Jan. 15th, 2007

Online sneaky snakes. Why less links provide more data (and not vice versa).

Consider one of the the cardinal rules of online registration: limiting options significantly improves participation rates.

Time and time again we have watched as online registration success wilts under the pressure of offering visitors numerous chances to qualify an opportunity before parting with their email address.

Imagine you are a student keen to get details on an upcoming course. Or a potential investor shopping for white papers about technology advances. Or perhaps you want to apply for a job or hook up with a mate.

You’d expect to fill out some kind of web form so you can access the data online or receive it via email.

So one would also expect visitors to welcome the chance to fully qualify the data before being completing the form. Its not hard to imagine the rational user carefully weighing their options carefully before committing to respond.

Well, you’d think so, but the reality is very different.

Our experiences over the last 10 years of online marketing suggest that the opposite is far more effective.

The more data on offer; the more links that can be clicked; the more options to explore; the less likely people will respond.

Online it seems we all have an itchy clicking finger. And we are far more willing to complete a simple form–even if it dooms us to a never-ending blizzard of spam–in return for instance gratification. Too much information induces confusion, and dithering consumers won’t commit.

We at the Mortar are not alone in coming to this conclusion.

Say what you will about the ubiquitous University of Phoenix’s (UOP) online advertising, but doubt not that they know how to lure the unsuspecting into completing a form. Every UOP ad leads to an online cul-de-sac with only one exit point: a completed form.

Online it seems freedom of choice causes rancor, confusion and gets in the way of making the bleedin’ sale.

For those of you who are puzzled by this phenomenon, and seek the insight for which the MortarBlog is prized, are urged to click through to listen to Barry Schwarz, author of the "Paradox of Choice", explaining how abundance in today’s society is actually making us miserable. Barry’s comments were recorded at the TED conference in Oxford, UK in July 2005.

For a interesting perspective on how these options came to be in the first place, click through for "Tipping Point" author Malcom Gladwell’s presentation (part of the same Ted series) on how the development of spaghetti sauce doomed US consumers to the ravages of choice.

The TED talks are highly recommended. Register for the Podcasts here.

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