The 2 Reasons People Don’t Click on Your Buttons … And How to Overcome Them

“Buttons are cute, and they’re charming. You can’t be scared of a button.” These are the words of Joanna Wiebe, whose delightful presentation on buttons at Authority Intensive resonated with data-backed usefulness. And she’s right.

No one is scared of a button. Yet, people choose to not click on your call-to-action buttons all the time. Costing you conversions. Costing you money.


And what can you do about it?

I invited Joanna, Conversion Copywriter for Copy Hackers, to be the guest on this week’s episode of The Lede so she can answer these two questions for you …

Because Joanna has the answers and the data to back them up.

In this episode, Joanna and I discuss all of the following and more:

  • How I misspoke right up front — because getting a button clicked is not the same as a conversion (Luckily Joanna has your back and corrected me)
  • Why you need to think of your visitors as non-thinking lizards
  • The impact that choosing a button color outside of the brand palette can have — and, relatedly, if clients ever balk at choosing colors outside their palette (even when they know it works)
  • Why you should think of your buttons as closed doors
  • The most common anxieties that keep people from clicking
  • How to phrase button copy to reduce anxiety (and why “Join” is better than “Sign up”)
  • Why you need to think of “calls to action” as, instead, “calls to value”

And I recommend you scroll through Joanna’s slides from her presentation while you listen. You will find them below, right before the transcript.

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The Show Notes

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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: The 2 Reasons People Don’t Click on Your Buttons … And How to Overcome Them

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

Last week on The Lede I interviewed Tom Martin, whose panel presentation at Authority Intensive drew rave reviews. This week my guest is Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers, another Authority Intensive presenter who drew nothing but praise and plaudits for her presentation, which was a power hour instructing attendees how to create better buttons.

And if Joanna’s name sounds familiar, it should. She has written two incredibly useful posts about conversion for Copyblogger. Each is linked up in the show notes for you.

Here’s my interview with Joanna. Enjoy, and learn.

There are many reasons why people don’t convert

Jerod: Hey, Joanna. Welcome to The Lede. I’ve got to say it was really a pleasure getting to meet you and listen to you speak at Authority Intensive in Denver. So just thank you for coming on here today and sharing your expertise with our listeners.

Joanna Wiebe: Well, thank you. I had a great time at the Authority Intensive event, and I really liked your talk too. I thought it was fantastic. I loved the stories you told.

Jerod: Well, thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.

But let’s talk about your presentation which, as I mentioned in our intro, was one of the absolute hits of the entire week. And I think it was just because of how you broke it down, and how simple and clear you made this idea of conversion. You told us that there are really two reasons why people don’t convert: friction and anxiety.

So in the 15 or so minutes we have here, let’s break each one of those down and give listeners one or two actual tips they can take with them to reduce friction and help their visitors overcome anxiety. We’ll start with friction.

Joanna: Okay. Can I just start with…

Jerod: Oh yeah, go.

Joanna: Sorry, Jerod. I just wanted to say two reasons why people don’t click your button are friction and anxiety, but there are bigger reasons why people don’t convert. Why people don’t act on the conversion that’s happening in their head is the friction and anxiety at the point of the button. I just wanted to clear that up because people will be like, “there’s way more to conversion than that!”

Jerod: Okay, good. And that’s a great clarification, because you’re right. Your presentation was on buttons specifically.

Joanna: Right. Yeah.

Jerod: And you wrote a great column on buttons as well for Copyblogger, which we will link up in the notes.

Joanna: Cool.

Think of your visitors as non-thinking lizards

Jerod: So when we talk about friction with buttons, apparently to reduce friction we all need to start thinking like lizards?

Joanna: (Giggles) Yes. We need to think of our visitors not as thinking visitors.

When you’re working on the button if you think of a visitor as a visitor, then a human visitor has all sorts of intellectual capacity. They can figure things out. They are very thoughtful and rational. When we use the word “visitor,” they’re not lacking any sort of intelligence. We give people a lot of credit, and we think of a visitor as, often times, ourselves. Human beings. We’re smart. We can figure out what a gray button that says “Submit” is supposed to do. Who can’t figure that out? Visitors can.

But we have to really speak to that lizard brain, that part of our brain that is so old. It’s the thing that’s really keeping us from making mistakes in life and hurting ourselves. It doesn’t react to words. It reacts to a stimulus, and things that will attract it or will repel it.

