How “Line of Sight” Increases Conversion Rates

by Derek Halpern · 30 comments

The dirty little secret about increasing conversion rates is this:

If you want people to take action (buy your products, sign up for your newsletter, or share your content), you must make your web visitors painfully aware what you want them to do.

That means, if you want someone to sign up for your newsletter, they first need to SEE your opt-in form.

You may think it’s painfully obvious, but assume nothing. Just because you think it’s obvious, doesn’t mean a new visitor who stumbled on your website will think the same.

(Remember that survey we ran a few weeks ago? There were people who had no idea that DIYthemes sold the premium theme framework Thesis. Heh).

So, the question is, how can you alert your new visitors about what you want them to do?

That’s where “Line of Sight” comes into play.

The Power Of Line of Sight

I’ve wrote about this before (in the free ebook Nonverbal Website Intelligence and how images improve or destroy conversion rates), but I’ll say it again: Following someone’s gaze is irresistible.

Plus, later in this article, I’ve stumbled on some new research from Italy that I’ve never talked about before. You’ll love it.

Now, to quickly excerpt the book:

Imagine you’re walking down an empty city block and you spot someone curiously looking up at the sky. Would you quickly glance up to see what has their attention?

Absolutely! Now you’re wondering, what does this have to do with websites?

Let’s say you’re going to use a picture of a person on your website. Keeping line of sight in mind, you should direct their gaze the direction where you want your visitors to look.

Guess what happens? People will follow the gaze of the person in the picture because a human gaze is like a big red arrow pointing in a specific direction.

And then, I went on to show the now famous example of the Chemistry.com website:

Chemistry

As you can see, her eyes are pointing directly towards the opt-in form. It’s hard to miss.

Does it increase conversions?

While I don’t have the data from Chemistry, I’m betting it does. They’ve used that exact image for YEARS.

But how powerful is “Line of Sight” really?

Here’s the Data to Back It Up

Giovanni Galfano and his colleagues ran an interesting experiment in Italy. Here’s what went down:

Giovanni put together a group of research experiment participants, and told them to look out for a small target that would appear on a screen. The target would appear either on the left-hand side or the right-hand side, and when it appeared, the participants had one main goal: press the spacebar key as fast as possible.

Then, to make things even easier, a word “Left” or “Right” would appear in the middle of the screen… right before the target appeared. This word told people exactly where the target would appear, with 100% accuracy. The reason why they did this was because they didn’t want people “struggling” to find what side the target appeared on.

But, as always with research experiments, there was a catch.

After the direction word appeared, but before the target appeared, either a cartoon face or an arrow would appear, and they could be looking in either direction… either towards or away from where the target was about to appear.

(The arrow can point, naturally. With regards to the cartoon, the line of sight of the cartoon character would point either towards or away).

So, how fast did people press that space bar button?

Every time the arrow and face looked away from the target, it took people longer to press the space bar. It was only a few milliseconds, but the change was statistically significant.

What’s funny is this: people were told to ignore these faces and arrows, and they couldn’t. Following them was irresistible, and that’s why it took people longer to press the space bar. Instead of looking out for the target, they wasted time looking at the wrong side of the screen.

Now let’s take this back to the web…

How Line of Sight and Arrows Increases Conversions

First, I told you about that class Chemistry.com example. Then I shared some interesting new research about the power of line of sight and arrows.

But now, I want to make one more point before I close out this blog post…

Every time I tell people about the power of arrows and line of sight, they always say something like “That might work for your people, but my visitors are smarter than that. My customers are different.”

Well, guess what.

Your customers aren’t different.

They’re people just like you, just like me, and just like people in that experiment.

And as I said earlier in this article, just because something is painfully obvious to you, doesn’t mean it’s painfully obvious to your visitors.

But based on this new research, it seems that an arrow or picture with someone looking at your desired action is an easy way to make sure it IS painfully obvious.

And what happens when your desired action becomes painfully obvious?

Your conversion rates go up.

So, the question is, are you going to work some classy arrows or “line of sight” into your blog design?

