7 Conversion-Sabotaging Words to Avoid at All Costs

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Words matter. People may not read everything, but they do scan. And they process information subconsciously at lightning speeds to determine if they’ll click or bounce within a few fractions of a second.

So while some words, like “Submit” on your button, may seem innocent enough... they could be costing you dearly, turning away visitors in droves.

Conversion Killing Words

Here’s why, along with a few other conversion-sabotaging words you need to replace in your emails, ads, and landing pages ASAP.

Conversion Killer #1: “Submit”

“Submit” is a derivation of submission. And therein lies the problem.

We ain’t talkin’ kinky 50 Shades of Grey stuff, but a negative connotation with yielding to someone or something superior. People, as a general rule, don’t like yielding. (Remember that whole Revolution bit?)

Especially when even the slightest suspicion of required payment might be involved.

This was proven definitively years and years ago by Dan Zarella and HubSpot. They took a look at the conversion rates of over 40,000 customer landing pages and quickly noticed a huge discrepancy...

Conversion Killing

When CTA buttons included the word “submit,” conversion rates tended to drop immediately by a few percentage points.

To further validate, they queued up another test that would rotate CTA text randomly between a few different options. Here’s what they found:

Conversion Killers

Unsurprisingly, at this point, the word “submit” performed worse than a few other common CTA text options like “click here” or “go.”

The hypothesized reasoning is that these other variations feel much less committal and imply a lower investment of time and effort.

The negative connotation is one problem. But another is the vague, generic nature of the word.

In general, the best CTA’s are as specific and actionable as possible. That means you start with a verb, or action oriented word, that describes what a person’s going to get (e.g. “Click Here to Get My Report”).

Here’s why generic quickly devolves into meaningless.

Conversion Killer #2: “Synergy”

What’s the fastest way to learn terrible copywriting?

Get an MBA.

Because in just a few short weeks, you’ll find yourself spewing out “synergy,” “competencies,” and a host of other clichéd, meaningless words that have old professors nodding their heads in  approval. (This, coming from someone who has their MBA.)

As evidence, go visit almost any B2B website outside of marketing and advertising.

Your eyes will glaze over, your face will contort, and a sudden bout of narcolepsy might hit at any moment.

Many times, clients and bosses don’t notice anything wrong at first either. They’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid too long, like your crazy cat-lady aunt who doesn’t notice that her house reeks of cat nip, hair balls, and litter boxes.

Thankfully, the kind people from Unbounce came out with the amazing Dejargonator to quickly and humorously diagnose these issues for the people we answer to.

Sondra Example

The problem with “best in class” and all other common business jargon (besides the fact that it also appears on every competitor’s website) is that customers can smell the BS from a mile away.

The best explanation comes from Peep at ConversionXL who points to cognitive fluency and “the heuristic that Easy = True”.

Sounds stupid, right? But Peep points to research that shows easily pronounceable company names perform better in stock markets (hardly the barometer of rational decision making), and simple fonts are more believable.

In other words, as the Boston Globe points out, “it turns out that people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard.”

But wait, there’s more!

The first problem is that the average person’s reading comprehension ain’t that good. So anything above a 7th or 8th grade reading level will be too difficult and complex (which is like, really low dude).

The second, is that people aren’t focusing or reading online; they’re scanning and multitasking and browsing and tweeting while also (kinda) looking at your page.

The solution in most cases? Cut the BS. Rewrite anything with the faintest resemblance to what you learned in skool school.

Conversion Killer #3: “Spam”

No, not the canned mystery meat kind. The graymail kind that your customers are already overwhelmed with.

They’re being bombarded with hundreds of emails each day. Trillions are being sent by marketers each year.

So you’d think, logically speaking, that assuring visitors you won’t spam them would help conversions. Right?

Unfortunately that’s not the case. “Spam” is a huge stop word – or no no – that causes people to become apprehensive and hesitate.

A test carried out by Michael Aargaard showed the surprising ramifications. He added the seemingly harmless line of “100% privacy – We will never spam you” in between the form fields and submission button.

Typically, these extra credibility indicators surrounding a CTA can help to give conversions a nice little boost. But not in this case.

Messaging Tests

Huh. Strange. You’d think a statement assuring people of their privacy would help. But this time it backfired by over 18%.

So Michael switched it up.

He wanted to reinforce the same message, but alter the wording to change from a negative connotation (i.e. bringing up something like “spam” that people weren’t really considering before) to a positive one.

The winning variation provided a 19.47% lift, landing on: “We guarantee 100% privacy. Your information will not be shared.”

Conversion Messaging

Michael has even repeated this process several times, finding similarly poor results when placing the possibility of “spam” in people’s minds.

Messaging Tests

The lesson?

Avoid words with a negative connotation (as we saw with “submit”) in general, and use additional messaging to reinforce the positive aspects of what someone is about to get.

