Website Copywriting – 4 Common Sources of Friction and How to Overcome Them

Website Copywriting - How to Overcome Friction4 years of research and over 250 A/B split tests have taught me a lot about website copywriting. One of the most important lessons is that friction kills conversion. The good news is that reducing friction is one of the most effective ways of increasing conversion. The bad news is that it can be difficult to spot sources of friction, if you don’t know what to look for.

In this article I’ll walk you through the four most common sources of friction related to website copy, and give you concrete tips for how to overcome them.

But first – What is friction?

The best definition of friction I’ve come across is the one MarketingExperiments offers. In their methodology, friction is defined as a psychological resistance to a given element in the sales or sign-up process. (Source MarketingExperiments.com)

Friction has a negative impact on the decision-making process of your prospects and will tip the decision towards, “No” The less friction the prospect encounters, the more likely he or she will be to accept your offer. So the more you can reduce friction, the more you’ll be able to tip the decision back towards, “Yes”.

Friction

In relation to website copy, the four most common sources of friction are:

1. The wrong amount of information – too much or too little information

2. Asking too much too soon

3. Lack of clarity and relevance

4. The visual presentation of your website copy

Let’s go over each of these four sources in greater detail and look at how to overcome them.

1. The wrong amount of information – too much or too little information

Online, we often associate this source of friction with too much copy or information. However, in many cases it’s actually lack of information that gives rise to friction.

Keeping your web copy super tight and to the point is essential, but remember the point is to give your potential customers a good reason to accept what you are offering them – and sometimes that takes quite a lot of information.

In all likelihood you’ve been in situations where your decision was tippet from, “Yes” to, “No” at the last moment, simply because the website didn’t present you with the information you needed in order to make your final buying decision.

On the other hand, you’ve probably also been in situations where the amount of content was so overwhelming that you simply couldn’t wrap your head around it and decided to leave instead.

The truth is that there really is no one-size-fits-all solution that works every time. It depends on what you’re offering, and what you want your potential customer to do.

In my experience short-form copy works well with:

Low-scrutiny offers with little commitment and perceived risk related to the conversion goal.

And long-form copy works well with:

High-scrutiny offers with a higher level of commitment and perceived risk related to the conversion goal.

Let me show you a few examples from real split tests

Here’s an example from a case study where a short page outperformed a longer variant:

This is a PPC landing page I did for a Scandinavian gym chain, and the goal is to get potential customers to buy a gym membership.

The gym chain is well known, and the offer is simple and inexpensive. So there’s a low level of commitment and perceived risk involved, and the shorter landing page got most conversions.

Long vs. short landing page

Here’s an example from a case study where a long landing page outperformed a shorter variant:

We’re looking at a PPC landing page of which the goal is to get potential customers to sign up for a home energy audit.

The company is not that known, and it’s a complex offer that could result in a large investment in insulation. So there’s a high level of commitment and perceived risk involved, and the longer page with more information got most conversions.

Short vs. long landing page

You don’t necessarily have to add twice as much copy in order to give your prospects enough information to make the right decision. In some cases, just adding a few more lines of copy is enough.

I recently ran an A/B test where I tested two different versions of my newsletter sign-up box. One version featured generic sign-up here copy. The other version featured three bullet points summarizing what updates from ConteVerve.com consist of, and what you can expect to receive in your inbox.

The variant with more information got 83.75% more sign-ups.

ContentVerve.com newsletter sign-up increased by 83%

The correlation between scrutiny and copy length/amount of information

In my experience, the amount of copy/information needed to get the conversion is proportional to the level of scrutiny related to performing the conversion action. In other words: The higher the scrutiny level – the more information is needed to get the conversion, and the longer the copy should be.

Correlation between scrutiny and copy length

My sign-up box is a good example. Since ContentVerve.com is rather unknown, there is a higher level of scrutiny involved with making the decision to sign up for content updates. Other more well established blogs might not see a significant difference in sign-ups if they tested two such variants – simply because people trust them more and therefore don’t have to apply the same level of scrutiny in making the decision.

How to overcome friction related to amount of copy/information:

Review your landing page/website copy and ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. “What do my potential customers need to know in order to accept my offer?

2. “Is there any important information I’ve left out?”

