Are you thinking about experimentation too narrowly?
Let’s talk about words that convert users.
It’s what every marketer is after, after all: those magic beans…err…words that transform visitors into customers.
Hold up. Did you click that banner? Because I’d like to take a look at that call-to-action (CTA).
“You should take our free Optimization Maturity Quiz instantly because it’s new!”
Theoretically, the above call-to-action should get a zillion clicks because it includes the 5 most persuasive words in the English language: “you”, “free”, “because”, “new”, and “instantly”. It’s chock-full of persuasion!
Regardless of whether or not you clicked — the Maturity Quiz may be a valuable offer — you probably agree that this CTA is trying much too hard and simultaneously missing the mark. The value proposition is unclear (it’s free and new?) and the wording is awkward, despite all those conversion words.
In this post, I’m going to give you a big list of words. And they’re all words that appear to convert users. Here’s what you shouldn’t do with this list: you should not take this list at face-value and begin injecting ‘conversion words’ into your website copy willy nilly.
Here’s what you should do: Think about these words and ways you might be able to use them on your site given A) what you already know about your target audience and B) what your overarching business goals are. Build a hypothesis and put these words to the test.
“You must understand why these words are persuasive, and you must use them in the contexts that make sense for your audience and your business. If you just start slapping them on every piece of content you create, you’ll quickly see just how unpersuasive they can be.”
– Gregory Ciotti, “5 most persuasive words in the English language”, Copyblogger.
The topic of words that sell isn’t a new one. It has been covered often and covered well. After all, copywriters and advertisers have been searching for and listing out these words for decades. (David Ogilvy published his list of “words and phrases that work wonders” in 1963’s Confessions of an Advertising Man.)
Ogilvy was referring specifically to headline copy here.
If you do a google search for “words that convert” you’ll find several very good lists of…well…“words that convert”. Some of these lists borrow from other lists, some cite studies to back up their lists, and some give suggestions about where to use conversion words on your site.
Much of what’s been written revolves around psychological and persuasion principles that inform our motivations as humans, e.g. you’re motivated by a particular word because it triggers a particular chemical response in your brain.
I’m going to take things further here, to provide you with a list of words framed by actionable testing ideas. While these words can be a great place to start your conversion optimization efforts, I’ll show you several case studies that demonstrate that the idea of magic-words-that-always-convert is a flat-out myth.
The Big 5
Let’s start with the top 5 words that have been recommended by smart people who recommend things.
Use “Because” because it increases conversion rates
“When you want people to take action, always give a reason.”
– Kevan Lee, 189 powerful words that convert, Buffer Blog
Make your copywriting personal by using “You”
“This tiny, three letter word is one of the most persuasive words of all as it shows a brand is conscientious about its customers and provides a personalized touch.”
– Jesse Aaron, 23 data-backed words that convert, Salesforce Blog
Is “Free” the most powerful word in marketing copywriting?
“FREE! Is more powerful than any rational economic analysis would suggest. If you want to sell more of something, use that power.”
– Roger Dooley, Author, Brainfluence
Make your landing page copy exciting with the word “New”
“When we see something new, we see it has a potential for rewarding us in some way. This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards.”
– Dr. Emrah Düzel, Novelty aids learning, UCL News
Use the word “Instantly” for high conversion rates
“We’ve come to expect things so quickly that researchers found people can’t wait more than a few seconds for a video to load”
– Christopher Muther, Instant Gratification is Making Us Perpetually Impatient, The Boston Globe
There’s plenty of research to back up each of these 5 words as major motivators in the human decision-making process. But research is just the starting point — what happens when you actually put these words to the test on your website?
While researching for this post, I noticed that almost every single article I came across mentioned Ellen Langer’s copy machine study (cited in Robert Cialdini’s well-know book Influence).
