Anxiety Attacks! (Or, how to stop worrying and love the Privacy Statement)


Trust is everything in a relationship.

That motto is repeated in countless self-help books, couples therapy workshops, and by pretty much everyone named Dr. “Something” on TV. Trust can be established or broken in many ways, and working on regaining trust can be a long process in inter-personal relationships.  Unfortunately, when it comes to interaction with websites, visitors rarely give them a second chance at repairing trust. If you blow it once, that’s it, bye-bye, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

So, how do we evaluate trust in a website we’re visiting? At what point does a visitor decide that your website is trustworthy or untrustworthy? While these are questions that every user experience expert grapples with, there is one thing that’s for sure – introducing anxiety into a potential conversion is one of the fastest ways to screw things up.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Anxiety? Really?” Yes, we’re talking about online anxiety, one that results in a “fight or flight” response from your user — it’s a primal reaction. Think back to the last time you visited a website and decided not to give your credit card information, even though you came into the experience with that very intention. Was it the entire process you disliked? Was it the messaging? Was it the imagery? Was it a combination of those? Or, did your brain just tell you “Hey, let’s get out of here. This place is starting to creep me out!”

Chris Goward, in “You Should Test That!” (pretty much the best book on Conversion Rate Optimization out there. Seriously.), defines anxiety as “anything in the conversion funnel or missing from pages that creates uncertainty in the prospect’s mind.”

Anything? Yes, anything. It can be something as small as a broken link (because a developer forgot to close a tag), or as big as being rushed to provide your personal information before you have been convinced you’re in good hands.

Common Anxiety Elements you’re likely to encounter

At WiderFunnel, we look at the four key anxiety sub-factors when analyzing a page for conversion optimization opportunities. They are:

Usability Anxiety

Many times the worst enemy of a conversion is an inconsistent user interaction. Consistency can be of the utmost importance when evaluating how visitors interact with your website; how many times have you clicked on a link, expecting to go to a certain page or see certain content, only to arrive at a page that doesn’t reflect your expectations?

There are varying degrees of usability anxiety.

One of the most-panic inducing is the “assumptive purchase”, whereby we expect to read more about a product only to find it’s already been added to our shopping cart. Now you’re suddenly on a page where they’re asking for your payment information! That would give even a relatively new internet user pause and probably cause a quick exit.

However on the other end of the spectrum, usability anxiety can be introduced by not being assumptive enough.  For example, if we are reading about a product that we’re interested in,  then click the “read more” link only to be brought to a category page. Now we are forced to search for the information we expected to find without skipping a beat — we’ve just experienced a sense of anxiety.

Here’s a great idea in business – don’t make your customer work too hard to give you money.

While the web is definitely moving in the right direction,  I’m sure we all remember (I’m looking right at you government websites!) filling out a lengthy form, clicking the submit button, and having the page refresh with an error message saying you left something out. OK, no problem, I’ll just fix that part I messed up. Oh no…Oh no…I have to start again?

Now, depending upon the stakes, this can be a minor annoyance, or a complete game-ender.

If we need to fill out this form so I can get a leaky roof fixed? OK, dang, We’ll do it — the house is flooding.   If we need to repeat a form process again so I can buy a case of pretzels? Likely we will not. (OK, OK, I’ll probably keep at it because I like pretzels).

So what’s a great way to reduce effort? Think of ways to anchor text or content so it flows naturally. Examine your site architecture – does a conversion flow logically? If I want information, can I find it easily? does a great job of this. With the main nav omni-present in the right column, and sub category headings along the top, users are able to easily and quickly find exactly what they are looking for.

 ( Models page)

Think about the last time you saw a fast-food ad on TV. My goodness, how Majestic! It took up the full screen and it was perfectly put together. Both buns looked as if they had come out of the oven. The burger was flame-kissed and the tomato had exactly 9 drops of water on its side. All plans of going to the gym flew out the window. You need to have THAT BURGER. So you go to store, order your burger and…let’s just say it didn’t look like the commercial…You feel cheated.