3. “Are there any anxiety issues that I need to address?”

The answers to these questions will help you find out whether your website content is aligned with the decision-making process of your prospects. If you have a lot of information, you might want to consider whether there is anything you can leave out. Vice versa – if you have a very little information, consider if there is anything you can leave out.

2. Asking too much too soon
Friction related to asking too much too soon

Image source: Unbounce.com

Essentially, marketing and sales are about making it as easy and attractive as possible for your potential customers to accept your offer. However, as marketers and sales people we have a tendency to focus on that which is important to us right now – usually that’s getting more sales.

Unfortunately this also means that we have a tendency to overlook what’s important to the potential customers, and what they need to know in order to make a positive buying decision.

If you get too pushy and ask potential customers to accept your offer before they are ready for it, there is an imminent danger that they’ll bail on your offer completely.

I bet you’ve been in situations where you felt pressured to make a decision to “BUY NOW”, “SIGN UP” or “DOWNLOAD” before you even really understood what the offer was all about and how you would to benefit from accepting it.

I think this overeager sales approach partly has to do with the above-the-fold myth. So let’s bust that one right away.

Here’s an example from the real world

In this case study, a landing page treatment with the CTA placed way under the fold outperformed the control version (CTA above the fold) by 304%.

Screen Shot 2012-08-01 at 16.51.42

We’re looking at a PPC landing page that pitches a relatively expensive subscription service where busy families can get recipes and ingredients delivered to their doorstep 3-5 times a week. This is a fairly complex offer, and it turned out that the version that waited until the very bottom of the page to ask for the conversion got 3 times as many signups as the one that asked for the conversion straight away.

Read the full case study here >>

This is an example of a medium scrutiny product involving a relatively high level of commitment where the prospects need a fair amount of information in order to make a positive buying decision. In this case, I could reduce friction by placing the CTA lower on the pagein other words by waiting a little bit longer before asking for the conversion.

I know that this example is not strictly copy-related, but the point can be directly applied to copywriting.

Please note that I’m by no means saying that you should always place your CTA at the bottom of the page – on the contrary, I’m suggesting that you should place the CTA where it best matches the decision-making process of your prospects. 

So when should I ask for the conversion?

Just like I have observed a correlation between scrutiny level and copy length, I’ve observed a correlation between the level of commitment and how long you should wait before asking for the conversion.

If you’re dealing with a high scrutiny offer involving a high level of commitment where the prospect has to digest a lot of information in order to make an informed decision, I recommend waiting a little longer with asking for the conversion (or maybe even consider breaking the final conversion into smaller steps that involve less commitment).

Vice versa, if you’re dealing with an offer that involves little or no commitment, and the prospect hardly has to do any thinking in order to make an informed decision, I recommend asking for the conversion much sooner.

Friction related to Asking too much too soon

Asking too much too soon doesn’t just have to do with the primary conversion goal. I often get overwhelmed by emails that pitch a hard sale right off the bat in the subject line and hit me with a complete landing page when I open the email.

The same goes for landing pages that are packed with competing elements: newsletter signup, social sharing buttons, log in, related products, generic phone support lady, ads, etc.

In such cases I really wish that marketers would ask themselves, “What is my goal with this page? Do all these elements really support the conversion goal? Might there be a better place and time to ask all these things, e.g. after main conversion on the confirmation page where we know for a fact that people are interested?”

How to overcome friction related to asking too much too soon:

Review your landing page/website and ask yourself these 4 questions:

1. “Have I given my potential customers a good reason to say “Yes” before I ask them for the conversion?”

2. “Have I given my potential customers grounds to trust me before I ask for the conversion?”

3. “If I were my own ideal customer, would I be ready to say yes at this point?”

4. “Is this really the right place to ask for this particular conversion action?”

If your answer is, “No” or “Well kind of…” you probably need to rethink the steps in your conversion funnel and consider whether your calls-to-action are placed on the right steps in the path to conversion.

3. Lack of clarity and relevance

Your potential customers will often go through the entire decision-making process in a few seconds, and lack of clarity and relevance is a major conversion killer.

The more time your potential customers have to spend in order to figure out what your offer is all about, the more likely they are to leave your website and move on to one of your competitors. The more clearly you express the value of your offer and why it’s relevant to your prospects, the more likely they’ll be to choose it.

