What makes exit overlays so effective?

Exit overlays are a great strategy for getting value from the large pool of users who leave websites without taking your desired action.

But what makes them effective? Behind the impressive data, there are several scientific reasons why this form of online advertising works so well.

#1: Exit overlays counteract the phenomenon known as The Paradox of Choice

In conversion optimization, anxiety is one of the primary factors that inhibits website performance.

But as we’ve come to learn, there’s more to anxiety than not trusting a website with your information, or questioning a return policy.

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz asserts that the abundance of choice consumers face when making purchasing decisions also causes anxiety.

He compares these choices to the huge selection of options customers face in a grocery store.

With an online store, customers face a similar overload of options. They come in the form of multiple links, options, pathways and messages calling out for attention.

This abundance of choice contributes to web stress, and it contributes to anxiety.

But by acting like a helpful salesperson—albeit in an online format— an exit overlay counteracts this problem.

Reason #2: Exit overlays reduce the effects of analysis paralysis


Closely related to the paradox of choice is analysis paralysis, which is the state of over-analyzing situations to the point where no decision is taken at all.

Analysis paralysis occurs when consumers perceive their options to be overwhelmingly difficult.

Analysis paralysis can also make consumers feel pressured to make the perfect decision, and they often experience a deep fear of making the wrong decision.

This paralyzed state of inaction can affect people in many scenarios, including relationships and professional decisions.

Exit overlays counteract analysis paralysis for the same reason they counteract the Paradox of Choice: by clearing away the background noise and making the decision a simple.

Reason #3: Decision fatigue takes effect around the same time web traffic is peaking

As the day wears on, our mental energy decreases. This decision fatigue routinely warps the judgment of everyone from quarterbacks, to taxi drivers, to CFOs, and all the way down the line.

Decision fatigue towards the very end of the day makes even simple decisions feel difficult. Whether we realize it or not, we’ve exhausted our mental energy.

But unlike analysis paralysis—where no decision is made—decision fatigue causes people to default to the path of least resistance.

It’s the same reason sweet snacks are featured at the checkout counter in grocery stores. Our will power has been reduced, and we’re more likely to yield to temptation. Between 4 and 5pm—right around the time our mental energy is wearing down—pageviews are peaking.

In short, it’s a really good time to make things dead simple for your web users, and that’s exactly what an exit overlay does.

Reason #4: Exit overlays use a neuro-linguistic programming technique called pattern interrupt

By activating when the user is on the path of abandonment, exit overlays use a form of what’s called pattern interrupt.

Pattern interrupt is a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) technique that has been used by salespeople for many years.

The concept is straightforward: do or say something unexpected that disrupts a prospect from their normal pattern.

On a traditional cold call, pattern interrupt is used to divert prospects away from the normal path of 1) answering the phone, 2) realizing they’re dealing with a salesperson, and 3) throwing up a defense to get off the phone as soon as possible.

To interrupt the prospect’s expected pattern, the salesperson may say something unexpected, such as “On a scale of 1-10, how much do you love being called by a salesperson?”

Exit overlays are driven by similar logic. Unexpectedly, they make an offer that sweetens the pot, and convince the user to think twice about their predictable path towards the ‘Back’ button.

Reason #5: Exit overlays take advantage of effective frequency by creating an additional page view

Since we’re assuming your exit overlay is very much relevant to the content on your landing page, it’s effectively providing you with an additional page view.

And another page view means another chance to reinforce your message, which ties in with a time-honored advertising technique known as effective frequency.

Effective frequency is the number of times a prospect must be shown a particular message before taking some kind of action, and before they become irritated with the message.

There are varying theories on what the optimum number of times to show a message is, but it’s always more than 1. For example, the rule of 7 states that it’s, well, 7.

And since most of your users are first-time visitors, an exit overlay is a great opportunity to take advantage of effective frequency and reinforce your message.

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