Visitor Inertia

This is a topic I touched upon before, but I wanted to codify and expand upon it in a visual way.

The gist is, in order for a visitor to your site to achieve a goal, you have to give them enough inertia in the sales process.  It sounds simple enough, but many so-called best practices encourage the visitor to skip the sales process and go directly to the uncomfortable “ask”.  Below I will diagram many of these cases, but first, let’s get a handle on this visualization.

  • Sales: This is the sales copy, images, or anything else on the page that you are using to persuade the visitor.
  • Ask: This is ultimately what you are asking the visitor to do on this visit.  It might be entering their email, filling a form, liking a page, or buying something.
  • Call to action: This is the “buy now” or “click here” button that takes you to the ask.  Sometimes it’s not needed when the ask is on the same page as the sales.
  • Visitor: This is the visitor to your site.  They start at the top when they land on your site, and hopefully make their way over the ask hurdle.
  • Level of persuasion: This is how persuasion your sales page actually is, not what you think it is.  A higher and steeper sales page might include some powerful social proof or other sales devices.
  • Level of resistance:  The height here refers to how hard of an ask you have.  A simple email address would be a shallow ask, and entering in your credit card might be a steeper ask.
  • Length of time: This is how long your sales and ask process takes.


The goal of any website with an ask, is to get that blue ball to build enough momentum to get up and over the ask.  It sounds obvious but many sites cut their sales process short buy putting the call to actions above the fold and encouraging the visitor to click the “buy down” or “download” button as soon as possible.  In many cases that would look like this. 

Clearly this is an ineffective model.  You haven’t given the visitor enough inertia to power through the ask.  You may have lots of great sales devices like testimonials and videos, but you are also encouraging the user to skip all that with a big and above-the-fold call to action.

In some cases, the call to action should be front and center.  This is often because you don’t need an internal sales process as visitors already have inertia from branding and external momentum.   Such is the case with the FireFox site.  Mozilla doesn’t have to sell the benefits of FireFox.  The visitor has likely already made up their mind to download it before they got there.  You will note in this chart, the ask is relatively small.  It’s just a one-click download.  You don’t need much of a sales process to get them to take that action.  Using the product is another process entirely though.

If you have a significant ask, like the visitor entering in their credit card number, you need to have a significant sales process and often keep the call to action away from the visitor until enough momentum is achieved.  It should look like this (right).  Sometimes the resistance level of the ask isn’t high, but the time requirement is.  This might be asking the visitor to take a survey.

Sure it’s easy to tick some boxes, but you still need enough sales inertia to get them through it.  In this example (left),
it is not clear if there is enough inertia at work.  You would either need to reduce the length of the survey, or increase the length or persuasiveness of the sales process.

Long sales

While lengthening the sales process can be effective to build inertia it can be taken too far.  This is often the case with the bullshit internet marketing schemes.  In this case, the ask is a significant “add to cart” of $700+.  So they try to stuff every possible sales technique into the process making 10+ minutes long if one were to actually read everything on the page.  This simply won’t work as reading the sales copy because and ask in and of itself.  A long and unpersuasive sales process will just cause visitors to leave or skip down to the ask ‘unsold’.

The more savvy internet marketers will use a long sales process followed by a low ask, just your email.  Then there is another sales process and another ask.  Finally a persuasive, often on-the-phone sales process, followed by a large ask or… all your money.

There is an excellent article from Verge about it here.  But scam artists aside, this process can be used for relative good.  If you are selling a $1,000 product B2B, it’s going to be near impossible to build a long and persuasive enough sales process to get them over that first ask on the first visit.  So you get their email first, then ask to show a demo, then a follow-up call.  Or sometimes the ask and call to action can have the same function.  By having a call to action that says “find out more”, the visitor is giving you permission to sell you a little bit more.  This can be done to lengthen the sales process while keeping the visitor engaged.

Beware the free trial

One mistake I often see is assuming visitors think the free trial is a low ask.  RJ Metrics has a short sales page and prominent call to actions.  This takes you to a sign up page where the plans start at $500, but “don’t worry, because it’s free for 30 days.”  Visitors, especially corporate decision makers can be quite savvy and know that engaging in a free trial can mean a significant commitment to a product.  The financial cost might be nil, but the time cost and more importantly the ego cost will be significant if the product doesn’t work out and I just wasted mine and my employees time.  So even if your trial is free, make sure you are building enough inertia to power through the perceived ask as well as the immediate one.

Just right

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So any unnecessary length in the sales process will increase the chance of the visitor leaving. Even the most persuasive sales process is no match from the doorbell ringing or a co-working interrupting you.  So if the ask is short and sweet, keep the sell that way too.

So take a second look at your landing page.  Are you encourage the user to go straight to the ask?  Can you really provide enough inertia in 10 seconds?  Or should you hold off on that call to action?  Maybe you are overpowering the sales process, creating too much cognitive load for what be a simple and straight forward ask.  If you read my design audits, visitor inertia is one of my the main factors.  How many more conversions would you have if your visitors had the right amount of inertia?