One of my all-time favorite commercials was Electronic Data Systems’ "Cat Herders" from Superbowl XXXIV.
Though it’s 15 years old, the commercial is still relevant. Today, digital marketers commonly refer to themselves as "cat herders," and for good reason.
If your site had a dusty old sock drawer, you’d find 10 visitors curled up inside.
When users visit, you want them to end up on a high-converting path. But too often they never make it.
The nature of high-converting pages often precludes them from getting large amounts of organic traffic. These pages usually have limited content, and focus on a single offer — both things Google’s algorithm doesn’t like. Instead, homepages often get the majority of visits — much to the chagrin of anyone working in the conversion optimization industry.
Homepages have always reminded me of those terrible buffets that serve both Western and Chinese food, and do a lousy job of both. When appealing to so many audiences at once, it’s difficult to develop a strong conversion funnel — and everyone leaves unhappy.
So all this begs the question: how can marketers keep their users on engaging pathways that increase our chances of converting them to customers? And if possible, can we funnel traffic from low-converting pages to high-converting pages without disrupting the user experience?
The tactic I’ll discuss in this post is designed to do just that.
It’s called traffic-shaping, and it’s much like bridge-building: incentivizing users to go where you want them to go; a lasso for your digital cat-herding efforts, if you will.
Later in the post, I’ll discuss (with examples) how to implement traffic-shaping on your website, but first, it’s important to know why this tactic is needed in the first place.
Why is Traffic-Shaping Necessary?
Reason #1: Most Websites Have Poor Information Architecture
Information architecture is the art and science of organizing websites. Good information architecture aligns the user’s needs with the site owners’ needs.
Good information architecture is also rare.
Most site owners don’t have the time or inclination to either a) establish sound architecture during site development, or b) redo the navigation on an existing site. Also, as a site evolves and more content, sections, and products are added, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep things organized.
As such, a surprising number of websites end up with inefficient levels of traffic on different pages, which brings me to my next point…
Reason #2: High-converting Pages Aren’t Necessarily High-traffic Pages
You likely have conversion-driven pages on your site with effective value propositions and well-positioned CTAs.
That’s great, but it doesn’t mean visitors will see them.
Landing pages with paid-traffic aside, high-converting pages usually don’t become high-traffic pages without some serious cat-herding.
If you look at your analytics, you’ll find a healthy percentage of users congregating on pages that only exist as a formality (your ‘About’ page being the most obvious example).
Another example would be when users are browsing your product-related content on your blog. They’re reading all this great stuff on what type of wood stove would best suit their home. But blog posts don’t have a clear call-to-action, so how can you get these users onto a high-converting path? By building a bridge to a high-converting path.
Reason #3: We Often Ignore Organic Visitors that Land on Our Site
We spend a lot of time optimizing the path of paid traffic, but often ignore the path organic visitors.
Google doesn’t care which of your pages convert; they’re only interested in delivering content that satisfies a search query.
And since high-converting pages are usually light on content, they often don’t rank well.
So further to my point from reason #2, organic traffic doesn’t usually follow a high-converting path. To change this, you need to build a bridge.
Diverting organic traffic to an optimized conversion path is a significant — yet often untapped — conversion opportunity.
Reason #4: You Can’t Burden the User with Finding the Right Page
Web users are like cats: they don’t care about you, and you can’t rely on them. They don’t care about your metrics or where you want them to go.
You can’t burden them with finding your desired path. To help them find the right page, you have to make your desired path abundantly clear, and incentivize users to follow it.
Using Exit Overlays as a Traffic-shaping Tool (Examples)
Ed. Note: I work for a conversion optimization agency called Crowdvert, whose user engagement tool Rooster is one of the leading platforms in the exit-intent technology space. The examples and metrics I cite in this post are sourced from Rooster clients.
When you’re looking for a win in online marketing, your first stop should always be the largest segment of low-hanging fruit.
For most websites, that segment is the abandoning visitor.
An exit overlay is one approach to grabbing value from this segment of visitors, as exit overlays are designed specifically to recover value from abandoning visitors before they leave your site.
Exit overlay on YourMechanic.com, activated when a user begins to abandon the page
If you aren’t familiar with exit overlays, they’re modal lightboxes that launch by what’s known as exit-intent technology. The technology tracks user activities as they navigate your site. When abandoning visitors are detected, an exit overlay activates and attempts to capture a sale or sign-up before the user leaves for good.
Exit overlays are sometimes compared to pop-ups, but they differ for several reasons:
- Exit overlays activate within the same window the user was browsing, not a new window
- Exit overlays do not disable (or hide) the navigation bar, nor do they inhibit users from leaving your site
- Exit overlays are controlled by site owners who care about the user experience, not third-party advertisers
- Exit overlays are permitted on both Google Adwords and Bing Ads PPC campaigns (pop-ups are not)
I preach exit overlays as a traffic-shaping tool for three reasons: they’re effective, easy to implement, and are probably the least intrusive way of getting the job done.
Entrance overlays — though sometimes effective — interfere with what the user was actively trying to browse. Banner ads often go ignored. And redirecting users (without their consent) doesn’t work for all the obvious reasons.
