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Words That Convert: Test, Learn, Repeat

words-that-convertIf you had a magic lamp for your content marketing, what would you wish for? More e-book downloads? More subscribers? More customers?

Whatever you wish for, chances are, it amounts to boosting the conversion rate at some stage of the marketing funnel, ultimately resulting in more profitable customer action. If only it were easy to boost conversion rates. Conversion has been called “one of the most frustrating challenges content marketers face” and “the last hurdle on your route to content marketing success.”

Chris Goward, founder and CEO of the conversion-optimization company WiderFunnel, says one of the most effective ways to boost your conversion rate is to test and tweak your words.

One of most effect ways to boost conversion is to test and tweak words, says @ChrisGoward. #writingtips Click To Tweet

And he can prove it. Chris, author of the book You Should Test That!, has worked with companies like Google, IBM, Magento, and 1-800 Flowers. He has seen the difference that rewording can make.

Chris shared his methods at Content Marketing World, where he presented, The Ultimate Session on Words That Convert (How to Find ’em and How to Use ’em) – Mobile, E-Commerce, and More.

Results: A few examples

If it sounds like a lot of bother to test and tweak your words, consider the potential payoff. Here are some examples of conversion-rate boosts Chris’ team has seen simply from testing and tweaking words:

  • 6% increase in e-commerce transactions for luxury home-ware goods retailer Annie Selke
  • 88.6% increase in qualified leads for Magento Enterprise digital-commerce solution
  • $1 million per month increase in revenue for

Who wouldn’t love results like that? But … how do you test? Which tweaks pay off?

Don’t assume which words convert

While it’s tempting to follow easy advice about words to use and words to avoid, you get the best results when you question what “everybody knows” about words that convert (or don’t).

To be clear about what is meant by “convert,” I’ll quote Andy Crestodina in his Content Marketing World talk: When people convert, “they turn from one thing into another.” They go from visitor to lead or subscriber or donor or event registrant.

When people convert, they go from visitor to lead or subscriber or event registrant. @crestodina Click To Tweet

Do your own testing, Chris says, and you might be surprised at the words that convert the most people.

For example, you’ve probably heard that the word “submit” on a button doesn’t convert well. No one wants to be told to submit, right? Not necessarily. Chris’ team discovered that this “common knowledge” isn’t always true after they experimented with three text alternatives:

  • “Submit”
  • “Become a maven”
  • “I want in”

They hypothesized that “become a maven” would lift orders because it would make people feel that they belong by leveraging a term used frequently in this client’s customer community. And they hypothesized that “I want in” would lift orders because it conveys a sense of urgency.

To the team’s surprise, “submit” outperformed the other two alternatives.


The point isn’t that your buttons should say “submit.” The point is to avoid making assumptions. Test for yourself. What works (or doesn’t) in one context doesn’t necessarily work (or fail to work) in another.

Here’s another example. You may have heard words such as “new,” “free,” “instantly,” “because,” “you,” “your,” and “should,” automatically give your content a boost.


“These words may work in one context and not in another,” Chris says. (I have to smile at the first two words of Chris’ book title: You Should Test That! Apparently the “you should” tested well in that context.)

Want to use words that convert on your website? Don’t trust what “everybody knows.” Take Chris’ advice: “Experiment. Experiment again. Testing is never complete.”

There's no universal list of words that convert. Test. Tweak. Test again, says @chrisgoward. Click To Tweet

Understand why people prefer your high-converting words

Chris contends the words that convert best tell you something about what motivates the people in your test audience. You can infer something about people’s motivations. You can then refine other text accordingly and test to see whether those additional edits boost conversion even more.

Chris’ team ran the following experiment for a client that provides a monthly subscription box for gamers. The goal was to have more people subscribe to the company’s monthly shipments of stickers, T-shirts, and all kinds of stuff that gamers apparently love.

First, the team tested three alternatives for the button text:

  • “Subscribe”
  • “Join Now!”
  • “Select Your Plan”

Care to guess which phrase came out ahead?

The winner was “Join Now!” which outperformed “Subscribe” by 0.6%.


The team inferred that the test audience’s preference for “Join Now!” indicated an inclination to be motivated by sociability, and wanted to follow-up with an experiment that pushed the concept further.

The team could have stopped, satisfied with a 0.6% lift. Instead, it inferred that the test audience’s preference for “Join Now!” indicated an inclination to be motivated by sociability.

The team did another test. This time, it used “Join Now!” in all the buttons and varied the phrase above the button:

  • “A Monthly Box of Geek & Gamer Gear”
  • “Join 110,023 Geek + Gamers Just Like YOU!”


Chris’ team attributes at least part of the 14.1% conversion increase in the third example to the sociable language used in the line above the button. The sociability of this text aligns with the sociability of the text used in the button.

You could argue that the larger font in both the B and C versions has something to do with the boost in conversions. Still, Chris’ point makes sense: If you can infer why a group of people prefer the text on one button to the text on another, you’re wise to edit the text beyond the button so that the whole page appeals to that audience’s motivational leaning. 

Learn why those words motivate your audience

How do you determine what motivates a group of people to click one phrase more than another? One way to answer that question is to use the Limbic® model, which Natasha Wahid, one of Chris’ colleagues, describes as “one of the world’s best-founded approaches for understanding the emotional systems of your customers.”

Use the Limbic to better understand the emotional systems of your customers, says @natwahid. Click To Tweet

The word “limbic” refers to the part of the brain responsible for emotions, motivation, and behavior.


Since many of our decisions are made unconsciously and are based on emotion, as Natasha goes on to say, it only makes sense that marketers can increase conversions by tapping in to the emotional underpinnings of people’s choices and editing text accordingly.

Increase conversions by tapping in to the emotional underpinnings of people's choices. @chrisgoward Click To Tweet

Chris and his team utilize the Limbic model – which is based on findings across neuroanatomy, evolutionary biology, neurochemistry, and psychology – to assess shoppers’ emotions and motivations. These emotional values are then recorded on the Limbic® map.

To create the Limbic map, the researchers evaluated marketing mental models and discovered 60-some emotion-based motivations for people to convert. The terms in the Limbic map fall into three categories: adventure/thrill, discipline/control, and fantasy/pleasure.


In the gamer box example, Chris’ team determined sociability was a main motivational factor for this audience. When it edited the text accordingly in multiple places, the conversion rate jumped.


Although there’s no list of words guaranteed to convert, certain words do appeal to your audience’s motivations more than others. To learn what those words are, follow Chris’ approach:

  1. Test to find out which words produce the best results.
  2. Determine the emotional triggers behind those words and align more text with those emotional triggers.
  3. Repeat.

Does your team do a similar kind of testing? How do you discover what type of words give you the best conversion rates?

Here’s an excerpt from Chris’ talk:

Hear great advice like Chris offered in 2017 to improve your content – and more importantly, your conversion results – at Content Marketing World Sept. 4-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today using code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute