High-Anxiety Home Pages: 2 Breathless Examples

by Diana Ecker on September 4, 2014

Crossing Jubilee BridgeGenerating anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. But on your website, you want to carefully calibrate how it’s affecting potential customers. Are they energized? Or are you just making them jittery?

At the 2014 Authority Intensive in Denver, Joanna Wiebe gave the best talk of the conference.

Its title: “Unmistakable Proof That Your Calls to Action Are Costing You $$$” (you should definitely check it out on Slideshare).

In her talk, Joanna identified two potential conversion killers: Friction and Anxiety.

When visitors think about clicking on a button on a website, she explained, they’re wondering what’s on the other side. The unknown? Uncomfortable demands? Danger of some kind?

If the button and the language around it don’t reassure a visitor about what’s on the other side to rest, a primal instinct may kick in and get that visitor to leave. Better safe than sorry!

In this post, you’re going to see another source of anxiety that affects customer behavior on websites. It’s not anxiety spurred by fear of what’s waiting on the other side.

Instead, it’s a deliberate spiking of anxiety on THIS side. Right on the home page.

Is it ever a good idea to deliberately generate anxiety?

Of course! For example, take the addictive game QuizUp (thanks, @mayhew3, for getting me hooked!).

You have a limited number of seconds to answer each question. A little clock at the top of the screen counts down, accompanied by music designed to make your heart race. After a few seconds, a ticking sound comes on to increase the effect.

On top of that, as a player, you know that the longer you wait to answer, the fewer points you’ll get for a correct response.

When I play QuizUp, my anxiety skyrockets — but it’s fun! There are a lot of reasons for this:

    It’s a game
    I deliberately activated it
    Facilitative anxiety may boost my score
    The experience offers entertainment value

But…when a potential customer visits your website, none of these things are the case. And triggering an excessive feeling of anxiety in a visitor can backfire.

Tracking time…and raising blood pressure

So what happens when your site is not a game? What happens when an anxiety-inducing element comes as a surprise and does not offer entertainment value? Most of all, what happens when anxiety colors the way someone feels about a product or service?

Toggl is an online app for tracking time. From the minute you get to their home page, a counter starts going. As it runs, you can try to navigate the page.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 4.07.53 PM

toggl-sequence-2Wait, where should you click? On the gray button that says STOP? Or should you take the tour? Wait, where’s the link to log in?

As agitation rises and you scan the page, the words “insanely” and “kills” aren’t exactly having a soothing effect.

By the time you hit STOP, you’re officially rattled.

The new language that appears — “That’s it! Using Toggl is that easy. Boom. Done.” — doesn’t help.

Yes, this demonstration is clever. But the question it answers isn’t the one you came in with. Of all of the concerns a potential customer has about a time-tracking app, surely the basic mechanics of tracking time (hitting start and stop) are not at the top.

Frazzled visitors may head elsewhere. Because trying to choose a to choose a good time-tracking app is stressful enough as it is.

Not so sweet: A speedy full-size carousel

On the SugarCRM website, there’s a tagline below the main image, next to the logos of their customers: “CRM software trusted by millions worldwide.”

But visiting their home page is much more likely to trigger feelings of anxiety than a sense of trust:
If the sea of red punctuated by close-ups on people’s eyes doesn’t make you feel unsettled, there’s a built-in element to guarantee agitation: speed.

After the initial home screen image, three other images paired with brief testimonials, all from the same company, zip through on a rotation.

If you can get your bearings and manage to click on the “Watch video” button, you’ll be taken to a short testimonial video and an 8-field lead generation form.

The experience is designed to accost you from the start with aggressive imagery and sped-up animation. Then — before you have any substantive information about the product itself — you’re asked to give up a lot of information.

It sure seems like a risky strategy.

Is this approach optimal for SugarCRM’s audience? It comes down to a few questions: Who is doing the initial research when a company considers getting a new CRM? What kinds of elements are going to be appealing to that person? And will ratcheting up his or her anxiety create a positive first impression?

Sure, there’s a subset of every audience craving excitement and sensory overload. And it’s reasonable to not want to be “boring.”

But if you’re deliberately driving up anxiety on your home page like the examples here, make sure that you’re not inadvertently driving away your other potential customers as well.

Photo by Garry Knight via IM Creator. Creative Commons license.

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