Less is more – How to get more conversions by offering less
Marketers and business owners have long believed that the more choice you offer customers, the more likely it is that you will make a sale.
On the surface, this assumption seems to make sense. Surely by offering additional choices, potential consumers are more likely to find something that suits their needs?
Nevertheless, this assumption is not necessarily true. We have all heard the saying ‘less is more’. It pertains to the idea that you can often achieve great results with a subtler approach. Certainly, in terms of PPC advertising and customer choices, the less is more argument can hold true. Marketing research has revealed that more choices can, in fact, harm conversion rates in PPC advertising.
It may seem strange at first, but those fabulous multi pricing packages and wide array of products could be turning customers off.
In his 2004 marketing psychology book, expert Barry Schwartz popularized the idea of ‘The Paradox of Choice’. It illustrated the idea of too many choices intimidating customers. When faced with a high number of product options, customers can develop ‘choice paralysis’ because there is just too much to choose from. This creates indecision and even buyer anxiety, leading to no choice being made.
Choice paralysis leads to users abandoning your website altogether because they are overwhelmed. ‘Over choice’ can therefore have a highly negative effect on your PPC advertising.
The problem of over choice is found on landing pages
The problem of over choice directly relates to your landing pages, rather than your ads. With your ads, greater variation is an advantage and users are unlikely to see multiple ads from the same advertisers at the same time. The choice paralysis takes place directly on the landing page where users are faced with many options when it comes to parting with their money.
The multiple options presented on a landing page must lead to a decision where money is committed and this is where overwhelmed feelings can take hold and negatively affect CRO. The proof of this conundrum was demonstrated in the infamous jam experiment.
The jam experiment
The jam experiment is well known among PPC advertisers and CRO specialists as proof of the less is more theory when it comes to the problem of over choice in marketing.
The jam experiment, organised by Professor Sheena Iyengar and referenced in her book The Art of Overchoosing, ran two stalls selling jams. One had 24 flavours to choose from, the other only six options.
As you can see from QuickSprout’s visual aids below, only 3% of people converted at the 24 flavours jam stall, while an impressive 30% converted at the six flavours jam stall.
This experiment is heralded as a shining example of the paralysis of choice in action. Less choice means a less difficult decision. Proponents of the choice paralysis philosophy also argue that when the choice involves less options, people are more satisfied with their choice because the decision was easier.
Even those who are unsure of the merits of ‘less is more’ are forced to admit that fewer choices and an easier decision offer at least one distinct advantage for conversions. Consumers who are less overwhelmed by choice are still subject to distraction. The more products or services you must choose from, the longer the decision takes. CRO in PPC advertising is all about trying to remove friction and make your landing pages cater to conversions quickly. Easily distracted users are the bane of any digital marketer, so a longer decision-making period is usually a negative.
The video below eloquently explains the major issues that can arise from choice paralysis among prospective buyers:
Opportunity cost and escalation of expectation
As we saw from the video, distraction and choice paralysis are not the only problems for your CRO when over choice is offered.
Opportunity cost and escalation of expectation mean that even when users do buy as a result of your PPC advertising, they are less satisfied.
Opportunity cost results from the regret of having possibly made the wrong decision. This increases the more options users are given. It’s a classic ‘the grass is always greener’ conundrum which humans are susceptible to.
Escalation of expectation takes place because of increased options as well. With so many choices available, users feel that there must be one version of the product that is perfect for them. Their standards are raised for the final choice and they will judge any perceived failures in the product or service more harshly than they would have.
Both opportunity cost and escalation of expectation can make you more dissatisfied with your current choice and dream of unrealistic possibilities for the other options. This makes negative reviews more likely and repeat purchases less likely. Both of these outcomes can harm ROI as well as your conversion rates.
From this we can see that too many product or service options can be detrimental to your ROI for a variety of reasons.
But is ‘less is more’ always true?
Now that you understand the problems with over choice, the solution seems simple: improve your conversion rate by limiting customer options to a small handful on your PPC landing pages.
It seems straight forward but is the problem really that black and white?
Many PPC marketers are quick to jump on any unearthed evidence as the new best practice rule of PPC and CRO.
