Category Archives: Website Optimization

Dark UX or Persuasive Design?

What is Dark UX?

As a Conversion Specialist I find dark UX interesting because it essentially puts the needs of the company before that of the customer. It is the opposite of normal UX principles as dark UX employs design to trick people into taking a decision that may not be in their best interests and sometimes without them being fully aware of what decision they have made.

Dark UX has the potential to leave a bitter taste in your mouth when you realise what has happened. Know one likes being tricked or mislead and the user experience may lead to high levels of distrust and dissatisfaction among customers.

In some cases a design breaks a web convention or norm to nudge you in the opposite direction to what you expect. Alternative choice options  are sometimes hidden below the fold or reduced in prominence so that you may fail to notice them.

Depending upon your point of view you may see this as persuasive design or dark UX. How do we judge what is a great design as opposed to a manipulative design?  Here are some interesting examples that could be perceived as great design or dark ux.

Good design or dark UX?

Amazon is seen as the gold standard in e-commerce and so it’s not generally associated with dark UX. However, I came across this interstitial page for Amazon Prime after clicking on proceed to checkout.  The primary call-to-action (CTA) is clearly “Sign up and pay now”, but what if you just want to pay without signing up to Prime?

Image of Amazon Prime interstitial after proceed to checkout

When a user clicks on the “Proceed to checkout” CTA they expect to be served the checkout and so I was surprised and slightly confused to see this page the first time I  came across it.  I almost instinctively clicked on “Sign up and pay now” without thinking, but then realised the page was trying to get me to sign up to Prime.

Image of CTAs on Amazon Prime's Interstitial page

At first sight it’s not obvious that there is an alternative CTA to “Sign up and pay now”. After a number of seconds scanning the page I found a hyperlink  positioned  to the left of the primary CTA.  It uses loss aversion to good effect as it reads  “No thanks – I don’t want Unlimited One-Day Delivery”.

Is this just persuasive design or dark UX – it’s difficult to say. I can see how thoughtful the design is, but could it result in some users signing up to Prime without meaning to? Possibly.

Ryanair were the experts:

A more clear-cut example of dark UX was the old Ryanair travel Insurance section. This stated that “If you wish to purchase travel insurance please select your country of residence”. Below the list of passengers there was a further instruction; “If you do not wish to purchase travel insurance, please select ‘Don’t insure me’ in the drop-down box.”

Image of Ryanair Insurance - country of residence
Image Source:

The “Don’t insure me” was hidden between “Denmark” and “Finland”. You also had to select this separately for each passenger because it is under country of residence. This design was heavily criticised  by various commentators and may be as a result it has since been replaced by a much more user friendly user interface.


Image of 2017 Ryanair travel insurance user interface
Image Source:

Clever design?

I recently reviewed the  registration form  and was impressed with how it has been improved since I last looked at it. The design uses a very well implemented accordion style form that initially displays three fields and then shows another field when you complete those first fields.

Image of step 1 of registration form

When I completed the form I came across the registration successful page below.  The primary CTA – “Apply Now” is prominent and a benefit of being able to spread the cost is clearly communicated. However, what if you don’t want to spread the cost and apply for an account? Similar to the Amazon example the alternative action is not immediately obvious.

Image of registration successful page

That’s because the alternative payment method is outlined in low contrast text below the discreet horizontal line. The copy reads; “or if you’d like to pay by card just continue to shop and then choose the pay by credit or debit card option when your’e in the checkout”. I’ve highlighted the copy below to confirm where it is located.

Image of registration successful page with secondary CTA highlighed

From a conversion perspective this is clearly a winner and probably generates a substantial return on investment. The alternative option is visible when you study the page, but many visitors may not notice it before they click on the primary CTA and apply to open a credit account.

It  is a very well thought out design and is certainly persuasive. What they could test though is the use of loss aversion for the alternative CTA copy. Something like – “No thanks – I don’t want the ability to spread the cost – continue shopping.” This might help offset any drop in conversion if the CTA was made more prominent.

Who decides?

The final decision on whether a design meets an organisations’s standards and is consistent with its brand values rests with senior management. Inevitably this reflects the company culture and how customer-centric the organisation is. This explains why sometimes a design may be perceived as persuasive in some organisations and dark in another.

When you are working on a new design it can be difficult to take a step back and review it objectively. That’s why usability testing and setting suitable success metrics is so important. If after implementation you see an increase in returns/cancellations or a rise in customer complaints related to the page that is probably giving you the answer.

In the end the customer has the final say. If users feel they have been tricked or mislead by how a website is designed they are likely to either complain or switch to a competitor if and when they have the opportunity. Provided customers have a choice to go elsewhere  there will always be pressure to remove unsatisfactory design  practices.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.


Hotjar Analytics Review

Hotjar Behavioural Analytics:

If you want to improve your website conversion rate it’s essential that you understand the behaviour and motivations of your visitors. If like me you run a start-up and have a very limited budget you might think you can’t afford behavioural analytics and customer feedback tools to evaluate how well your website is performing.

Indeed, when I worked for a large online gaming company we spent tens of thousands of pounds a month on the behavioural analytics tool ClickTale. However, before the ClickTale contract was due for renewal I came across a new behavioural analytics and customer feedback solution called Hotjar.  By switching to Hotjar I saved the company over £100,000 a year. Further, if your website has less than 2,000 page views a day you can get Hotjar for free.

What is Hotjar?

Hotjar is a combined behavioural analytics and customer feedback tool. It offers most of the features you would expect from a behavioural analytics solution including browser recordings of users navigating your site, mouse movement/clicks heat maps and form analytics.

However, unlike most such tools Hotjar also offers customer feedback tools including on-site feedback polls, online surveys and research recruitment. It also has a very simple and intuitive user interface. It’s a very easy tool to start using and does not require hours of training to get the most out of it.

Image of Hotjar dashboard

The above dashboard  allows you easily navigate to all the features that Hotjar offers and there is a clear on-boarding process to get you stared.

How easy is it to add Hotjar to my site?

Hotjar works by adding a JavaScript snippet of code to your site just before the head close tag. It needs to be on every page where you wish to record visitors or gather feedback. It normally only takes a few seconds to add the code to your site. For WordPress sites I use the plugin Insert headers and footers.

Adding code to the header can be problematic for some click and drop website builders like The platform does not allow you to add JavaScript to the page header and this means you can’t install Hotjar on such sites until they address this issue.


The basic free plan is available for sites with up to 2,000 page views a day.  For start-ups with up to 10,000 page views a day you can get Hotjar for just €29 a month. However, for more established businesses there are a range of more comprehensive plans outlined below.

Image of Hotjar business pricing plans

Each plan offers the following suite of features:

Browser recordings:

Browser recordings are like an undirected usability test. The feature allows you to record and replay a visitor’s session so that you can view what they see in their browser as they navigate around your site. These recordings are a fantastic way to observe how your customers move around and navigate on your site.

Image of Hotjar browser recording

They can help you identify where usability problems exist as they show clicks, scrolls and movements.  You can also tag individual recordings giving you the ability to categorise them according to an observed behaviour or characteristic (e.g. added to basket or struggled with CAPTCHA).

Heat maps:

Click, scroll and mouse movement heat maps can be created in Hotjar by simply entering the page URL and specifying the limit of page views you wish to capture.

Image of Hotjar movement heat map

Heat maps give you a clear indication of where user attention is focused on your page and will show you how far down the page visitors are scrolling. Hotjar allows you to generate heat maps for desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

Conversion funnels:

The funnel feature of Hotjar allows you set up and monitor visitor completion rates for a user journey of up to six steps. If you have a transactional site this can be especially useful feature as it allows you to track users through the purchase process and identify the biggest drop off points in your funnel.

Image Hotjar conversion funnel graph

Form analytics:

If you have any kind of form, whether it is registration form or check out process, this feature allows you to track visitors as they proceed through the journey and identify when or if they drop out.

Image of Hotjar form analytics graph

For example, if you have a registration form for your site you may find that a username question causes a lot of drop offs and prevents visitors from signing up. This might be because many of the obvious usernames have already been taken.

The analytics from this feature include:

  • Conversion rate of the form
  • Seconds to fill out a field
  • Total form sessions
  • Field drop off chart
  • Failed and successful form submissions



This is such a great feature of Hotjar as it allows you to engage with visitors and ask a few simple questions about the user experience whilst they are on your site. The first time I used a poll I asked visitors to the homepage of gaming website “What is missing on this page?” We got lots of mobile visitors saying that they couldn’t see the login box or that they were unable to login.

On checking the homepage with a mobile device we discovered the login box had been hidden by Marcoms for mobile users as they wanted them to encourage them to download the app. Unfortunately these users were existing customers who already had the app and needed to login to their accounts to verify their details. Because we got the feedback from the poll we were able to rectify the problem immediately.

The feature allows you to target specific pages with your poll or give visitors on any page of your site the opportunity to participate in the poll. Apart from short text answers you can also use:

  • Long text answer
  • Radio buttons
  • Checkboxes
  • Net promoter score

Image of setting up poll in Hotjar

When setting up questions you can also specify where respondents should go next dependent upon their answer to a question. This ensures that respondents are only asked questions that are relevant to them.


This allows you to design longer questionnaires to email to your customers for more in-depth feedback. It’s a great way of engaging with your email list on a regular basis to gather their views on a variety of topics.

At the gaming company we surveyed new customers to find out what had most appealed to them about the site to see if our value proposition was aligned with customer perceptions. We also asked them if they played on any competitor sites to understand who we were competing against.

Image of Hotjar surveys feature

You have the same selection of question types to choose from as you have with the polls feature.

Incoming – in beta:

Hotjar recently added a new feature in beta – called incoming.  This is a “Feedback” tab that you can place on either a specific page or your whole site to allow visitors to rate the user experience.

Image of Hotar incoming quesiton

I’ve only just stared using this feature and so it’s too early to say how it has been received. However, I think it’s great to show you encourage and value visitor feedback as this can improve the perception of your site as a whole.


If you want to conduct usability testing Hotjar has a recruiter feature which allows you to collect profiling information and contact details in exchange for an offer of a gift to incentivise the process.  You can then arrange to conduct a usability test by sharing screens using Skype or another web meeting solution.

Image of Hotjar recruiters

This is a great feature of Hotjar as it’s important to keep in touch with your users and regularly review your website user experience. This is especially relevant when you re-design an area of your site or add new functionality and you want to understand how well visitors use the new pages or feature.

Areas for improvement:

For many small to medium sized businesses Hotjar offers an amazing solution for little or no cost. However, it does have its limitations and there are areas for improvement.

The free plan does limit you to just three heat maps and 1,000 page views per heat map.  If you up-grade to the Plus plan this rises to 2,000 page views and the Business plan gives you up to 10,000 page views.

Unlike more expensive solutions Hotjar does not allow you to filter your heat maps according to visitor type (i.e. new or returning visitors).  This can be very useful as the behaviour of new and returning visitors often reflects different user goals.

As Hotjar is a relatively new tool they have concentrated on improving functionality rather than integrating with related solutions. This does mean that Hotjar does not integrate with many testing, web analytics or CRM solutions. Some integrations are available, notably with Hubspot, but most are not available at present and this is a major drawback for any site conducting online experiments.

The conversion funnel also lacks a level of sophistication. For many sites users can’t be expected to follow a simple sequential funnel and so the ability to create multiple route alternatives would be a benefit.

However, Hotjar do have a full product roadmap to further enhance and improve the functionality of the solution. If they can also integrate fully with complementary tools this will be a big improvement.


