Visitors who don’t click don’t convert.
As marketers, we know this to be true.
Your visitors can’t get through your checkout process or sign-up form without clicking at least one button. And that one button — like all of your buttons — can be improved.
But we fail to optimize calls to action for pretty simple reasons, all of which are complete BS.
We need to stop ignoring the so-called “small things,” especially when conversions depend on them.
Instead, apply a few of the following conversion rate optimization tips in this post, which A/B tests have proven can generate conversion boosts ranging from 20 to 95 percent.
No more excuses
See if you can relate to any of these excuses for failing to optimize calls to action:
- It’s hard to get creative when you’ve only got room for two or three words on a button
- Everything seems best summarized as “Learn More,” “Sign Up,” or “Buy Now”
- If people really want my stuff, the button isn’t going to make or break a conversion
- Buttons are small — we’ve got bigger fish to fry than that!
Those excuses are like a ceiling blocking your conversion rate from lifting. Your call to action isn’t supposed to summarize … it’s supposed to get people to act.
You shouldn’t limit your button copy to a three-word maximum. A button that fits the standards of every one-percent-converting site should not be the button you expose to your hard-won visitors.
You’re not writing copy for visitors who would walk over hot coals to get your stuff. You are most often writing for people who are on the fence and who can be pulled over to your patch of grass with great messages.
So let’s cut the excuses and start using techniques we know will work, like the six data-backed methods for improving conversions explained below.
1. Entertain the lizard brain
Here, here and in the must-read Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain, we learn that the amygdala — aka our “lizard brain” — is the part of our brain that has been around for 450 million years and still powers our actions:
The old brain is a primitive organ, a direct result of the basic evolutionary process. It is our ‘fight or flight’ brain — our survival brain — and is also called the reptilian brain because it is still present in reptiles today.
~ Renvoise & Morin, 2007
Part of our survival instinct is the tendency to notice differences in our environment. We’re hard-wired to.
Valid reasoning and the written word haven’t had even a fraction of the time necessary to be part of an ‘instinctive’ response in us. For this reason, we need to rely on more than “If X, then Y” reasoning and written messages to make a sale or get a signup.
Consider these buttons, which were, until recently, on the Plans & Pricing page for AcuityScheduling.com:
Of those three buttons, which one stands out the most?
The different one does — the third and final one in the row. It uses different copy than the first two, and it’s the only button supported by a second line of copy.
Because the third one here stands out, our lizard brain is most entertained by it. So we’re most likely to zero in on it and make a decision that considers it. For Acuity Scheduling, that meant the third button, which is for their $0 plan, was getting the most clicks.
Not great for paid conversions.
So we tested two different button treatments against it.
Variation B, shown below, incorporated a second line of copy below each button. It also used a different color on the button of the middle-of-the-road plan.
Variation C, shown below, repeats what we did in Variation B, but the new button color is orange.
Importantly, in both treatments the button copy for the two paid plans was identical and, at first glance, only the button color seemed different. This is by design.
It leverages the insights of Dan Ariely’s “Ugly Tom / Ugly Jerry” experiment (Auto-Play Video), where subjects were first asked to choose who was more attractive, Tom or Jerry. Here’s what they saw:
Ariely also presented the following sets of options to groups of subjects:
Ariely found that, for those who saw Form A, attractive Jerry was most popular; for those who saw Form B, attractive Tom was most popular. This illustrates how people tend to compare the two most similar options in a set — eliminating the radically different option — and from the two similar options choose the more attractive one.
This Acuity Scheduling button test isn’t an identical duplication of Ariely’s test. But it does force similarities between the first two options and then make one of those two more attractive to the lizard brain by making it a standout color.
Let’s see the treatments again:
These very minor changes resulted in big improvements in account starts. Variation B (the green button) saw an 81 percent lift over the control, and Variation C (the orange button) saw a 95 percent lift over the control.
Beyond the Ugly Tom / Ugly Jerry effect, this test also highlights a reptilian tendency to look for color: the orange button was outside the green-grey-black color scheme of the page, drawing more eyes than the green.
It’s human nature to appreciate contrast. Bet you didn’t know that the greater the contrast between a flower and its background, the more likely a bee is to prefer it.
2. Focus visitors on simple calls to action
You’ve read about the paradox of choice and analysis paralysis. So you know that people generally (but not always) have a hard time making a decision — and feeling good about that decision — when they are presented with a lot of options.
Can adding more buttons to a busy page help reduce the crippling effects of choice overload? And is choice overload a real thing?
In this popular Jam Experiment, Columbia’s Sheena Iyengar presented some patrons of a high-end grocery store with six jams to sample and other patrons of that same store with 24 jams to sample.