So don’t waste their time with hype, fluff, and over-creative messaging. Tell them clearly how they will benefit from accepting your offer, and give them a good reason to say “Yes!”

Here’s an example from the real world

I recently performed a headline experiment on a landing page for one of my clients – the Scandinavian gym chain I showed a case study from earlier in the article. The landing page was targeted at getting visitors from a January campaign to sign up for a gym membership.

The control headline was created by an advertising agency. The literal translation is:

 It’s Smart to Work Out at A Place with 100 Gyms

I created the treatment headline, and the literal translation is:

Keep Your New Year’s Resolution Easily and at Low Cost

The sub-header was the same in both versions, and the literal translation is:

Workout throughout January for 100,- (The price stated is in Danish Kroner).

Friction related to lack of clearity and relevance website copywriting

The treatment outperformed the control variant by 26% (statistical confidence 100%, sample size 7868 visitors).

Friction related to lack of clearity and relevance website copywriting

From a creative stance, my treatment sucks! It’s super boring and lame compared to the much more sexy control variant. Nevertheless, the test data speaks for itself, and the “boring” version performed significantly better than the “sexy” control variant. But why?

The control sounds good but it’s difficult to understand. I have to do a lot of thinking to translate the messaging into a benefit. “Why is it smart to work out at a place with 100 gyms? Oh yeah, it’s probably because I have a wide variety of gyms to choose from.”

The treatment on the other hand is both clear and relevant, and I don’t have to do a lot of thinking to understand the value. “It’s January, I feel fat, I made this New Year’s resolution to get fit, I really want to keep it, what should I do? Oh yeah let me take advantage of this January discount and get cracking on my New Year’s resolution!”

When I work with copywriting and conversion rate optimization, 99% of my time is spent reducing friction by making the messaging more clear and relevant.

My impression is that marketers assume that the more creative of sexy messaging will by default be the best solution. But I to be honest, I have never seen a split test where that assumption actually held water. All my research indicates that it’s better to be clear than creative if you want to convert prospects into customers.

How to overcome friction related to lack of clarity and relevance 

Review your landing page/website and ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. “How will my prospects benefit from what I’m offering them?”

2. “Have I given my prospects a good reason to accept my offer?”

3. “Have I summarized the strongest selling point/points in the title?”

Your prospects are busy, and they are not going to spend several minutes trying to figure out what your offer will do for them. Tell them right off what’s in it for them. Take the time to write all the features and benefits down and make a prioritized list based on what you know about your target audience. Then select key points to emphasize and form a solid, credible value proposition.

Read your copy and make sure that you’ve covered the most important selling points, features and benefits. If there’s anything critical you’ve left out – you know what you need to do!

Your headline is the most prominent part of your landing page. Moreover, it’s the one part of your copy you can be 99.9% sure your prospects will read. You can’t afford to lose any qualified leads at this point, so don’t try to be quirky, funny, or cute. Choose the safe way and tell your potential customers what they’ll get out of accepting your offer. That way, there’ll be no doubt in their minds that it’s worth the effort to invest time in reading the rest of your sales copy.

4. The visual presentation of your website copy

Your website copy will only have an effect, if your prospects actually read it. Design and copy go hand in hand, and the visual presentation has a huge impact on your copy and to which extent it will be read.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to show you a very simple example from a case study where we generated a lift of 9.02% in click through rate by simply adding a little more white space between subheads and paragraphs:

White space between paragraphs website copywriting

I’ve performed similar experiments on many other similar pages and websites, and I’ve consistently been able to reduce friction and increase conversions by dramatically doing so.

A classic mistake is too use a tiny font size:

The visual presentation of your website copy friction

Another classic mistake is to squeeze very long lines of tiny text into tightly packed paragraphs: 

The visual presentation of your website copy friction 2

Such a visual presentation doesn’t exactly increase readability – in fact I’d go as far as to say that it has a directly demotivating effect. Nevertheless, I often see websites where the copy is presented in this way.

I think it has to do with the fact that people are afraid of having too much copy on their pages. In an attempt to make the amount of copy seem smaller they reduce the font size and squeeze in as much copy as possible into as small an area as possible.