“Well, after reading this article, I’m going to add some classy arrows to my blog design” – Click to Tweet

“Well, after reading this article, I’m going to take advantage of “line of sight” in my blog design” – Click to Tweet

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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{ 30 comments }

David Krug

Stellar advice and something I’ve been slowly working at in my lead generation business, and SEO services business. It’s hard coming from the world of the blogosphere where somehow we grew up thinking sales were a bad thing…

Justin Brooke

I hear you about the “blogosphere anti-sales” thing…

Comes from the blogosphere war with Internet marketers who use big red arrows, lots of highlighting, and hypey headlines. And the old school high pressure salesmen out of boiler rooms and car lots.

Sales has evolved though and there are very classy ways to persuade someone to buy your product. Arrows can be subtle and still very effective.

Keiran

It’s amazing how you can see things all the time and have no idea what’s happening. I’ve seen these line of sight images on the web and in print media for years and never realised what they publishers were trying to do. I need to think harder about things. Thanks for the heads-up!

faisal

So be direct and intrusive, and forget the rest.

Derek Halpern

I didn’t say intrusive. I said be painfully obvious.

Adam Pervez

Great advice. I think it’s challenging for a lot of bloggers to integrate such suggestive behavior on our sites, but no pain no gain. My website has a mailing list sign-up and it works somewhat well despite nothing directing attention there, but I’m sure I could be doing better. Time to try to implement some of these techniques. Thanks!

David Martinez

I was testing these line of site arrows before 2008, but in 2008 I had proof they worked – conversions really jumped when I got them just right at a startup I was working at. We had SalesForce tracking the data to prove it.

Barbara | Creative Culinary

I’ve also read recently that it’s best to put social media buttons ABOVE the post, not under it. Sort of hate to do that but I’m thinking of at least testing the waters. And creating an arrow. :)

Will

Great to see you share this tip, Derek! As an former print designer from the stone age, I’ve followed this rule for decades, and am always surprised how many overlook it. Nothing makes me cringe harder than a photo looking out of its ad. And to a lesser degree than the eyes, remember that arms, legs, and even the angles of objects can work for or against line of sight intentions.

Hannah

Though I haven’t been doing this (and will try to implement it as soon as possible) the concept makes perfect sense. People are deeply conditioned to respect (and obey) this kind of suggestion in real life, from children gaining understanding of whether something is right – or wrong – by reading the faces of their parents to the many types of nonverbal communication exchanged by adults – it has much to do with the adaptive value of reading the expressions of those close to you. By ‘adaptive value’ I mean survival value. And that’s why I believe you when you say every site’s visitors will respond to the Line of Sight strategy – it’s pure instinct, or perhaps intuitive, inherited wisdom, wrought by millenia of surviving by responding to subtle (or not so subtle) facial expressions and physical gestures from others in their family/tribe. It’s natural. In some ways it seems unfair to use this type of innate behavior to sell products to people, but when you’re in business you do what works, and I see no reason why this won’t.

Annie Sisk (Stage Presence)

It looks to me like she’s gazing at the site title, actually, but the point’s an interesting one. Mostly academic, I fear, since unless you’re willing to spend bucks on premium stock image sites, most solo biz bloggers are gonna have a problem finding an image that meets all their criteria AND in which the model’s gazing in the correct direction. Maybe I’m wrong.

Faith

It’s amazing what you can do with Photoshop (or GIMP if you like free) and a royalty-free image from Flickr or sxc.hu. If the model is looking in the wrong direction, flip the image. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do stuff like big biz, you just have to be a little more creative or do a little more searching to find something that fits your needs. :-)

Vanessa $aks

Good tip Faith.

Have heard positive things about Gimp and need to integrate it. Nice to know you are able to manipulate images and photos to that degree.

Thanks for sharing!

I wonder if this concept (having eyes follow where you want the reader to go/do), can be applied to all industries and demographics? Doesn’t necessarily work for me, but that may be bc I know what they’re trying to do ;-)

Bruce Simmons

Nice insights!!! I’m such a critic to ads, that stuff like this does not work on me… and hence, I forget it may work on others. Hmm… Maybe I can make an image that points to a ‘donation’ widget on my site! Oh yea, golden days ahead! {LOL}

Wendy

We don’t have an arrow, but we do have a “swoosh” of sorts…It’s working!

Wendy

We don’t have an arrow, but we do have a “swoosh” of sorts. It’s working.

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Good stuff!

Kirk Eisele

Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been focusing on content lately and need to turn my attention back to conversion optimization. Trying to think of how I can get an arrow in my design without looking less professional!