The 24-jam display attracted more people than the six-jam display, but it converted far fewer into paying customers.
The takeaway? People think they want a lot, but having fewer options makes it easier to arrive at a choice confidently.
Additionally, fewer choices can improve how satisfied we are with our decisions.
In another study by Iyengar, participants who were given six chocolates from which to choose one were happier with their selection than those who selected one chocolate out of 30 possibilities.
Fewer choices may make your visitor feel happier. And happiness is an extraordinarily powerful emotion for converting people, getting them to talk about you, and keeping them loyal to your brand.
Think about your home page — how many options do you give your visitors?
We tested simplifying options on the TGStore.eu homepage, which presents visitors with loads of information and options largely because they have so many SKUs.
Many ecommerce sites experience the same problem when trying to figure out what goes on the home page — they end up throwing everything on there, like TG did:
This is a page filled with visual stimuli: images of men, images of women, landscape shots, bicycles blurred in motion, runners running, water beading on fabric. And nearly every image on the page has copy overlaid on it or positioned just below it.
With so much info and so many distractions, could visitors be burdened by too much choice when landing here, and could that be negatively impacting clicks deeper into the site?
To find out, our treatment presented half of TG Store’s visitors with a home page that looked like this (above the fold):
Can you spot what we did? We added in four new calls to action. Yep, in a page filled with places to go and things to do, we gave people four more things to do.
So how might offering more choices help minimize choice overload? Answer: by focusing visitors on clear, unmistakable calls to action that simplify their decisions.
For the part we added in, we kept the background neutral to eliminate visual distractions and simplified options into manageable sets of decisions a visitor can painlessly make:
- Decision 1: Identify yourself as a man or woman
- Decision 2: Choose between cycling or running (the two most popular category pages on the site)
The buttons are the same on both the men’s and the women’s — same coloring, same copy — to avoid competition and distraction.
With these new calls to action, TG Store saw 96.6 percent more visitors go to Shop Cycling (Men) and 104.5 percent more go to Shop Running (Men), both with 100 percent confidence. The women’s buttons also trended above the control but didn’t reach confidence.
Now, this might feel like one of those tests where you think, “Well, that goes without saying. When you give people new options that weren’t there before, you’re going to get more clicks to those pages.” But that’s our job as online marketers.
We’re supposed to see where visitors most like to go on our sites — by using analytics and keywords — and help them get to those destinations without interruption.
3. Make buttons look like buttons
The subject of signifiers (sometimes called affordances) is a big one in the user experience (UX) world, and in conversion.
When we’re talking about signifiers in web design, we’re generally talking about making elements on a page look like what they’re meant to be used for.
In other words: A button needs to look like a button.
Users need to identify it quickly as an element to click in order to initiate an act.
So, would a first time visitor coming to your page absolutely know which elements are clickable? Or would they be like Ariel when she found a fork, naively guessing at what to do:
Buttons are easier to click when we know they’re clickable.
This is why grey buttons are generally poor for conversion — they look disabled, so a lot of visitors won’t know they’re even allowed to click them.
The home page of CreateDebate.com is filled with calls to action to join various debates in progress. And above their fold, they were burdening visitors with what appeared to be even more calls to action in the form of four huge buttons:
In fact, the largest blue ‘button’ isn’t a button at all. But it sure looks like one, doesn’t it? All those buttons weren’t helping visitors understand what they should click on.
We tested a single, obvious call to action – one that had all the signifiers of a button, including the image of a cursor on it — against the control.
The following treatment created a 45% boost in account starts:
While you may not have body copy in something that appears like a button, you may have the inverse on your site: buttons that do not signify “Click Me.”
Can people easily identify the primary call to action on each page of your site? Is that call to action easy to acquire (e.g., large enough)? Does it bear signs suggesting clickability?
Consider the following:
- A 3D effect
- A contrasting, non-grey color
- Feedback on hover (e.g., different color)
- Whitespace around it
- An arrow pointing to it with instructional copy
Your designer might really want a flat-design button. But before you hop on the flat-design trend … test.
4. Write button copy in the first person
A great rule of thumb when writing a call to action is to make your button copy complete this sentence:
I want to ________________
That little trick is how we get buttons like Find Out How to Ride a Bike and Make Sense of My Finances Fast. It’s also how we avoid buttons like Register to Learn More … because no one wants to register to learn more.
That formula leads us down the path of writing calls to action in the first person.
Writing this way feels pretty uncomfortable when you first start doing it. But time and again we see it work in split-tests, which reinforces — at least for me — that the more uncomfortable your copy makes you, the more likely you’re doing it right.
