conversion rate is desire minus friction

Use this formula to persuade people to take action

There we were — looking at the form and thinking, “Ugh, it’s terrible.” The lead form was 22 questions long. Far from the simple name + email forms you see elsewhere on the interwebs. That was before the drip — the additional 6 questions we wanted them to provide after the information they provided on the first form.

I wouldn’t fill that out, I said aloud. What do the numbers look like?

The data wasn’t reassuring. Only 20% of people were completing the form. Four out of every five people who saw it decided they had better things to do. I couldn’t blame them.

The call to action had evolved over time. Request information. Request information today. Request information in 2 minutes. Request information in 2 minutes or less. Request information fast. Request information in 90 seconds or less. We had tested those, and we knew what worked best out of the group. The problem was — it presumed that the call to action was sufficient to overcome the frog of a form.

It was time for the pain in the ask. How could we make it better?

Of course, we knew the answer. It was the most fundamental of digital marketing precepts — Conversion Rate = Desire – Friction.

In short, if we want someone to take action, we have power tools at our disposal. We can boost desire, to offset friction. We can reduce friction, to counter low desire. Or we can adjust both based upon our products and circumstances.

Conversion Rate

This is easy. The conversion rate is how many people do the thing you want them to do. Presumably, you have defined this first.


Desire is how strongly the person completing the action wants what is being offered.

Perhaps a company offers a new product to select customers.

Perhaps a credit card company gives $500 cash back for creating a new account, but only for the next 30 days.

Concert ticket companies might say, “Purchase now. We will only hold this seat at this price for 4:59… 4:58… 4:57… 4:56… 4:55…”

Or, maybe a political campaign says, “Donate today and receive your free gift — a #MAGA trucker cap.”


Friction is anything that slows action. It can be a slow-loading web page, a typo during checkout, a broken link on your “buy now” button, or giving people too many options resulting in cognitive freezing.

On a form, each question adds friction, increasing time or complexity.

In a debate, fear of diminished reputation or being wrong reduces likelihood for someone to concede a point.

First generation college students might lack an understanding of financial aid or the enrollment process, which might keep them from college.

In church, publicly admitting marital challenges and walking 100 feet to the alter in front of 200 people you see each week may keep you in your seat.

Friction is not always negative.

A store might offer a limited number of items, a powerful marketing concept that increases desire by creating scarcity.

A restaurant might enact a dress code to create a perception of exclusivity.

A club or organization may place high standards for admission, which boosts prestige.

Or, friction might be applied in software design. When someone clicks “delete” and the software says, “Are you sure?” This friction is on purpose to prevent mistakes.

The same would be true of a shopping cart confirmation page. The company applies the right amount of friction to prevent accidental purchase, but not so much that it keeps you from persisting.

Putting the formula to use

As we can imagine, this principle has broader applications. It is less about mathematics and more about human behavior.

You may be collecting donations, selling purses or trying to get someone to fill out a paper feedback card. Maybe you are trying to persuade a timid team member to contribute ideas in a group meeting. Conversion rate is merely the successful completion of your desired action.

I have even argued that conversion rate comes into play with things like apologies. Conversion rate = how much you value the relationship – how much you want to be right.

So, how do you improve?

Here are a few suggestions for improving effectiveness.

  1. Secret Shop
    When was the last time you took a look at your processes as a customer or new visitor? One of the most effective ways to improve is to pick apart someone else’s experience. See how they do things. What works? What makes you feel frustrated or uncomfortable? Do you do any of the things they do?
  2. Test
    It is easy to test digital experiences. You can use a product like HotJar to test real users. There are also tools like Google Analytics, Google Optimize, Optimizely, etc., to compare user experiences and see what works. If you are testing non-digital scenarios, that is where focus grouping, surveys, or good old observation come into play.
  3. Develop a product or service worthy of the friction
    Many businesses or marketers would argue that if you are confident in your abilities to create a premium product or service, this in and of itself is a solution. For an exceptional product, customers will endure excessive friction.
  4. Assess your needs
    Perhaps the most essential of all things is to assess your own internal needs. On a form, which fields do you actually need? In a world of increasingly-expensive postage, are you likely to actually mail to their physical address? Is email sufficient? How about email plus mobile phone? Perhaps you have an active visitor follow-up team who, with just phone numbers, can effectively follow-up by phone for the remaining information.

Strip away everything that is unnecessary. Whatever remains is the friction that must exist. Then, focus on how to increase desire.

Back to the task at hand

So, let’s revisit where I began. Our 22-field form produced too much friction. We knew that people wanted information about the school. But, not to the extent of offering up 22 data points on first contact.

We assessed our needs. Which fields must we absolutely have? Name. Email. Phone. The rest, we could acquire through additional outreach.

We were left with an initial form of only 4 questions. Those questions were the ones required by the customer management system we were using to create a unique record.

Then, we tested. We ran a comparison between the original form and the new form. The results were staggering. We saw a 54% lift in the number of visitors who completed the form.

Even more amazing… we moved the extra questions from the first form to the drip form. Our drip form grew to 24 questions. But, because of the increased conversions on the original lead form, we saw an identical number of leads who took the time to complete the original questions we wanted them to provide.

Are we done? Of course not. Now, we get back to the task of increasing desire.

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