Bharat Chowdary

I’m going to take advantage of “line of sight” in my blog. Great Stuff.

Jon Rieley-Goddard

My avatar is my cat Bella look up and left. I think that a strong diagonal image gets the visitor to look all around to find the focus. Gets the eye moving, so to speak. i use this avatar flush left in all my posts. If Bella is looking up and off the screen from the left side, I want to see what she is ignoring. I assume the reader/visitor does, too.

I bring a newspaper design awareness to blogging. I pay attention to the theory of the Inverse Six, which says the eye begins at top left and scans in a looping way from up left to down right and back to just below the beginning point, which is also the weak point needing a visual component. Elements at the end of the loop are the least likely to be noticed. This works for a newspaper page but I’m not so sure about the blog page. At any rate, it gets me thinking about the visitor’s experience and how to affect it.

Michael Musgrove

Derek-

This typically nice post of yours reminds me of a segment I saw last week on Discovery Channel for a show called Head Games (I think).

The experiment was to have one actor looking up at a tree in a park-like area with a good many people milling about, to see if the strangers would stop, look up, ask, or just what the response would be.

When 1 actor stood there and gazed up, not much. Two people: same thing. The magic number was 4. When 4 people stood there and looked up at the tree, people stopped, gathered and asked what was going on.

To take it a step further, the actor(s) claimed there was snake in the tree, although there was not.

With no problem at all, the crowd could be as easily convinced they, too, saw the snake, even though there was nothing. Even after they were told it was all a ploy, they still had trouble accepting reality.

As you correctly stated, people aren’t as smart as we think we are.

Ruan @ UltimateDomainManager.com

Absolutely fabulous as always Derek!

I do have one concern about using an arrow though. Maybe it’s just me but somehow I think using arrows might have things look like a sales-pitch-coming-up of some sort. I like the idea of using a human pointing his/her eyes into the direction of where action is needed.

Especially intriguing eyes making people feel “what on earth is she looking at that looks THAT interesting; I want to see!!!” I think I’m most definitely going to try that out ;)

All about the psychology eh? LOL!

I think if you have an opt-in form in the top of your sidebar (if not, what are you waiting for?) then having an image like that within the post, aligned to the right (assuming you have a content area with a right sidebar) positioned right next or slightly underneath your opt-in form within your post; that should do the trick!

WoW!

Thanks for the heads-up buddy!

Nicki

Makes a lot of sense. Now I’m going to have to do a little blog review and see how I can make some changes to implement this.
The Italian research is very interesting.

Paul J

Thanks of this post Derek, I was looking for some wise words and inspiration on conversion rates for a presentation that I am making soon, and this was a brilliant piece of writing.

Keep up this kind of quality!

Craig Grella

This is the kind of stuff I love from you guys.Cold, hard data. How can you argue with that?

Glynis Jolly

I have my sign-up form in the right place but I need a form I saw at the email service site I’m with. I almost got that one, but for some unknown reason, I decided on another one.

shinazy

every time i read the post i learn valuable info.

ok, my website, a storytelling site, has a ‘Follow’ button. however, i need to convert ‘viewers’ (folks that randomly find BOBB) into readers.

because the page, the story, changes several times a week, i need a ‘line of sight’ thing to bring the Follow button to the attention of a viewer: an arrow ?? i was thinking a floating arrow … did a search, but alas ? where do i find a floating arrow plug-in or something that will sever the ‘line of sight’ purpose?

anyone out there with a link. suggestion, recommendation?

thanks y’all.

s

amanda

I’d really like to find a way to get users to join my forum when they come to the blog, have it be in their face, first thing they see. How should I do this? Does anyone know how to integrate vbulletin registration and put it in an opt-in type form on wp? I like how KolaKube features this optin on top http://demo.kolakube.com/marketers-delight/

Thanks for your input!

Matt Greener

Great tips, with evidence to back it up. I hadn’t heard of that Italian study before, but it makes perfect sense. So many times people use or don’t use arrows and line of sight elements for no other reason than preference or because “it’s what everyone else is doing”. Much more effective when properly understood and implemented. Thanks!

David Pledger

Have you noticed that a lot of the pages that pop up in the middle of your screen have the “close” button in the top left. Not where I would expect to look first for an action point. I suppose they are using a reverse of the psychology discussed here to maintain on screen presence longer.