Michael Aagard of Content Verve shared two tests in which he saw a 25 percent increase and a 90 percent increase in clicks on buttons that were written in the first person. Note that in both cases the control was in the second person, by which I mean it used the word “your” instead of “my.”
Here’s the one that brought in 90 percent more clicks:
The only difference between this high-converting button and the lower-converting button was whom it seemed the button was built for.
Taking this idea, we tested the following two buttons on a Schedulicity.com landing page:
Treatment B, which is in the first person, generated a lift of 24 percent with 98 percent confidence. Of course, Treatment B also eliminated the phone number (without negative impact on the business) and introduced more benefits-focused language.
If you’re unsure if the first person approach here really worked, see how it helped in the next button test …
5. Boost your buttons with “click triggers”
In this book, I introduce the term “click triggers”, which are essentially the extra boosts you put around a button to convince more people to click it.
The way I see it, there is a wall standing between your prospect and a conversion. Our job as marketers and copywriters is to get people over the wall by:
- Knocking bricks down, virtually eliminating the wall
- Sliding boosters under our prospects’ feet until they are high enough to step down from the wall
To knock bricks down, we overcome objections and reduce anxieties. To slide boosters underfoot, we delight.
Click triggers do this work at the point of conversion and can include:
- A testimonial, review, or tweet
- A data point
- Star ratings
- Low-price messaging
- Free or two-way shipping messaging
- Payment-option messaging and/or icons
- Security messaging and/or icons
- Privacy messaging
- Risk-minimizing messaging (e.g., a snippet about what happens after clicking)
- Your value proposition
The challenge is not simply using a click trigger near a button — most of us are already doing that. The challenge is to use the right click-trigger near a button.
On the signup page of FriendBuy.com, this is the call to action to submit a three-field form:
It has no click triggers around it. Here’s how it looks in the context of the page:
We tested two variations against this, both of which incorporated a click trigger.
Variation B used a testimonial:
Variation C used two objection-reducing bullets:
Which one won? Variation C beat the control by 34 percent with 99 percent confidence.
Simply by adding two click triggers — one an anxiety-reducer about credit cards, the other a key benefit of the solution — FriendBuy now sees 134 signups for every 100 it used to see.
Variation B didn’t reach confidence, but it did trend above the control by approximately 15% throughout the test.
Moral of the story? Click triggers are good. And you should test to find the right ones for the right points in your conversion funnel.
A click trigger that will get someone to click from a home page is very different from the one that will boost conversions on a checkout page.
6. When visitors are ready, unleash the awesome
Your calls to action in your checkout process — whether you’ve got an ecommerce or SaaS business — are definitely not the time to start hesitating or playing it cool.
It is in your checkout that you most need to pull out all the stops to get that button clicked and transform a visitor into a customer.
If you’re only going to run one A/B test this year, make it a test of your Cart call to action.
Among the checkout and signup button tests I’ve run or studied in recent years, the best wins have come from:
- Increasing the size of the primary button
- Using a higher-contrast color for the primary button
- Greying out or visually ‘cooling’ secondary calls to action (e.g., “Update cart”)
- Moving the position of the primary button above the fold
- Removing competing calls to action, like email opt-ins
- Removing the global navigation
- Adding influential testimonials
- Adding risk-reducing messaging near the button (e.g., “Next, you’ll review your order”)
- Offering multiple payment options, including adding PayPal
Security icons can often help too, but that’s especially tricky and worth a test. The reason is that, for some visitors, security icons can introduce anxiety where none existed. To be sure you’re doing right by your visitors, test it.
In this test for Gumballs.com, we got a paid lift of 20 percent by, above all, focusing visitors’ attention as much as possible on the button instead of on distractions.
Here’s the control:
And here’s the treatment that generated 20% more paid conversions, with the changed area highlighted for you (i.e., within the orange box):
Using nearly everything covered earlier in this article, we did the following in the winning treatment:
- Drew the eye away from the bright coloring of Coupon Code (which can increase cart abandonment) and Estimate Shipping by adding a thicker green-and-glowing box around the primary call to action. (Note that we couldn’t change that bright red font color for this test.)
- Changed the button copy to the first person: “I’m Ready to Check Out”
- Made the button slightly bigger
- Used testimonial click triggers to boost clicks while separating the primary call to action from the distraction of the opt-in call to action
We also replaced the instructional “Estimate Shipping” copy with the benefits-focused “Fast, Affordable Shipping.”
With just a few simple tests …
These are quick, simple changes that are insanely easy to test. And they resulted in a statistically significant increase that effectively grew the Gumballs.com business by 20 percent.
Now imagine if you optimized your checkout button as well as the other buttons on your site, thus driving more people into your cart only to get more of them to convert.
How much could your web business grow with just a few tweaks to a few tiny, insignificant buttons?