In the study, experimenters approached people in line for the Xerox machine and asked to cut in to make their own copies. Experimenters said 1 of the following three lines:
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” (60% success rate)
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” (94% success rate)
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” (93% success rate)
Langer was looking at the “meaningless factors that determine how people evaluate information” and she found that people were more likely to let someone cut if that person offered a reason, even if the reason didn’t make sense.
This study is often cited by bloggers and copywriters to prove the undeniable power of the word “because”.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Langer’s study was first published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1978. The experiment, while compelling, was conducted almost 40 years ago in an offline environment.
Do these results hold true today, online? Does “because” still hold the same sway when you’re anonymous and free from social pressures to say yes?
I sat down with conversion-copywriter Joanna Wiebe to talk about the power of “because” and she told me this story:
For a recent conference, Joanna was asked to do a live teardown* of the VerticalResponse homepage along with two other copywriting experts: Jen Havice and Joel Klettke.
“I’m not a huge fan of the live teardown because of all of the guesswork involved; there’s no research to inform the ‘expert’ advice,” explains Joanna. “But it’s what people get excited about.”
This teardown was a little bit different. Instead of simply pointing to problem areas on a homepage live at the event, organizers asked the three copywriters to create their own torn-down variations, test each variation against the original homepage, and present the results at the live event.
Because results are much more compelling than conjecture…
Each of the three copywriters sat down with their respective teams to think up a new variation, sticking strictly to copy changes. Joanna’s team decided to employ the all-powerful “because”, applying the word to the beginning of each sub-header on the homepage.
Joanna’s variation utilized the word “because” multiple times.
And nothing happened.
In fact, all three variations failed to move the conversion needle on the VerticalResponse homepage. “It was a flat line for all of us. There was no winner, no jump, nothing budged,” says Joanna.
“But none of us believed we were going to win. You can’t just take a magic word like ‘because’ and convert a lot of people, you can’t shortcut the process.”
– Joanna Wiebe, Conversion Copywriter, Copyhackers
“The problem was we were jumping into the copywriting tricks, but these tricks shouldn’t come into play until you’re in the editing stage, which comes after the giant research phase where you dig in and listen to your audience,” explains Joanna.
At Conversion, we Explore before we start any type of experiment. Your visitors are unique: do you know as much about them as you could? Examine at the data, the voice of customer research, Amazon reviews, and feedback and customer surveys before you even start testing copy.
Because “because” may not be the right motivator for your audience.
The problem with FREE!
It’s hard to argue against “free”. Add the word “free” on or near your call-to-action and you’ll probably see a spike in conversions. There are a ton of case studies floating around the ether that back up the conversion power of “free” (including a few on our site). I mean, who doesn’t love free stuff?
I’m sure you’ve heard of Dan Ariely’s Hershey’s Kiss experiment; what Langer is to “because” Ariely is to “free”. In this study, researchers offered people a Lindt truffle for 26 cents and a Hershey’s Kiss for 1 cent and saw a nice 40/40 percent split. They then dropped the price of both chocolates by 1 cent and observed that 90% of people chose the free Hershey’s Kiss.
Ariely points out that “people tend to ignore the opportunity cost associated with getting things for free” — in this case, giving up the more luxurious truffle in favor of the free Kiss. There’s no denying “free” is powerful.
Savings phrases you should test:
- Buy 1, get 1 free
- Free shipping
I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t use the word “free”. But, I do want you to ponder “free” with me for a minute.
In 2016, with so many marketers competing for consumer attention, is it possible that users have become wary of “free”?
I recently heard Oli Gardner, Co-Founder of Unbounce, deliver a talk on landing page optimization. He explained his mistrust of “free” in a world where (almost) nothing is truly free.
“Start your free trial” but, first, I need your credit card information.
“Get your free ebook” but first, give me your email address.
Your users pay for everything they download, every free trial they enroll in, with their time, information, and money. In his presentation, Oli cited data mined from the Unbounce A/B test archive that showed the use of the word “free” actually decreased conversions in two different instances.
