Is Too Much Choice Killing Your Conversion Rates? [Case Studies]

By , April 10th, 2014 in Conversion | 35 comments
Less is More
Yes, yes it can. (image source)

When it comes to conversion rate optimization and landing pages, the casual cliché “less is more” really rings true. Less distractions, less links, less “leaks” and ultimately less choice equals higher conversion rates, more leads and more money in the bank. But what does “less” actually mean?

When it comes to landing page optimization, “less” really means one.

One Page. One Purpose. Period.” – Oli Gardner

So yes, a landing page should have one purpose – one fundamental conversion goal – but what about those finer conversion details?

Like, how many forms fields should you put on your lead gen form? Or, how many social sharing buttons should you include on your blog to maximize reach? If less is more, how much less is optimal for increasing your conversion rates?

This post will look at just that. First we’ll recap the psychological study behind choice that Oli Gardner, Gregory Ciotti & Neil Patel have referenced in relation to conversions.

Then we’ll dive into a collection of fascinating case studies – including one that has never been shared before – that look at how many options you should give your visitors.

Toothpaste & Jam: The Psychology of Choice

Toothpaste options
Too many choices can lead to alcoholic beverage consumption as seen here (Image source)

Something as simple as buying toothpaste can be overwhelming. Do you want the anti-tartar kind or the cavity-busting option? Sensitive enamel protection or the one with whitening? Fluoride, non-fluoride? Then there’s flavor: crystal mint, intense mint, fresh mint or sparkling mint – and that’s just mint.

Too many choices can overwhelm us to the point where we choose nothing at all.”

blueberry jam

jammin’

The famous jam study, conducted by Professor Sheena Iyengar and referenced in her book The Art of Choosing is often cited when the topic of choice comes up.

During multiple Saturday afternoons in a high-end grocery store, researchers presented shoppers with two alternating sampling stations – one showcasing 24 flavors of jam and one featuring six options.

It turned out that when 24 flavors of jam were available, only 3% of those who tasted the samples went on to purchase the jam. However, when there were only six options available, 30% purchased at least one jar of jam.

While the larger selection attracted more onlookers, the smaller selection actually generated more sales. The study suggests that people are often overwhelmed by too many choices, which leads to what has been called action paralysis.

So we now know that fewer options can lead to more sales in a supermarket, but how does this psychology work online? How many options should you give visitors on your online marketing platforms to maximize conversions and ROI?

These case studies will give you some guidance, but any true conversion badass will tell you to #alwaysbetesting.

How Many Social Share Buttons?

If you’re an online marketer with a blog you likely have some social buttons somewhere. At least if you want your visitors to share your content (and who wouldn’t want that?).

But have you considered that the number of social share buttons you include can have an effect on your social shares?

Social Sharing Buttons

3 vs 5

On QuickSprout, Neil Patel offered three social share options: Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Wanting to increase his total social shares, he tried adding LinkedIn and Pinterest to the list. The additional social share options actually decreased overall social shares by 29%.

This case study goes to show that your social media buttons are like mini calls-to-action; if you offer too many choices, you may confuse your readers into not sharing anything at all.

So which social share buttons should you include?

If you’re not sure how many social buttons or which social buttons will maximize your social sharing, you should start by digging into your referral traffic and audience demographics.

Referral traffic will tell you where your visitors are coming from (exclude the one-hit wonder outliers), while demographics will show which networks your users are more likely to be on (more women are on Pinterest, B2B professionals are on LinkedIn, etc).

And if you’re more or less active on a particular network, it might be important to take that into account as well. Ultimately, you should know your readers and include the buttons that are right for them, without flooding them with too many options that will impede their likelihood to share altogether.

So don’t just add whatever’s offered to you in the plugin. Choose your buttons wisely. Test, optimize and make sure you make those buttons work for you.

Maybe you don’t need any social share buttons at all

Comparison Image Social Buttons
Click image for fill size

The case study above speaks to social share buttons on your blog, but these buttons are found on many many pages across the web – on landing pages, product pages, you name it. But are they always necessary?

This recent case study by VWO showed how Taloon.com, a Finland-based hardware eCommerce store, increased their conversion rate by 11.9% on their product page by removing the social share buttons.

