Unwritten Rules of Conversion Rate Optimisation

  • You can’t get a fish drunk in Ohio.
  • In Virginia, it’s illegal to tickle women.
  • A person may not walk around on Sundays in Georgia with an ice cream cone in his/ her pocket.
  • You can’t eat lollipops in Washington.
  • You can’t sell the fur of a cat in New York.

These are just a few of hundreds of silly laws U.S. states have on the books – and us Brits aren’t any better either. It’s hard to know exactly why or how laws like these came to be. They must’ve made sense to somebody, some time, I guess. Of course, most of these are now just ignored – although they remain on the statute books…

I got me wondering about the so-called rules of digital marketing. Our industry has more than its fair share of silly (though unwritten) rules that the masses seem eager to follow. Solid rules and best practices are great for managing well-established systems and to keep social order. But in marketing, following unwritten rules can be a recipe for rotten conversions.

Others as well as I have been preaching this now for quite a few years, but it still amazes me how many sites/ emails/ ads use these things. I think really most marketers know that they shouldn’t be, deep down, but get struck with some level of paralysis when it comes to the crunch as they don’t want to get it wrong and therefore play things safe.

Here are a few of my favourite unwritten Internet rules (and my rather blunt thoughts on them):

Unwritten Rule 1: When in doubt, create a link/ CTA that reads “click here.”

In the Internet’s early days, when people were trying to create momentum on a web page, it was necessary to instruct people what to do and where to do it. So, the “click here” hyperlink was born. It’s overstayed its welcome.

People know what to do when they see a hyperlink. Telling them to “click here” is equivalent to placing road signs every couple of yards that read “Stay on the road.”

I’m just going to give one example:

Example following the rule:
The X-Arcade 2 Player is guaranteed for life. To read our lifetime warranty, click here.

Now, let’s break the rule:
See how your X-Arcade 2 Player is guaranteed for life.

Unwritten Rule 2: Use lots of “more info” links.

People want more info, right? Maybe, but info about what? It seems adding a few extra words to the “more info” hyperlink is cost-prohibitive. No one seems willing to tell me what info I’ll get when I click the link. Do those extra few letters cost money?

Example of following that rule:
Microsoft Word is the industry-standard word processor. It has a seemingly endless number of features, each designed to help you be more productive while creating and revising documents. More Info

Let’s break the rule:
Microsoft Word is the industry-standard word processor. See Microsoft Word’s seemingly endless number of features, each designed to help you be more productive while creating and revising documents.

Which is more persuasive?

Unwritten Rule 3: Use as many vague hyperlinks as possible, such as “read more,” “continue,” and “next.”

Same as rule 2. What will I be reading more about? Why can’t you tell me what will happen when I click?

Instead of “Read more,” why not “Read more about how this Magic Widget can help you work smarter and faster”?

Instead of “Continue reading,” why not “Continue reading this article”?

Tell people specifically what happens next: “Next: enter your billing information.”

Unwritten Rule 4: Write for search engines.

Last time I checked, Google’s spider had never purchased anything on my site. So why should I write for it? Don’t get me wrong – pages should be easy for spiders to index as Google still plays a huge part in every digital marketers life. But if you write for spiders first, you lose… big. Our search engine strategy is simple: write pages for people that my audience will find really interesting and useful – the search engines (yes, with a bit of added promotional effort) will follow.

Unwritten Rule 5: Short copy is better online. Or: Long copy is better online.

I’ve seen both touted as the ‘golden rule’ for upping conversions.

But both are wrong as solid, must-follow rules.

Relevant copy persuades visitors to do what you want them to on your site. Copy length should be like a skirt: long enough to cover the essentials, short enough to be interesting. If you’re debating short versus long copy, I’d bet length isn’t the problem. It’s the copy.

Say the right things, things people need and want to hear. Have rich content that your audience are looking for (seasoned with the right keywords that are relevant to your article only – see the SEO rule above). Quit worrying about how long the copy is or trying to follow the search engine manipulation gospel. Write for people and what they need and the page ends up as long as it ends up.

The Internet Is Too New for Rigid Rules

Other selling and marketing media have been around for some time. They have clear best practices and rules for success. Online, even the successful sites are still learning. They haven’t reached the pinnacle of how well their sites can perform.

Let’s not get too attached to rules and best practices. As a self-proclaimed conversion-rate pioneer, I make it my point not to follow principles and silly rules that may actually hurt my conversions.

You need to stand out. Think outside the box. If everyone used the same ‘high-converting’ CTA it would stop working because it would be, just, normal. The big converting sites out there work because they do many things right – but also because they have had the balls to do it slightly differently and stand out from the crowd.

Confused? If you really need a rule to follow while building persuasive pages, follow this one:

Question every unwritten Internet rule. It probably does not apply if you’re serious about upping profits.

What other unwritten digital rules are there to be broken that you’ve found? Let me know in the comments below.



Phil Cave is the founder of People Shaped Marketing. He helps companies like Samsung, BBC, Ricoh, RBS, Virgin, Lloyds, Stagecoach and Ferrari grow their profits through his unique methodologies. He has been repeatedly labelled as one of the “Top Digital Experts in Europe” and “One of the World’s leading minds in Persona-driven Marketing”. He has worked at some of the biggest agencies in London before owning, running and eventually selling his own successful digital marketing consultancy.