Conversion killers can steal revenue from under your feet without you even realising it. This article discusses the common issues that affect web conversions.

What are those conversion killers and how can you twist them to your advantage?

Leaky buckets

Poor persuasion 

Why should I buy from you? A good site convinces its visitors to buy or to take a desired action. The aim is to get the customer into a mode where they just can’t resist.

Scarcity – “oh no it’s running out, better get one of those”

Scarcity is one of the most powerful techniques that can drive sales to unprecedented heights (if utilised properly) and many sites fail to use this technique.

If you limit the quantity supplied of a product that you sell or its availability then this perceived scarcity allows you to sell more. Commonly used examples might be: “Only 2 left in stock” or “1 Day Remaining! Book Now…”.

Scarcity does not yield any benefit to your revenue if used inappropriately. Imagine a site that confidently declares: “deal expires in 3 years”. That statement is hardly going to affect your sales, is it?

In the past, different empirical studies have shown a difference in reaction between gender types when scarcity is applied (Brehm 1981). So understanding your target audience can be really important to your conversion rate, too.

Communication – “what’s in it for me?”

How are you talking to your customers? Most sites regurgitate the product manufacturer’s content as default which adds little value to your products.

Imagine your website is your best sales representative. They look great, work 24 hours a day, but fail miserably at persuading and explaining the benefits to your potential customers. 

Copying manufacturer’s content is doing exactly this to your website.

Instead, make your content unique and persuasive. Your content must drive a decision i.e. making your user click through to the next step in the funnel. Focus on the individual and not the mass crowd. Try to avoid being clever and focus on the objective: getting people who are entirely sold on the idea of buying from you to the next step in the funnel.

Let’s take a look at an example of improving content persuasiveness…

“Kids will love Yummy Dough! With this palatable product, they will be able to create cute confections and can gobble them afterwards.”

Here are three tips to make your calls to action more persuasive.

1.    Doubt: Remove any doubt by removing the terms “will” and “can”.
2.    Attention: Capture the user’s attention by adding something such as “You won’t believe how much”.
3.    Personalisation: Make it personal by using the word “you” instead of targeting the mass crowd.

After following these tips we have something a little more persuasive…

“You won’t believe how much kids love Yummy Dough! Shape it, Bake it, Eat it!”

We now have a strapline that’s more engaging, removes doubt while explaining the facts clearly for the user. Develop your content further by ensuring that it has effective primary and secondary call to actions.

Good content guides the user to a primary action i.e. getting a user to buy a product or become a lead. For users that don’t become leads, secondary call to actions in your content bring this segment closer to a sale i.e. offering these users a newsletter with monthly offers.

If your site takes orders or leads via telephone then the ability of your sales force to close the deal is imperative. If your sales team cannot close the deal then it’s like putting all of your leads into a leaky bucket.

Good persuasive copy can fill this leaky bucket up but all our efforts will be in vain and we‘ve missed an important opportunity.

Trusted connections – “hey Dave, what do you think about this product?”

Most people, when making decisions on a product or service, usually consult someone they know or better, find a source they trust. 

By focussing on retention and customer satisfaction, you’re likely to get more friend referrals and an increase in returning visitors which might convert better than new visitors.

Social media can play a huge role here. With Google’s social search emerging into organic results, you may see potential customers clicking the results shared in their immediate networks.

Gifts – “everyone loves gifts”

Will free gifts and incentives increase conversion? The short answer is yes, but only if done properly. Gifts are sometimes used to capture a user’s details or to add value to a service.

Let’s explore both scenarios…

Scenario 1 – A data services company wants to capture customer details.

Imagine the gift is a free research white paper. Be sure to state the benefits of downloading the white paper, not just its features. Make the trade of information favourable for the customer by ensuring the messaging used is personal and persuasive.

To take the concept further you can add an “associated probability” to the product. Consider attaching a gift or multiple gifts that are awarded based on luck i.e. you will get entered into a prize draw and have the chance of winning a £500 Amazon Gift Voucher.