Eliminating over choice has become standard, accepted practice but every industry, business and more importantly, every individual is very different. Can we be sure simple choices are always the right answer?
The paralysis of choice philosophy does have its critics, so let’s look at even more data before you run off and strip down your product offerings.
Our next video puts the paralysis of choice to a modern real-world test. It is similar the jam experiment but with ice cream and not all the results were as clear cut as anticipated.
The experiment asked people to choose their favourite flavour of ice cream with the stipulation that they could only eat that flavour forever. Part 1 made people choose from three favours. Part 2 made them choose from 17 flavours.
In both experiments the surveyed people were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their choice.
As expected the majority of people were fairly satisfied with their decisions for part 1 and nearly all took longer to make a decision in part 2. Most rated higher rates of dissatisfaction in part 2.
However, what is really interesting about this experiment is the significant percent of people who preferred more choice. 24% claimed it was not a difficult decision even with more flavours. As we saw from some of the respondents’ comments, some know what they want and relish the power greater choice offers. While some feel overwhelmed, others feel enabled by choice and some even openly stated that less choice was limiting.
From this experiment, we have learned that by stripping down options we could alienate a reasonable chunk of prospective buyers, who would have preferred more choice.
It is not the only experiment whose data has weakened the ‘less is more argument’.
This final video again talks about the paralysis of choice and the jam experiment but also reveals that when more recent studies were conducted with various products, the results of the jam experiment could not be reliably duplicated. That means the results were sometimes in favour of more choice for greater conversions.
The jury is still out on ‘less is more’ and wide spectrum tests prove inconclusive.
So, what are you to make of this contradictory data for your PPC advertising?
Is more choice better for brand awareness and higher funnel campaigns?
One answer could be that the number of buyer options affects distinct levels of the marketing funnel differently. In the original jam experiment only 3% converted with additional flavours but 20% more people stopped to sample jams with the larger selection:
Perhaps greater choice works better for brand awareness and CTR but then less choice is better for CRO on landing pages. Remarketing could also be used to mitigate the distraction effect of a longer buying decision but it would not necessarily undo opportunity cost, escalation of expectation and overwhelmed feelings. It would also be tough to present more options higher up the funnel and then remove them lower in the funnel. Some users may wonder where all the choices went.
The real problem is that people are different and other factors can affect the decision-making process, such as their mood, how much they like that type of product, what’s going on in their life and a multitude of other factors. People are therefore not only different from each other but act differently as individuals at different times.
Avoid the single option aversion problem
While over choice is a big problem, Conversionxl also highlight the issues of single option aversion in their article on the subject of more vs less choices for customers.
Users feel respected and can put a decision in context and compare it to other businesses’ offerings when there is more than one option. They can better discover the real value of their choice, which for many is a positive experience. You should therefore never whittle options down too low when trying to solve over choice. Less choice should never mean no choice. Remember your customers can still choose between you and competitors.
In some areas, more options have been proven to be positive for conversions, such as payment options. It is always best to offer the maximum number of payments options possible for good CRO. This is thanks to the rise of alternative payments options and buyer safety consciousness.
According to a survey from WorldPay, by 2017, 59% of payments will be made using alternative methods, while traditional card use will dip to 41%. Currently, only 57% of transactions are made with cards.
If we look at extreme examples like Amazon, who have modelled their business on giving customers maximum choice in one place, we can see that the ‘less is more’ approach is not relevant to every business or situation.
Quality vs quantity
Of course, for your business, best ROI may not only depend on the amount of conversions but also the quality of those conversions. Most PPC experts know that less compulsory fields on a conversion form inevitably means more conversions. The people and the data have spoken unanimously on this matter and the answer is that people dislike having to fill in too many fields on enquiry forms for services.
However, despite the fact that less is more wins this conversion argument, it is not always beneficial to business profits. It can lead to unqualified leads. Unbounce analyse this question in their insightful article on the subject. Advertisers should consider whether they need those additional product options or form fields. Does it deliver useful information about their customers that may be more important than conversion volume?
