Anyone who has ever ignored to-do lists knows that any friction between yourself and your goal leads to frustration and potentially giving up altogether. Similar to the way we experience this feeling in real life is how we feel about to-do’s online. So we sign up online for something that requires an extra step, how does that website incite us to actually physically take it? What can the site do to remove the friction?
One technique is to explicitly spell out the next steps. Knowing the steps ahead of time makes the process easier to finish and overall less daunting. This theory is known as channel factors.
In 1965, psychologist Howard Levanthal studied this phenomenon [pdf] by trying to persuade college students to get a tetanus vaccination. He distributed documents describing the risks of tetanus and the value of inoculation among two groups of people. The first group received just the information sheet, whereas the second group received the information sheet along with a campus map with the infirmary circled. Follow up surveys showed the communication was effective in changing beliefs and attitudes in both groups, but the number of people who actually followed through varied drastically. Only 3% of the first group got inoculated, compared to 28% of the group that also received a map.
The key difference is that the map reduced the friction to following through. Just telling students to get vaccinated created a barrier: where do I go? Showing the students where to get the shot and urging them to pencil time on their calendar eliminated this barrier. In contrast, the group that only received the info sheet had no clear plan of how to get vaccinated. This made the task more abstract and difficult to complete, so fewer people went through with an appointment.
The implication for a website is clear: remove barriers to success. Make the next steps explicit, and provide as much information as possible to enable people to follow through.
This technique is especially useful for actions that take place off of the website, such as installing software. Firefox does a great job of this by listing each step with screenshots. This helps all users, tech-savvy and not, successfully install their browser.
They key is to put yourself in the shoes of your users and ask yourself, “What additional information do I need to complete this task? What barriers are preventing me from reaching my goal?” Although they may look obvious to you, it won’t to your customers.
Do you want your users to…
Call, email, or write a politician? Provide a pre-written template that they just need to populate with their name
Volunteer for a cause? Show them a map of the closest location and the next time they can attend.
Attend a live webcast? Provide an “Add to Calendar” button.
Use your product or service? List each of the steps users have to go through to use it.
Use a new (or even existing) feature? Figure out where in the flow of using your product this feature fits, and explicitly tell them to use it at the end of the previous step.
Any objective on your site that requires completing a series of steps can potentially benefit from applying the lessons behind channel factors. Increase the chances that a visitor follows through on what they signed up for by providing all the help you can. When in doubt, over explain and be direct — even when the directions may seem obvious to you and your team. By using a split testing tool, you will ultimately find an optimized design somewhere between hit-you-over-the-head-obvious and confusion.
We’re curious, how do you lead visitors to take action off the page? Let us know what’s worked and what hasn’t.