Digital360 on 21 June 2017

When UX takes a back-seat to (short term) conversions tactics

Have you ever visited a website and felt a pang of guilt for not signing up to a newsletter? You're not alone. 'Confirmshaming' is a widespread website conversion tactic which attempts to 'shame' or guilt a user into opting into something, such as signing up to a newsletter or downloading an eBook.

There are a number of elements of an effective confirmshame. Often, one will start by launching a style of pop-up called an 'exit intent' – a full page interstitial that detects when a user is about to leave the webpage. While that might be an annoying intrusion, the website is only just getting started.

When the pop-up appears, it presents the user with two options. Instead of providing a simple 'yes' or 'no', the user is instead presented with one desirable option and one undesirable option. The trick is to try and shame the user into providing an email address by making the alternative seem undesirable.


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Confirmshaming in action

Here's an example. Let's say you come across a website, Total Auto Supplies, looking for a good price on some car accessories. You search the website and browse some pages. But when you go to close the window, a large banner suddenly appears across the screen, prompting you with a message: 'Do you want cheap parts and fast cars? Sign up to out newsletter now!'

You've already decided that Total Auto Supplies doesn't have the product you're looking for. But the options to close the window have made your choice seem more difficult. One button, in a cool green, reads, 'Yes! Let's do it!', while the other option in a small grey hyperlink reads 'No, I'd rather pay more and have a slow car.'

Of course, no one is looking to pay money to have a slower car. Yet this site is accusing you of doing just that. If you leave, it feels like you've been forced to admit something that isn't true. The website (and the business behind it) are claiming you're making an irrational decision.

All of a sudden, you feel conflicted. You may even end up thinking 'Well, okay. Why not?' and sign up to the newsletter anyway. And that means the tactic worked, just as intended.


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Confirmshaming and other 'dark' patterns

These days, confirmshaming is widespread across the internet. It's part of a class of conversion rate optimisation (CRO) tactics called 'dark patterns' – design methods used to coerce or trick users. Think of dark patterns as the reverse of good user experience design (UX).

The goal of a dark pattern is to force the user into making a decision or taking an action that will benefit the business behind the website. More often than not, this goal is contrary to the interests of the user. It could be adding a fee, getting legal permission, or securing an opportunity for future promotions. Default and hidden opt-ins, extra items in the shopping cart, and trick questions are all examples of dark patterns.

While various sales tactics have been around long before the internet, confirmshaming is a tactic that has recently flourished. In fact, there are many thousands of instances of confirmshaming across the web. Some of the best are being documented on this blog, 'ConfirmShaming', where the tackiest pop-ups are posted up to be shamed – to 'shame the confirmshamers', so to speak.


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Would confirmshaming work in person?

But is confirmshaming really that bad? Think of it this way: a business is insulting a potential customer. That goes against all good customer services principles. But, let's take a real life situation to see just how ludicrous and damaging this tactic is.

Imagine walking into a clothes shop to buy a shirt. At first, the salesperson is helpful, if a little pushy. She helps you pick out a new shirt and directs you to the change rooms. After trying on the shirt, you change your mind. It isn't the right colour, and it isn't the right fit. After a few minutes, you decide to leave. 'Maybe there's a better shirt at the shop across the road,' you think to yourself.

You exit the change room and hand the shirt to the salesperson, thanking her and explaining that you're going to try elsewhere. All of a sudden, the tone of the salesperson changes drastically. She steps in front of you, blocking your path. 'Oh, you're going to go to the shop across the road?' the salesperson declares. 'Sure, that's fine. You must enjoy looking that ugly.'

Would any business do this? Probably not (unless they wanted to be on the receiving end of negative online reviews). Yet again and again, this is what businesses are doing online when they confirmshame their users.

Thankfully, the practice may be on its way out.


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Is confirmshaming here to stay?

Generally speaking, marketing tactics like this lose their potency as more and more consumers become aware of them. It only takes one bad experience – such as downloading an unwanted eBook or receiving an unsolicited promotion – before users switch off to the effects of the tactic.

Google is also cracking down on pop-ups, which will see the death of some of the most intrusive interstitials and insulting messages. In January 2017, Google rolled out penalties for the most intrusive pop-ups for mobile devices.

However, Google will only serve a penalty if the pop-up appears immediately after clicking through from Google search results. If the user spends some time browsing and navigating pages, then there is no penalty. But, it does signal that Google views some pop-ups as bad practice and annoying for users.

So, are we seeing the back of 'confirmshaming'?

For now, they remain commonplace. But best-practice user experience will win in the long term. Over time, these tactics become ineffective to savvy visitors, and platforms like Google will also roll out penalties for the worst and most deceptive dark patterns.


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Using only best practice conversion tactics

In the meantime, designers, copywriters and their clients can keep ahead of the game, and stay away from 'confirmshaming' as a CRO tactic. Generally speaking, best-practice CRO finds ways to improve UX. The easier it is for a user to complete a task, the higher the chance of a conversion.

Creating a great experience and developing trust with customers, whether online or off, is the best long term strategy for increasing sales and conversions online.

For more information about CRO and UX design, speak to a specialist in Melbourne.