Once again anxiety has raised its ugly head. The result you were expecting did not match what was delivered.  Fulfillment is just that – when implied expectation does not match reality.

False advertising is one facet of fulfillment anxiety, however it can take other forms, like actual fulfillment – spending a lot of time to purchase an item, only to find out after a time investment that it’s not in stock or available anymore. Not only is your time wasted but psychologically you blame the website for not letting you know earlier.

One of the most common ways I’ve seen fulfillment anxiety on a website is when a site asks you to contact them or submit your request, however they don’t tell you what will happen next. Think of it like a date – “Don’t leave me hanging website! At least tell me when you’ll call or how you’ll contact me. Don’t make me wonder what’s going to happen next, I can’t take it. I have a heart condition from too many burgers!”

Ah, the 800-pound gorilla in the Anxiety room. Privacy, as it relates to Anxiety, doesn’t only mean “will you protect my information” – it can also be the doubt that’s raised by making it “strange” that you’re taking my personal information.

How much trust messaging do you put on a page where you ask for my credit card details? If you put one “Trusted by” logo next to a payment info form, does that mean that putting 10 logos is 10x as good? Maybe, or maybe not.  Because after all, many trust badge companies claim that their badge will increase conversions and champion the inclusion of their logo as a best practice.

Privacy’s a personal thing. Different people have different boundaries when it comes to providing information that could impact them once they close their computers. Someone who inherently trusts a website may not know why they trust them, but if you give them doubt by going overboard with the “we’re safe” messaging it makes us wonder “Why do they keep talking about this? Are they trying to hide something?”

The point in your conversion funnel where you introduce privacy anxiety will be unique to your website and your audience. Do your customers freak out that they have to give even their email addresses to join your website? Do they want to see an entire page of trust elements? Do they need to talk to someone? Do they need to learn about your company history first?  While privacy anxiety can be tricky to address, just don’t think that “more is better”, because sometimes it can have the opposite of its intended effect.

There is only one way to actually discover where (and how) you are creating anxiety in your conversion funnel.  That is, create and implement a testing plan to isolate trust and privacy elements.  Not only can will you gain valuable insights about your users, but you can also dramatically lift conversions.

Let’s take a look at a specific example that we at WiderFunnel often test for our clients.

It’s the “You can trust us! Really, you can! No seriously, you really really can!” messaging on a form submission page immediately before a call to action. Recently we ran a test for an affiliate website where the client’s form featured a checkbox saying “May we reveal your information to your chosen website?”. The client liked having this box on their sign-up form because the are an open and honest company.  It screamed “Nothing to hide.”

Well, even good intentions can introduce anxiety. WiderFunnel quickly hypothesized this as a source of privacy anxiety and decided to tackle it in an experiment.

As a part of our analysis, we wrestled with a better word than “reveal” to replace it with; “provide” — no, too forward. “Expose” — no, that’s unsafe. And on and on we went.  We finally got to, “What if we simply fold it into their Terms of Service”, something they already link to on their form.

We conferred with their legal team to ensure compliance and began testing.

We set up a pure isolation against another variation: Variation A was the form with the “May We Reveal” checkbox and declaration, while Variation B was the exact same form without the checkbox and declaration.

In this case, our hypotheses was correct and the results were definite. The variation with the phrase and checkbox performed significantly worse in all conversion goals than the variation without.

What does this mean? For this client, introducing too many trust elements at a critical point in their conversion path hurt conversions.  For you, it means that you need to be very careful about where and how you introduce trust elements on your website.  Always test trust elements, and never blindly implement best practices, because as we have proven time and time again — best practices don’t work.

So, what do you think?

Do websites have a responsibility to disclose every single possible bit of privacy information on a web-form, even if it hurts conversions? Is there a “magic-ratio” of trust elements that has worked for your website?

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.