Why Offering Choices on Your Website Is Killing Your Conversion Rate

How to Sell More By Offering Fewer ChoicesWe’re Americans, so we demand our freedom of choice!

(If you’re not American, please grab an oversized plate of nachos, a made-in-China American flag and pretend for a moment.) 

Yet there’s something we desire over choice and if you’re not providing it to the visitors at your website, you may lose them–and their business–forever.
 
But first, a word about why giving people more to choose from is killing your conversion rates… 
 

Jam and The Power of Choice

One of my favorite pieces of research is often simply referred to as the Jam Study, and it goes like this:

Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University, set up a tasting station at a gourmet market, with alternately six or twenty-four flavors of jam. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the table when the larger assortment was available, while only 40% came by the smaller assortment. 

Tasters were then offered a $1 coupon off a jar of jam.

Here’s the kicker: while 30% of the small sample customers purchased a jar of jam, only three percent from the large sample did!

Why is this? Perhaps twenty-four flavors is just too much choice. People were paralyzed with this much choice, and fear of making the wrong choice. 

And this is jam, people! I mean, how wrong can you go with jam?!? 😀

How Does This Impact Your Website?

When people come to your website and they’re presented with too many choices–too much navigation, too many links, too many calls to action–they can become paralyzed. Unsure which option to choose, they’ll take the easiest option: the back button.
 
If you want to increase your conversion rates and keep people from leaving your site, you’ll need to provide something people value even more than choice: guidance. 
 

Providing Guidance at Your Website

What does providing guidance at your website look like?
 
After all, you can’t really be there, walking a prospect through the choices available to him or her and making recommendations…websites by their nature are self-service.
 
However, there are things you can do to make the decision-making process easier.
 

Simplify navigation.

Navigation frames your site and provides consistency between pages. Many website owners want to have every page accessible from the navigation bar, but this isn’t always possible or even recommended, especially for bigger sites. 
 
Here are some tips for keeping your navigation manageable: 
 
  • Limit your navigation to six primary items. There’s only so much attention your visitor can give your page. Every button you add reduces the importance of every other button in your navigation. If you can’t seem to reduce the primary navigation to six buttons, try moving some items into secondary (fly-out or drop-down) navigation. 
    Reduce Your Navigation & Use Secondary Flyouts
  • Stop at secondary navigation. Even if your navigation goes three levels deep, don’t use tertiary fly-out menus. They require a very steady hand from your visitor and clutter your page with too many choices. 
  • Move “meta” links out of the navigation bar. If you can’t seem to get down to six primary navigation buttons consider moving links like Home, About, Contact, Privacy, etc., out of the primary navigation area and turn them into smaller text links at the top and bottom of each page. 
    Use "Meta" Navigation to Simplify Choices

Provide some self-selection.

If you’re dealing with multiple audiences, you may need to provide more individualized guidance for each group.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to create “boxes” on your home page that identify each audience with a link to a page where that audience can learn more, and where you can provide more individualized guidance. 

Your audiences may be Parents, Teachers & Counselors, or Small Businesses, Non-Profits and Marketers. Well-chosen images and targeted copy can help guide visitors to a solution tailor-made for their needs.

Allow Visitors to Self-Select

Ahhh…to have choices like these.

Offer fewer calls to action.

Studies have shown that conversion rates go up when websites only offer one call to action rather than several. 

While it’s not always possible to offer only one call to action, are you offering too many? What’s the most important action a visitor can take on a given page? Can you remove all other calls to action?

If you must offer choices, make a recommendation.

Sometimes you have to offer visitors choices, especially in terms of pricing and service plans. If you do, try and keep the choices down to three. (Three seems to be a magic number.)

Still, when you offer three price points, you are providing people with two “wrong” answers. The odds are against them in choosing the right option! To help them out, to reduce their fear of getting it wrong, you should provide a recommended choice.

You could sell it as Recommended, Best Choice, Most Value or Most Popular. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re providing guidance. If people choose the more expensive or less expensive option, that’s fine; it may be the right choice for them, but for the majority of the population you’re providing an easier path to success.