Fellow Unbouncer, Michael Aagaard, had another argument against “free”. He mused that “free” sets troublesome user expectations. He explained that “free” can be dangerous: overuse the term and your users might start to expect free stuff, balking when your offerings aren’t free.
Before you start giving things away for “free”, you should consider the future impact of “free” on your business objectives.
Because, you, free, instantly, and new — they’re a persuasive bunch, it’s true. But without proper research and testing, you’ll never know if these five words are persuasive for your users on that page, on that button, on that headline, or in that context.
You should test the Fab Five, but don’t take ‘em at their word.
Of course, these are just five words you could try out on your site. There are 1,025,110 words in the English language. Surely there are other important ones to test?
Yes! There are!
Below are 49 more words you can test in various scenarios, plus several case studies that might give you an idea or two!
Action words to test on and near your call-to-action:
“Adding a verb to a call-to-action will generally increase click through.”
– Michael St. Laurent, Director of Experimentation Strategy and Product Development Lead
The “Get” obsession
There’s an obsession with the word “Get” on calls-to-action. When I asked Michael Aagaard about his go-to words that convert, he said “I like ‘get’.”
According to Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations that Get Results, certain “words help your customers visualize how good they’ll feel and what they’ll gain when they own your product or use your service.” Words like “get”.
The word “get” primes you to think of what you’re getting. You’re not Submitting information (notoriously, one of the most hated call-to-action words), you’re Getting something. Getting is fun, getting communicates value and anticipation.
You’re not filling out a tedious form, you’re getting a free ebook!
I pulled this CTA from HubSpot’s site. Notice the “Get”.
This call-to-action is from ConversionXL: “Get the free e-book”
Unbounce wants you to “Get started”.
“Get” is everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option.
One of our clients provides an online consumer information service — users type in a question and get an Expert answer. The call-to-action on page 1 or their 4-page funnel reads “Get an Answer”.
But users don’t actually get an answer until they’ve gone through each of the three subsequent pages in the funnel.
During the data-collection (Explore) phase for this client, Conversion VP of Delivery Nick So conducted a series of user tests: he watched groups of first-time users interacting with each page, recording their mouse movements. He also interviewed other first-time users, asking follow-up questions about areas that gave them difficulty.
He found that, while the “Get” pulled users into the funnel, it also led to apparent friction when the user didn’t get what they’d expected on the next page. The “Get” was setting incorrect expectations.
Nick designed a simple call-to-action test, aimed at reducing cognitive load and friction for users. He replaced “Get an Answer” with “Continue >” on each page of the funnel, aside from the final CTA. (You know, the one that actually sent users to their answer…) And by George, it worked!
Not only did the call-to-action change increase conversions by 7.3%, it also reduced refunds by -4.7%.
“Get” can be a powerful motivator, but if your users aren’t actually getting something when they click, be wary. If you have a multiple-step funnel, test “Get” against something more accurate and see what your users respond to!
More action words (and 1 adverb) to test on and near your call-to-action:
- Try it now
- Try it free
Pleading the case for “Please”
I know, I know, “Please” isn’t an action word. But you should test it nonetheless!
We’ve been testing with DMV.org for three years ― they’re a non-government affiliate website that earns revenue through performance-based advertising on content pages. DMV.org has a three-step funnel: the first 2 steps are on their site, the third is on a partner website (an insurance provider).
Much of our testing is focused on step one in the funnel: the mini-banner where users search car insurance rates by zip code.
When we tested politesse on said mini-banner, we found a huge range in conversion rate lift (and reduction) by location in the United States. Users in some states, like Kansas, responded positively to the use of the word “Please”, while the same “Please” killed conversion rates in other states like Utah and Oregon.
Aside from making you question the universality of the magic words mom taught you, these results should encourage you to test “Please” in your geo-segments!
Don’t assume the polite marketer always wins, but don’t turn up your nose at “Please” either (particularly if your users are in Washington).
Test words that communicate value
“The strength of your value proposition determines your conversion rate potential.”