By doing this we add an extra incentive for a user to provide their details to your company.

Scenario 2 - A perfume company wants to add value to their product via gifts.

A free gift doesn’t always increase conversion because a customer buying a perfume bottle does not want a light bulb or a bucket.

The free gift needs to be relevant to the personas on your site. For example, a gift such as a sample of cream or perfume that you sell is relevant and has a greater likelihood of a returning purchase.

To take this concept further you can apply the notion of “appreciated value”. Users find it hard to ascertain the absolute value of a product and therefore make comparisons or benchmarks.

Persuasion experts utilise this principle by stating the value of their product, “Actually Worth £200” is a classic example used to create an appreciated value.

Poor credibility

Would you purchase from a site that you don’t trust? That’s what poor credibility can do, it creates doubt in your customer’s mind.

Remove any doubt users may have and instil confidence in your site by applying these principles. A credible site also helps the messages you display appear to be more persuasive.

Authority – “he’s an expert after all”

Great companies utilise authority to enhance credibility. Customers seek the advice and knowledge of authoritative figures, and tend to be more likely to act on their advice.

People will blindly obey the advice of authority figures with a backlog of credentials (educational and achievements) and perfect images (smart attire).

To improve your website’s conversion rate, combine the principle of authority with customer reviews. Consider merging the two concepts so that you have expert reviews on your site as an alternative to just customer reviews.

Websites that apply scoring to user profiles based on their review contributions are quietly building an army of experts to help their conversion.

Social proof – “award for excellence 2011”

Is the site safe? Can I get my money back if I don’t like it? These are just some of the objections users have on a site.

Building trust and providing assurances is important in reducing uncertainty amongst your visitors. Trust logos and emblems are quite common and boost site credibility. Having a privacy message under your call to action or terms and conditions in your site footer adds to legitimacy.

Addresses and phone numbers add to the realism of a company. Having a VAT registered no. adds to site credibility. It is important that you nullify the objections by being transparent which is key to good credibility and sales. 

Bugs & mistakes– “takes 20 seconds to load and then a 404 error”

Would you spend money on a site you don’t trust? Bugs and mistakes harm the trust on your site and the user’s desire to purchase. Seek to avoid errors whether they are grammatical, syntactical, stylistic or messaging based.

Errors reduce the perceived quality of your product or service and harm any potential sale. Improving the style to make it more attractive increases the likelihood of users interacting with the site.

Slow speed is another error that harms credibility and reduces the intention to purchase. Avoid slow page load time, as it directly hinders conversion.

Take a look at this performance chart of page speed.
Page load time chart

In this example, we ran an experiment to understand the impact of page load on conversion. Through the test we kept all other variables constant. The blue line represents the original page and the orange line represents the variation. We made the variation 20 seconds slower.

We improved the variation by reducing load time to 8 seconds then we made it the same as the original and finally faster than the original. As page load time was improved you can directly see the increase in conversion over time.

Poor usability

How long would you stay on a website if you couldn’t find what you were looking for? Most users are impatient and if they can’t find what they are searching for then they may leave and look elsewhere.

Cognitive load: “where do I find it?”

Cognitive load is the amount of effort required from a user to find the relevant information on your site. So if your navigation is not very intuitive then the higher the cognitive load. Reduce the cognitive load for your user and make your website easy to understand.

Most types of navigation fail because they’re designed in an ad format style which tends to have a high cognitive load. Users tend to avoid anything that looks like an ad, so designing it in a similar style can have a detrimental effect.

A heavy cognitive load equally causes users to abandon the site. Introducing white space into your site solves this problem.

According to (Kinshuk and Lin 2004) appropriate use of white space between the paragraphs and margins increase comprehension by almost 20%. Spacing reduces the cognitive load and aids usability.

Guide the user and make it easy for them to reach a goal with the fewest clicks possible. Good navigation follows credible design but also site “customs” or “norms”. Users look for these site customs when they visit a new website and utilise their previous experience i.e. they know the logo is at the top left hand corner. 

