In the same way as more instruments don’t necessarily make a better tune or more words a better poem; when it comes to creating effective website pages, less is often more.

This realisation, as with many of the results of multivariable tests I run every day, is actually quite counter intuitive. It’s very hard to resist the urge to fill every inch of the page copy in the hope that something will stick. In fact generally speaking, test results show that the opposite is true. Six points are normally better pared down to four or even three.

Information overload, as with people or computers, can cause shut down. Often I’ve found the simple removal of FAQs actually increases the conversion rate whereas “satisfaction guaranteed” is a consistently beneficial message.

And of course you might be excited about the range of benefits you offer your customers and cover your pages with them. But what you think is a benefit might not be perceived as such by your customers, so this is something to look at carefully.

One classic example of this was a website that carried the statement: “no spyware”.  Rather than reassuring customers, this simple statement had exactly the opposite effect, sowing doubt in users’ minds - conversion did not improve until the statement was removed. 

What is the question?

Think about the way you word your headings. Changing them to questions can be very effective. For example, “Free Casting Call” becomes “Are You Ready to be Discovered?. Or give your headings a sense of urgency: “Today’s Specials” instead of “Special Offers”.  You will have your own calls to action: think about how you can spice them up.

As you systematically examine all of the elements on your web pages, keep asking yourself the question: “What’s the point?”  Unless you have a compelling reason for the copy that you use – take it out.

Way too cool

Although the more sophisticated of your customers might appreciate your cool design features, you could be in danger of alienating those who just want to get straight to the point. Toning down the over clever elements won’t turn your sophisticated visitors away; they already know how to navigate your site and where to click, but you will help those who are less impressed by your site’s coolness to stay with you. Remember – they can click away from your site at any point. Don’t help them to do that.

Picture this

Lastly, one important element to consider is the photographic images you use on your site; specifically author photographs. Unless you have a well-known celebrity endorsing your products or services, it is normally best to remove headshots from the pages. We found this with one well known financial advice site, which regularly published authors’ pictures alongside their articles. Conversion rates rose significantly when they were removed. 

Greg Kelton is the managing director of Optimost.


Published 1 August, 2007 by Greg Kelton

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Comments (2)

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at EconsultancyStaff

Hi Greg

I guess Google was a great example of "less is more" when it first came out in comparison to the crammed pages of the likes of Alta Vista at the time. Ironically, now with iGoogle, Universal Search etc. it is possibly in danger of overloading people? Or perhaps online behaviours have changed / are changing?

Your post reminds me of the long-running debate about short-form vs. long-form copy writing and benefits selling. One argument is that a 'wall of benefits' works best which you seem to be saying is perhaps not the case? I was looking at today which I thought was an interesting use of chat and video but also had that 'wall of testimonials' approach. A of successful sites sell one thing off one (very long) page.

I was intrigued (and somewhat surprised) by your evidence that photos actually decrease conversion rates. Do you think this is sector-specific? For example, you'd think that in professional services you might want to see a photo of who might be advising you? Or in social networks (or, indeed, community sites like you would more likely trust a profile/user with a picture. Certainly true of dating sites I imagine...

Perhaps it is more to do with the style/execution of the photo rather than the fact of having a photo per se? There is some research at which shows the impact of author photos on perception and credibility of the content.

Interestingly that research also suggests that the mere presence of banner ads actually decreases users' perception of the credibility of the content on the rest of the page... So not only do banner ads not get anyone clicking on them or looking at them but they actually damage the perceived credibility of everything else you have on the page!

Ashley Friedlein

almost 11 years ago


Greg Kelton, Business Development at Autonomy

Hi Ashley,

Thanks for your comments and you’re right, sensitivity to content such as photos of management is visitor group specific and the key to finding out is persona targeting. Persona targeting allows our clients to optimise journeys by visitor profiles, utilising transaction, frequency, demographic, acquisition, geo-targeting data etc.

Your surprise at the reaction to management photos also helps illustrate my point that the creative which works best is often counter-intuitive – we can’t easily guess what will work well but we can test millions of permutations to arrive at the ultimate optimised page.

Generally speaking we would recommend that copy is kept clear, concise and consistent. Most website customers are unlikely to want to wade though a sea of words but they do need enough information to give them confidence in and an incentive to buy the product. Copy should also be device specific. Too much text on a mobile device is not going to work and neither is too little on a standard 15" laptop.

The position, order, font and colour of text can also make a big difference. In one case, working with Yahoo, they identified a recipe that improves conversion by 75% and in fact the button copy in isolation improved conversion by 35%.

I understand that Google’s simplistic design came about by accident. If this is the case, multi-variable testing of it prior to launch would no doubt have increased the rate of take up. Not that they needed much help in this direction as it turned out..


over 10 years ago

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