– Chris Goward, Founder & Managing Director of Conversion
Value Proposition sits at the center of the LIFT Model® ― one of our most popular optimization frameworks. This model allows you to evaluate your webpage copy from the visitor perspective, using the 6 conversion factors: Value Proposition, Clarity, Relevance, Anxiety, Distraction and Urgency.
Your value proposition is a costs versus benefits equation. If the perceived benefits of what you’re selling outweigh the perceived costs of what you’re selling, users will be motivated to act.
There are particular words you can use to emphasize your Points of Difference (PODs): these are the features of your product or service that are both important to your prospects and unique to your business (not offered by your competitors). These PODs are the core of your value proposition.
What’s included in your product or service? Can you emphasize the quality of what you’re offering? Can you emphasize the future satisfaction your prospects will experience post-purchase?
Here are a few value words you should test:
- You might also like
We ran a homepage test for one Conversion client designed to clarify the company’s value proposition; they’re a supplier of maintenance and repair products.
Their original page featured multiple products with no clear headline and no clear call-to-action. We wanted to better communicate their Points of Difference.
The original homepage was lacking in Value copy.
So, we redesigned the hero section on this page, adding a headline, a bulleted list of value points and a call-to-action.
In the headline, we emphasized the client’s “highest quality products”, and in the value point list, their “free, next-day delivery”, “no minimum order size”, and wide variety of products. The call-to-action read “Shop all categories”.
We added a hero section with a Value-headline and Value points list.
These copy changes led to a 3% conversion rate lift. If you feel like you could better emphasize your PODs, you should test words on or near your call-to-action that highlight your unique value proposition!
Pro Tip: In his classic book The Marketing Imagination, Theodore Levitt gives the advice that if your offering is intangible (like a service versus a product), you should use words that tangibilize your offering and value proposition.
Metaphors and specific claims enable your users to better grasp the uniqueness of what you’re selling. For instance, “We’ll contact you shortly” might not resonate as much as “We’ll respond to you within 24 hours”.
If your users have Anxiety issues, test
Depending on your business, your users may be particularly sensitive to Anxiety (another of the LIFT Model’s 6 conversion factors). If you’re a big, recognizable brand, users may be more than ready to hand over their credit card information…but that just isn’t the case for a lot of online businesses.
You have to ask yourself: What are potential misgivings my visitor could have about undertaking this conversion action?
Anxiety is a function of the credibility you have built with your visitor and the trust you are asking them to have.
We often see patterns of user Anxiety emerge during the Explore phase, when we’re researching a client’s unique audience. These sensitivities might come out in customer feedback and voice of customer research, or in clickmap data that shows user interest in a security badge or product reviews, or in revisiting past test results.
If you suspect your users might need some reassurance when it comes to your product’s credibility or your trustworthiness as a company, you should test some of the following words:
- Featured in
- Talk to
- Live chat
If your users are sensitive to urgency, test
In your call-to-action copy, is there an indication that the action needs to be taken now?
Urgency has two components: Internal (or how your visitor is feeling upon arrival) and External (or influences you can introduce to your visitor).
While Internal Urgency is generally pre-existing when your visitor is on the page, the tone of your presentation, offers and deadlines can all influence External Urgency.
The following words and phrases can help you match your visitors’ internal urgency and add external incentives that up the urgency ante.
- In stock
- Before it’s too late
- While supplies last
In a test we ran for a large flower retailer, we experimented with adding an urgency phrase near the “Add to cart” CTA on a mobile product page.
People buy flowers for special occasions, they buy flowers to say “Congratulations” or “I’m sorry”; there’s a good chance that visitors to this site already have some sort of internal urgency.
This company was already tapping into social proof (more on this concept in a minute) with a banner that stated “85 bought this product in the last 4 hours”. We wanted to introduce some theoretical deadlines to find out if users were sensitive to urgency.