Conversion Killer #4: “We”

“We” opens a door. It’s like the gateway drug of bad copywriting.

One small hit, and you’re quickly off to dabbling with bigger, badder things.

While it might seem harmless at the time, “we” puts you on a path to jonesing for a fix of “synergy” and “best in class” in no time.

But keep in mind, that as a general rule, people don’t care about you. Instead, they want a “better version of themselves.

This is especially so for all those visiting your site at the top of the funnel, who haven’t realized a need for your product or service yet. They’re Googling solutions for drilling a hole in their wall so they can hang a picture… they’re not looking for a drill (just yet).

Path to Conversion

That means the focus of messaging should be centered around said problem and solution, not a tool, product or service.

Conversion Messaging Example

Joanna Wiebe says it goes back to trust. Or lack thereof.

She points to a quote from Rohit Bhargava on Likeonomics: “The first and most basic reason for distrust is because there are so many companies and people who choose to lie to us either by making misleading claims or simply by hiding the truth.”

Instead of “we”, Joanna recommends:

  1. Begin with “you”… or
  2. Begin with no pronoun at all (like a question or a command / call to action)

Conversion Killer #5: “Your”

The copy on most websites is written in the second person. And that’s a good thing!

Copywriters are taught to use “you” instead of “they” when explaining the benefits derived from the latest product or service.

Take the completely hypothetical example of writing a blog post that discusses which words hurt conversions. To drive your points home for maximum resonance, you would write tips and takeaways to a specific audience by speaking to “you” as much as possible.

But as always, there are exceptions.

When focusing on a CTA or specific conversion event, the “possessive determiner” should switch back to first person.

Another test from Michael Aagaard proves the point. Michael initially thought that “your” in the CTA button copy would work best. It’s commonplace all over the interwebs after all.

But here’s what he found.

YOUR as a conversion killer

Almost a 25% difference, just by switching a single word.

He then repeated this process on an Unbounce landing page, switching “your” free trial with “my” free trial and saw similarly significant results.

Conversion Rate Test

Most landing pages and blog posts should write directly to a single person, using “you” and “your” liberally.

However…

When writing CTA copy, switch to “my” to give people ownership of the benefit they’re about to receive.

Conversion Killer #6: “Free”

You’d think, on the surface, that “free” increases conversions. And it does in most cases.

The last example a few seconds ago used a “free trial” to generate more interest (and clicks).

But as always, there’s exceptions.

The first (albeit tiny) issue is that the word “free” can trip up spam filters in email messaging.

The second, bigger problem though is a curious case of over optimization.

For example, less form fields will typically mean a higher conversion rate. Just by whittling down your landing page form fields from the oppressively long 11 to only four you can boost conversions by 120%.

The problem is that more conversions isn’t always better.

A Totango study showed that 70% of the people who sign up for free trials are useless, with only around ~20% of those actively evaluating the product.

Accidental Signups

Software company Moz found this out years ago, where the most profitable customers didn’t convert on the first or second visit, but only after 8+ visits. “Many, many visits are often correlated with high purchase prices,” Rand Fishkin reported.

So while the word “free” can (and will) increase initial conversions, you should be optimizing for sales and revenue – not vanity metrics like leads or impressive (but hollow) conversion rates.

Robert from Neuromarketing says: “if you are trying to encourage sampling of a product that appeals to a specific audience…a very modest charge will throttle demand but will eliminate most samplers who have no use for the product.”

Conversion Killer #7. “Save Time & Money”

So far we’ve seen that vague, meaningless, overly generic phrases are bad for conversions.

The culmination of them all – the cherry on top and the pièce de résistance – is “save time and money.”

This simple, albeit ever-present phrase is a (non)favorite of Joanna Wiebe’s, who lovingly refers to it as “lazy ass messaging.

Yes, this seemingly harmless phrase raises vitriol in seemingly one of the nicest people around the interwebs. Why?

Because it takes a piece of everything bad from the previous six words and rolls them up into one terrifyingly conversion-repellent Frankenstein.

In other words, it breaks one of the very first rules of copywriting that says you should write to a particular audience. And Joanna shows in the last link that people either value one or the other, not both equally.

The easiest solution isn’t actually a copywriting trick at all, but a strategy one. Employ inbound funnel segmentation to try your hardest at getting only one audience to a dedicated page (by linking your content to a specific acquisition channel or segment).

Conversion Flow

But what if there’s no way around it? What if you HAVE to cater to multiple audiences – like on your homepage?

Then roll up your sleeves and dig a little deeper into who you’re speaking to, and what they value most.

Again, Joanna gets all the credit with her flashy Venn diagram skillz:

Venn Diagram

The key is to ferret out those few ingredients that make your offering awesome & unique, which both audiences value.

You want the stuff that overlaps, which will help you create a specific value proposition that reinforces your primary aim (of driving conversions), while avoiding the same generic crap showing up on each of your competitor’s websites.