For many organisations Hotjar is an ideal behavioural analytics and customer feedback tool. For start-ups like my business Hotjar offers exceptional value for money. I can’t afford a significant subscription and my traffic levels don’t justify it.

Hotjar meets an important need for online businesses. If you are setting up an online business then Hotjar is a no brainer and even if your site is established it is still extremely good value for money.

Related post:

Behavioural analytics – 15 free and paid visual analytics solutions to boost conversions

Customer feedbackHow to use online Voice of Customer tools to boost conversions.


Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

5 Ways of Using Word Clouds to Enhance Digital Marketing

Word Clouds For Digital Marketing:

Word clouds are a great creative tool that many of us love to play around with. They generate an image composed of words from content that has been submitted in the tool. The size of individual words in the word cloud indicates its frequency or importance.

However, word clouds are also very useful tools for content creation, brand evaluation, competitor analysis, SEO keyword targeting and customer insight.

1. Marketing Content:

Finding images that are suitable for your blog or social media posts can be time consuming and problematic as many images are protected by copyright and have permissions which restrict usage. However, we know from research that blog posts with images have much higher engagement levels and are more likely to be shared. So, to save time and money copy and paste your new blog post into a word cloud to create a free and unique image for your new content.

2. Evaluate Your Value Proposition:

Word clouds are also useful to evaluate how well your value proposition messages are embedded in your content.  Check how well your brand messages are being communicated by plugging in your website address or social media URL.

Image of word cloud for homepage
Word cloud of using


World cloud tools like Tagxedo allow you to input your Twitter and social media feeds. This can highlight the value of the content you are sharing and allow you to identify the themes that are occurring most often. Do these correspond with how you want to be perceived by your social media followers?

Analyse your LinkedIn profile in a word cloud generator to ensure your profile communicates a professional tone and is using the best words to promote your expertise.

If you have a Yelp page, use a word cloud to assess how your customers describe your service.

3. SEO Keyword Audit:

Word clouds are a great SEO tool as they instantly indicate which words are most prominent in your marketing content and how Google or other search engines are likely to assess your content.

4. Competitor Research:

Just as you can evaluate your own marketing content and keywords using a word cloud, you can also use the same approach to undertake some competitor research.  Plug in your competitor’s URL into a word cloud to identify the keywords they are targeting and how consistent their value proposition is communicated.

Image of word cloud of
Wordcloud of using

5. Analysing Customer Feedback:

Customer feedback is not just collected through online polls and surveys. Customer conversations are also a great source of feedback, whether via telephone calls, live chat, product reviews or emails. You will probably be surprised at the number of sources potentially available to you and the volume of feedback.

Don’t let the volume of feedback put you off as word clouds are an excellent means for processing verbatim customer conversations to obtain quick and clear insights. Such conversations can be a great source of insights for developing hypothesis for A/B and multivariate tests.

However, before proceeding with using a word cloud to analyse customer conversations it is wise to do some preparatory work to clean up your transcripts or survey responses. Otherwise you may find that duplicate feedback or similar meaning terms reduce the effectiveness of your word cloud at communicating key insights.

Duplicate Responses:

It’s not uncommon for some visitors to answer a survey or leave feedback multiple times. Unless this is dealt with a single customer can skew your analysis, especially if they have repeated the same comments on multiple occasions.

This is often easy to spot if the respondent has to leave an email address or another unique identifier. Once you have identified the culprits go through and review their feedback and delete all but the first response. It’s better to be consistent with your method as otherwise you will be bringing in subjective bias into the analysis.

Combining Terms:

I once launched a poll on a homepage on a mobile responsive website by asking the open-ended question; “What is missing on this page?” We received lots of comments from mobile visitors about being unable to login, sign in or see the login box. All of these responses obviously related to the same issue and so it was sensible to combine the terms. This can easily be done by using the “Replace” function in a spreadsheet.

It’s also worth looking out for plurals and replacing such terms with the singular version of the word.  Acronyms can also be problematic if some respondents use the full phrase and so search for such inconsistencies to replace acronyms where necessary.

Weighting Results:

When presenting word clouds you sometimes want to give more weight to certain terms because of what you know about their impact on your business. For instance you may want to give more prominence to feedback on your most popular webpages or blogs in your word cloud.

Word cloud tool Wordle allows you to change the weighting of certain words by making adjustments in the advanced mode. For example you could weight words according page views to reflect the popularity of a page or blog they relate to. However, make sure you make this clear when you present your word cloud as otherwise this can create a misleading impression of the feedback received.


Word clouds are flexible and free tools that can save you time and money. Before you splash out money on buying competitor analysis, SEO keyword audits or text analytics tools try out word clouds first.

Below are nine of the best free word cloud solutions available.

The 9 Best Free Word Cloud Tools:

My recommended word cloud is as this is an easy to use but flexible tool with some great advanced settings. Visually it also looks superior to most other tools.

Image of word cloud generated by
Word cloud from blog post using


  1. ABCya!:A word cloud for kids that may be relevant if your website is of interest to children. Type or paste text into the box below and press the arrow button to view the word cloud generated.
  2. Jason Davies: A great tool if you want to generate a word cloud from a blog or website.
  3. Tagcrowd: Allows you to set specific criteria for your cloud such as language, maximum number of words and minimum frequency.  Allows you to create a word cloud from a webpage URL, Twitter ID and other social media feeds.
  4. Tagxedo: Create word clouds from a URL, Twitter ID, ID, news, search, RSS feed, uploading text or enter it yourself.
  5. WordArt (Formerly Tagul):  A word cloud generator with advanced features including words inside words, rich font choices, roll-over effects, custom shapes, colours and fonts and export in vector formats.
  6. Tricklar: This site claims to use high quality media sources from around the world to generate word clouds. I found it difficult to find words or phrases that it would generate a word cloud for and so maybe only useful for popular subjects.
  7. This is a free word cloud generator which can be used with most browsers. On the homepage got o “File” and upload a document or PDF, paste text (by File dropdown), input a URL or amend the word list (dropdown). In the word list you can even add links to individual words by entering the URL after the word.
  8. WorditOut: Advanced filters allows you to filter the text to display or remove words and change their importance. Select your own layout by choosing your own colours, fonts, and sizes or let WorditOut find a random look for you.
  9. Wordle: A simple word cloud generator which allows you to set the weights of words.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Why Are Silos Killing Your Growth Strategy?

Is a silo mentality killing CRO?

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is on a roll. Companies are falling over themselves to recruit CRO specialists and managers as part of their growth strategy. They may not all have the same responsibilities but they are usually expected  to deliver sustainable growth through optimisation of user journeys. This often includes developing and coordinating  a roadmap for A/B and multivariate testing.

Often though CRO is implemented too narrowly without an effective plan. For example when I was employed in a CRO role I was asked to create a testing roadmap within a couple of weeks without any budget for research or usability testing. It was as if I was the oracle for CRO. However, CRO is a business strategy and not the sole responsibility of an individual department or business unit.

This misguided view of CRO  does not lead to sustainable business growth as it  soon runs out of steam once the obvious things to fix are exhausted. Further, cro requires collaboration across departments to draw in a diverse range of skills and expertise.

Unfortunately in many  organisations CRO suffers from the same silo mentality which results in slow, bureaucratic business decision making and a culture which encourages waste and strangles innovation.  Despite a desire to improve business efficiency the basic building blocks of most organisational structures are still the traditional functional silo.

Why does this matter for CRO?

For CRO to deliver business growth it needs to be embedded in the culture and requires a collaborative approach to business change. For example testing needs to integrate with the product roadmap, reflect business goals and inform marketing strategy. Companies which operate within rigid silos find CRO fails to deliver sustainable growth because the silo mentality discourages collaboration and cultural change.

“The great defect of scale, of course, which makes the game interesting—so that the big people don’t always win—is that as you get big, you get the bureaucracy. And with the bureaucracy comes the territoriality—which is again grounded in human nature.” – Charlie Munger – Berkshire Hathaway

Silos also prevent organisations fully exploiting the collective knowledge of the customer that is held across the organisation. Silos make it more difficult for customer data and knowledge to be effectively shared to inform decision making that creates the most value for the customer and organisation.

Image of Kodak logo

Kodak was organised into product silos and in the 1970s it controlled around 90% of the film market and 75% of the camera market. They invented the digital camera in 1975 but believed they were in the business of making film because their largest operational silo reinforced this perception to defend its own self-interests.

Kodak went bankrupt in 2012 after selling its digital camera business to save the film business.

Why do silos form?

Silos are a natural reaction to organisational growth and greater complexity. Companies create specialist functions in response to business expansion and increased work load. Silos facilitate the building of expertise and knowledge for specific business purposes.

Our herd instinct encourages people to become strongly attached to those within our immediate group. We form emotional bonds with people we have shared experiences with. This can result in people putting the needs or goals of their business unit ahead of the objectives of the organisation as a whole.

Sheep on the road image

As projects are often resourced and financed from within a function means that outcomes and insights are not always shared outside of the business unit concerned. This can lead to both physical and emotional obstacles to collaboration between business units. In the worse-case scenario this can result in conflict between departments as they aim to protect their own interests rather than those of the organisation as a whole.

Why do silos harm growth and innovation?

Silos create competing subcultures within a business. This limits ways of working and communication between business units, but it also reduces social interaction and trust between people working for the same business. Digital silos disrupt information and knowledge sharing which is essential for CRO.

This is why large organisations can be bureaucratic and slow to adapt to both internal and external demands for change. This often damages the customer experience because it becomes difficult to respond swiftly to changes in customer needs or preferences.

What problems do silos cause for CRO?

Fragmented vision:

Unless CRO is part of the culture of the organisation functional business units will continue to create their own goals and strategy for optimising the user experience or conversion rates. Apart from duplicating effort and resources, this results in the vision of the organisation becoming fragmented. This creates conflict and dilutes the effectiveness of customer focused strategies.

Inefficiency – silos create friction and mistrust

The conflict created by business units having their own vision for optimisation damages trust between functions and often causes inefficiencies as departments fail to share knowledge and duplicate tasks. I’ve seen this result in brands replicating successful A/B tests conducted by another business unit rather than acknowledging and learning from the test. In addition priorities are set according the business unit’s goals rather than what is important for the business as a whole.

With CRO this often results in experiments being delayed due to a lack of design or development resource. Unfortunately such delays can make tests less relevant or obsolete in some cases as product releases change the default experience.

Image of Sony HQ in Japan

Sony case study:

In 1994 Sony reorganised into eight stand-alone business units. Initially this led to cost savings and an improvement in profitability. But managers also began trying to protect their units, not just from competitors but also from other departments. Sony’s business units became less willing to share experimental ideas or rotate the brightest staff between departments.

Collaboration stopped and nobody wanted to take risks. In the late 1990s when the Internet began to disrupt the distribution of music each Sony department tried independently to experiment with new solutions. However, none collaborated with the Sony Music Entertainment Group (previously CBS records) because SME refused to cooperate with any department as its officials were terrified that digital music would undermine revenues from records and CDs.

Image of Sony Walkman

Apple on the other hand worked as one cohesive company with one profit and loss. Engineers at Apple developed a two-step solution to allow users to download music from the internet and then listen to them on a portable device.

Apple  also developed the iStore to provide music groups with some royalties and designed the platform so that it could be accessed by anybody using any platform. Sony’s digital music system on the other hand relied on proprietary technology that had to use their own platform. This limited Sony’s ability to compete with Apple in both the music download market and the portable music player market which Sony had practically created with the Walkman.