This reduces their learning curve while interacting with your site for the first time and also enhances your perceived credibility.

Choice paralysis -“error information overload”

The human eye is a non-linear device and is easily distracted by animation. Animated ads or video content is excellent for capturing attention. However, overuse leads to animations fighting against one another which can hinder decision making.

Empirical evidence shows that “choice paralysis” is a phenomenon that also confuses the selection process over products. 

Shoppers were attracted by 24 varieties of jams in one stand, only 3% of them bought any of the jams displayed…30% of the shoppers who stopped by the stand that offered only 6 varieties of jams bought some jams.(Iyengar 1999).

It’s that same principle that can be applied to websites. Provide the best and relevant options for your users and we alleviate choice paralysis.


For some, “conversion rate optimisation” (CRO) is purely an art but it’s really more about science. Persuasion, credibility and usability are among the most common conversion killing areas, but all of these issues are rectified with an understanding of the principles.

Every business should have a program of CRO. Without it you’re simply not getting the most out of your search traffic.

Use the application of a sound CRO program and demystify the barriers to conversion that may be harming your sales.

Fabian Alvares

Published 6 June, 2011 by Fabian Alvares

Fabian Alvares is CRO Analyst at SEOgadget and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

3 more posts from this author

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Comments (6)

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Mike Essex

Mike Essex, Marketing & Comms Manager at Petrofac

I'm shocked just how many squeeze pages have terrible conversion killers (such as pop up boxes saying "Don't leave, here's a special offer"), fake end of promotion dates, and discount codes. It's a wonder they make any sales.

about 7 years ago


Peter Austin @MarketingXD

Re: Persuasion experts utilize this principle by stating the value of their product, “Actually Worth £200” is a classic example used to create an appreciated value.

Be careful with this. I once had a customer get an insurance valuation - and it was much lower than the claimed price.

We had to pay compensation.

about 7 years ago


Alan Muscat

I'm really surprised to see econsultancy publishing an article which reads like a recipe for one of those appalling Chris Cardell, internet marketing massively long sales pages.

PS the reCAPTCHA images on this site are really difficult to read.

about 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@ Alan, I'll take a look at that reCaptcha, I know they can be a pain sometimes.

I don't think we're advocating massively long sales pages, but I do think the post contains some valuable tips and ideas.

about 7 years ago


Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

There's a ton of gems in this post!

The first conversion though is what almost no one pays close enough attention to. This is the line of text that get's someone to even click through to your squeeze or sales page.

Whether this is search link or a banner ad or the headline of an article marketing/guest post on a blog, these are what cause people to ignore or get sucked into what you offer.

If this doesn't connect with them, I don't care how awesome the rest of this stuff is, it won't matter because no one will even see it.

And everything hinges on one or two sentences and maybe an image.

Example: What guy's need in order to have more success when dating women is inner game work that keeps them from being needy, jealous and insecure wimps. But aren't going to sell them on clicking a search link offering, "Personal transformations so you have love in life".

You will get a click though offering "How to know when a girl is ready to be kissed". Guys who need all that personal transformation will skip 30 steps ahead and want to know this and only through demonstrating you know their challenges when delivering this kiss test will they come to know, like and trust you enough to endure any of your marketing offers you put in front of them in the future that eventually lead them to the realization that they need to do a bunch of inner game work in order to make it to the point of being able to kiss a woman!

Then all of these little conversion tricks come into play with your sales page. And by focusing on that first one or two sentences, honing that to potency all of your other marketing gets a 1,000X better.

about 7 years ago


Ramy Ghaly

Great tactical tips to increase conversion rate. One more element to the formula is simplified and explained below:

here it is to simplify marketing communications that all boils down to sales after building a relationship with potential clients / customers / users / etc....

"If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying "Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday," that's advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that's promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor's flower bed, that's publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that's public relations. If the town's citizens go the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they'll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that's sales."

about 7 years ago

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