The case study boiled down the test results to two main factors:

  1. Lack of Social Proof: According to Taloon the number of shares on their product pages were low to zero. Joanna Wiebe sums up negative social proof this way: “A lack of a reaction IS a reaction.” She points out that it takes two clicks to tweet someone’s page or post, so if you don’t have any tweets you are telling visitors that your page isn’t worth two clicks. That doesn’t mean it’s no good, but sometimes perception is everything.
  2. Distraction from the main goal: Although Taloon used prominent CTAs, it was clear that the social buttons acted as a distraction from the main purpose of the page. Remember: “One Page. One Purpose. Period.

How Many Webinar Registration Options?

Unbounce hosts a weekly “Master Unbounce in 30 Minutes” demo. Not fully satisfied with our conversion rates, Ryan Engley, Director of Customer Success, conducted an experiment that tested the number of registration options on the landing page.

Click image for fill size

By simply reducing the number of registration options from four to three, the landing page increased conversions by 16.93% with 100% confidence.

Again, it seemed to be a matter of too much choice hurting conversion rates. Offering a more limited number of options made it easier for visitors to commit to a webinar date and ultimately convert. Keep in mind that although there are multiple CTAs on the page, there is still one central purpose.

Since then, Ryan has tested 10 different variations on the landing page, improving conversions with slight changes. Below is the most current page. Although, there are several elements that are different than the first two pages, I’d like to point out the location of the social share buttons.

The previous version of the landing page had social share buttons above the fold in a very prime location, whereas the most current version has the share buttons at the very bottom of the page.

Ask yourself: How important is social sharing to my landing page? Is it worth distracting people from my main call to action?

Final Unbounce Webinar Demo Landing Page
Click image for fill size

How Many Form Fields?

Reducing Options Data

Here’s the eternal question: How many form fields should your lead gen landing page have?

The infographic above shows that a quick and dirty way to increase conversions is to simply decrease the number of form fields in your lead gen form. Less is more, remember? ImageScape reduced the number of form fields from 11 to 4 and the number of forms submitted increased 160%, all while the conversion rate increased 120%.

But the real question you need to ask yourself is: Do I need more leads or more high quality leads?

If your answer is more leads, then keep your form short and simple. If it’s more high quality leads, than maybe it’s time to add some more form fields.

You should also keep in mind your marketing funnel. Is this a first touchpoint? If so, you might want to stick to a few form fields. It’s like the first time you meet someone – you don’t want to overwhelm them by asking for too much information. Once you see them again – maybe they’ve downloaded another piece of your content or registered for a webinar – you can ask them for a bit more.

Again, you should always test your form fields. Not only the amount of form fields, but also the hierarchy (order) of information you’re asking for – and what you’re asking for in the first place.

Reduce Number of Contact Fields

Brand new case study! How asking for a phone number can decrease conversions by 52%

The University of Wisconsin-Extension focuses on online education. Their campaign goal was to generate leads for student recruitment.

Chris Hofmann, Director of Marketing, had a hunch that requiring a phone number on a given form field was hurting conversion rates. Within 24 hours Chris was able to measure a 52% drop in conversion with a 96% confidence when making a phone number mandatory on the landing page form field.

University of Wisconsin Extension Conversion Case Study
Click image for fill size

After quantifying the results, The University of Wisconsin-Extension made the phone number on the form optional. Their goal was to get as many students as possible in the pipeline. In other words, more leads versus more high quality leads.

Again, this case study exemplifies that every conversion decision revolves around the singular purpose of your landing page.

In an older study, MECLABS tested moving the phone number field from the first step to the second and conversion rates on their lead gen form increased by 68%.

Again, testing where and when you ask for information is just as important as what you’re asking for.

Over to You

So there you have it. Several case studies demonstrating that more is less when it comes to your social shares, landing pages and form fields.

  1. Let me know in the comments what you thought of these case studies. Was there anything that shocked you?
  2. Do you have any case studies you’d like to share that embody the “less is more” conversion theme throughout the post?

Thanks for reading – I’ll see you in the comments!