In 2001 Apple launched the iPod and has since dominated the portable music player market. Sony failed to take a significant share of a market it once led with the Sony Walkman.

False assumptions:

Silos are very good at perpetuating myths based upon inaccurate perceptions that circulate without being challenged in an individual business unit. This is because a silo mentality encourages people to become over-reliant on information circulated from within their own department.

I experienced this one time when I challenged why the term “CAPTCHA” was being used in content aimed at customers. The response that came back was they had checked with their team (all web developers) and they all felt their friends and families would understand the term. There was zero awareness that perhaps their team and even their close friends and family were not representative of a typical customer.

This level of overconfidence in the knowledge held within the silo can reduce willingness to interact with other business units and limit opportunities to share knowledge and expertise.  Employees may therefore become isolated and feel dissatisfied which can have serious consequences for staff morale and retention. This can damage efforts to improve the customer experience and often leads to complacency which can be disastrous for CRO.

Limited customer insight:

Image of online surveys

To understand user expectations and experiences it is critical that data and insights are combined and processed from sources throughout the organisational structure. If data is not freely shared and combined with insights from other units the opportunity cost can be huge. It significantly limits the value of customer data to the organisation and individual departments as connections and insights are not fully uncovered.

With CRO this is often characterised by one piece of market research or insight being used to push through an update based upon subjective opinions. This can create conflict between teams as one piece of information should never be used in isolation to support a change in the customer experience. Such a culture can seriously damage the customer experience and reduce conversion rates.

Blame culture:

A fragmented approach to organisational change programs such as CRO caused by the dominance of individual silos creates a blame culture and can result in complacency. When CRO related targets are not met the temptation for some departments is to blame other areas of the business rather than take responsibility for their own failings.

A blame culture discourages collaboration because such initiatives can threaten a person’s career or credibility within their own department. In CRO it is important to encourage people to prove themselves wrong by creating online experiments to challenge existing best practice.

This is often how innovation happens as if we don’t take risks we are unlikely to create anything new and transformational. However, to identify improvements in the customer experience it is essential that people from different areas of expertise work together in a collaborative and trusting environment.


When all think alike, then no one is thinking - Walter Lippman - The danger of groupthink

Small teams drawn from a single business unit have been found to be prone to make poor decisions due to their tendency to suffer from what psychologists call groupthink. Companies often believe that by recruiting the most talented and smartest people they can prevent poor decision making. The opposite is often true as small homogeneous groups suffer from a lack of diversity, insufficient independent thinking and a desire for conformity.

 “Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.”  – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

People in such teams are also often over-respectful of senior people and so don’t sufficiently challenge ideas from these team members. Diversity is important because homogeneous groups become more cohesive than diverse teams and as a consequence they become more reliant on the group for ideas and support.

This insulates the group from external sources of information and makes group members more assured that the group consensus is the best solution to the problem.

 “Suggesting that the organization with the smartest people may not be the best organization is heretical, particularly in a business world caught up in a ceaseless “war for talent” and governed by the assumption that a few superstars can make the difference between an excellent and a mediocre company. Heretical or not, it’s the truth, the value of expertise is, in many contexts, overrated.” – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

Of course many large organisations insist on recruiting the brightest minds from the top universities. However, this restricts both racial and cognitive diversity which enables homogeneous groups to form.

How do you break down silos?

CRO needs to be an agile process to allow teams to respond to new customer knowledge and insights from the multitude of sources available to a customer focused organisation.

Collaboration is essential to enable knowledge and data to be delivered to where it is needed. It is vital to any organisation that seeks to improve profitability by improving the customer experience and conversion as no single team can optimise the user experience on their own.

To break down organisational silos to develop a strong CRO culture it is necessary to begin at the top of the business and change old working practices. The key strategies to create a more collaborative approach to CRO are:

CRO needs board level buy-in:

If you look at the companies that have most successfully implemented a CRO strategy such as Amazon, and, they have people right at the top of the organisation who are passionate about CRO and take ownership of developing a supportive culture. Skyscanner for instance recently promoted their chief experimenter to become Director of Experimentation.

Having a board level manager in charge of CRO gives the strategy the profile and support needed to build a culture of customer focus and experimentation. A junior manager would never have the clout to try and optimise the product as well as web content.

Agree a unified vision for CRO:


Image of Amazon signIt is important to have a single unified vision for the company to retain focus and ensure consistency of objectives within the leadership team. Amazon has a very strong and clear  vision as follows:

“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” – Source: The

The focus on customer centricity gives clear direction to all employees so that everyone can relate the vision to their own job. This helps CRO because people can see the relevance of optimisation to the company’s vision and their own individual and departmental goals.

Set a common goal:

Silos often cause conflict because individual business units set tactical goals and objectives that can discourage collaborative working. To avoid this problem the leadership team need to set out a single goal for the company that they can all agree on and is their number one priority. For example Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said;

“It is the company’s goal to make it irresponsible to not be a Prime member.” – Jeff Bezos

This should be clearly communicated to all employees so they can understand how they can contribute individually to achieving the goal. This assists CRO because having a clear goal makes it easier to identify a relevant success metric for experiments to be evaluated by.

Agile product management:

To facilitate collaboration across individual business units it is necessary to form product management teams that draw expertise from a diverse range of areas of expertise. For CRO this means having teams which include developers, UX designers, marketing specialists, experimenters and product managers to develop hypothesis, build tests and implement successful ideas.

Identify why trust has broken down:

It’s important to understand the reasons for a lack of trust and get people to recognize the problems that silos create before implementing solutions.  Changing a culture of working within silos has to be planned to reduce resistance and obtain co-operation. For CRO this means frequent communication and workshops to engage people throughout the business.

Flexible communication solutions:

The growth of global teams can prevent knowledge sharing and timely decision-making. Further, the use of email, phone and real-time messaging services has created a virtual workplace that fragments communications and reduces face-to-face interaction.  Business process management and resource planning software can help break down silos walls and allow people to work together on shared goals and encourages the exchange of information and ideas.

Let go of CRO:

One way of killing collaboration in CRO is not being willing to let go and allow others in the organisation to have some autonomy. Sure, there is a need for oversight and co-ordination, but beyond that it is necessary to trust people to follow the agreed framework for CRO.

It is important to get people across the business trained up to add their input and expertise to the CRO program. Your UX designers should provide wireframes for your ideas, copywriters content, and your own developers should be best suited to building experiments. Sometimes it can help by bringing in a CRO agency to co-ordinate this process, but in the long-run it is perfectly possible to create all the necessary expertise within most organisations.


Finally, to understand how well CRO is being implemented ensure you build in feedback and monitoring systems to evaluate how well your strategy is working. CRO is a change management process and so adoption will take time and is rarely universally successful. However, as gaps or problems are identified you have the opportunity to review your approach and try new ideas.

Beware of vanity metrics, such as number of tests per month, which often don’t closely fit the desired outcome. This can result in  the cobra effect which can lead to unexpected and unwanted behaviour. Look out for these behaviours and adjust targets accordingly as some people do try to play the system.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

The Myth of The Average User

Beyond The Average User!

Averages are everywhere in digital marketing. Mobile designers use average thumb size to determine button height and project teams often base decisions on the average user. Many metrics are also based on averages  such as click-through rates, open rate, conversion rate and average basket value. Whether we like it or not most websites are designed for the average user. But is there really such a thing as an average customer or visitor?

Should we use averages for design purposes?

Well, back in the 1940’s the US air force had a serious problem. For some unknown reason pilots were frequently losing control and crashing their air craft. This was of course a period of tremendous change with the advent of the jet engine. Air craft were getting much faster and more complicated.

Initially pilot error was blamed as planes seldom suffered from mechanical breakdown. But attention soon turned to the cockpit design. This was based upon the average physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots measured in 1926. Was it possible that the average dimensions of pilots had got bigger over the past twenty odd years?

Data informed decision-making:

In 1950 they decided to find out. Researchers at Wright Air Force Base in Ohio measured over 4,000 pilots on 140 dimensions of size, including average torso length, arm length, crotch height and even thumb length. Almost everyone thought the new measurements would result in a better designed cockpit that would reduce the number of non-combat accidents.

However, a 23 year-old scientist, Lt. Gilbert Daniels, who had recently joined the Aero Medical Laboratory from college had a different theory. He had studied physical anthropology at college. Daniel’s thesis had involved measuring the shapes of 250 male Harvard students’ hands.

Although the students were all from similar ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds, he noted that their hands were very different in size and shape. Further, when he calculated the average hand size he found that it did not match any individual’s measurements.

“When I left Harvard, it was clear to me that if you wanted to design something for an individual human being, the average was completely useless.” – Lt Gilbert Daniels

To prove whether or not he was right, Daniels selected ten physical dimensions that he thought would be most important for cockpit design.  Using the data from the 4,063 pilots who had been measured, Daniels defined someone as average if their measurements fell within the middle 30% of the range for each dimension.

He then compared each individual pilot to the average he had calculated.  Most of his colleagues expected the vast majority of pilots to be within the average range for over half the dimensions. But in fact Daniels analysis discovered none of the 4,063 pilots measured managed to fit within the average range of all ten dimensions. Even when he selected only three dimensions fewer than 3.5% of pilots were within the average size for all three dimensions.

Implications for digital marketing:

Daniel’s concluded that any system that is designed around the average person is doomed to fail. There is no such thing as an average user and so we need to stop creating users or personas based upon averages.

This creates a problem for website designers and optimiser because websites are normally designed for the average user. Most websites display identical content for all visitors and yet people have different intentions and goals they wish to meet. Treating everyone the same based upon some illusionary average person is highly toxic and dangerous when it comes to design and conversion rate optimisation.

How do we individualise the user experience:

If one hundred users go to the Amazon website they would each see a different version of the Amazon homepage. This is because Amazon understands the benefit of adjusting the customer experience in according with the user’s past behaviour and intent.

Amazon uses real-time content personalisation and behavioural targeting to serve a version of their site that responds to each visitor’s unique needs. This generates huge benefits for the likes of Amazon because visitors are much more responsive to a website that adjusts to their intent and interests than a generic site that does not respond to their individual needs.

Personalisation can take many forms, but the main criteria often used include demographics (e.g. gender or age), purchase history, device, media consumption, source of traffic, service history, browser, engagement and psychographics.

When I mention using these criteria to web developers they often tell me that it’s “difficult” or “complex” to target content using such characteristics. This might be the case if you rely on developers to build content, but if you have an enterprise web analytics platform or an A/B testing solution it can be relatively straightforward to set up and test personalisation criteria.

With the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) based personalisation tools there is scope for even greater sophistication. Companies that invest in AI are likely to benefit from first mover advantage because the technology lends it so well to personalisation. Don’t be left behind, start investing now as Amazon and won’t wait for their competitors to catch on to the potential benefits of using AI for personalisation.


Many organisations like to use buyer personas to help their teams visualise real customers. However, if these are based upon average users they will again be potentially highly misleading. Ensure your buyer personas are based upon real customer segments using research and analytics to guide you. Although personas do have their critics, they can be useful if organisations go through an evidence based process to create relevant  customer personas.

What about analytics?

When it comes to tracking digital performance many organisations still rely on measuring averages. But just as averages are dangerous when designing a website, they are also meaningless and potentially highly misleading when it comes to measuring performance of a website. Let’s take the average conversion rate that many companies monitor on a daily basis.

  1. Not all visitors are able to buy: 

When I was asked to set up conversion reporting for an online gaming brand I noticed their web analytics were tracking all visitors, including from countries that were prevented from signing up.  No one had thought to set up filters to exclude visitors from outside the company’s business area and so the conversion rate included many visitors who were unable to sign up.