We tested the following 2 phrases: “Order before it’s too late!” and “Product available while supplies last.”
In variations A and B, we added different Urgency phrases.
The former decreased conversions by -1.95% while the latter lifted conversions by almost 8%. In this case, it seemed as though users responded to the slightly less dramatic urgency phrasing versus the more obvious fear-of-loss-inducing urgency statement.
There were a couple of takeaways from this copy test:
- Users were, in fact, influenced by urgency phrasing
- Users seemed to respond to a more factual urgency statement
These are insights that this client can now feed into copy experiments throughout their site and mobile app.
If your users are sensitive to social proof, test
We are social creatures. Marketers have been tapping into that fact for a long time.
Robert Cialdini popularized the principle of social proof in his book Influence. He explains, “[O]ne means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct […] We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”
Social proof is a favorite psychological trigger among marketers, and for very good reason. It works. Four of five dentists recommend Trident, remember? Just look at user reviews: 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site which has user reviews and these consumer reviews are significantly more trusted (nearly 12 times more) than descriptions that come from manufacturers.
“We like to think that we’re independent thinkers, that we’re unique individuals. The truth is, however, that the need to fit in and belong is wired into our brains and our biology. We want to fit in. We want to be like the crowd. This is such a strong drive that when we’re in a social situation, we look to others to see how to behave. It’s not a conscious process; we don’t know we’re doing it.”
– Susan M. Weinschenk, Author, How to get people to do stuff
If you suspect your users are sensitive to social proof, test the idea! You could give prominence to your great user reviews or the outrageous number of ‘Likes’ your product or page has on Facebook.
You can also test words that tap into social proof. One of our favorites is “Join”.
Here are a few more:
- Join [X] Americans
- Become a member
- Most popular
- Best selling
We toy with copy often for DMV.org, trying to reinvent that first step in their funnel, and we’ve seen great success with social proof. In fact, when we first introduced copy meant to tap into social proof, we increased conversion rates by 40.39%.
Apparently, DMV.org users were more than happy to “Join 1,972,984 Americans who searched for lower car insurance rates”.
The original DMV mini-banner.
Our variation, emphasizing social proof with the phrase “Join 1,972,984 Americans…”
Don’t underestimate the power of the group. Instead, you should test it!
Test words of encouragement
The dynamic duo of Ton Wesseling and Bart Schutz, CEO and CIO at Online Dialogue respectively, told me that some of the most effective language they’ve tested encourages users to click by preparing them for what will come next.
“Tell the user what will happen once they click. Clicking sometimes comes with uncertainty ― you can take this away by telling the user what they can expect at the next step.”
– Ton Wesseling, CEO, Online Dialogue
When we tested with Telestream, a video-editing software provider, we tested calls-to-action on the Checkout page. The Control CTA read “Place Order”. The next step, however, allowed users to review their order and then place their final order.
The original Telestream CTA read “Place Order”.
“There were problems with the control. The CTA was misleading: users thought that after clicking, that was that and they could exit the site, but they still needed to confirm their order. We wanted to address that issue and add an element of comfort, assuring users that they had another step before confirming their order for good.”
– Claire Vignon Keser, Conversion
So, we changed the CTA to “Continue >” and added a sub-header that read “You can review this order before it’s final.”
This sub-header helped to set user expectations for the next step, promising them one more chance to make sure everything was a-ok with their order before it was finalized.
Our variation read “Continue >” with a sub-head: “You can review this order before its final.”
This variation saw a conversion rate lift of 4.3%.
You should also test words that communicate simplicity. Prepare you users for what they can expect next and let them know that the journey to the next step will be painless. Humans generally choose the path of least resistance.
- [X] Easy Steps
Test words your users use
I read a lot as a kid, which is why I have a pretty good vocabulary. And I love words: big words, melodious words, multi-syllabic words. I don’t love repetition in writing, I don’t love simple staccato sentences…I love to celebrate language!
