The time is NOW

imageTime plays an important role in everyday life, some say it is the one true constant. It also plays an important role in user interaction and conversion optimization. Using time to prompt users in to immediate action is one of the most effective – yet simplistic optimization concepts I have come across.

This is why 90% of online retailers utilize call to action buttons that read “Buy Now” instead of simply “Buy”. Amazon, eBay and all the big players use this concept.

By simply adding the concept of finite time to the action users are prompted to act quickly. It taps into a hard wired element in the human psyche, that time is of the essence and like life itself, the product may not be around for ever. This simple concept can be applied to many, many elements of campaign optimization to increase conversion.

Count-down – the bomb effect

Imagine you’re planning on running a new promotion campaign, offering free shipping on a particular product. So you create a new banner for your home page – “Free shipping on all products”. This is a great offer and many users will be satisfied that they know as they browse and observe product pricing they won’t be stung with extra charges just to ship the product. But  by applying the concept of time to the offer you stand a very good chance of increasing conversion. Consider this promotion “Free shipping on all products for this month”.

By adding the simple element of time you are once again prompting users into action. Now consider this final evolution “Free shipping on products for this month (6 days remaining)”. By adding a counter-down you are quantifying the exact amount of time a user has to perform the action, removing the need for a user to perform any mental arithmetic to calculate the time until the end of the month. Remember most internet users are in a “lazy” research state and will not do this calculation themselves. By adding this additional element you further increasing the chance a user will convert within the given time frame. I call this the bomb effect. In movies the here needs to decide whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire.

I have experience dramatic lift by utilizing the bomb effect, by adding a simple count-down timer to quantify the time remaining to redeem a particular promotion or purchase a particular product I have had dramatic increases in conversion.

How long is too long?

An interesting side effect of the bomb-effect is an element of pressure or stress experienced by the users. This is typical when the amount of time is too little and users feel that they don’t have enough time to make an informed purchase decision.

Be wary not too reduce the amount of action time too much. This typical within online ticketing systems which reserve tickets for an finite amount of time, primarily this is conducted in order to reserve the tickets and allow the user time to process the payment and reserve the tickets however a side effect is an element of stress – users rush to complete the checkout process.

You don’t want to limit users and you don’t want to stress them into action. One option is to add an option to extend the length of time a user has using a simple prompt “Would you like more time to purchase?” is better then “You have taken too long, you can no longer buy our product, better luck with our competitor”.

So what is the correct length of time to prompt users and increase conversions? Well it varies greatly depending on the offer, promotion, vertical, etc. Test it out. Try running an A/B/n test trialling different lengths of time. Remember, as always, different segments may perform differently, users from a particular geography may convert better with a shorter amount of time then other users.

When not to use time

Add a countdown to a checkout can be detrimental to conversion rates. Let imagine your users ad a product to their online shopping cart and website offers the user 5 minutes to purchase before dropping the product out of the checkout. While this may prompt more users to purchase the product, the downstream effect maybe that you are limiting those users that wich to purchase multiple products. Once they add their first product they only have 5 minutes to find and add other products

Let users know how long an action will take to complete

By letting users how long it takes to complete a particular sales funnel you can also increase conversion. Consider the following example: “Apply now for a Credit Card” “Apple now for a Credit Card, it only takes seconds” or even better: “Apple now for a Credit Card, it only takes seconds with instant approval” Now you might be saying to yourself that there aren’t many sale funnels that only take seconds, and that instant approval is not always possible on certain products or services. Well you can simply caveat this, like so: “Apple now for a Credit Card, it only takes seconds with instant approval*” “* may take longer then seconds. instant approval is only available in Alaska on a Sunday night”

Users do not read disclaimers and this option will increase conversion nine times out ten. But again be wary, if a sales funnels takes hours to complete and you advertise that it only takes minutes you are going to experience a large bounce or drop-off rate and likely receive some unfriendly feedback from users. Again, A/B test your options here to find the sweet-spot.

Let users know where they are in the sales funnel

If you have a multi-step funnel, feed this back to users and remember to include the total number of steps.

For example “You are at step 3” doesn’t provide much value to a user. “You are at step 3 of 4” is far more valuable to users as it quantifies the The same can be said of loading animations and percentage indicators. Loading animations are good as they provide feedback to users that something is happening. Loading animations with percentage indicators are better as they indicate how far through the process they are. finally loading animations that quantify time to completion are even better.

Other examples of time

YouTube and other online video portals are now effectively using time elements on their pre-rolls and advertisements. Skip Adds on pre-roll videos – Youtube offers users the ability to skip an ad after a few seconds. Depending on the length of the ad a user may not have time to watch the entire pre-roll.   eBay buy now vs Amazon


The simple concept of time cannot be discounted when optimizing your web site, many elements of web site design will benefit from the feedback and quantification of time. But be wary not to over do it and turn users away prematurely or lock them out of completing the action that is so valuable.



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