BJ Fogg’s behavioural model point’s out that users will only complete a task if they have both the motivation and ability to complete a conversion goal. In addition, there also needs to be a trigger to nudge the user towards the goal. If any of these criteria are lacking a user will not convert.

When considering a web analytics report consider if these criteria are present. If possible remove those users where they clearly lack at least one of the criteria. For example if there is no prominent call to action on the page for an individual customer segment (e.g. logged in users) exclude these visitors from your analysis.

Image of BJ Fogg's behavioural change model
Image source: BJ Fogg

2. Users access your site in different ways:

Your conversion rate is highly likely to vary significantly according to how visitors access your site. The type of device used often reflects different intent and behaviour.  Unless you analyse your conversion rate by device and browser you will probably be missing large variations in your key metrics that may provide valuable insights to help improve sales or lead conversion.

Image of Blackberry smart phone and other devices

3. Source of traffic matters:

Similarly the source of traffic often has a massive impact on conversion rates and it is fairly common for the average conversion rate to plummet if you pump lots of money into a new untested source. Affiliates and paid search (PPC) can promise large amounts of extra traffic to a site, but the intent of these visitors can sometimes be very poor.

A TV campaign can also boost traffic volume significantly, but again the intent of such visitors will be different from existing traffic sources. This makes it is essential to break down conversion rates by source of traffic to understand performance at a more granular level.

  1. New and returning visitors:

In one company I worked for the managers noticed that a majority of visitors were returning visitors and assumed that many of these would be existing customers. They were concerned that including returning visitors in reporting was reducing their conversion rate as customers couldn’t sign-up more than once. So they decided to exclude returning visitors from their calculation of the conversion rate.

But as I pointed out to them when I became responsible for the brand, returning visitors normally convert at a higher rate than new visitors.  This means that you should look at new and returning visitor conversion rates separately, but use new visitor conversion as a guide for paid campaigns. When I looked at the number of returning visitors to the site it was also clear that relatively few were existing customers and so they were not having a significant impact on the conversion rate.

  1. Visitors are at different stages of buying process:

Most websites have a mixture of informational content and transactional or lead generation content. This reflects visitor intent and that visitors are at different stages of the buying process.

Not everyone is ready to buy when they arrive on your site and so it is necessary to create custom segments in your analytics to allocate people to an appropriate group. As a result you should set appropriate success metrics for customers at different stages of the buying process and not expect your overall conversion rate to be identical for all visitor segments.


Averages are a tidy way of dealing with statistics, but as Daniel’s identified over half a century ago, they are meaningless and potentially fatal when designing systems or interfaces for people to use. It’s time we stopped designing websites for average users and employed personalisation and behavioural targeting to better meet customer needs.

We shouldn’t be a surprised that according to Millward Brown Digital, Amazon Prime converts around 74% of the time compared to an e-commerce average of 3.1%. Even non-Prime Amazon converts around 13% of the time. This is mainly because Amazon is so good at testing and personalising their site to be responsive to individual customer needs.

Amazon runs literally thousands of A/B and multivariate tests a day to achieve this level of sophistication. This is because to find high impact experiments you have to try a lot of things. Most average retailers run a few hundred tests a year.

As a result companies such as Amazon, Netflix and also use highly segmented web analytics reports to explore user behaviour. They don’t rely on average conversion rates because they hide real insights.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Web Form Design Best Practices To Optimise Conversions

62 Web Form Design Best Practices

Whether it’s a contact form, registration form or check-out process, forms can be a significant barrier to conversion. Even a simple opt-in form can create friction and anxiety about entering personal information online.

A well designed and optimised form  is an important feature of any website. People usually expect the option of a form to be available on most websites as a way of leaving feedback, making an enquiry, asking a question, receiving updates, opening an account or making a purchase.

In this post I outline 62 best practices for improving your form design and completion rate.  If possible validate changes with an A/B or multivariate test before rolling out to all users. If your completion rate is relatively poor (e.g. less than 40%) then try a total re-design of your form to see if you can achieve a large uplift in conversion. There is no point wasting time with little changes if your form is dire.

Before you start:

Ensure your prospect is ready to complete your form before asking them for any information. Think about the user journey from the customer’s perspective and avoid designing your site around your internal process.

Don’t let your desire to capture data from your customers come ahead of your user’s goals. For instance on an e-commerce site prospects are looking to buy merchandise and so don’t force them to register if you can allow them to buy as a guest. You can collect most, if not all, the data you need in the check-out form.  Offer live chat for visitors wanting to ask questions or request assistance? This allows for real-time interaction with Customer Services rather than relying on email notifications which creates a delay in responding.

Fix basic usability issues before trying to be clever with advanced functionality or psychological persuasion. If your form is poorly designed and is difficult to complete without making mistakes then resolve those issues first as they are likely to swamp any other changes you make to the form.

To make it easy for you to find what you are looking for I’ve structured this post as follows. Click on the section heading that you wish to go to.

A: Mobile Forms:

  1. Mobile first:

To design an optimal user experience it is essential to take a mobile first approach because the small screen size makes them the most challenging to create.  By beginning  with mobile devices it forces designers and marketers to be  ruthless with priorities and to focus on user needs.

Image of definition of mobile first

With a majority web visits taking place on mobile devices forms must be mobile friendly and content should not just be copied over from a desktop site.  Making visitors pinch to zoom into a form is a poor user experience and so check that your form renders correctly on most popular mobile devices using a cross-browsing testing solution.


2. Use mobile device’s native functionality:

A couple of years ago I was evaluating a brand’s desktop and mobile user journeys when I discovered that I could only upload KYC (Know Your Customer) verification documents on their desk top site and not on their mobile app. It would have been so much easier to use my phone’s camera to take a picture of my documents and instantly upload to the app without leaving the form. But unfortunately the app did not have the same functionality as the desk top site.

For customers this is a very frustrating and disappointing experience as increasingly a majority of website visitors are mobile only users. Mobile devices have a number of features such as geolocation and cameras that should be fully utilised to minimise the amount of information requested on a form.

For example, incorporate technology shown below that scans credit and debit card details instead of making users manually input the information. This not only speeds up check out but also often reduces checkout abandon rates.


Image of how credit cards are scanned for mobile apps
Image Source:


3. Input fields and buttons should be a minimum of 48 pixels high:

Google recommend that tap targets such as input fields and buttons should be at least 48 pixels high because this corresponds with the average finger pad size of around 10mm wide. As averages can be miss-leading I would if possible allow slightly more height for tap targets for those customers with slightly thicker fingers.

4. Don’t use fonts below 16px:

Even though many more up-to-date smartphones have larger screens (e.g. 4.7 inch), don’t forget that many users still have devices with smaller screens (e.g. 4 inch)  that makes text below 16px difficult to read. As a result use text that is a minimum of 16px in size.

5. Use input masks to display the correct keypad:

Input masks ensure that when a mobile user is asked to complete a field their device displays the appropriate keyboard (e.g. numeric for phone number). For mobile devices this removes a source of friction as it removes the need for the user to select different keypads. The eight input masks that are relevant to form design are:

  1. Text – displays the normal device keypad
  2. Email – displays the normal keypad plus ‘@’ and ‘.com’
  3. Telephone – displays the numeric 0-9 keypad
  4. Number – displays a keypad with numbers and symbols
  5. Password – hides characters as they are typed
  6. Date – displays the mobile’s date selector
  7. Datetime – displays the mobile’s data and time selector
  8. Month – displays the mobile’s month/year selector

B: Design and Structure:


6. Multi-step forms normally out-perform single step forms.

In most instances breaking up a single step form into two or three steps will improve completion rates. Single step forms tend to be off-putting to users unless they are simply an email capture form. There are three core reasons for this:

  • Long forms with lots of input fields to be completed can be off-putting to users, particularly if they are on a mobile device.
  • Users are more motivated by seeing how close they are to completing a task than how far they have progressed (see goal gradient effect). Use a progress bar to show progress and how close customers are to finishing the form (i.e. show progress even on the first step of the form).
  • By breaking a long form up into multiple steps you can ask sensitive information (e.g. personal information) on the last step. Once users have completed the first step  of a multi-stage form they are more likely to complete other steps because of the emotional investment they have already made. This is known as the sunk cost fallacy.

Casumo, the online casino, decided to take this approach to its natural conclusion by asking one question per step. To avoid information overload and to allow the user the concentrate on one question at a time Casumo serves each input field on a separate page.'s one question per page sign-up form minimises distractions for the user 12 step registration form


You might think creating a 12 step form would be off-putting for users, but from looking at Casumo’s affiliate page it appears they have a very high conversion rate. Further, usability research conducted by the UK Government’s Digital Service found the one question per page approach consistently worked best for their users.

What we don’t know is if there is an optimal number of pages for this strategy and so some caution may need to be taken when copying this approach.

7. Single column forms outperform multi-column forms:

Most A/B tests indicate that single column forms outperform two-column layouts. This may be because multi-column layouts are more distracting for users as their eyes are drawn to more than one question at a time. However, it is still appropriate to use multiple columns for dates (e.g. date of birth) and time as users expect such fields to be on one line.

8. Remove all non-mandatory fields:

It stands to reason that the more input fields you have on your form the lower the completion rate will be. Removing non-essential fields such as gender, password confirmation and any other fields that you don’t need for any regulatory or critical business purpose can lead to significant improvements in form completion rates. Be ruthless with evaluating each field and if it’s not absolutely necessary get rid of it.

9. Clearly label optional questions:

Although I recommend you remove optional fields or move them to another stage in the user journey (e.g. confirmation page), some organisations insist on them for compliance or other reasons. However, if they are asked use placeholders to make it clear they are optional so that users can decide whether they wish to complete them.

Image of check-out form from with required fields labelled but not optional field
Image Source:

This example above from Liz Earle  clearly labels the mandatory fields, but fails to label the one optional field (Telephone). This can create uncertainty about whether it is necessary to complete the field or not.  By simply displaying the word ‘Optional’  to the right of the field we eliminate any unnecessary uncertainty.


10. Don’t repeat questions:

This is related to the above point as it should not be necessary to repeat any questions. Apart from annoying users, repeating fields just adds to the length of your form.

Image of how to get users to confirm email is correct
Image Source:

Rather than asking users to re-type their email address or password simply display it as the default setting (i.e. Show characters) and if necessary ask them to confirm it is correct using a radio button or other appropriate CTA.

Further, if you also automatically email users their login details there is no real need to ask them to confirm their details are correct on the form.

11. Display password characters as the default:

Most input errors occur because users can’t see what they have typed and so don’t hide the characters of the user’s password. Set “Show password” as the default experience.

Here we can see how Amazon’s sign in form has evolved over time to have show password characters as the default.

Image of how's sign in form has changed over time to show password characters as the default
Image Source:


12. Give a clear reason for why users should complete your form:

Research by Dan Ariely found that people are less motivated to complete tasks if they have little or no purpose. Ensure you help motivate users by giving a clear benefit for completing your form, whether it’s a free e-book, regular updates or to redeem vouchers.

In the test below for, Michael Aagaard achieved an uplift of 32% by amending the form title to communicate a clear reason why visitors should sign up.

Image of sign up form with clear reason register
Image Source:


13. Apply conditional logic to reduce form length:

Conditional logic refers to where a question is only displayed if a visitor has answered an earlier question in a certain way. This approach shortens the form length and prevents users being asked irrelevant questions that could trigger abandonment.

