Let’s say you’re walking down the street. Maybe you know where you’re going, maybe you are just out for a nice stroll in the park. All of a sudden a person appears and tries to grab your attention. They may be disheveled or in wingtips. They may quietly hold out their hand or try to stop you in your tracks. Either way, they are a stranger, they want something from you, and your guard is up.
This stranger is your website.
Imagine a physical manifestation of your homepage walked up to you and asked for $10. Would you be taking out your wallet in the first 15 seconds? Likely not.
Yet there are a lot of “best practices” out there that encourage website designers to skip the relationship part and jump right into bed with the user. But that’s just not how it works, unless you somehow feel attracted to this guy.
The long con
If your end goal is some sort of financial transaction then you should be engaged in the long con, not the short con. Offline, this can take days or weeks, but in the compressed attention span of the internet, this should take minutes, not seconds.
Your landing page is the first minute. The sacred “above the fold” portion of your site is the first 10 seconds. What type of strangers ask for money within 10 seconds of meeting you? What do they usually get? Pocket change, if they are lucky and look pitiful enough. Is your website or product a homeless panhandler that we should take pity on? Then why is your call to action above the fold?
Web users spend 80% of their browsing time looking at information above the fold of the page (the part of the page that displays without scrolling down). That’s why it’s so important that you put your call to action above the fold, so that visitors see it the moment they land on your page.
Well obviously the most eyeballs will see your content above the fold, but I’ll let you in on a little secret about all those people who didn’t bother to scroll. There were never your customers to begin with. If you can’t even inspire the visitor to contract a few muscles in their index finger, do you really think they would have been a paying customer?
Back to the stranger on the street. If they start talking to you, and you stop and perhaps subtlety nod your head, this is the equivalent of scrolling. You may not really want to know more, but you have some time, so why not. You have given the stranger permission to sell you just a little bit more.
This is why, if you are engaged in the long con (financial transaction), you should put your call to action at the end of your first page pitch, or even on page two. Having a qualifying call to action at the bottom of page one like “Find out more” or “How do I get started” which then leads to a second page with another sell is a good practice. The visitor has expressed their intent by clicking a link that says “How do I get started” and you then have an opportunity tailor your pitch to that frame of mind.
Beyond the form
If you put your signup call to action above the fold, or even in the header, it may indeed get more clicks. But raw clicks should not be your goal. You need them to travel all the way down the funnel to where they are typing in their credit card number and clicking submit.
You need the visitor to get beyond this point; the big stack of form fields. This is the first point of resistance. Clicking a “Start your free trial” button in the header takes a muscle twitch to accomplish, its low hanging fruit. But with the form, now I have to think. Now I am asked to give out my information and I have to evaluate whether I really want to do that or not.
If they clicked a button above the fold and are at a form, you can bet there will be a significant drop off in the funnel. You may 50% of people to click the button and then 10% of them to fill out the form for a 5% total conversion.
If your call to action is after your pitch, below the fold, or on the next page, you may only get 10% of the button clickers but then 50% to fill the form. It’s the same 5% conversion.
But here is the big difference. Those that came in with the long con, who have read two pages of sales copy and have taken a few direct actions to get to and fill out that form, they have been sold. They will perform better at every step in the funnel, from paying, to paying again, to telling their friends.
Those who clicked the signup button in the first 10 seconds, then filled out the form in the next 10 seconds, they have not been sold. They will continue to drop off at every point in the funnel, taking up your support and sales resources along the way.
True customers will come back
So there are two strangers on the street with clipboards. They want your information. The first says “Hi, can you sign this petition to save Wally!” and shoves a clipboard in your face. You don’t know who or what Wally is, but you sign the petition anyways so you can go about your business. You leave a fake email address because you have no idea who this person is. This stranger is your above the fold call to action and sign up. A week later the Save Wally folks email everyone to show up at a rally and it’s no surprise that only five of the five hundred names attend. This is the type of short con thinking that gets Wally killed, and your business too.
There is another stranger with a clip board. They say, “Hi, I’m trying to save Wally the Walrus from being euthanized. We are trying to spread awareness and this pamphlet will has more info on how you can help. Can I give you one?” The stranger has asked you to qualify yourself as a lead which you do by taking the pamphlet. Inside the is sales copy tailored to you, the interested party. The call to action is on second page of the pamphlet asking you to go to give your email to the volunteer you took the pamphlet from. This may sound absurd, asking the visitor walk back to the volunteer to give their email. But remember the little secret from before? If they can’t be bothered to walk back to the volunteer, they certainly won’t be showing up at any rally.
Don’t funnel customers into pain points without inertia
Website designers and marketers today often use a commercial fishing approach to their homepage. Blanketing it with call to actions to make sure no potential living thing can escape without seeing it. Ironically, this approach may cause you to lose potential customers. These visual dragnets funnel everyone quickly into a form or some other less-appealing state, like entering your credit card info. Some people, if not most people, are just going to want to get out of the net as soon as possible, usually by hitting the back button or the little ‘X’ in the corner. Even if the person was desperate for your product, if you haven’t sold them on it yet, they are going to want to swim away when you have backed them into a corner. The dragnet may indeed be effective in scooping up some customers, but it will also collect a lot of garbage that you will have to process. By building in more of a sales process you can give your hesitant visitors enough inertia to power through that form with no problems.
Your own stranger
So take a second look at your website. What type of stranger is it? Would you give your homepage $10 after 10 seconds? Is it asking to commit to a long term relationship before you have even gotten to know one another? Are your dragnets chasing away potential fish?
The bottom line is that if you have an ‘ask’ of any significance, you need to build a relationship with the visitor first. Asking the using to jump through some short hoops in the sales process is not bad UX, it’s competent salesmanship. Doing so will allow you to focus your energy into cultivating the valuable relationships you have and not trying to engage people who were never your customer to begin with. Your most interested customers are going to sink to the bottom, below the fold. That is where you should be waiting with an out stretched hand, stranger no more.