So that’s really what we’re talking about. When we’re talking about a button, if we can design a button for a lizard brain, which means really “would a lizard look at this? Would it touch this? Would it be scared of this? Would it know to go near this?” That kind of thing. If we can do that instead of thinking of them as thinking, usually intelligent human beings with big, bold, wonderful brains, then we can get closer to designing the button in such a way that it’s more likely to get clicked. It’s more likely that your lizard brain will tell your bigger brain and your actions that “It’s okay, we can move ahead with this button.” Or “hey, I like this button, let’s touch it!” That kind of stuff.

Jerod: So what’s one way, then, one example of a way, that we can make a button that’s going to attract that lizard brain?

Joanna: I gave a couple of examples in the presentation. And one of the obvious ones: People talk a lot about button color text, and people roll their eyes when you talk about them. And I’ve done it too. Early on in my career I definitely did. Because you think a color isn’t persuasive — except in certain cultural situations it can be — but by and large, for most people, the color orange is not more persuasive than the color blue. So why would we do a button color test? What could we possibly learn?

But when you’re designing for a lizard, lizards are attracted to things that are out of place. Things that look like something to look at — like the bright, shiny object kind of thing. So when you’re going to design a button for that lizard …

There was one in particular that I noted in the presentation for Acuity Scheduling, where we ran three variations of a button with the control included there. So there was a control button on a plans and pricing page for a solution called Acuity Scheduling. The control versus variation B, which was a button color that was within the brand colors for Acuity Scheduling, and variation C, which was meant to speak to that lizard brain. And we made that one outside of the brand color, so different from the palette, and that was the point with making it really stand out.

We made it orange. Not because we believe in the big orange button, necessarily, although orange does tend to do quite well. But it does well not because it’s orange, but rather because it’s different from everything around it. It’s something that stands out. And a lizard, your lizard brain, can notice it and not have to think or wade through information to try to find the right button to click.

So we tested variations B and C against the control on the plans and pricing page. There were three buttons on each variation. The plans and pricing page usually has three, four, five columns where you see what’s inside each plan, and then the button, and you try to get people to click the button, obviously, to get them to sign up. So in the control we had three black buttons. In variation B we had a black button, a green button, and another black button, and that was all within the color palette for Acuity Scheduling. Variation C had a black button, an orange button, and a black button.

We saw a pretty good lift. I think it was just over 80 percent on the variation B and the green button, so it was different from just all three black. That’s a good thing. Already the lizard brain can say, “Okay, something’s different here, I’ll look at that.” But when we made it orange we got, I think it was, 94 percent lift.

Jerod: Wow.

Joanna: And that’s click-through lift. Not conversion lift. Click-through on that orange button. And so it beat the green button, and it totally beat the black button.

And really, that’s what it’s about: designing for a brain that isn’t trying to think. It’s just trying to do without doing the wrong thing.

Do clients balk at choosing colors outside their palette?

Jerod: So speaking of friction … do you ever get friction from designers when you suggest, “Hey, let’s choose a color that’s outside of the palette?”

Joanna: You know, there is an increasing number of designers who are focused on conversion. So we see a lot more designers who are soaking it up, “Give me more.” But give them data too, which is what we’re really focused on doing. Because you can’t just say, “Make it different,” and they’re like, “Oh, okay.”

We see a lot of friction when it comes time to talk to a brand manager or a creative director. People who might sometimes not be that open to doing things for conversion purposes if it compromises in some way, or complicates, the brand. Which I guess we see a lot in copywriting too, right? Everybody wants to pitch a long-form sales page to sell something, and good luck getting that by the average brand manager or creative director, right? And so on, and so forth.

Jerod: Yeah. But I assume if you just show them the data, like you just said, “Hey, 94 perent more clicks,” that’s typically enough, right, to get that sort of reaction? I would hope so.

Joanna: Yeah. You’d think, but if you go to — and I wave my finger at them all the time — he hasn’t actually changed the button.

Jerod: Oh my!

Joanna: The button is still in the control. I know. And I’m like, “But you saw the data!”

Jerod: Yeah.

Joanna: It’s there! You saw the test happening! You looked at it! You know it’s all statistically significant, you know there is nothing actually wrong with the data. It’s perfect. It’s saying, “You can get almost twice as many people to sign up or to get started on signing up for your solution if you just change it to orange.” But it’s still black. What? I don’t know.

It’s always going to be — I think it’s a matter of repetition. People listening to this now will be like, “Oh yeah, sure, fine.” But they have to hear it 30 times from 30 different people before they actually do it.