But I am not my prospect. Perhaps the trickiest part of conversion optimization is realizing that what you like has nothing to do with what your prospect likes. The words you use to describe your business, service, or product are probably not the words your prospect uses.
The great thing about conversion optimization is that, once you come to terms with the fact that you know nothing, you can open your eyes and ears to the words your customers use. And you can use ‘em too.
Annie Selke is a luxury home-ware goods retailer. In that vein, their site featured the word “palette” when referring to the different colors that products came in. For instance, on the product category page, you could filter by “palette”.
I love that word: pal-ette. It rolls off the tongue. It communicates refinery and luxury, artistry and good taste.
But there was a bit of terminology confusion on this page. Users could filter by “Palette” or sort products by “Color”.
Is it “palette” or is it “color”?
In the research phase, Conversion Director of Experimentation Strategy and Product Development Lead, Michael St Laurent gathered telling heatmap data that indicated a lot of user engagement with “Color” and less with “Palette”.
This led him to hypothesize that replacing the word “Palette” with the word “Color” would result in more clicks to the color filters. (Users had responded very positively to colour related changes in the past).
He also wanted to test adding visual color representations to the filter, hypothesizing that once open, users would be better able to relate to the colors and find a more relevant product quicker, thus increasing conversions.
Note the use of the word “Color” and the visual color representations.
He wasn’t wrong. This isolated change was responsible for a 7% lift in clicks to the color filter and a 6% lift in completed orders.
I may like “Palette” but Annie Selke users prefer “Color”. And that’s that.
Does your copy align with your business goals?
This is, perhaps, the most important question you should ask yourself when writing conversion copy.
You must be mindful of your ultimate business goals when writing your calls-to-action. It’s well and good to debate “Get” versus “Continue” but, sometimes the bigger question is: Should your users be getting what they’re getting or should they get something else?
I promise this’ll become clear.
When we started testing with SaaS giant, Magento, they were offering a free demo of the Enterprise Edition of their software.
The main CTA on this product page was “Get a free demo”. Makes sense, right? You’ve got “Get” and “free” and when the user clicked, they knew what they were getting into. All in all, a quality call-to-action.
The original Magento Enterprise Edition homepage featuring the “Get a free demo” CTA.
Looking at clickmap data, however, we noticed that users were really engaged with the informational tabs lower down on the page ― they had the option to try the free demo, but they were looking for more information. Once they had finished browsing tabs, there was nowhere else to go. So, we decided to add a secondary “Talk to a specialist” call-to-action.
This CTA hadn’t existed prior to this test, so the literal infinite conversion rate lift Magento saw in qualified sales calls was not surprising. What was surprising was the phone call we received 6 months later: turns out the “Talk to a specialist” leads were far more valuable than the “Get a free demo” leads.
Today, after several subsequent test rounds, “Talk to a specialist” is the main call-to-action on this page.
Today’s Magento Enterprise Edition homepage features a “Talk to a specialist” CTA.
The moral of the story, here? You can do all of the copy testing you want to on your website, but if your primary call-to-action isn’t directly aligned with the goals that are most valuable to your business, you could be missing opportunities.
Bonus: Words to avoid!
Sometimes, the best laid plans end up totally backfiring. For instance, if I want to assure users that I won’t spam them, I might put a small sub-header near my email opt-in that reads “Don’t worry, we won’t spam you.”
But all the user sees is SPAM! That could actually be adding to Anxiety rather than reducing it. Be careful not to prime your users negatively.
Speaking of headlines and buttons, the two tend to work together…so you should optimize the two together.
Let’s say you want users to download your new resource on CRO tips. Your headline reads: “Want to get more CRO tips?” and your two buttons read: “Download now” (the action you want the user to take) and “No, I don’t need any CRO tips”.
The negative button is better aligned with your headline, which might just encourage users to click “No”. You could be inadvertently optimizing the opt-out button! Make sure that the path of least cognitive resistance flows toward your opt-in call-to-action.