In Conclusion…

Not every successful landing page is a long-form squeeze page with thousands upon thousands of words. Many, if not most, are just a few simple lines with a killer headline and strong CTA.

In these cases, making each and every word work its hardest is imperative. You literally and figuratively can’t afford words and phrases that don’t pull their weight.

Online, that includes “stop words” and words which turn the focus away from your audience and selfishly onto yourself.

Thankfully, many people have already done the research and testing to show us the light. We just need to be aware of it and then follow it.

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Comments

Dhaval Parmar
Nov 08, 2016

Thank you so much for this article. I’ve got so many ideas running through my head now – can’t wait to start putting these tips into practice! It’s really refreshing to read an article that actually provides thorough advice.

Brad (Author)
Nov 10, 2016

Thank you Dhaval - appreciate the kind words and glad it was helpful!

Michelle
Nov 08, 2016

Great article! Just noticed the button on your comment form says "submit" LOL

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 08, 2016

*hangs head in shame*

nathan pabich
Nov 10, 2016

Too funny. Good catch. If they are anything like my agency, they are getting too entrenched in client results to evaluate and implement properly on their own site!

Brad (Author)
Nov 10, 2016

Ha! Story of my life Nathan! Thanks!

Saint Claire
Nov 10, 2016

The designer of this form obviously did not read the article.

Marc
Nov 09, 2016

Great article! And nice catch Michelle!

Richa
Nov 10, 2016

Nice post :)

adam
Nov 10, 2016

"One terrifyingly conversion-repellent Frankenstein..." Haha!

Thanks Brad!

Brad (Author)
Nov 10, 2016

:) Thank you Adam!

Jeff
Nov 10, 2016

Wonderful article. One of the best I have read. Very useful.

Brad (Author)
Nov 10, 2016

Thanks Jeff! Appreciate the comment!

MeganMc
Nov 10, 2016

Excellent article - many thanks for the insight!

Art Garcia
Nov 10, 2016

Great tips, I'll review my webpage and implement your insights.

Kelly
Nov 10, 2016

Haha! Definitely an "oh sh--" moment. Thank you for this awesome article!

Brad (Author)
Nov 10, 2016

I hope that was "oh sh--" in a good way, right?!

Duncan McAdams
Nov 10, 2016

Brilliant stuff! Need more of this!

steve
Nov 10, 2016

Great practical value - thank you

Michael Ahuja
Nov 10, 2016

great read..now i will never use the word synergy ....

Doretha
Feb 09, 2017

Can I simply just say what a relief to discover somebody who really knows
what they're discussing over the internet. You actually know how to bring an issue to light
and make it important. More and more people really need to look at this and understand this side of your story.

I was surprised that you aren't more popular given that you surely have the gift.

Hassan del Campo
Nov 10, 2016

Awesome! I'm updating as we speak!

affiliaXe
Nov 13, 2016

This article is super amusing as well as informative and refreshing. I loved reading it and was very surprised by what I did not know. Thanks for providing such efficient data.

Maja Jaredic
Nov 14, 2016

I absolutely loved this! I'm starting with tests today, excited to see how it goes. Great article!

Julia Thomson
Nov 14, 2016

I appreciate that you take such an evidence-based approach to communications. (How's that for some jargon?). The discussion of "we" and "you" is an interesting one and something people don't consider enough, in my opinion.

Brad (Author)
Nov 16, 2016

Haha - nice one Julia! And thank you, appreciate it!

Deb Coman
Nov 18, 2016

This is an excellent article and one that takes some time to fully digest. It's very helpful and thorough. Bookmarked, earmarked, Evernoted. Will be referring to this for some time! Thank you, Brad. Tried to find you on Twitter but none of the accounts with your name seem to be you - unless you were the egg ;) Fix that if you can, I would love to support you on there and stay connected. Thanks again for this article.

Brad (Author)
Nov 18, 2016

Thank you Deb - really appreciate it!

And Twitter is @bsmarketer - too many Brads :)

Glynis
Nov 18, 2016

I'm doing a total re-brand and I'm THRILLED I read your article first! My (new) audience is corporate and it's so easy to fall into 'corpo speak' (#2)!
Happy to hear that I can be me... only in second person except for 'my' CTAs (#5)
A tip I teach often about communicating effectively is to speak in positives... tell people what you want them to do rather than what you don't. Spam (#3 is an example of the negative effect of planting negative in your decision-maker's head (except when stressing a pain point)
Great article - sharing! (and 'submitting', now) ;-)

Steve
Nov 21, 2016

I was nodding along smugly until I reached "save time and money" ... now I need to go away and rethink my life

Thanks for the food for thought!

Max
Nov 23, 2016

Awesome. This post gives me so many ideas to create CTAs.
Thank you so much for an very enjoyable-to-read post

Dean Crago
May 21, 2017

Thank you for this thought provoking article.

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