Jerod: Okay. Maybe there is some anxiety there, why they’re not changing that. Which leads us into our next idea here.

Why you should think of your buttons like closed doors

Jerod: We talk about anxiety, and you use the analogy of a button being like a closed door.

So you talked here about how you want your button to stand out. You want to appeal to that lizard brain that is going to be attracted to it, maybe even scared of it, but they see it. And then once they’re there, now you have to reduce that anxiety so that they feel welcome enough, comfortable enough, to open up the door, right?

Joanna: Exactly.

Jerod: How do you do that?

Joanna: It’s really addressing — at the point of clicking to convert — those seemingly minor obstacles that are getting in the way of moving forward.

If you think of a button as a closed door instead, you can start to see … because buttons are cute, and they’re charming, like the word “button.” You can’t be scared of a button. Who would feel anxiety with a button, right? Especially where we can all go around saying, “We all use the web. Everybody is familiar with it: you just click a button when you’re ready to buy. You just click the button.”

But you don’t just click the button, right, or else we wouldn’t see the lift that we do. We would just keep seeing, “Oh, we’re not actually affecting a change. People are having an easy time clicking the button.” But they’re not.

So if we think of it as a closed door, now you can start to put yourself in the position where you’re like, “How do I feel when I’m about to open a closed door?” Especially a closed door in a building that I’m not familiar with. So it’s one thing if it’s your house. You’re likely to just open and close the door unless you know it’s the bathroom, or something like that. But in someone else’s house, or if you’re in a neighborhood, a strange neighborhood, and you’re looking for your friend’s house. You’re looking for a certain door but you don’t know which one is right. You can start to feel a bit of those anxieties, right?

“If I open that door, what’s on the other side? If I go inside will it close behind me and I’ll get lost inside?” I can’t see what’s in there until I actually open the door. Do I care enough about what’s inside to put myself through the potential trauma of opening this door only to find that there’s a lion behind it, or other crazy things that we might — I mean, nobody thinks there’s a lion on the other side of a button or of a closed door. But the bad things that are unknown that generate this fear and risk inside of us, which of course turn the lizard brain off too. Where you’re like, “Okay, forget it. I’m not going, it’s not worth it.”

But if we can anticipate those kinds of small anxieties about opening a door, and do things to knock those anxieties down a bit, just really neutralize and reduce them, then we can get people to open.

So obviously I work a lot with tech startups, like software as a service. So there is a lot of signing up for things online. And when you’re signing up for a free trial, what are the anxieties that a person might feel when they’re about to click? They like your solution, they like everything about it. What are some anxieties that they might feel, though, about moving forward with this so-called free trial:

  • Is it really free?
  • Do I have to put my credit card information in here?
  • How many pages of forms am I going to have to fill out before I can actually start using this thing?
  • Do I have to invite other people to help me start using it somehow?
  • Do I have to sign in with Facebook, only to find out that it’s now been posted to Facebook?

What are some fears that people have? And all you have to really do is build those into the button copy, or position those neutralizer things that counter those fears and anxieties. Position those around the button. We see some pretty good lift when we do that.

How to word button copy to reduce anxiety

Jerod: And you want to use wording that suggests, too, that they have to do less work, right?

Joanna: Yeah.

Jerod: Let me give you an example. And tell me if I did this right. I was creating a button, actually, today for a post that’s going to go out, and it included a call to action button for signing up for Authority. And I had Joanna’s voice whispering in my head….

Joanna: (Laughs)

Jerod: … I did, because when I first wrote the button I said, “Sign up,” meaning “You have to go, you have to do something.” And I changed it to “Join the Authority community” instead. So is that better? Is the second wording better than the first, in your mind? Is that going to reduce anxiety, or do I need to go change it again?

Joanna: I would believe that would perform better in an A/B test, yes. Because the initial one, like you say, there’s a sense of “Will my life get harder once I click this button?” And we want them to believe their life will get better, right?

We’re always trying to sell people a better version of themselves, and that doesn’t stop at the point of your button.

So “sign up.” What does that suggest to people? To me it suggests, “Oh crap, I’ve got work to do.” What does “sign up” mean? Plus there’s that fear of commitment. Am I ready to sign up? I know I like it, but do I love it? Am I actually, seriously into this solution so much that I’m ready to “sign up?” I mean, “sign” is a scary word, right? To sign is like “sign your life away.” We have some anxieties associated with that word.

But “join?” Perhaps there is a little anxiety there if you’re not sure if you want to join. But it’s reducing any anxieties about possibly being alone because you’re joining, of course, that community. So I think that’s a good thing. Does “join” suggest work?