Needless to say, this strategy will backfire more often than not.

How to overcome friction related to the visual presentation of your website copy

Making your website copy easier to read is really all about formatting, and the changes you need to make are pretty logical. Here are a few tips for how to format your website copy to increase readability:

Font and size

Most importantly, use a font size that makes it easy to read the body copy – without squinting. For body copy I never go lower than 12 px.

I like to use simple fonts that are easy to read like Arial, Helvetica, and Lucida Sans. They may be boring but they are really great for readability and they work.

Fonts are one of the areas that can lead to heated discussions between emotion-driven designers and data-driven optimizers. Of course there has to be a balance, but I really don’t see the point in beautiful design just for the sake of beautiful design – In my world beautiful design only represents value if it supports your conversion goals. But hey – that’s subject matter another ling and heated discussion!

White space and paragraphs

I like to use a lot of white space in my website copy. As a rule of thumb I try to avoid paragraphs over 5 lines of copy. Moreover, I like to mix it up so one paragraph might consist of 3 lines, the next 4 lines, the next 2 lines, etc.

Bullet points

Mentioning bullet points may seem like a cliché – but they are great for making your copy scannable and easy to read. But more importantly, they are perfect for emphasizing the most powerful selling points and benefits and serving them in clear-cut, snack-size portions.

However, bullet points aren’t automatically awesome, and you can’t just hack your copy into bits and arrange them in a bulleted list. Think of your bullet points as small headlines, and give them the time and effort they deserve.

The goal is to optimize the decision-making process of your potential customers. So do your homework, find out what’s most important for them to know about the offer, and focus on giving them the information they need.

Short bullets are good because they are easy to scan. But remember, it’s all about communicating the value of the offer as specifically as possible. In some cases this means writing bullets that are 3 or 4 lines long.

The point is that it’s better to write long bullets that communicate a specific value to you prospects than it is to write short bullets that convey no value. You can experiment with different formats, but the length is generally determined by the complexity of the points you want to emphasize.

ONE LAST THING!

I’ve given you a number of insights and tips from my own experience working hands on with website copywriting and CRO. By following these principles you will in all likelihood be able to reduce a significant amount of friction on your website and increase your conversion rate.

However, in my experience there is no such thing as a global solution that works every time. You need to find out what works on your website and your specific target audience – and the only way to do this is through rigorous testing.

Comments

  1. Nice article Michael. Keep them coming!
    Cheers.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks buddy – I appreciate it! I’ve got plenty more on the way! Let me know of there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about.

      - Michael

  2. MICHAEL cORRAO says:

    You probably have already covered this, but this is a major question I have: when designing a new landing page, how do you start? Is there a base template you always refer to, then make adjustments based on the offer?

    Great article, by the way.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks for the question Michael!

      It requires a long answer, I’ll have to get back to you with it tomorrow.

      - Michael

  3. Michael – I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago and I love it. Another great post that’s educational and informational with some great learnings. Keep it up!

  4. You have hit all the major points that affect conversion rate and provided lots of great insights and examples. Nice job!

    Another point I would like to add is the importance of having one single goal or one desired action that you want your visitors to take per page. Everything on that page should go into supporting that one singular goal or desired action.

    I’ve seen web pages where there are just too much on a page and it overwhelms the visitors.

  5. Michael, you always deliver such killer content and I love sharing your insights with my readers. In fact, I am in the process of writing out my own offerings and I have bookmarked your site to refer to. Weekend homework :) Thanks again.

  6. I guess it goes without saying, but some of these tips can also help improve your blog’s bounce rate. Good article, as always.

  7. Michael,

    I’m a newbie to you & your work. Wow…I’ve been missing out.

    As someone who operates an e commerce site, one thing I can add (I’m not sure others will agree), is the fact that there is sooo much information to digest regarding websites that convert.

    It seems building the “perfect” site is probably a moving target.

    Having you break down issues into singular, demonstrable items, is a big help

    Many Thanks,
    Robert Porter
    Vvego International

  8. When it comes to informal web content, like blog posts, writing like you talk is a great tip. It allows you to show some personality and actually connect with readers. If they like your tone and style they will keep coming back.

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