For some businesses, users who were not really suitable for their service can fill out forms or those who just wanted your whitepaper with no intention of ever converting. Sometimes more questions on forms means less conversions but those leads are more qualified and less time is wasted on the wrong leads.
This means the best way to gain conversions is to attempt to achieve a balance between over choice and under choice and test different option levels to find that perfect match for your business model.
Why balance is the right answer when it comes to customer choices
It seems that less is more can be true but not in every circumstance and certainly not for every individual. This complicates your PPC advertising and the result is that you must tailor your offering to your audience.
The people who don’t like thinking about shopping are happier with an easy choice. They adjust to less choice and perhaps prefer it because they never really cared about the decision that much in the first place, much like the jeans example from the first video.
Others want options. They are fussy and have high standards. This means balance is required when trying to decide how many choices to offer customers.
It can be hard to know where to start. Airing on the side of more might be safer for your business. With more choice, at least everyone has a chance to find the right item or service package, whereas less choice immediately cuts off those picky people as convertors.
Advertisers can also use opportunity cost as a weapon for conversion if they understand their audience. In some industries, e.g. retail, opportunity cost can be a positive emotion because it can lead to repeat conversions. If a user struggled to decide between several options and had buyer’s regret, they may end up buying more versions of the product, especially if it is high quality or fun, e.g. the common desire to own every shade of eye shadow.
Choice for the sake of choice can be fun in retail e.g. food flavours, but it can go too far. These aren’t necessary or useful choices, they are just frivolous. Analysing the utility of an additional option is a great way to keep a cap on the number and limit the damage of over choice.
Different options should be significant and it should be apparent why there are that many options i.e. multiple computer systems suitable for different usage like work vs home vs gaming. More whimsical options should be fun but not intimidating or at least limited to different editions. By segmenting choices into smaller groups, you can make it easier for customers to digest their options. This can limit decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is the idea that the quality of our decision making reduces throughout the day. The more decisions we need to make the more exhausted we become:
Like opportunity cost this can be a negative or a positive for businesses depending on how they use it. Poor decision making can lead to more purchases or none depending on the person’s temperament. By segmenting decisions into smaller option groups on your website you can make the process less painful for users and avoid driving them away. By asking the right questions you can filter users to the right option page for a service or collect product options together by colour, style or material.
Customers, users and leads are people and people can be wildly different. Their behaviour can be discovered by data but also thwarts data with its individualism. Businesses need to find a way to embrace this dichotomy when creating the choice options for their product and service.
It is a simple matter of offering enough choice for picky users but not so much that others are paralysed with indecision. How you present said choices on your website can make a substantial difference. By decluttering landing pages and segmenting choices into easy to digest formats, all users will be happy.
Remarketing, surveys and highly segmented email marketing lists for registered users can also help you tailor content and product choices to individual user’s preference, which eliminates the over choice problem.
Align the number of customer options to your industry
When it comes to deciding between offering more choices or less, companies must go by their business models. Some industries work better with more choices and others with less.
The type of product you offer is very relevant. Some products lend themselves to more choice and others don’t e.g. more choice in fashion and beauty items is pleasant for customers but with necessity items like dishwashers, too much choice is just exhausting.
Since balance is key and the number of options is dependent on industry, Quick Sprout offers a simple guide in their infographic:
They believe 4 – 6 options is appropriate for retail and 2 – 5 options for SaaS providers. This is a helpful guide but rather arbitrary. We know retail stores can vary and that some people love more choice in B2C fun items. It also neglects all other industries. Industries like travel also lend themselves to a greater number of options, which is why travel comparison sites like Hotels.com perform so well.
With other industries, options aren’t just useful they are necessary. Consider theatre tickets. For a bare minimum service, you still need several layers of options for what section of theatre they would like, what kind of seat i.e. aisle or not, premier VIP, the show the date the time etc.
In service related industries like SaaS the options are related to multiple pricing plans. These can leave users confused if it is too hard to work out which is beneficial to them. Unbounce experimented with reduced payment plans with positive results. This supports Quick Sprouts recommendation of less options for SaaS industries:
On the other hand, even some service industries could benefit from more options. Tailoring expensive services to customer requirements can be very helpful. If you are a B2B company you will know businesses come in all shapes and sizes, so their needs won’t be the same. If you reduce to only three payment packages they might sit firmly between the two options, with one definitely too expensive and one not offering enough functionality. By adding a few extra options, you could have expanded your buyers.