– Stefanie Grieser

About The Author

Photo of Stefanie Grieser

Stefanie is the Events Strategist at Unbounce where she strategizes, executes, and measures events to educate online marketers about landing pages & conversion. A digital marketer at heart, she previously managed Unbounce's online social community & blog. Find her on Twitter @smgrieser
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Comments

  1. Hyderali says:

    Hey Stefanie,

    Very well written & timely article. I also think Less is more because no ones like too much option available at one place where we can’t decide which one to choose.

    I share any article on 2 sites – Twitter & Google+. Because never felt a need to share it on other social sites. Facebook – all my friends who are not interested, Linkedin – No activity & rest nobody knows.

    For form field, I think the less is more helpful because people don’t have time to fill all the details in every field, the just want to finish the form asap. I agree on this – Leads & Quality Leads. But for ecommerce all are quality leads only, so there you might not compromise on less field but instead important field which are necessary.

    I’ll definitely try those “removing social buttons from ecomm page where there is no action” on one of my client site.

    • Hi Hyderali,

      So glad you enjoyed the post!

      In regards to which social sharing, it all comes down to knowing your readers and include the buttons that are right for them. While you might think, “Well I never share anything on Twitter.” – your readers might. So it’s important to test which one’s work best, how many & even the order.

      And yes, if you go with an ‘all leads are quality leads’ approach, this simply means you want to cast a bigger net & get more fish :)

      When you do remove & test those social share buttons on your ecommerce product page, please let me know the result! We’d even love to explore highlighting the case study here on the Unbounce blog.

      Keep in touch & thanks for reading,
      Stefanie

  2. Don Seckler says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Awesome article. Thanks for giving us all these mini-case studies. I always love to see facts that back up the theories I’ve been following.

    To me the social sharing case study was the most interesting. I’ve always give readers the full gamut of social choices. Very interesting.

    • Hi Don,

      Agreed – theory that’s backed up with stats and real-world examples always make a case more compelling.

      If you do decide to test those social sharing options, I’d love to hear the results!

      Cheers!
      Stefanie

  3. Indeed, our own testing has proven beyond a doubt that when you give people multiple options, they choose none. Our current web site has violated that rule to the extreme. Needless to say, a major revamp is days away.

    • Hi Gil,

      Good to know that these case studies ring true for others as well. If you have some interesting observations about your upcoming web site revamp be sure to report back! We’d love to hear about it and I am sure our readers would as well.

      -Stefanie

  4. Adriana says:

    Really interesting!
    I completely identify with being overwhelmed in the supermarket! I prefer small shops rather than big supermarkets so it makes sense it works the same way on websites.

  5. Jason says:

    Great article! Paralysis of Choice, boom!

  6. Great points – the worst offenders here are generally “old school” e-commerce shops who want to collect *all the things* and end up hurting their conversions.

  7. Azizul Yusof says:

    Asking for a phone number, while it can provide the best way for future communication, it is a big commitment for the leads.

    So it is not surprising that the conversion rate is lower. I have that experience too.

    And the idea of moving the phone field to the second step is a great idea. It must have work because of the less pressure taken by the leads ( 2 steps instead of 1 step),

    Great Article!

    • Thanks Azizul. You’re right – it isn’t surprising that a phone number lowers conversion rates, just interesting to see how much lower. You said you experienced the same conversion decrease – how much did adding a phone number decrease your conversions?

  8. Paul Barrs says:

    Spot on.

    I teach this same principle in my SEO workshops, based on the foundation principle of ‘one page, one problem, one solution’. Maile Ohya (Google spokesperson) said in one of her Webmaster Tools videos, “Each page should present one logical topic”. It doesn’t get any easier that that.

    Yoir artilce takes that principle to the next level. Well written, well explained.

  9. Less actually is more, but not just with the options being provided on a landing page, but also on the offer itself.

    I’ve found that when I offered 5 or 7 things as a opt-in bribe I got some good conversion rates like 35% but when I offered 3 things I started to get at least 45% conversions rates.

    I’m eager to see how well offering just 1 solution will be and how it will effect conversions… going to have to test that soon.

