Make it obvious (I mean really obvious).

“I don’t want to insult their intelligence,” said a client to me recently. “Do you really think we need to tell them what to do again?” Yes you do, I thought. “Yes you do,” I said. Why? Because buying is stressful (cast your mind back to Christmas). You want reassurance. You want to be told that you’ve made the right choice. You need reasons to go ahead and not just turn on your heel and flee the store. Or close that web page. You want to know what to do next. So why are your customers, readers or prospects any different? They’re not. So make it easy, make it clear and say it again. And again. Just this week, I realised once more the power of signs when I was working out at my gym. First, I saw this one: And then this one: Button number 1 is a polite, well-behaved button. Sensible, low-key and probably not very effective. Button number 2 screams Emergency! Which is exactly what it should do.

More is less

Good signs are clear, obvious and easily noticed. It could be a button on your site, a big bright heading in a letter, a bold underline instruction on what to do next in a brochure. But be careful. Where it comes to signs, there’s a fine line – and if you cross it, you get diminishing returns. If you have too many signs, they overwhelm people, so they blank them all out. Let’s go back to the gym. Not the one above, but another I used to go to. It did signs – lots of them.
Please put your towel in the bin provided. Please replace weights carefully. Please dry off before entering the changing area. Please shower before entering the pool. No running or jumping in pool. Male and female changing rooms swapped today only. Goggles must be worn. Training tops are obligatory. Sign up a friend and get 20% off.
See how easy it is to miss an important sign? Before you know it, you’re a man, in the men’s changing room, but it’s full of naked women (read it again – slowly this time). When it comes to signs, less really is more. And a few simple rules will make your signs stand out:
  • Be focused: work out your key messages and stick to them. Don’t give people too many choices or they won’t make any choice.
  • Repeat yourself. You should include your call to action regularly in your copy – at the bottom of every web page, in your headers and footers, in call-out boxes and headlines. Make it crystal-clear what you want people to do, and say it as often as possible.
  • Make it easy. How often have you been on a site and got caught in a loop or trapped in a dead end? It happened to me just the other day. I was ordering a USB drive, but wanted to double-check the spec before I completed the order. But I couldn’t go back to check, like I do when I’m ordering a book on Amazon. All I could do was click Pay now. So I didn’t. I simply found a more user-friendly site and bought there instead.
  • Give them more. People are often looking for reasons to use you. Why wouldn’t they be? If you’re the company, the brain-frying, mind-boggling, toe-curling, buttock-clenching search is over. Give them lots of reasons why they should look no further – and make them as prominent as possible.
  • Pretend you’re them. Or put another way, take the ‘tourist test’ (walk around your own town/city, slavishly follow the signs, ask for directions and follow them to the letter). When you’re inside the mind of the reader, customer or prospect, things look very different indeed. So go with the flow, and anticipate their questions, problems and needs.

Waving, not drowning

I did press one of the emergency buttons – the smaller one. I didn’t mean to, but my hand caught it as I prised myself out of the leg-extension machine. I froze, and waited for the flashing lights, alarm bells and solicitous staff running to my assistance, first-aid box in hand. It didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. Which goes to prove another truth when it comes to signs. They’re only as good as the people behind them. Happy New Year.