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups
Image Source:


14. Align field labels to the top left-hand side of input boxes. 

UX researchers at Google discovered that labels which were aligned on the top left-hand side significantly  improved form completion. They believe this may be because it reduces the number of visual fixations required by the user.

15. Don’t ask for phone numbers unless absolutely needed:

Asking for personal data is always problematic, but many users are particularly concerned about entering their phone number into forms. Research shows that adding a phone number can reduce form conversion by between 5% (Unbounce) to 49% (Vital Design).

16. Create sections for related questions:

Create a logical flow to your form by grouping related questions together into homogeneous sections or steps. This helps set expectations of the type of information to be requested and should avoid customers being surprised by the questions you ask.

17. Use smart defaults:

When asking questions such as country or phone number you should offer a default country or phone code based upon the user’s IP address.

Image of smart defaults using geolocation
Image Source:

18. Avoid splitting single input fields:

Splitting input fields into separate chunks (e.g. separating post code into two input fields or having a separate field for area code for telephone number). This increases the number of clicks a user has to make and the division may be perceived as illogical by some users. Further, it may also create uncertainty about what’s required.

Image of how to condense multiple fields on a mobile form into a single field
Image Source:

If you must ask for an extension number for instance, hide it behind a form control rather than showing it as a default. Hiding irrelevant form controls has been shown to reduce error rates and improve form completion.


19. Clearly state why you require sensitive information:

As privacy is a major concern for many users it is important that you give a valid reason for requesting any sensitive personal information. The reason behind a request should be shown as either a tool tip or supporting text below the field.

20. Enable predictive search when large number of pre-defined options:

When users are faced with selecting a train station, city, country, occupation or something else with lots of predefined options, it’s a much better user experience if there is a predictive search feature to minimise typing and cognitive load.


Image of predictive search for train station on
Image Source:


21. Select field types that minimise the number of clicks or taps needed to complete a question:

Generally the more clicks or taps required the lower the completion rate will be. For this reason Luke Wroblewski recommends using drop down menus as the UI of last resort. For a date of birth or time question a drop down menu will require 3 or more separate clicks to open each drop down. If a multiple date picker menu is used instead (see image below) this only requires a single click to access all the columns in the field.

Image of multiple date picker
Image Source:


  • Use radio buttons when there are multiple options but only one option can be chosen.
  • Use checkboxes when more than one option can be chosen. Always stack radio buttons and checkboxes vertically as it makes it faster to process them compared to displaying them horizontally.
  • Use a stepper for small increments rather than a drop down menu.
  • A table view is good for short lists.
  • Drop downs are more often used for lists with more than six options. However, for long lists (e.g. country) don’t show in pure alphabetical order if most users are known to select an option starting with a letter near the end of the alphabet (e.g. USA or United Kingdom).

22. Avoid Placeholder Text:

A placeholder is the light text that is shown in a field to guide users on how to complete a field. They are usually employed to reduce any uncertainty about the required format or content of the field.

Designers like placeholder text because it can reduce visual clutter by removing field labels. However, usability research by Nielsen Norman Group has shown that it causes many usability problems. For example, it makes it difficult for users to remember what information should be entered into a field and to check for and fix errors.

23. Always show a field name:

A label describing the nature of the information required should always be visible outside the input field and should not be replaced with placeholders. Using placeholders as the field label is problematic because as soon as a user begins to enter text into the field the placeholder text will disappear. This means the user would then have to rely on their memory to remember what information is expected.

To save space some forms use inline labels as these are always visible. This is the only occasion when you may want remove field labels.

24. The length of text field should reflect nature of question:

It is important to adjust the length of a text field to allow for the amount of text the user is expected to enter. A phone number field for instance should be shorter than the address field. For instance in a returns form users can get annoyed if there is insufficient space to enter a full explanation of the nature of damage or other information that has been requested.

25. Use address lookup services for address verification & completion:

Minimise user effort when asking for their address by employing an address lookup and verification service. These tools are now able to suggest addresses as soon the user begins to type their details or the user can enter their post code or zip code to select from the options available.

Image of address finder from
Image Source:


26. Clickable images are an engaging way to ask a question:

Leadformly has found that selectable images are one of the most engaging way of asking a question. Below Animal Friends Insurance uses images of different animals to make the process more engaging.


Image of form from using characters to ask question
Image Source:


27. Use the welcome page to direct users towards the next step:

Your thank-you page should be used to direct visitors to the next action you want them to take. Use the thank-you page to clearly communicate the next step in the user journey so that visitors can continue without any uncertainty about what to do next.

28. Use encapsulation to  reduce distractions:

Encapsulation uses formatting, directional cues, boxes, colour  or shading to frame a form to remove distractions and improve prominence.  This often means removing banners, ads, social media icons and other links that might take users away from the form. The primary navigation is also often hidden, though it is worth A/B testing this change as sometimes users can respond negatively to all exit points being removed.


C: Usability:


29. Don’t use CAPTCHA’s:

CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) have been found to significantly reduce form completion rates as they act as they reduce accessibility for many users. In one study it was found that by removing the traditional word format CAPTCHA form conversion increased by 3.2%.

Image of CAPTCHA on
Image Source:

CAPTCHAs also ask frustrating questions like “Are you a robot?” which can create unease and increase the cognitive load on users. CAPTCHAs  are a lazy way of dealing with spam on a form as it puts the responsibility for preventing it on the user. Apart from phone or email validation, there are a number of other ways of protecting your site from spam and bots, including creating a honeypot (using a hidden field).

30. Avoid only using colour to communicate:

One in twelve (8%) men and less than 1% of women suffer from colour blindness which means they can’t differentiate between certain colours. Red-green colour blindness is the most common form. This means that yellow and green appear redder and users find it difficult to differentiate between violet and blue.

When using colour to communicate, such as for input errors and progress indicators, ensure you display text and/or icons to ensure clarity of the message.

31.Use cross-browser checking tools:

Check that your form works and renders on all major devices and browsers. When I reviewed a major bingo site I noticed that the load speed for the registration page had doubled after the new site was launched. When the developers investigated the problem they discovered that the form was not loading properly in Internet Explorer.

Check out the cross-browser checking solutions in this post: 12 cross-browser tools to boost conversion.

32. Allow users to navigate your form using the tab key:

Disabled users often rely on software that is operated by the tab key to move between questions.

33. Provide an explanation for questions which users may have difficulty understanding:

Many forms have sector specific questions that users may struggle to instantly understand. Some of these questions are mandatory and are needed for regulatory and compliance purposes. Use clear visual explanations such as tool tips that display when the user hovers over the question.

34. Avoid assets or text that flash:

Flashing or moving buttons and text can be very distracting to users because our brains are programed to respond to movement in case it signals some kind of threat. In addition, if an asset flashes more than twice per second it can also cause a seizure in some people.

35. Ask for additional information using milestone submissions:

Milestone submissions give users the option to continue to provide additional information when they get to a certain step in the form. This allows you to remove non-mandatory information from your form, but then give those users who wish to continue the chance to enter additional information.

Image of confirmation page which allows user to create account at this milestone
Image Source:

Jack Wills effectively uses this approach in its check out form. Rather than forcing visitors to register an account before purchasing, the site asks customers on the purchase confirmation page if they wish to set a password and create an account. This ensures that setting up an account does not prevent the customer from buying merchandise.

36. Ensure high contrast between fields and the background:

As a majority of users on many sites are now on mobile devices it is especially important that forms are designed with good contrast between fields and the background. Otherwise users may struggle to see where to tap in bright sunshine or low-light situations.

37. Don’t auto-advance to the next question:

As auto-advancing (automatically moving onto the next question) is not standard on most forms it is not expected and can be off-putting for users.

38. Don’t have spell checker turned on for all fields:

Having the spell checker or auto-correct activated for input fields such as username, email address or name can be very annoying and frustrating for users. Only activate spell checkers and auto-correct when it is clearly beneficial for the vast majority of users.

39. Allow browser to auto-fill:

Most popular browsers like Google Chrome now retain certain personal information to allow you to use their auto-fill function. This can save users time in entering personal information into your form but you must properly tag fields with terms that the browser recognises (e.g. ‘first name’ or ‘city’).

40. Monitor the load speed of your forms:

Research by Google shows that load speed is important to prevent users abandoning your site. Form pages are just the same, make sure you optimise them for load speed. Use Google’s free developer tool or your web analytics to monitor load speed.

41. Visual cues and recognisable icons can improve usability:

People don’t read text on websites; they scan it to save time. Displaying visual cues can assist users because we process visual images faster than text. However, don’t invent new icons as if they are not already in common use visitors will not instantly recognise them and the icon will potentially slow cognitive processing and confuse users.


D: Data Handling and Error Messages:


42. Explain formatting requirements:

Don’t be too prescriptive of how you want data to be entered to fit in with your perception of the ‘correct’ format for a field. People use various different formats for fields such as telephone number (e.g. +44 1829 281771, 01829 281771,  + 1829 281771). To make your form user friendly get programmers to use rules to convert data to a consistent format after it has been entered rather than forcing people to conform to the format that your back-end systems has been configured to.

In addition, display tool tips to show users the correct format.


43. Use inline validation and display error messages soon after completing the field:

Error messages should be inline (to the right of the field), and should be displayed soon after the user completes a field to prevent them clicking on the form CTA. The validation should not be real-time either as otherwise this will report an error before the visitor has completed the field. It is recommended that error messages should be displayed around 500ms after the user has moved onto the next field.

Image of inline validation on mobile form
Image Source:

E: Persuasive Design:


44. First impressions count:

Visitors expect your form to look professional and well designed. Don’t cut corners on the quality of design as first impressions are important and poor design does create anxiety about how trustworthy a site might be.

Image of poorly designed signed in screen
Image Source:

This welcome page on creates the impression that little thought has been put into the design of the screen. Users  are likely to be less responsive to the offer of making a deposit when so little effort has been put into the design of the page.

45. Use risk reducers to manage expectations and prevent user anxiety:

People often have concerns about completing forms that can significantly reduce completion rates if not dealt with appropriately. This can range from will they pass on my email address to other companies? Will I have to enter credit card details? Will I get sales calls as a result of entering my telephone number? How long will it take to complete the form?

Display appropriate risk reducers such as “No credit card required”, “No deposit required” or “No booking fee” on or below the call to action.

Images of different types of CTAs

46. Avoid negative influences:

Be careful to avoid negative influences like unnecessary graphical elements near the CTA that can cause a momentary pause as the user considers its meaning. Don’t use stop words with negative associations like for example “spam” in your privacy statement.

Image of A/B test for with privacy statement variant
Image Source:

Most people would expect displaying a privacy message to reassure visitors that they won’t be spammed would be a good idea. Well, you would be wrong, as Michael Aagaard found that adding a privacy message reduced form conversion by almost 19%. The word “spam has such strong negative connotations that it appears to automatically raise concerns in the user’s mind.

47. Avoid security seals unless you are asking for payment:

Be cautious about displaying a security seal on a form as it may raise un-necessary concerns about site safety. Further, security seals are associated with payment and so visitors may think you are going to ask for payment during completion of the form. I have seen a number of A/B tests where adding a security seal before the payment page actually reduced form completion rates.


48. Use live chat to offer instant support to users on your form:

Live chat is a powerful tool to assist users in real-time to answer any questions or deal with problems completing a form. Display a live chat window within close proximity of your form as it helps build social proof and can be used to gather real-time feedback on any problems encountered by users.

