The Insighter

November 2010

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In this issue

Getting your website visitors to click: the 3 things you have to do

Are your website visitors having difficulty completing tasks? Do they abandon pages rather than complete their task? Do you have difficulty getting people to take action on your website? Gaining a better understanding of human behaviour can help you find answers.

We recently had the opportunity to spend a day with BJ Fogg – noted researcher, innovator and speaker from Stanford University. It was a chance to get reacquainted with his evolving Behaviour Model and adapt it for our own purposes in helping people to understand peoples’ behaviour on the web.

The Behaviour Model posits that three elements – Motivation, Ability and a Trigger – must coincide for behaviour to occur. As the web becomes more engagement and transaction oriented, it is important to realize that information by itself does not lead to action. Conversely, if behaviour does not occur, it implies that at least one of the critical elements is missing.

For people to act, they have to have the motivation, the ability, and be triggered.


Fogg characterizes motivation along three bi-polar dimensions:

  • Pleasure / pain
  • Hope / fear
  • Social acceptance / rejection

For example, people looking to buy security software are often motivated by fear. People interacting on Facebook may be motivated by social acceptance. Pleasure may motivate people to buy a new movie or CD.

Motivation is often the most difficult factor to affect. We really need to have a good understanding of our audience, their goals, and what drives them. Fortunately, motivation and ability trade-off with one another so increasing ability means you don’t require as high a level of motivation to trigger action.


Your website visitors’ ability to act is based on a number of conditions, all of which have to be met for behaviour to occur. Ability is having the resources available to complete the task. How simple or difficult a task is depends on having the necessary resources, such as:

  • Time – Can visitors allocate the amount of time required?
  • Money – Can people afford it?
  • Physical ability – Do visitors have the physical ability to interact?
  • Cognitive ability – Do people have to think too much to engage in the behaviour?
  • Socially acceptable – Does the action go against the norm, making visitors uncomfortable?
  • Routine – Does the action feel unfamiliar, or require unexpected interactions?

Ability is a function of your visitor’s scarcest resource at the moment. If the task costs $1 to complete and the person does not have $1, then the behaviour cannot occur. Similarly if your visitor does not have enough time or has to think too much.

Ability varies by person and context so your goal is to to find out where your visitor lacks the ability to take action. Then simplify, or remove, any condition acting as a barrier to action. Quite often simplification means reducing the time or cognitive effort required, or removing the money barrier by offering a free trial. Then, once people experience the value of the product or service they may be more motivated to pay for it. This is an example of the trade-off between ability and motivation.

Focusing on simplicity of the target behaviour increases ability.


The final, but essential, element is the trigger – something that prompts a person to “do it now”. A trigger can take many forms:

  • Call to action
  • Prompt
  • Action button
  • Hyperlink
  • Request
  • Offer

Triggers are the element most often lacking on websites. We often watch people anxiously read through a bulleted list of “things you can do on this website”, But, when none of them is linked, they get frustrated and don't know where to go, or what to try next. Or we watch visitors read to the end of a detailed product description (obviously highly motivated to get this far) only to discover there is no ability to follow through. There is no appropriate call to action – for example, a button labelled Buy Now, Talk to a Representative, or Download a Demo. They have to start looking elsewhere and usually don't. They just leave.

BJ Fogg also makes the distinction between “cold triggers” and “hot triggers”. The former are triggers which one cannot act on right now (e.g. a web ad for something you can only buy in a store) versus the more typical and desirable hot triggers we often see on the web (e.g. buttons labelled Buy Now, Listen Now, Download Now). BJ Fogg's mantra for effective website design is:

Put “hot triggers” in the path of motivated people.

Our adaptation of BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model shows how motivation and ability combine and trade-off to reach a threshold for action. The model also shows how an appropriate trigger is still required for an action to occur. The combination of ability and motivation form the fuel for action. The trigger is what ignites the fuel. Without it the behaviour will not happen.

Adaptation of BJ Fogg's Behaviour Model showing how motivation and ability trade off and combine with a trigger to generate action on the web

The model also indicates areas to avoid which often end up frustrating or annoying your web visitors. For example, if visitors are highly motivated, but your website makes it overly difficult for them to achieve their task, they will become frustrated and abandon the task. On the other hand if you make some behaviour overly easy by popping up links all the time, even though visitors are not motivated to engage in the behaviour, they will quickly become annoyed and leave your website.

As noted earlier, an appropriate trigger is needed for behaviour to occur. Appropriate triggers are determined by the visitor's context of use. As shown in the diagram, different types of triggers may be needed depending on the visitor’s level of motivation and ability.

Choose an appropriate trigger

If you have highly motivated visitors but the behaviour is relatively complex, you may want to use a Facilitator trigger where some of the initial actions are performed on behalf of the user. For example, imagine you get an email notifying you that someone would like to become part of your professional network on LinkedIn. The link in the email not only takes you to the page to sign-in but then directly displays the page where you can continue the task of linking someone in.

Signal triggers are probably the most common. A signal trigger simply prompts you, or reminds you of, potential actions. For example, after reading an email, you can Forward, Reply, Delete, etc. Other examples include Buy Now buttons, Comment on this Article links, and Try the Demo offers.

Finally, the Spark trigger is appropriate when motivation is low, yet the task is relatively easy to perform. For example, on YouTube you might see a prompt to watch the most-viewed video.

So, what does all this mean in helping you improve your website? To improve usability, it is easier to start by improving the triggers you are using, because triggers are the easiest to change and motivation is the most difficult. If you've improved your triggers and still need to get more people acting, then simplify the task to increase your visitors' ability.

Start with what you can measure: the existence and effectiveness of your triggers followed by the ease of use or simplicity of action.

In summary, if something is not working on your website ask yourself these questions, in this order:

  1. Triggers: Are visitors being triggered at the most appropriate time and in their language? How can I improve the triggers? Conduct usability testing or A versus B comparisons to measure effectiveness.
  2. Ability: Have I made it easy for visitors to act? How can I make it even simpler? Test prototypes to make sure they are simple enough to fit the user's level of ability. Conduct task performance testing to measure efficiency and identify factors affecting ability.
  3. Motivation: Are people motivated to take action? How can I increase their motivation? Conduct user needs research to understand the reasons people come to your website.

Become an expert at simplification and creating hot triggers.

If you need help with simplification, creating hot triggers, or measurement of effectiveness and efficiency, contact us at 613-271-3001 or email us.

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Mini task performance test for you to try

This month we've created a small task performance test of two online bookstores. There are just two tasks on each of two bookstore websites, or four tasks in all.

If you'd like to have a bit of fun and try these tasks we'll compile the results and share them with you in an upcoming Neo Insight newsletter. Please try to complete the tasks as quickly and accurately as possible so we can get a good comparison.

Here is the link to the online test:

Have fun!

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Frustrating websites search - Chance to win $50 Amazon gift certificate

Do you ever start ripping your hair out when you encounter problems trying to complete a task on a website? Now is your chance to vent a little by telling us about your most frustrating experience.

During this Christmas season, we know many of you are online a lot, searching for presents, buying, researching, comparing or doing other online activities. Tell us about your most frustrating experience and you could win a $50 Amazon gift certificate to help you with your post Christmas shopping. The winner will be drawn at the end of December.


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Quote of the month

Getting people to act on the web is all about "putting 'hot triggers' in the path of motivated people."

BJ Fogg

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