don’t ask me to get started

With these two words… I don’t know what to do.  If you’re Peter: I’ll check my email.  The basketball coach: I’ll prepare for wind sprints.  My mother: I’ll get off the couch.  If we’re on a first date, I’ll just look at you funny.

Context + ‘Get Started’ = Start Task.

No Context + ‘Get Started’ = Awkward!

What if I’m visiting your home page?  Designing suitable calls-to-action is a challenge indeed.  Your visitors have many motivations for stopping by.  Some websites (and emails, apps, etc.) address this by using a variation on ‘Get Started’ to push visitors along.  Visitors don’t have a choice.  They click because there’s nothing else to do.  This builds no affinity.  It may even build frustration.

But in order to choose more specific, appropriate calls-to-action, you need to understand whose needs are most relevant.  Here are five common reasons Boring Barry and Average Anne show up at your doorstep:

Gather Information.  We want to learn about your product or service. Help us find the specific information we want quickly.  We’re not ready to buy, so ‘Buy Now!’ scares us away.  But we’re busy, so unless you’re Wikipedia or WebMD, we may not have time and attention to ‘Learn More’ either. ‘What’s this widget?’ is a frequent starting point.

Try Something Out.  We want to try your product or service.  We’re curious enough to get our hands dirty, but ‘Buy Now’ makes us feel like you’re cruising the dance floor for an easy target.  Show us where to ‘Try this widget.’

Buy Something.  We’re ready to purchase your product or service.  We have all the information we need, so don’t talk us out of it.  We’ve gone to the trouble of fishing out our credit cards, so make it easy for us to ‘Buy this widget.’  Your link need not be front-and-center but it ought to be fairly easy to find.  After all, we’re paying you.

Looking for a Job.  We’ll take the time to dig a little deeper than most.  In return, we hope to understand what opportunities are available and how we can help you develop widgets.  We’re not looking to purchase widgets (although we’ll try them out before our job interview).

Everyone else (investors, journalists, and the wayward).  If we’re investors, we’ll get a general sense of your product or service and be in touch with you.  If we’re journalists, we’ll glance through your site and be in touch with you.  If we’re lost and end up on your site by accident, then we don’t really care what it says because we won’t be sticking around.  Don’t design your calls-to-action for us.

Crisp, clear calls to action are superior to ‘Get Started’ because they inform the visitor to proceed only if their needs align with your offer.  Your home page bounce rate may increase; however, you will find increased engagement on your secondary content, registration, and pricing pages.  These two tendencies offset each other.

As with any design or flow changes to your website, A/B testing and multivariate testing are powerful tools to put theory into practice and find what works best.  Just be sure to focus on the most appropriate metric.  Don’t optimize around fuzzy metrics such as bounce rate or time on site:

Engaged user + deep in content = Increased time on site.

Confused user + where to click? = Increased time on site**.

If you are generating leads, use the home page buttons that rack up the most leads.  If it’s an ecommerce site, provide paths that maximize transaction revenue.  If you’re unsure how people are using your site, install a free tool like Google Analytics and learn right now.

** For an extreme example of this phenomenon, go to and see how long it takes you to find the name of Jim Carrey’s mother.

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