Image of live chat on registration form
Image Source:


49. Use social proof to establish credibility:

Display evidence of social proof, such as number of customers (if large), testimonials, logos of well-known partners or customers, awards or social media likes/shares close to your form. People have a strong herd instinct and so relevant and compelling social proof can be very persuasive.

50. Display progress indicators on multi-step forms:

Research by psychologists has shown that people are more motivated by how close they are to completing a task than the progress they have made (see goal gradient effect).

Image of progress indicator on
Image Source:


Progress indicators have been shown to improve completion rates because they reduce a visitor’s anxiety by communicating how close they are to completing the form. Further, starting your progress bar with some progress already made has been shown to also improve completion rates.

51. Clearly signpost number of steps together with progress:

To benefit fully from the goal gradient effect make sure you clearly display the total number of steps and which step the visitor is currently on to eliminate any uncertainty. In this example below you can clearly see that the progress indicator shows the number of steps and the CTA text reinforces this by saying what the next step is.

Image of registration form which shows number of steps and the step the user is on
Image Source:


52. Take care with transition speeds:

Be careful not to have too fast a transition speed as users may not notice the form has moved to the next step if it is too fast.

F: Call to Actions:


53. Call to actions should complete the sentence “I want to ….”

Use verbs that match what the user is looking to achieve by clicking or tapping on the CTA. Avoid ambiguous and generalised text such as “Submit” or “Send” as these do not inspire action.  Ideally the text on a button should answer the question “I want to” from the customer’s perspective.

For example, if the form creates a new account the CTA copy could be “Create my free account”. Making the copy more personal by using the word “my” rather than “your” has also been found to sometimes improve conversion.


54. Make your call to action look like a button:

Designing your CTA to look like a button removes any uncertainty about it being clickable and makes it stand out from your input fields.  Hyperlinks have been found to significantly reduce click through rates. Further, by giving your CTA the same width as your input fields it helps to ensure it is prominent and easy to locate on the screen.

Image of examples of call to actions


55. Call to actions should stand out from the page:

The colour of your call to action can make a difference to your conversion rate, but normally this is due the lack of contrast between the button colour and the background. To avoid this problem use a colour that has a high contrast with the background colour and ideally is not already is use on the page.

56. Use logical sequence for questions:

Order questions logically to assist with form completion and do not automatically follow the sequence of your back-end systems. For example, use the same order that information is shown on a credit or debit card (i.e. card number, valid from date, expiry date and security code). For field values consider the frequency of usage and list the most common values first when possible. To assist keyboard users test the Tab-key navigation to check that it follows the correct field sequence.

57. Don’t use ‘reset’, ‘cancel’ or ‘clear’ buttons:

Avoid including CTAs that cancel or clear your form as they are un-necessary and create a risk that users will accidentally delete all of the information they’ve input. This is frustrating for users and most people understand that they can clear a form by refreshing the page.

This registration page from e-commerce site Liz Earle has a ‘Cancel’ button on the bottom left-hand corner. It’s unnecessary and runs the risk of users clicking on it by mistake.

Image of registration form on with cancel button
Image Source:


58. Don’t automatically opt-in users to your mailing list:

Auto-enrolling visitors to your mailing list forces users to make an extra click to opt-out and can create anxiety that you will be spamming them. You should also avoid tricking users into agreeing to receive promotional material as this can also harm trust in your organisation.

Image of unclick to receive marketing communications on
Image Source:

I came across this example from which attempts to automatically enrol users into their mailing list.


59. Avoid complex legal messages adjacent to your CTAs:

Displaying long and complex legal disclaimers next to your CTA can create anxiety and be off-putting to users. Where possible combine them into a single message and keep them as concise as possible.

Below you can see how William Hill have used links to minimise the amount of text for accepting terms and conditions. Betfair on the other hand have much more text which could be quite off-putting.

Image of legal messages from and


60. Disable form submission CTA after it has been clicked once:

Disable the form submission CTA immediately after the first click. This prevents duplicate clicks on the CTA leading to data being re-submitted and/or multiple charges being made on the user’s credit card.

61. Send a confirmation email:

A confirmation email should be used to reinforce key messages and actions communicated by your welcome or confirmation page. This is your opportunity to establish your authority in your customer’s email inbox. Ensure you have an email autoresponder cycle set up to build a long-term relationship with your new customers.

62. Re-target visitors who abandon your form:

Don’t forget to have a re-targeting strategy in place to deal with those visitors who abandon your form. There are solutions available to send emails in real-time to users who abandon forms and on-site re-marketing techniques to capture email addresses for those customer who are not logged in. It is also worth considering re-targeting ads.


Forms are ripe for testing. For any site with a reasonable amount of traffic I suggest you regularly A/B test your form designs to improve their performance. Validating changes with A/B or multivariate tests helps to ensure that the changes you make are improving your success metric and not just pushing through more unprofitable users.

For this reason don’t just set your success metric as form completion, but  also measure your most important conversion metric (e.g. sales or average order value). You can then identify if the changes made are impacting upon your bottom line and are worth implementing.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.


Why Should Marketers Target the Subconscious Mind?

Should we trust our gut instinct?

If you believe everything written about the human mind on social media you would think that people are incapable of making a good decision. We are certainly prone to various cognitive biases that influence our judgement. Our herd instinct also leads us to copy the behaviour of others when faced with uncertainty or when we want to associate with a specific group of people. But surely these human traits have protected us from danger over thousands of years?

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that many of our subconscious and automatic responses relate to  our instincts for survival. We do not act randomly or irrationally as some writers suggest. Indeed, research by Alex Pouget, Associate Professor of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester, discovered that people can make optimal decisions, but only if the choice is made by their sub-conscious mind.

Our subconscious mind has a rational purpose, to protect us from danger and respond quickly without depleting mental energy. People don’t consciously decide to ignore advertising banners or stop to read the copy. These are decisions we automatically make to ease the process of navigating a site. They allow us to focus on what our brain decides are the more important tasks at that moment in time. This is not irrational, it’s what has made our species so successful.

Unlike Kahneman, Pouget decided to avoid asking direct questions of people to determine how accurately they responded to problems. Instead, he studied the decisions that are made by our non-conscious brain and showed that in the vast majority of cases we make the best decision we can dependent upon the limited information available to us.

Many decisions though are not solely reliant on our unconscious brain because our conscious and subconscious brains co-exist together. Further,  our conscious mind (see System 2) is often triggered by visual and audio clutter,  contextual issues and problems that require mental attention. This means that people have short attention spans and are very impatient. This has a significant impact on the digital user experience.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid clutter and competing calls to action to enable our sub-conscious brain to focus on achieving active goals. There are too many calls to actions and a poor visual hierarchy.
  • Use visual cues to assist users find content or calls to action. Avoid flat design as this lacks the cues that users have become accustomed to seeing on a website.
  • Follow established web conventions as these allow users to navigate from expectations set by their experience of other websites.

This product page from is probably one of the most cluttered pages I’ve come across. It has so much content that not all of it fits fully on the page.  This will ring alarms with a visitor’s brain and cause System 2 to take control.

Image of homepage as example of poorly designed page


What directs our attention to brands?

A mass of psychological and cognitive research since the 1970s has shown the goals that direct much of our behaviour can be activated without a person’s conscious intention or choice. Indeed, experiments have shown that much of our cognitive processing is triggered without the conscious deliberation and control once thought to be necessary. Further, these studies also demonstrate that behaviour driven by goal achievement can also operate without conscious thought.

This suggests our sub-conscious brain is hard-wired to automatically search for opportunities to satisfy psychological needs and make decisions that are in our best interest. It is at the very heart of our decision making. When our brain identifies a good opportunity it generates a positive emotion and the brain automatically seeks a decision to enable need fulfilment.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid over reliance on rational benefits as these may not get the attention of user’s subconscious mind.
  • Always include implicit or psychological needs in your online communications as these grab attention more than purely rational benefits. Individual psychological goals are outlined later on in this post.

This example of a product page from is much cleaner and includes strong social proof messages using customer ratings and reviews.

Image of product page with prominent ratings and reviews
Image Source:

How important are emotions?

So how important are emotions when people are making decisions? The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio observed patients with damage to the ventromedial frontal cortices of the brain which controls our ability to feel emotions.

The brain damage did not influence patients’ basic intelligence, memory or their capacity for logical thought. However, through a series of experiments Damasio found that the loss of their capability to feel destroyed a person’s ability to make decisions that were in their best interests.

Damasio suggests that our thoughts mainly comprise images which include ideas, words, smells and real or imagined visual perceptions. Through our experiences these images become “marked” with positive and negative feelings.

These feelings are associated (directly or indirectly) with bodily states. If a negative marker is associated with an image of an expected outcome it sounds an alarm and our brain will steer decisions to avoid that potential outcome. Damasio suggests that these emotional markers improve the accuracy and efficiency of our decision making process.

‘‘In short, somatic markers are … feelings generated from secondary emotions. These emotions and feelings have been connected, by learning, to predicted future outcomes of certain scenarios’’ (Damasio, 1994, p. 174).

Implication for CRO:

  • Use copy and images that convey strong emotions to encourage engagement and create momentum in decision making. People are less likely to make a decision about a purchase if they don’t feel strongly about your proposition.
  • To encourage a positive feeling towards your brand consider using humorous images or copy to put users in a good frame of mind. Kahneman found that even getting people to smile improved their mood and how they responded to stimulus.
  • Use images of positive outcomes on your website to reduce the risk of your content generating negative associations.

How important is the sub-conscious mind?

The evidence suggests that up to 95% of our purchase decisions are directed by  sub-conscious mental processes. So, if the non-conscious and emotional part of our brain is so important to decision making why do we rely so much on engaging the conscious mind questions about our products and services?

Does it matter if our customers say they like our website or our product if the non-conscious brain is driving behaviour? How do we target the sub-conscious mental processes that direct our attention and ultimately decide what we buy?

Do we buy what we like or like what we buy?

There is substantial evidence that the activation of the brain’s reward centre predicts purchases provided the pain induced by price is below a certain level. As an example, neuroscience research by Gregory Berns and Sara Moore from Emory University compared activation of the reward centre of teenagers who were listening to songs from relatively unknown artists with subjective likeability.

By analysing sales of these songs over a three year period they were able to show that activation of the reward centre was much more predictive of future sales than subjective likeability. What this confirms is that it is the unconscious brain that directs much of our attention and not our conscious liking of a site or brand. Unless our communication engages with the non-conscious brain it probably won’t be noticed by the conscious mind.

Implication for CRO:

A purely rational argument may be completely ignored by the sub-conscious brain as it may fail to activate the brain’s reward centre.  Emotionally engaging messages help us process information more quickly and improve the efficiency of our decision making.

How do we target subconscious motives?


Psychological motivations drive attention and much our behaviour.
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

Marketing consultancy, Beyond Reason, have combined the latest psychological and neuroscience research to develop a comprehensive model of implicit (psychological) motivations. As the evolution of the brain occurs over thousands rather than hundreds of years these psychological goals relate to basic human needs and social interaction.

The Beyond Reason model has eight overriding implicit motivations which cover the areas of certainty, belonging, recognition, Individuality, power, self-development, sexuality and physiology. The model is summarised in this graphic and as you can see each motivation divides up into four individual categories.

Beyond Reason use a form of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure the relative strength of different psychological goals. As people are not fully aware of their psychological motives we cannot use traditional forms of market research that rely on self-reporting. Focus groups in particular can be highly misleading as people try to rationalise what brands or communications mean to them when in reality much of our mental processing is done by our subconscious.

Implication for CRO:

Identify what your visitors’ most important implicit motivations are to align your value proposition and communications with customer’s underlying needs.

