Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : User Experience

The website conversion game is changing: SPAM and possibly even 'social proof' are no longer the lightsaber they once were

Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : User Experience

Here I’ve been for the past 10 years, spruiking up the cheese, offers and star-bursts on our client websites – all with the view of increasing click-thrus, sales and conversion.

And by-and-large, it worked.

‘Limited Time Only’, ‘What others are saying’ and ‘Buy Right NOW!’ – statement after statement – supporting by contrasting colours, calls-to-action that popped and arrows directing eyes to where we want them to go.

Yes, it certainly was a good time; us clever web developers one step ahead of our hapless users, all being tricked into clicking buttons.

The extent to which we want to slippery-up the journeys users would take through our websites knew no end; and I mean, no end.

All the way down to variable product pricing based on how fast or slow a user moved through a website.

Which is not to say that much of this does not remain entirely relevant or beneficial… or the right thing to do.

Understanding users and hand-holding users through our websites is a central part of ‘user experience’ and central to the success of our websites.

Indeed, an oldie but a goodie – ‘As seen on…’ – still kicks plenty of goals, as overused as it can be.

As an example of this, last week, one of my eCommerce website clients added ‘As Seen on ’ under his ‘Sign Up Now’ call-to-action and click-throughs jumped 200%.

No, the issue isn’t the broader and noble effort to make our websites convert, the issue is how far we push the SPAM in order to make them do so.

And the reason I think this is interesting, is because a test I read today would indicate that it isn’t just the SPAM that starting to have less effect.

Let me explain.



SPAM and Social Proof

About a year ago, I watched an interesting video about some tests that had been conducted on the Obama re-election campaign website.

What they found was that the best rate of email signup was from the least aggressive call-to-action.

An interesting discovery and bluntly the opposite of what us web developers been trained to believe works.

And a blow to SPAM.

Indeed, a couple of weeks ago, I saw the results of a test run on a website promoting its different childcare centres to parents; the call-to-action being to essentially find a centre and enrol.

Except that the less aggressive the call-to-action pitched at parents, the more clicks the call-to-action received.

Another blow to SPAM… and no doubt a trend you can probably see…

Essentially, don’t be aggressive.

But here is where it gets interesting…

An area of ‘conversion’ us web developers have strongly focused on – certainly for the past few years – is what is known as ‘social proof’.

Plenty has been written about the ‘psychological phenomenon’ that is social proof; the idea that we group together in society and follow those around us: if everyone is looking in one direction, then you are too.

Knowing that others are doing something – or not doing something – helps us to make decisions about whether to do or not to do what is being asked of us.

We have plenty of tricks available to us web designers when it comes to social proof, starting with the humble testimonial and ending with the ‘100,000+ members can’t be wrong’.

Except that 100k members can be wrong.

In a test I looked at this morning, the version of the email newsletter signup offer that didn’t promote the number of members already signed up to the email newsletter significantly outperformed the offer that did promote the 100k.

In some fairness, the design of the ‘100k members’ promotion was just a tad slimy, though also in fairness, that used to be the aim of the game.

I think it fair to say that users have wisened up to the ‘social proof’ trick. Well and truly.

Because it looks like SPAM.

I wrote a blog about this a while ago, noting that simply lobbing fake testimonials onto a webpage just wasn’t good enough anymore.

Seems we need to go back to basics and question even more than that.

And at the very least, us web designers need to understand that if it looks like SPAM and sounds like SPAM… users will suspect its SPAM.