You might want to add a click trigger on there that says “It’s one click to join,” or something to really help people understand that it’s actually not going to make their life harder. It’s going to be really fast and easy. And a lot of people know this in their head, but they don’t put it on the page. You know, “Oh yeah, it’s going to be really easy.” So people will know to join. But if you just add a little click trigger that says what they can expect that will happen next, that can push people a little further.

And if you get another ten sign-ups a day, or people clicking a day, that really starts to build up. Just because you did a little more on the page to kind of neutralize those anxieties.

Jerod: Perfect. I like that. Thank you for the impromptu analysis there.

Joanna: Sure! I hope it helped.

Why you need to think of “calls to action” as “calls to value”

Jerod: So my final question about this idea of anxiety. Kerry Jones of CopyPress actually wrote a really terrific column, “13 Take-Aways From Authority Intensive,” and one of her take-aways was a quote by you, which kind of explains this idea that we’ve just been talking about, which is:

Think of a call to action as a call to value.

Can you just elaborate on that difference, and maybe one way that listeners can put that into effect on their buttons?

Joanna: Sure.

So a call to action is like — you tell people what they should do. What they should act on, and that they should move forward. But not why they should move forward, right? That’s a call to action. A call to value is a reminder of why it is that you want to move forward at all.

People know what a button is, right? They know to click the button to proceed. And that’s not to say that you shouldn’t use words like “click here” and “join” or words like that. Still use an action word or a verb in there. But what is the ultimate value that they’re looking for from you?

Nobody wants to do the act. They want to do the act in order to get the thing.

So if you can instead lead with the thing that they want, the great outcome, that value that they’re looking for, and really amplify the value instead of the act of proceeding, then we’ve seen at least that you can get more people to move forward. And that’s really because you’re just reminding them of what they came here for in the first place.

We had one button test that we ran where — I’m trying to remember the control. But anyway, the button that won was worded “End my scheduling hassles.” I think the control was something like “Sign up now.” It’s in the presentation deck, which I know is going to be shared. So “End my scheduling hassles” was the ultimate value that people wanted to get out of this solution they were thinking of using.

And so using that kind of language, like the goal they’re looking for and not the thing they’re about to do right this exact second, but the thing that they’re going to get out of it. If you can do that, or at least test it, we’ve seen really good results from that call to value over the call to action.

Stress benefits in your buttons

Jerod: That’s the old idea of stress the benefits, right?

Joanna: Yeah. And do it in your button. People just don’t think about buttons enough, unfortunately. I know I obviously said that a lot at the presentation, but they don’t. So if you can, then I think you can get a lot more out of it. Everything you know about copy writing can still be applied to your button. Nothing really changes here, right? This is a critical point on your page. Don’t forget all your copy writing tricks when it comes time to write that button.

Jerod: Perfect. And that is a wonderful point to end on. Joanna, I feel like we could talk about this for hours because there’s so much more to unpack, and so many tips. But thank you.

Joanna: Sure.

Jerod: Now, what is the best place for people to connect with you online? Obviously @copyhackers on Twitter, the site Are there any other places people can or should go to get all of your wonderful information?

Joanna: Those are really it. I’m quite active on Twitter, and definitely on my blog too. So come over and check that out, and everything there. We do a slide share. We’ll post it on the blog. You can sign up for the newsletter when you’re on, and of course, we’ll send you all sorts of cool stuff that way too. So that’s how to get me.

Jerod: Perfect. And hopefully, hint hint, we can get another one of your posts up on Copyblogger soon, because…

Joanna: Yes!

Jerod: … the two that you posted have performed so well, and people absolutely love them because they’re full of great tips.

Joanna: Cool! That’s awesome. Well, thank you! I’m working on it.

Jerod: Okay, good. Then we will chat about that later.

Joanna: Okay.

Jerod: Well Joanna, thank you very much. It was wonderful meeting with you, wonderful talking with you, and we will talk soon.

Joanna: Yeah! Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me, and for letting me talk at Authority Intensive.

Jerod: Anytime.

Thank you for listening to The Lede. And my thanks again to Joanna, for taking the time to join me. If you’re enjoying these episodes and finding them useful, please consider giving The Lede a rating and a review on ITunes. Also consider sharing it with a friend. We appreciate any way that you can help us spread the word. And don’t forget, The Lede is on Stitcher now. Just go to to find our page and add The Lede to your playlist.

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