Image of lifestyle experiences
Image Source:

Airbnb for example, have created lifestyle experiences to emphasise how their proposition appeals to the desire to be a non-conformist. This may partly explain why the average Airbnb customer’s stay is significantly longer than your average hotel stay.

Indeed, Airbnb’s own research suggests that many of their clients wouldn’t have gone on their trip if they hadn’t been able to use Airbnb. So Airbnb have actually grown the hospitality and travel market as well as disrupting some elements of the sector.

Image of homepage showing sponsorship of BGT
Image Source: uses its sponsorship of the Britain’s Got Talent TV show to provide evidence of stability and certainty. People understand that sponsorship of a major TV show like BGT costs a lot of money and that it will take a long time for the company to get a return on their investment.  This is known as costly signalling and demonstrates to people that are investing for the long term and plan to be a major player in their sector in the future.


Attention, preferences and loyalty are most strongly driven by our unconscious mind. Visual and audio clutter on a screen can disrupt this process and lead to mental depletion.

Emotions help people process information and make decisions faster and are involved in all our decisions. Communications that target subconscious goals are more likely to be effective than purely rational benefits as they tap into  human emotions.

Given the sub-conscious mind is responsible for most of our purchase decisions it is pointless asking people to rationalise brand preferences.  Because of this focus groups are a misleading and inappropriate method of research.

It is still necessary to have strong logical reasons to purchase your brand, but they need to be aligned to implicit goals. Because people are social animals the behaviour of others, including traditions and norms, can also heavily influence the perceived value and rewards from a brand.

Finally, optimisers should aim to simplify the user experience to retain attention and build satisfaction and loyalty. Too many choices and complex decisions disrupt our subconscious decision making (System 1 thinking)  and can result in mental depletion.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.


Why Do Most Attempts At Behavioural Change Fail?

Most Behaviour Change Fails!

Have you ever tried to change a long-standing habit or create a new habit? Perhaps you tried to give up smoking, eat fewer sugary foods, start taking regular exercise, or just spend less time on social media. It’s often difficult isn’t it and the same is the case when we try to change the behaviour of website visitors. Indeed, studies suggest that most attempts to change behaviour fail.

Why do most attempts at change fail?

BJ Fogg’s Stanford Persuasion Lab conducts research on how to change behaviour using technology. The BJ Fogg Behaviour Model explains how three elements must converge simultaneously for a behaviour to occur. The model highlights that for people to complete a task they need the necessary motivation, the ability and a trigger to prompt the behaviour. When an action does not occur, at least one of these three elements must be missing.

Image of BJ Fogg's behavioural change model
Image source: BJ Fogg

How can we use the model?

The Fogg Behaviour Model has been created to help designers understand what stops people from completing a behaviour. For example, if users are not completing a target behaviour, such as a quotation request form on a price comparison site, the

Three core motivators – Psychological drivers:

Fogg highlights three key motivators; Sensation, Anticipation and Belonging. Each motivator has two sides; pleasure/pain, hope/fear and acceptance/rejection. Although this is a simplistic model of motivation, these core motivations can be applied to all uses and they get us to consider psychological drivers of behaviour.

Ability – Making things simpler:

If you want someone to do something they must have the ability to do so. It might seem obvious, but we sometimes wrongly assume everyone knows what we know and that they have the same skills as we do. We have two options here. We can either train people to improve their skills or we can reduce friction by making the target behaviour easier to complete.

Training or on-boarding is the more difficult route as people are generally impatient and lazy. As a result users will often avoid having to learn new skills. Designing an intuitive interface is normally a much better option as this fits much more closely with human nature.

Simplifying an action to make it easier to complete should be your preferred option in most cases. Ease of completion is a function of our scarcest resource. This is often either our time or money. Users are very impatient and so a behaviour that requires more than a few seconds may fail because the user is not prepared to sacrifice the time needed to complete it. This is why it is sometimes a good idea to inform users how long an action will take to manage expectations and encourage them to allow the necessary time for the task.

Money is another scarce resource and so if a behaviour needs £25 to complete and you don’t have £25 to spend, then it’s not easy is it. This is why a free trial can be an effective way of reducing friction to undertaking a behaviour.

Triggers to prompt behaviour:

Congruence bias can result in us testing just the things we decide are a problem rather than looking at other things

Triggers prompt or remind us to begin a task and without a trigger the target behaviour will not occur. There are lots of different names for triggers; prompts, call to action, request and cue to name but a few.

Triggers can be an external prompt, such as a mobile phone push notification or a pop-up message on a website. On other occasions our daily routine or habits may trigger a behaviour. For many people in large cities going to work triggers buying a coffee or checking Facebook may prompt us to upload our latest photos. Some of the most powerful triggers though are major life events such as starting work, marriage, moving home, birth of a child and children leaving home.

Trigger in action:

I sometimes play poker on Facebook with Zynga the online gaming company. I haven’t played for a week or two and so Zynga sent me an email offering me the chance to win some free chips. The trigger is a simple call to action of Open Now. The motivation involves scarcity as the offer expires within 24 hours of receiving the email.

Image of email from to trigger user to sign in
Image Source:

Although the target behaviour is to get me to sign in and claim my prize, Zynga’s larger objective is to get me playing a game of poker.  The use of loss aversion is an effective way to motivate me to click on the call to action and as Facebook remembers my login details the behaviour is very easy to complete.

How to apply the Fogg model to digital marketing:

The Fogg model is a powerful resource for evaluating how to encourage behavioural change in digital marketing as it has been specifically constructed for use with technology.

What is motivating visitors?

People buy benefits rather than features and so it is important understand your customer’s needs and what they want from your product or service. Marketers need to communicate a compelling proposition that includes psychological motivations as well as more rational benefits to motivate users. This needs to be sufficiently appealing to justify changing their behaviour and perhaps switching to a new supplier.

So before designing a page or website first consider what need your product or service is solving and how important is it to your prospects. Make sure you identify the most important needs so that you don’t make the mistake of promoting something that is not salient to your customers. Use the implicit association test to identify psychological motivations as people don’t have full access to our deeper, emotional drivers.

Evidence of social proof can further enhance the perceived value to prospects because of our natural herd instincts. However, perhaps most crucially is that your value proposition is communicated with engaging imagery and compelling copy to persuade visitors that it will deliver on your brand promise.

Rewards can be used to provide a further motivation to complete a task. However, make sure the reward is something people want and be careful to adjust the frequency of the reward to optimise its effectiveness. Read my post on the psychology of rewards for more details.

Evaluating ability:

If your target behaviour is not easy and simple for visitors to undertake it will create friction which can prevent even the most motivated user from completing a task.  Apart from being lazy, people have limited attention spans and are often interrupted when browsing. This is what it is important that the user experience is intuitive and there is a clear visual hierarchy.

To get an accurate assessment of how easy your site is to navigate usability testing is essential for any organisation that is serious about addressing ability issues. Observing visitors trying to navigate and complete tasks on your site is much more insightful than asking them direct questions. Your analytics can tell you where there may be a bottleneck, but usability testing tells you why there is a problem.

Browser replay tools, such as Hotjar or Sessioncam, can also help identify where problems may occur. Session replay recordings are like undirected usability tests as you don’t know for sure what visitors are trying to achieve. However, by encouraging people in your organisation to spend time watching session recordings it is surprising how frequently usability problems are identified.

Image of lift model

I find a heuristic analysis with the help of WiderFunnel’s Lift Model is also very useful at highlighting potential shortcomings with a screen or user journey. This begins with the value proposition and how compelling it is to your prospects. Use the model as a check list of what to look out for and you will soon come up with a long list of items to consider.

Frequent sources of friction:

There are some elements of web design that consistently cause friction and result in a poor user experience. Friction can reduce both our ability to complete a task, but the anxiety it creates can also harm motivation. So, if you have any of the following friction generators on your site I would recommend that you remove them if it all possible.

Using registration as a landing page:

Let me say this once. A registration page is not a landing page! Sending off-site visitors directly to your registration form is lazy marketing. Use a dedicated landing page that is designed to inform and persuade.

Registration pages should not be designed to inform visitors about your value proposition and should be focused on getting visitors through the sign-up process and not to persuade them that your offer is right for them. It’s also a poor user experience as it doesn’t conform to visitor’s expectations.

Sign up forms with a pop-up before the first page:

When a user clicks on a button to launch a form to input information for a quotation or open an account the expectation is very clear. The visitor anticipates being taken directly to the form. Given this strong expectation it is not advisable to interrupt the user journey with a pop-up or interstitial to offer users another choice.

Image of pop-up immediately before a form on
Image Source: launch a pop-up to promote their comparison service immediately after the user clicks on “Get a Quote” CTA. This is a poor user experience as it is confusing for the visitor. The risk with interrupting the user journey in this way is that it’s not meeting customer expectations and can be perceived as too aggressive. It would have been better to offer the price comparison service as the primary CTA on the home page and made the existing option of getting a single quote a secondary CTA.

Dont’s use CAPTCHA:

Forms are a common source of friction and so it is important to take care when designing them. However, CAPTCHA fields are notorious for annoying and frustrating users. They are often implemented by IT security teams to protect a site against bots, but there many other better ways of achieving the same aim without causing friction.

Image of CAPTCHA on
Image Source


Allow users to decide when they are ready:

When a user lands on your site many will not be ready to convert. If they have never been to your site before they need to establish your credibility and may want to browse to find out more about what you offer. However, many sites wrongly assume that visitors are ready to convert on their first visit and offer no secondary call to action.

Image of homepage with secondary CTA
Image Source:

To build visitor motivation it is necessary to design user journeys that allow for establishing credentials (e.g. customer testimonials and awards), information gathering (e.g. white papers or blogs) and lead capture (e.g. newsletter sign up form).

Always include a secondary CTA as people like to have a choice and you need to allow for those users who are not yet ready to commit. The above homepage from prominently displays a primary and secondary CTA to give users the choice.

Homepage Sliders/Carousels:

So many websites have auto-sliders or carousels on homepages that you would be forgiven for assuming that they must be an effective means of communicating multiple products or value propositions. Management love them because they can allow them to avoid making difficult decisions about what should be on their homepage.

Here is the carousel on which changes every few seconds as the user is reading the text. This can also be annoying to visitors if they are not fast readers.

Image of with homepage carousel
Image Source:

However, the vast majority of A/B tests and usability studies have shown that few users interact with them and they can often harm conversion rates. Because carousels often look like adverts they are frequently ignored and have few clicks on calls to actions. In addition, even fewer visitors click on second, third and other panels that are included in a carousel. This means that prime real estate on your homepage is not performing effectively and so should be removed.

Welcome screen:

When a visitor successfully completes your registration process, don’t dump them into a blank page and expect them to work out where to go next. Make sure you provide a suitable welcome message and provide on-boarding information or cues. It’s an important stage in the user journey, and so make sure you take advantage of it with suitable content.

Image of on-boarding user journey for
Image Source:

Deezer, the music streaming app, has a simple and easy on-boarding process. When a user completes a short sign-up form they are first asked to select music genres they like. Users are then asked to indicate their preference for a series of artists. Once this is complete the user is presented with a unique play list called “Flow” which reflects their music tastes.


BJ Fogg’s behavioural change model is a powerful framework for considering how we can nudge visitors towards their goals. Most attempts at behavioural change fail, not because people can’t change, but rather because at least one element is missing. People need a trigger, but also the ability and motivation to change. Use this framework to identify which elements are missing in your user journey and address these deficiencies to improve your chance of success.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.



