Why NOW? Using the Power of Urgency to Increase Online Conversion Rates

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Whatever the sales medium, an essential component of any sales message is to answer the prospect’s unspoken question, “Why should I buy this NOW?”

You have to answer this question effectively, because if your prospect doesn’t buy now, he or she probably never will.

Ask a car salesperson, and you’ll be told that unless a prospect is closed there and then, the likelihood they will return and buy on some other day is slim.

Ask someone who sends out direct mail, and you’ll hear that unless their readers buy right away – when they first open and read the package – they won’t buy at all. The same is true of direct response ads on TV, which is why viewers are encouraged to call within the next 10 minutes.

And the same is also true of your website’s sales pages. If people don’t make a purchase on that first visit, they are unlikely to come back and buy at some future date.

Your visitors may want to buy, but they need a credible reason to buy NOW.

Urgency, real or implied, is an essential ingredient of any sales message, online or offline. That being the case, what kind of urgent messages can one reasonably use on an online offer page?

There are several ways to communicate urgency effectively.

  • Take full advantage of the buying seasons. Annual events like Christmas and Mother’s Day have an inbuilt urgency. The dates come, and they go.
  • Where appropriate, add a time limit to your offer. If the offer really does expire in 5 days, make a big deal of it.
  • Scarcity, real or imagined, communicates urgency. If there are only a certain number of items remaining, say so.
  • Fear carries a sense of urgency. Not every product or service category can take advantage of fear as a means to create urgency. For example, you can if you sell anti-virus software, because people are afraid their computers will be infected. And you can if you sell flea treatments for dogs. And you can if you sell pool safety equipment to families with children.

However you decide to use urgency on your sales pages, you need to focus on just one purpose – to make the reader feel that it is in his or her best interest to buy your product or service NOW.

By focusing attention on “NOW,” you can significantly lift your conversion rates simply by increasing the number of people who complete a purchase on their first visit to your page.

We have tested urgency in a number of different situations, always with fairly dramatic results. The following are two typical examples.

Case Study #1: Time-Related Discount on the Product/Service

This research comes from the promotion of our own service – the Marketing Experiments Online Certification Course.  These on-demand courses provide in-depth training in niche areas of expertise such as landing page optimization and paid search management.

The promotion of conferences, webinars, and online courses is never easy, especially when promoting to marketers themselves. Unless the events or courses are free, there is considerable resistance to paying enrollment fees amounting to hundreds of dollars or perhaps thousands of dollars in the case of live conferences.

Offer pages have to work hard to communicate the value of these events and courses, and a large amount of traffic has to be generated in order to make sufficient sales.

Here is what we offered, and how we presented our message:

  • We offered a $100 saving on the full price for anyone who registered and paid before the May 30th cut-off date.
  • We promoted the offer towards the bottom of the page and within the sign-up box.
  • We sent out an email promoting the offer on the morning of the day the offer expired.

What we did NOT do is create a large orange starburst at the top of the page announcing the $100 savings. Our purpose was not to secure enrollees through hype and pressure. We wanted people to enroll because they could see the value in the course itself.

The discount was there to capture those people who wanted to enroll, but hadn’t quite got around to it. It was not there to make money from people who didn’t really want to take the course at all.

In addition, the early enrollment offer was an essential tool in helping us manage the course. By giving people an incentive to register early, we were able to better anticipate the total number of people likely to be on the course. This enabled us to plan ahead and allocate the necessary resources.

Here is what happened:

Sales with Deadlines on 5/30 and 6/15
Dates Sales Sales Per Day
5/8 – 5/28 33 1.57
5/29 – 5/31 37 12.33
6/1 – 6/12 9 0.75
6/13-6/15 27 9.00

Primary observation: Sales increased by an average of 992.68% during the three days before the $100 savings deadline.

Sales jumped significantly on the day we sent out the email announcing that the early enrollment offer was about to expire. The next large increase in sales took place during the final few days before the course itself began.

Case Study #2: Soft Mention of Limited Supplies

For one of our research partners, National Alert Registry, we created and produced a video which illustrated how vulnerable children are to sexual predators, and also provided guidelines on how to educate children and their parents to be more vigilant.

The video was offered, in DVD format, to NAR subscribers. There was no charge for the DVD, but we did ask people to pay the handling and shipping charges.

We produced 5,000 copies, but made no mention of this figure when we first made the offer to the NAR list.

We then wrote a second email, with an accompanying landing page, stating that there were only 5,000 copies available. We suggested that people get their copy before they were all gone – deliberately generating a sense of urgency.

However, we chose not to add hype to the message by showing, for example, a counter with a steadily falling number of remaining DVDs. Nor did we state that once these 5,000 were gone, they would never be available again, because that was not true. If more than 5,000 people wanted a copy, we would produce some more.

This approach falls somewhere in between “urgency” and “implied urgency”.

Here is what happened:

Email and Site Offer of Free DVDs
Offer DVDs shipped Conversion Rate
No mention of 5,000 14 0.0189%
Mentions 5,000 768 0.115%

Primary Observation: When we mentioned that there were only 5,000 DVDs available, conversion rates rose by 508%.

As you can see from just two sets of test results, one can achieve dramatic increases in conversion just by introducing even a soft sense of urgency. Adding a sense of urgency will probably increase your conversion rates more than any other change you can make to your page.

That said, care must be taken in how you frame and present your message. Here are a few guidelines to consider:

* The urgency should be genuine and not simply created as a promotional gimmick. The growing sophistication of online audiences means that many people can and will recognize “manufactured urgency.”

* Even the legitimate use of an urgent message will still be recognized as a promotional tactic. So if your message is not completely genuine and honest, you run a very real risk of losing the respect and loyalty of some of your readers.

* The use of urgency on an offer page can be a very powerful tool, but is not something you can do all the time. If you do, you will lose credibility.

* When you are using the urgency tactic, take steps to maximize traffic to that page during the offer period. This may involve the use of promotional emails, offline PR, increased spending on PPC and whatever other traffic-building strategies work best for you.

* Understand that you can use implied urgency as well as direct urgency.

Urgency can be announced or it can be a vital element to your business. The announcement approach is the one we took in the two case studies above to build a sense of urgency. In one case the announcement was about scarcity of time; in the other it focused on scarcity of the product itself.

But beyond “announced urgency,” consider exploring ways to build a sense of urgency into your core value proposition or, indeed, into your business model itself.

For instance, Woot.com features a discounted product each day, and only for one day. If you don’t buy it today, it won’t be there tomorrow. In addition, popular items are often sold out before you have even finished your morning coffee.

One way or another, urgency can have a very powerful impact on your offer page conversion rates and revenues.

We urge you – add some urgency to your pages, NOW!

About the Author

Nick Usborne is a member of the MarketingExperiments group and contributing writer for the MarketingExperiments Journal. He also provides regular optimization and copywriting insights through his two web sites, nickusborne.com and excessvoice.com.

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