    Talk soon,

    -Isaiah Jackson

    • Thanks for the additional insight Isaiah. We always love to showcase these type of conversion case studies on our blog so if you’re interested, let me know.

      Also very interested in the 1 solution as well. Report back when you uncover the findings!

      -Stefanie

  10. martinibuster says:

    The Jam Study that is referenced here was not scientific and was never reproduced. Although I agree that in the context of a landing page adding too many choices is probably not a good idea, the study on which this article was based on was actually not as conclusive as most people understand. Read this:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/08/more-is-more-why-the-paradox-of-choice-might-be-a-myth/278658/

  11. Kris says:

    Choice does matter. Not just the number of similar choices, but the number of different choices too. Choosing between 24 jams is a lot to ask. So is asking your website visitors to choose between a free report, reading another article, buying a product, sharing socially. I’m sure the test results would be similar. So we should consider not just the similar options to choose from, but the entire web experience on your site.

    BTW great post!

    • Touché Kris – excellent points. There is, however a difference between your website and a stand-alone, campaign specific landing page. Oli Gardner puts it better than I ever could. Your website is what he calls ‘Brand Central Station’, whereas a targeted landing page should be focused on getting your user to perform your one desired action.

  12. Manpreet says:

    Hey stefanie,
    I read your blog for the first time and I must say it was really informative and useful…and yes, less is actually more…i had the same case when my friend had a conversion rate of about 13% when he had given many social sharing options…but when he decreased them to the “golden trio” i.e. facebook, twitter and google+, his conversion rate actually jumped up to
    20%….a 7% increase just by limiting the options…and he was over the moon that day…he was behaving like Archimedes…:P
    Anyways your article was very helpful and informative…would be watching this space for more awesome articles…:)

    • Happy that you found the post interesting Manpreet! And it’s so great to hear the above principles worked for your friend. I especially love how he behaved like Archimedes afterward :) – Testing can be tedious, but when you have a win, it will make you fist pump, cartwheel and high-five all at once! Be sure to give him a high-five from the team at Unbounce!

  13. King Rosales says:

    Fantastic post Stefanie. I appreciate the side by side imagery and comparisons. BTW, do you have any data about search boxes or category display method; grid or list?

  14. Kannu says:

    I am wondering how will this compare to amazon vs normal ecommerce site. Amazon has thousands of products in one category vs a few in an avg site. Would less is more work the same in this model

  15. Fredrik says:

    Kannu:
    Exactly my wonderings too! Will the supertankers continue to grow?
    Stefaine:
    Very nice article. You are bookmarked :-)

  16. Vishakha says:

    This is exactly true. We have had similar experiences when designing landing pages for our website simplylearnt.com in the past. Well written article!

    • Thanks for reading & commenting Vishakha! We are always keen to hear more about landing page design so feel free to share your experiences, changes, tests & results.

  17. Mike says:

    @Kannu nailed it. Amazon much anyone?

    • Vinay Koshy says:

      Mike and Kannu,

      I believe it will vary with each business and their understanding of customers and their behaviors.

      With online retail most visitors tend to browse so offering more options will increase the chances of your website visitors staying on the site without being overwhelmed.

      Amazon who is also known for their online sales testing shows a maximum of 6 books in their “customers who bought this also” section. However Target only shows a maximum of 4 products in their “guests who viewed this item also viewed” section.

  18. Suzanne says:

    The confused mind does nothing. All you have to do is think of how you do your own grocery shopping and compare how you feel when there is too much choice. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t care much for large supermarket chains (besides the fact that most of their goods are GMO). Good information. Thanks!

  19. That’s pretty brave of a school to make a phone number field optional (or remove it entirely). I have worked extensively in the education vertical, more on the career and trade schools side, though. For many schools, that phone number field is critical because they have admissions representatives quickly contacting students by phone to answer any questions they might have and hopefully get them enrolled in their programs. Perhaps it’s different in a more traditional higher-ed environment where the nurture isn’t so “urgent.”

  20. Totally agreed. This is where the UX Designer’s role come up.
    Using too many CTAs can be distracting and make website look really cheap. Single CTA per page would be better for conversion.