How To Get Started With Google Optimize

Google’s Free A/B Testing Solution:

Do you want to conduct A/B tests using a simple to use visual editor but you don’t have the budget to afford the established tools? Well, you can now conduct A/B and multivariate tests for free using Google’s new solution, Optimize. Register for free so that you can start conducting online experiments. Find out what does and what doesn’t work on your site and stop having to rely on best practice!

What is Google Optimize?

Google Optimize is the free version of Google Optimize 360 which is an A/B testing and personalisation platform. Optimize allows marketers to run up to 3 A/B tests (or multivariate tests) at a time and provides a simple to use visual editor that enables a non-technical marketer to set up experiments in a matter of minutes. It also integrates fully with Google Analytics.


Google Optimize (free) and  Google Optimize 360

So, what are the main differences between Google 360 and Google Optimize?

Limit on number of tests. Optimize only allow you to run up to three concurrent experiments. For many small and medium sized sites that have no one dedicated to conversion rate optimisation this may not prove to be a major restriction. I know even large websites that struggle to run more than a couple of tests at once and would save tens of thousands of pounds if they switched to Google Optimize.

Optimize allows you to conduct multivariate tests, but it limits you to 16 variations. Again, for many sites this may not be a problem because the more variations you have the more traffic you need to complete the test within a reasonable time scale.

No audiences. The free version of Google Optimize does not allow the use of Google Analytics audiences to target which visitors to include in tests. However, there are other targeting features available to use.

Objectives have to be pre-set. Unlike Optimize 360 there is no ability to analyse additional goals after the test has been set up. Although this is a useful feature it can lead to lazy thinking as you should have a single success metric linked to a strong hypothesis.

How to get started with Google Optimize?

Assuming that you already have Google Analytics implementation of Google Optimize is a simple process that looks like this.

  • Create an account and container
  • Link to Optimize to Google Analytics
  • Paste snippet into Google Analytics script
  • Add snippet of code to eliminate flicker from A/B tests

When you register for Optimize you will be asked to create an account for your business and then a container for each website. You should then link your container (the individual website) to your Google Analytics account as this allows the two tools to share data. I recommend you do this as it allows for analysis of your tests within Google Analytics.

Optimize then prompts you to add the Optimize snippet to your site. This is only a single line of code that is inserted before the last line of your Google Analytics JavaScript.

Image of snippet of code for implementing Google Optimize

To minimise page flickering from A/B tests Optimize also recommends that you add some additional code to each page immediately before the Google Analytics code.

Create an experiment:

You are now ready to set up an experiment and Optimize gives you three types of tests to run.

  • A/B tests: Two or more variants of a single page
  • Multivariate test: Two or more different sections of a page to be tested
  • Redirect test: Sometimes called a split test where you test one or more whole new page or path on a separate URL.


Image of types of experiments in Google Optimize

My example here is an A/B test where I have changed the heading to make it shorter and snappier which also brings more content above the fold.

Image of heading A/B test from

Visual editor:

Optimize has a simple to use what you see is what you get (WYSIWG) visual editor which allows you to add, remove or change content. To access the visual editor you will need to download the Chrome extension for Optimize or use a browser that supports CSS3 selectors.

You can now create the variant you want to test using the visual editor or specify the URLs you want to test if you plan a redirect test.  To make changes using the visual editor click on the heading or container you wish to amend. This will then open up the menu with quick tools to make simple changes to text, typography and orientation. If you select the Edit Element button you will see more advanced options which include Remove, edit text, edit HTML and insert HTML.

Image of edit and advanced edit options

Make sure you save your changes and confirm you are “Done” to create your variant.

Setting Objectives & Targets:

Before you publish your experiment you must set your objectives and decide what audience you want to target. If you have linked Google Analytics to your account you can use any goals that you have set up in GA as an objective. Optimize also has Pageviews, Bounces and Session Duration as default objective options.

Optimize allows you to select up to three objectives for each experiment. For my A/B test I selected Bounces and Pageviews. You should then decide which users you want to target as this needs to be set before the experiment begins. Click on the “CREATE RULE” button to open the side menu.

Image of how to create a rule in Google Optimize

For many tests you may want to only target new visitors to your site. This ensures that visitors won’t have previously seen the default experience which could otherwise skew your test results. Google Analytics sets a cookie on the user’s first visit to your site. This means you can target an experiment to new unique first time users by specifying a short value for Time since first arrival. To set this up create a behaviour targeting rule like this:

Targeting new visitors – Example 1

Variable Match type Number Value
Time since first arrival Less than 10 seconds


To target a test to any page that a new user visits in the first hour since they first landed on your site, create this behaviour targeting rule:

Targeting new visitors – Example 2

Variable Match type Number Value
Time since first arrival Less than 60 minutes


The current targeting options are as follows:

URLs. Target individual pages and sets of pages. URL targeting enables you to pick the page where your experiment is to run. This allows you to target a single page, a narrow subset of pages, or Hosts and Paths.

Behaviour. Target visitors arriving on a site from a specific channel or source. It allows you to target first time users and visitors from a specific referrer.

Geo. Target users from a specific city, region or country. When you type in the Values field, you will see suggestions from the AdWords Geographical Targeting API to speed up rule creation.

Technology. Target visitors using a specific browser, operating system or device. Optimize tracks the browser’s user agent string to identify which browser a visitor is on, what version and on which operating system.

JavaScript Variable. Target pages using JavaScript variable values. This allows you to target according to a value in the source code of the page in the form of a JavaScript variable.

First-party cookie. Target the value of a first-party cookie in the user’s browser. This allows you to target returning visitors who will already have a first-party cookie from your site.

Custom JavaScript. Target pages using a value returned by custom JavaScript. This allows you to inject JavaScript onto a page, then target your test based upon the value in the JavaScript returns. For example if you wanted to target users visiting your site during the morning hours you could write a JavaScript function that returns the current hour. Then set a targeting condition that looks for a returned value that is less than 12.

Query Parameter. Target specific pages and sets of pages. Query parameter targeting explicitly targets values that occur in the query string of a URL. These are found between the question mark and the hash mark in the URL query string.

Data Layer Variable. Rather than referencing JavaScript variables in your targeting rules, you can reference key-values pairs that are contained in the data layer. You may want to create a targeting rule that uses shopping cart data or other information available on the page. For example, you might want to target users who have just completed a purchase of more than £100. This information could be stored in the data layer and so Optimize could retrieve it from there.


These targeting options allow you to easily use Google Optimize for personalisation as well as for testing. For example, you could use Optimize to display a different image or heading for new visitors compared to returning visitors. Alternatively you could change the heading or message for visitors arriving from a specific source of traffic or customize text according to the user’s location.

Reporting test results:

To view the performance of your test variants simply go to your experiment and select the Reporting tab in the top left-hand menu. Alternatively you can view results in Google Analytics by selecting Behaviour>Experiments. This provides a simple improvement overview which compares your variant with the original experience.

Image of reporting from Google Optimize

Here we can see that in my headline test variant 1 currently has a 69% chance of being the best performing experience. However, the test had only been running a few days and so it was far too early to make any definite conclusions.

Length of tests:

Google Optimize recommends that all tests are run for at least two weeks. This allows for the weekend effect as people often behave differently during the week when they are at work compared to when they are at home for the weekend. It is also important to consider how long your business cycle is so that you don’t end a test before a full cycle has ended.

After the test has been running a reasonable length of time and you have a sufficiently large sample of users included in the test  Optimize will display a definitive recommendation about the test. This is very useful if you are new to testing.


For a free tool, Google Optimize is a powerful and easy to use A/B testing engine that will meet the needs of most small and medium sized websites. It is by far the best free testing solution currently on the market and it has most of the functions and capabilities of paid for solutions.

It allows companies with small or even non-existent budgets to conduct tests and begin to personalise their user experience. Google Optimize may be a game-changer as far as A/B testing is concerned. Expect to see more organisations begin to run tests and experiment with personalisation. Given the cost of some paid for solutions I would expect some organisations will consider switching to Optimize.  If their current testing solution is not being fully utilised they could potentially save thousands of pounds a year by switching to Optimize.

Related posts:

Optimisation process – 8 steps guaranteed to boost your conversion rate. 

Importance of web analytics – 18 Free & Paid Web Analytics Solutions.

Types of A/B tests – How to use A/B testing to optimize your website.

Strategy – How should you prioritise your A/B test ideas?

Thank you for reading my post and I hope it has inspired you to create a Google Optimize account and start running experiments and test personalisation on your site.  If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

What Are The Implications of Gall’s Law For Digital Marketing?

What is Gall’s Law?

Gall’s Law is a rule of thumb which indicates that complex systems that work are normally found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.  This means trying to design a complex system from scratch is never successful and it cannot be made to work once it has been created. It is necessary to begin again with a simple system before trying to make it complex.

Gall’s Law originates from John Gall’s book Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail. The law supports the idea of under-specification and has been used to explain the success of the World Wide Web and Facebook. Both of these systems began life as fairly uncomplicated systems but have since evolved over time to become highly complex ecosystems.

There are of course many examples of complex systems that have failed, especially in IT, but the evidence for Gall’s Law does appear more anecdotal than scientific. The other principles of Gall’s Law are:

  1. Complex systems rely on many variables and interdependencies that have to be organised precisely for them to function correctly. Designing complex systems from scratch doesn’t work because they haven’t been shaped by environmental selection forces that allow systems to naturally become more complex.
  2. Uncertainty means that designers can never predict all of the interdependencies and variables needed to build a complex system from scratch. This means such complex systems are prone to failure in all kinds of unexpected ways.
  3. Environmental constraints which change over time and are again unpredictable suggest designing a simple system that works in the current environment and then adjust the system over time to improve it.
  4. As prototyping and iteration are so effective as value-creation processes it is much easier to use these methodologies to verify that a system meets critical functional needs rather than try to build a complex system from scratch.
  5. Developing that prototype into a minimum viable offer enables project managers to validate critical assumptions and produce a simple system that can work with real users.
  6. The organisation can then use iteration and incremental augmentation to develop an extremely complex system over time that can be adapted to environmental changes.

Implications for conversion rate optimisation:

1. Focus on critical customer needs.

This means aim to begin by building simple apps and websites that are not overly complex and don’t have too many features and functions that most customers are unlikely to ever use. Snap Chat for instance started out as a very simple messaging app and has only gradually become mo re complex over time.Get the basic right first.

Unfortunately this is not ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ and so often product teams add features based upon their personal preference rather than evidence. Avoid this if you can.

  1. Get the basic right first.

All too often people get obsessed with the latest feature or functionality that competitors offer without first getting the basics working on their own site or app. For example, most users won’t change default settings and so there is little to gain from giving customers more choice in the settings tab if no one ever uses them.

3. Allow for your app or website to evolve over time.

A key principle of Gall’s Law is that software starts simple and then evolves to become more complex over time. Optimisers and project managers should make allowance for this evolutionary change by building in feedback and reporting mechanisms to facilitate this process. Listening to customers and using A/B and multivariate testing should be part of the iterative process for allowing your app or site to evolve over time.


Gall’s Law should be a reminder for designers, project managers and optimisers to stay focused on key customer needs and avoid the dangers of mission-creep and over-complicating a new user experience. Get the basics right first and allow for evolutionary change via customer feedback and optimisation experiments.

Gall’s Law could have been written for conversion rate optimisation as one of the key principles of CRO is to establish an evolutionary optimisation strategy rather than going for regular site re-designs. This makes for less disruption for users and it provides optimisers with more opportunities to understand the impact of small changes on success metrics.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.