Provide Guidance When Offering Choices

37 Signals offers multiple pricing options for their Basecamp product, but why wouldn’t most people choose their “Most Popular Plan?”

Make it easy to contact you.

Sometimes the best way to provide guidance is to talk to people directly, and that may be just what they’re looking for.

If you want people to call you for help, make sure your phone number is big and bold at the top of each page. Pro tip: don’t turn your phone number into an image; instead, keep it as text. When people access your website on a smart phone, a text link becomes a clickable link, making it easier for people to call you. 

If you want people to fill out your contact form, keep it short and require as few fields as possible. Name, email, & phone may be all you need to ask for to start a conversation. Make any other fields optional and you’re removing barriers, making it easier for your visitors to get help and guidance from you.

Takeaways

While people claim to want freedom of choice–and we do–when it comes to a complex sale, or jam, too much choice can be overwhelming and paralyzing.

Since paralyzed prospects don’t often buy, it’s up to you to develop a website that provides recommendations and a clear, guided path to success. 

Are there any opportunities for you to improve your own website? What are you going to work on FIRST? Let me know in the comments below!

And if you haven’t yet, please consider signing up for free updates from The Marketing Agents! 100% high-quality content without the spam you often find at other websites.  😉

Rich Brooks
Follow My Guidance on Twitter

  • Love these tips! And somehow they came at the exact time I was trying to figure out how to reduce the amount of buttons in my navigation bar. Coincidence? Or magic?! Either way, thanks Rich!

    • Nealey,

      You know how I love to declutter!

  • Great recommendations Rich.

    I have a client that sells to the national audience and they have 4 menus and a couple of drop downs. I’ve been trying to get these menus um, fixed (for lack of a better term) for them but it seems very hard to do without leaving the viewer hanging, not knowing where to go for particular items. Sometimes scaling this down is really hard work! The footer menu contains the items that are not of interest to the casual browser already. Am plugging along though.

    Maybe the “jam” example will help them (and me) get this down to the nitty-gritty.

    Thanks – Eileen

    • One thought might be leading with a self-selection menu, then only showing the appropriate navigation items once people have self-selected.

      Good luck!

  • Beautiful! Thanks again Rich. I’ll take a sailing yacht for $49/month please. 😉

  • Another great post, thanks a lot Rich!

    I love this kind of “don’t make me think” approach to web design.

    We should always remember that the purpose of a website is not to please our ego, but to provide our visitors/prospects with information and resources that are useful for them!

    Have a great day!

    Giuseppe

    • Thanks, Giuseppe!

      The challenge becomes when the visitor themselves doesn’t know what’s useful to them. That’s why offering some sort of guidance–lighting their path, as it were–is so critical to your conversions.

  • Going through this right now. As our site expanded and so did sales, we continued to add more and more to our site over 3 years. We noticed that sales increased at a much smaller % compared to product add and our conversion rate dropped. We moved from 10,000 to over 120,000 products and sales only slightly went up. This caused higher management cost, more complaints and we believe a more difficult time searching the site. Scaling back recently and hoping the bigger focus will cause better conversions and that Google will be able to crawl the site easier as over 50,000 they can’t. Great thoughts!

  • Great article. The only thing I don’t agree with is the “Home page” options. This kills SEO and makes it hard for your site to rank high. We have a client that does this home page choice for “members” and “non-members” and their site is well below our other clients’ sites because there’s no *content* on the home page.

    • Interesting…do you mean that moving Home Page to an area outside of the main navigation area is bad? Or am I missing something?

      • I’m just talking about having the two options on the home page without any other content. In the screen shot with the Yachts, you can’t really see any content other than the small blurbs under the images. Maybe there’s more if you scroll down. It does have nav links though which is better than what our client has. Our client simply has two options when you hit their home page: Member & Non-Member. No other nav links/content/etc. and that’s hurting their SEO big time.

        • Ahhh…I get it now. There’s a lot more there; a whole navigation bar that’s tough to see in the image I provided. In fact, the two “boxes” don’t even appear at first. If you want to see it, go to http://sabreyachts.com