The website overlay, love it or hate it, is a valuable marketing tool when used appropriately. However, there is a lot of the hate towards overlays from consumers and marketers alike. This strong hate for a useful tool is due to marketers misusing the technology and ruining the user experience.

Optimization isn’t about tweaking a landing page or website; it’s about optimizing your site’s value to the customer. If you add a disruptive marketing tool like an overlay, ask yourself ‘How does this add value to the customer?’ If you don’t have a good answer, your overlay is likely an annoyance.

Don’t be one of those marketers that ruin the tool for the rest of us!

The Overlay’s Current Prominence

Marketers are always trying to find a way for their website to convert better. After they’ve exhausted some of the ‘go to’ optimization tactics, e.g., testing headlines, CTAs, layout, etc… it’s time to move onto bigger and better things that can also produce results.

Econsultancy reported that that the overlay can increase your opt-ins by 400%! It’s safe to say that the overlay is one of those bigger and better ways to increase conversions. Need more proof? 84% of lead generation marketers have reported a positive impact while using overlays.

It’s pretty easy to see why the overlay is so successful. It is a disruptive technology that forces the visitor to make a decision about a particular offer. Essentially you are putting your most compelling CTA in front of a visitor and asking them to take an action. One of three actions will occur:

  • The visitor converts to that offer. Yay!
  • The visitor closes the offer and continues to browse your site. Meh, but there’s a silver lining!
  • The visitor leaves your page. Bummer.

Obviously a converting visitor is a good thing so I won’t expand on that. However, the visitor that doesn’t take the offer and continues to browse is a diamond in the rough. By closing the overlay, they’ve moved from a passive visitor to an active user. Sure, they didn’t like what your overlay was selling – but they’re still interested in your offerings.

Finally there is the third option, the visitor leave the page. Simply put, visitors are going to leave your page. No matter how good you are at marketing & how perfectly you’ve crafted your page and CTA – most people will leave without converting.

Just because people are bound to leave your site, doesn’t mean you should be content with your bounce rate. If you notice that your overlay is causing more harm than good, re-evaluate the offer and how the offer is triggered. Maybe your overlay is great for new visitors, but is a major annoyance for returning visitors who already took you up on that offer.

The Drawbacks

People really seem to hate overlays and I don’t blame them. Overlays can be a terrible disruption and are used on the vast majority of websites. The overlay hate really came from Blackhat CRO tactics or as Dr. Harry Brignull calls them ‘Dark Patterns’

Simply put these are tactics used by organizations that overtly try to manipulate or trick the user. This is a bad path to go down! Marketing is about persuasion, not manipulation – there is a huge difference.

Recently, UserTesting published a post with a poll asking are ‘Website pop-ups worth it?’ I don’t know how we quantify ‘worth it’, it is a bit vague and the question itself has a bias that leans toward a respondent being compelled to say ‘No’.

Regardless of my thoughts about the question wording, it was extremely interesting to see the overwhelming majority of respondents say they don’t use overlays on their site for the sake of user experience.

This is the response you’d expect from a UX crowd.


But is it really hurting user experience? Sure bad overlays are a pain in the neck and are worth complaining about. However, there is a rift in what people say and what people do. What consumer is ever going to say:

‘Oh yeah, I love overlays and pop up ads’?

No one will answer that way because that sounds ridiculous. Despite all of the bad things people have to say about overlays, they still get opt-ins & sales.

The Types Of Overlays

There are a few different ways to trigger overlays, and depending on your industry some will be more effective than others. I strongly urge to segment your audience and limit the number of times they see the overlay.

On one of the sites I worked on, I only launched an opt-in overlay to new traffic. With the advances in personalization technology there are even better ways to provide the right content & offers to the right audience.

  1. The Entrance Overlay

The Entrance overlay is a great opportunity to onboard your customers. I’d highly recommend testing the overlay timing. I’ve seen better conversion rates for overlays that don’t trigger immediately on entrance. I don’t know what will work for you, so test out these timings.

  1. The Exit Overlay

The exit overlay has hit the mainstream lately. It’s actually getting a little difficult to find a page that doesn’t have an exit overlay. Here’s one example of how the standard exit overlay is executed:

Look at the copy, this has become the standard for these types of exit overlays.

Exit overlays can either be triggered upon exit click or upon exit mouse movement. If you want to implement a tech based on exit intent, I’d recommend looking into the accuracy of the technology. The last thing you want is an exit overlay to show when a visitor is moving their mouse to click ‘Check Out’.

  1. The Scroll Message

The scroll message is one of my favorites. In fact, ConversionXL reported that they get half of their newsletter subscribers from this method! Depending on the tech you use, you can launch the scroll message based on scroll depth. Here’s an example:

This is a scroll message from ConversionXL. This is hands down one of my favorite methods.
  1. The Top Bar Message

This is more of a persistent message at the top of your screen. It isn’t necessarily an overlay, but it is a good way to add a message that the visitor normally wouldn’t see. Here’s an example:

Showcasing a promotion in the message bar is a great tactic!

All of these examples, except the exit overlay, can be launched based on several different parameters. You can trigger the load based on time on site, page depth, and scroll depth. You are in control of the message, when the message is shown, and who sees the message. This is where the overlay gets all of its power and if implemented correctly will become an asset not an annoyance.

If this inspired you to add an overlay to your site please remember what Uncle Ben told Spiderman (well Peter Parker): with great power comes great responsibility. The overlay is a powerful tool, but can quickly be used for evil when implemented inappropriately.

For my less nerdy readers, I’ll put it this way:

Happy Testing!

Oh, I almost forgot – if you use overlays, disable them for mobile! Mobile overlays are a conversion nightmare.