The best way to discover the right number of options for your company is to test. By running multiple variant tests for your landing pages with differing option amounts you can follow the data and align the number of options to your business goals.
If you just need to push maximum conversions, go for less options and introduce additional steps and options for more qualified traffic but remember balance is always key to securing the largest audience of happy convertors.
Offer less and gain more
We have learned that the psychology of choice is a divided field when it comes to PPC marketing. For some businesses, the less is more argument will hold true but not for others.
However, the psychology of choice does have very important takeaways. It may well be an area of debate when it comes to fewer or more choices on the actual product but when it comes to other elements on your landing page less is definitely more.
By reducing decisions and options prior to product choice you can increase conversion rates. Take the example of an online beauty retailer. They offer a wide selection of lipsticks. Customers enjoy the wide range of colours and styles and it lends itself to repeat purchase and opportunity cost usually makes customers buy multiple versions of the product.
Since the customer already needs to make a decision from many options we don’t want to create too much decision fatigue without limiting their product choices. Hence, the business should limit any other overwhelming options wherever it can in the design of its site.
To gain more conversions try to offer less of the following:
1) Calls to action
Review the number of calls to action on your landing page. Too many opposing calls to action on a landing page are confusing. The beauty retailer may have calls to action for buying lipsticks, for buying the latest range, for taking advantage of an offer, for signing up to a newsletter, for creating a custom order on foundation mixtures. These may all seem beneficial but they are clutter and distraction. The customer already has a lot of lipsticks to choose from and will be repelled by these additional decisions. By only having one or two calls to action, you will reduce paralysis of choice and decision fatigue.
2) Clickable onsite elements
Have you ever had to choose between several lovely items, finally made your decision and then struggled with where to click to buy? It is a frustrating feeling and yet another decision.
Too many buttons can easily confuse. Do you click buy now or add to cart? Do you click the product title or the image? For e-commerce stores this is especially true but it is relevant to any business. It should be obvious where the user needs to click.
Accidentally clicking on the wrong button and ending up on a different page when you just wanted to buy the product is even worse. This happens when buttons are too close together. By this point you may just get too tired and abandon your purchase. By reducing clickable element options on your landing page, you can save users a lot of grief.
Most PPC marketers are by now familiar with the less fields on forms idea for increasing conversions.
While more questions can qualify traffic, you should always ask is the question necessary. Consider questions from the user perspective. For SaaS and B2B asking their business size or industry makes sense. It will help you tailor the package to their needs. Asking for their role in the company, their address and phone number may just seem intrusive. Yes, it is useful for your data and understanding your customers but not to them. Remember customers don’t really care about your data and you can discover this information later in email surveys.
4) Drop down menus
Cluttered drop down lists are annoying. When they contain too many options, they not only cause choice paralysis, they can also be fiddly to use. Some require users to scroll down to see all options if the list falls off the page and it is easy to accidentally close the drop down when scrolling or select the wrong option:
5) Social share buttons
It is a wonderful moment when a customer is so pleased with their purchase or desires your product so much that they share your landing page on social media. Earned media is a holy grail in marketing but giving too many social share options is just bewildering. They may have already made it through a host of other decisions, so don’t slow them down and just offer three of the most popular search engines.
Too many offer messages add yet another choice layer to the buying decision, so keep them to a minimum on PPC landing pages.
7) Checkout options
Once the decision to buy has taken place, you want to speed up the process as much as possible. Offering too many additional decisions in checkout, such as too many free samples on top of gift wrapping and delivery options can lead to abandoned shopping carts.
By reducing the above choices, you can avoid additional choice paralysis and hopefully save room for some options that are actually helpful to your customers. Your landing page should be true to your objective and have one clear purpose.
Over choice is a serious problem and it can be challenging to discover the right number of choices for your audience. Always test, consider the nature of your product and don’t clutter the conversion process with unimportant decisions.