Though hate is a strong word, I say this without hesitation:
I hate beavers.
Have you ever fought a land war against beavers? If not, consider yourself lucky.
Sure, this supposedly peaceful herbivore plays a key role in our ecosystem. Beavers build dams that create wetlands where fish, ducks and frogs can thrive and blah blah blah…
But where I’m from, beavers are a total pain in the ass. Anyone who owns land can regale you with stories of flooding, tree damage and mosquito infestations.
My hate for beavers comes from personal battles—my parents owned land. But it’s through these battles that I grudgingly came to respect the intelligence of this aquatic rodent.
Beavers are true optimizers of nature. They use tools (branches) to move traffic (water) in order to maximize the return (food and protection) for themselves.
Moving traffic through a website is much like this: site owners have to coordinate multiple flows of traffic coming from paid, social, and organic sources.
And making sure these visitors go where we want presents a host of challenges:
- How do you make sure organic visitors reach your high-converting funnels?
- Similarly, how can you glean value from social media traffic?
- How can you ensure referral traffic follows a logical conversion path?
So let’s look at a strategy for tackling this challenge—something called “traffic-shaping.”
What is traffic-shaping, and why is it necessary?
Traffic-shaping is a simple concept: moving traffic from one page to another.
More specifically, traffic-shaping means channeling visitors from low-converting pages/pathways to high-converting pages/pathways.
Like bridge building, traffic-shaping is all about creating incentivized pathways that convince users to go where you want them to go.
But first, why is this tactic even necessary? Can’t we already control the flow of traffic effectively?
There are 4 reasons traffic-shaping can be necessary to increase traffic volume on your high-converting pages.
#1: Most information architecture isn’t conversion-centered
When information architecture is done well, the needs of the site owner and the user are aligned. The user seeks information, and the site owner seeks to sell products. If these needs happen to align on a high-converting funnel, there’s no problem.
But often, information architecture is not done well, and most site owners don’t have the time or inclination to reconstruct the pathways in a domain from scratch.
#2: High-converting pages aren’t necessarily high-traffic pages
As the wise beaver can tell you, high-volume streams don’t always have the most fish.
For web pages that rank in the top 10 on Google, the average content length is 2,000 words—far too long for any viable landing page.
Paid-traffic aside, high-converting pages usually don’t become high-traffic pages all on their own. Blog pages are a good example of this.
On your blog, readers are busy absorbing your content, but since blog posts usually don’t have a strong call-to-action, you need to build a bridge to draw them to your high-converting pathways after they’ve finished.
#3: We often ignore organic visitors that land on our site
Further to my last point, it’s content that draws organic visitors to your site from search engines—not your high-converting offers.
But our time is stretched, and marketers are often too busy focusing on the path of paid users to deal with organic traffic as well.
As such, organic traffic often ends up on pages that do little to further your business goals (690 visits to my ‘Privacy’ page, really?!)
Once again, a bridge is needed to solve this problem.
#4: You can’t burden the user with finding the right page
Simply put, convincing users to visit your high-converting funnels is your job.
Sometimes that means designing a user-friendly website. More often, it requires a measure of persuasion to convince users it’s the right path for them.
Regardless, it’s your job.
Using exit overlays as a traffic-shaping tool (examples)
So without disrupting the user experience, how can marketers engage users on high-converting pathways that produce better results?
How can we build dams that help users follow our desired path?
One great way of doing this is by using what’s known as an exit overlay.
If you aren’t familiar with exit overlays, they’re modal lightboxes that are powered by exit-intent technology. The technology is designed to recover value from abandoning visitors before they leave your site.
Here’s a diagram of how traffic-shaping with exit overlays works:
Exit-intent technology uses a tracking algorithm to detect the exact moment a user is about to leave your site. When an abandoning user is detected, an exit overlay activates and attempts to re-engage the user.
And since exit overlays activate only for abandoning users, they don’t interfere with active browsing sessions.
Exit overlay on YourMechanic.com, activated when a user begins to abandon the page
Exit overlays usually recover value from abandoning users by capturing email addresses, social followers, sales leads—and eventually—paying customers.
With traffic-shaping, exit overlays recover value by providing a fresh stream of users to your high-converting pages.
To illustrate how it works, let’s look at an example.
OneClass Uses Traffic-Shaping to Kickstart Subscription Sign-up Rate
OneClass.com is a Toronto-based company with a new approach to improving the college experience for students around the world.
OneClass fulfills their promise of “Better grades in less time” with study resources, a live Q&A for homework help, and a textbook search engine.
Step #1: Find high-traffic pages on your site with low conversion rates
The first step is to identify pages to send your traffic from; we call these source pages.
OneClass’ source page was their blog, which draws in college students seeking ideas on improving academic performance and enjoy college life.
Since traffic to the blog came from many different sources, the OneClass team hypothesized that many weren’t familiar with the subscription offering (which includes some seriously cool features…I sure wish there was a cheap textbook finder available when I went to college).
This is not unique. Blog pages typically have much lower conversion rates than product pages for all the obvious reasons. But blog readers are also absorbing your content and familiarizing themselves with your brand, making them a perfect target for a traffic-shaping campaign.
Step #2: Identify relevant high-converting pages
Next, you need a page—a pathway—to send your users; we call these target pages.
OneClass’ target was its subscription signup page. The page introduces the benefits and features available to members, and includes a clear and bold calls-to-action.
The OneClass signup page
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 this example, OneClass establishes strong relevancy between the pages. The blog topics are closely aligned with features in the subscription offering; in a sense, users were being primed for the membership offer through the topics they read on the blog.
Establishing relevancy is one thing, but OneClass still needed to incentivize the path towards signup. Read on!
Step #3: Craft your pitch, and design your overlay
Your exit overlay messaging should convey value by promising helpful, relevant offers on the target page, while also staying consistent with the principles of conversion-centered design.
Exit overlay on OneClass.com, activated when users begin to abandon the page
OneClass accomplishes this by:
- Using a healthy dose of urgency in the headline.
- Describing exactly what happens if a user clicks the call-to-action.
- Avoiding any design elements that inhibit readability of the text.
- Clearly delineating the call-to-action from other elements on the page.
OneClass then took their traffic-shaping campaign one step further by adding an exit overlay to the target page itself:
This overlay was targeted at users who 1) clicked the call-to-action on blog page exit overlay, and 2) browsed the subscription page, but began to abandon the page without clicking the call-to-action.
Now the last step was to set up the targeting on the back end, and launch the exit overlays.
Step #4: Target and launch your exit overlay(s)
OneClass used the following user targeting rules for its two exit overlays:
- Blog page overlay – Targeted at first-time visitors who had read blog content and were about to leave the domain.
- Subscription page overlay – Targeted at users who had come from the blog and were browsing the subscription page, but who were about to abandon the domain.
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.
Results from OneClass.com’s traffic-shaping campaign
During October and November 2014, OneClass.com’s traffic-shaping campaign generated some impressive results:
- The blog exit overlay funneled 1.59% of abandoning users to the subscription page where they could learn about the notes and study resources and exam guides OneClass offers, and sign up for a free account.
- The subscription page exit overlay re-engaged a phenomenal 14.03% of abandoning users with a $5 off coupon for OneClass services.
Since high-converting pages often miss out on organic and social media traffic, a bridge (or dam) is often needed to send users towards these funnels.
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.
And if you think beavers are cute, you are mistaken: beavers are not cute. Before writing this, I ‘Liked’ the “I Hate Beavers” Facebook page, and I encourage you to do the same.