey towards doing whatever it is you want them to do.

5. Build Your Email Subscriber List

Last but not least, exit intent overlays are a great way to increase your email subscribers. The AddThis List Building Tool connects directly to major email marketing platforms like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, so when people sign up for your list, their information is automatically added to your subscriber database.

Think of an exit intent overlay with the goal of list building as a way of saying, “We get that you may not be ready to make a decision right now, but let’s keep this good thing going and stay in touch.”

If you’re a crafty copywriter, you can even leverage all three of the points above; capturing your visitor’s attention before they bounce, offering something of value, and encouraging your visitors to take action by breaking their analysis paralysis with the goal of email collection. It’s less about forfeiting the end conversion (registration, sale, etc.) and more about playing the long-game with your customer base.

Now that you know what you’re doing with exit intent overlays, give them a try! Add a Targeting Overlay to your site and customize it to appear On Exit. Start increasing conversions today!