Since exit overlays activate only for abandoning users, they don’t interfere with active browsing sessions. And since they don’t disrupt the navigation, those that aren’t interested won’t be impeded from leaving.
In short, traffic shaping with exit overlays is a subtle, lightweight alternative to redesigning the architecture of your site.
So without further ado, let’s look at a step-by-step process for using exit overlays as a traffic-shaping tool on your website.
Step #1: Identify Your High Traffic, Low-converting Pages
Before doing anything, you must identify pages that are good candidates for a traffic-shaping exit overlay.
We call these source pages.
Here’s an example from TopBet.eu, which offers online betting services.
TopBet’s homepage serves as a good primer for new visitors, but wasn’t the highest converting path on the domain.
Like TopBet, you may already know which source pages you want to target, but regardless, you should crack open Google Analytics to make sure.
Analytics will give you two key metrics as it relates to site abandonment: bounce rate and exit rate. Bear in mind that they’re not the same thing.
As defined by Google:
To find your bounce rates, go to the Reporting tab, then select In-Page Analytics.
To find your exit rates, go to the Behavior tab, then select Site Content and then All Pages. Your exit rates should look like this:
With both exit rates and bounce rates, you should look for pages that have high bounce and/or exit rate relative to other pages on your site. An 80% bounce rate means nothing without the proper context.
In practical terms, you’re looking for pages where users visit, don’t engage with your content, and then leave.
Further, order confirmation pages naturally have higher exit rates given their place in the funnel—something to keep in mind when making comparisons.
Step #2: Identify Relevant High-converting Pages
The next step is finding a page to send your traffic; we call these target pages.
The target page for TopBet was simple: the first step of their signup process. But getting users on this path was less simple.
Many homepage visitors would visit to check sports lines — with most unaware that the page included a signup offer.
The key was targeting these casual visitors who are interested in the TopBet offering, and incentivizing the path towards signup.
Relevancy is important here. If your source page doesn’t discuss what you’re promoting on your target page, you’re unlikely to see an increased conversion rate.
In the TopBet example, we see a high degree of relevancy between the source and target pages; both pages focus on convincing users to sign up for a membership.
TopBet’s signup page
Have a look at your analytics to find your high-converting pathways. Every high-converting pathways ends with a page that has higher conversion rates, lower bounce rates, and lower exit rates. This becomes your target page.
Step #3: Craft Your Pitch, and Design Your Overlay
Building the bridge is one thing, but you have to convince people to cross.
The messaging & design within your exit overlay must create the incentive to make this happen.
Your messaging should convey value by promising helpful, relevant offers on the target page, and include a compelling and visible call-to-action.
Here is TopBet’s offer from their exit overlay campaign:
Exit overlay on TopBet.eu, activated when users begin to abandon the page
Though the $250 deposit bonus was available to all sign-ups, TopBet hypothesized that a good percentage of abandoning users weren’t aware of the offer.
As such, they made it the focus of their exit overlay in order to dissuade users from abandoning the site.
With the TopBet example in mind, here are a few quick guidelines for writing and designing your exit overlay:
- Make sure it focuses on a single offer, not multiple messages, and keep text to a minimum
- If you use imagery, avoid anything that inhibits the readability of the text
- Include a clear and bold call-to-action
- Make sure the call-to-action contrasts other elements; it must stand out
- Make sure the call-to-action describes exactly what will happen when the user clicks
Step #4: Target and Launch Your Exit Overlay
One of the cool things about exit-intent technology is you can target specific traffic segments such as first-time visitors, return visitors and shopping cart abandoners.
TopBet used a broad targeting strategy for their campaign, as seen in the screenshot below:
TopBet made it a priority to not target existing customers, so the exit overlay was simply targeted at first-time visitors to the homepage. Visitors to other pages on the site were not shown the messaging, nor were return visitors to the site.
Targeting rules can be applied much more specifically, targeting users such as cart abandoners, organic visitors or specific referrers. Ultimately, the strategy you decide on depends on your situation
Once you’ve identified your traffic-shaping pages and created your pitch, it’s time to find an engine to drive your exit overlay.
Exit-intent technology (the juice that drives exit overlays) is available on subscription plans from several vendors. The vendor should offer you a code to install within the head of your website, and a dashboard for monitoring engagement rates; if they don’t, take your business elsewhere.
Results from TopBet.eu’s exit overlay campaign
Between July and November 2014, TopBet’s exit overlay campaign:
- Engaged 2.93% of otherwise abandoning users
- Drove roughly 6% of TopBet’s total signups for the period
- Peaked in October, when 399 new signups were generated
- High-converting pages rarely receive the most traffic, since they have limited content and focus on a single offer; instead, homepages often get the majority of visits
- Traffic-shaping can help solve this problem by funneling users towards high-converting pathways on your site
- Traffic-shaping is necessary because most sites have poor information architecture, and users can’t be burdened with finding your high-converting pages
- Using exit overlays for traffic-shaping is the least intrusive way of getting the job done effectively
- When placed on high-traffic, low-converting pages/paths — and with an offer that conveys value to the user — exit overlays create a friendly bridge to your high-converting pages