7 Proven Keys to Getting More From Your Action Directives

So, I took the terrorists (also known as Anonymous and Nameless) to lunch today.

To make a long story short (we’re skipping MANY details because I’d really like to see my nephews in the future and I was in BIG trouble with my brother way before this happened), somehow the two year old  — aka The Wee One, 2.0, or Nameless — got stuck in the back of the car. By himself.  With the doors locked.  While he was holding the keys.

I imagine if I was the parent, this is one of those things that I just wouldn’t tell anyone.  You know, for fear of Child Protective Services showing up at the doorstep or something.  But since I am the auntie, well, it seems only right to turn it into a lesson about YOUR website.  You think this is a stretch?  Hmmm…..  Sadly, I can’t agree with you.  This will definitely be a lesson about your website.

You see, while good ole’ 2.0 was strapped into his babyseat like a NASCAR driver with a death wish and 1.0 (Anonymous) and I were screaming at him from the curb trying to get him to hit just the right button, it looked a lot like what happens day-in-and-day-out online.

For all the buttons that were on that damn key, only one mattered – and unfortunately, that was NOT the one he kept hitting.  (You can probably guess the only button that 2.0 liked was the red one.   Yes, that one.  THE PANIC BUTTON that makes the lights flash and the horn beep ad nauseam.  Kill. Me. Now.)

Just in case you wondered, telling a two year old to hit the right button, through a tightly closed AND very shaded window with a flipping child privacy screen, is not all that effective, especially when he keeps swinging the key around as if he intentionally wants to cause me a heart attack right then and there.  Can you imagine if the key had dropped?  My brother would be in jail for shooting me, I’d be dead, Anonymous would have wandered off to the nearest Coldstone Creamery because you know, “ice cream is his life” and the little guy would still be bolted to his babyseat in the back of the car.  But I digress…

Action buttons and car keys are pretty much the same thing.  You’ve got to have them.  They are critical to your success.  And in the wrong hands, they are, well, incredibly dangerous.

Here are seven sure-fire tips that will help you when it comes to the action directives (read: buttons) on your website.

The most important button should be bigger than the other buttons. Meaning PROCEED TO CHECKOUT NOW should NOT be the same size as CONTINUE SHOPPING.  If you think you’ve made your button the biggest it can be, double the size and then add it to your site.

On websites, things that are MOST important should typically go on the right. In other words, Delete This Form should not be after SIGN UP FOR OUR FREE PODCAST NOW.  Wait, correct that, Delete This Form should never be a damn button in the first place.  It can be a link, if you truly must (although not recommended), just not a button.

There are icons, not words, on car keys for a reason. People see things in pictures, not in text. It’s way more convenient to have locked/unlocked icons than to have the words, right?  It’s the same with buttons versus text links.  You can have both but if you only choose one, buttons are better from a user-centered perspective.

Colors are important. The reason why 2.0 kept pushing the red button – besides the fact that he likes to torture anyone over 3 feet – is that it was red and the other buttons are black.   Red is a very good color for checkout and form buttons.  In the reptilian brain, red signifies blood.  Blood is good.  It means you killed something and will get to eat dinner tonight along with your cavewoman.

People have spare keys for a reason. The more buttons the better.  From a website perspective, you need at least one action directive on every view of your site.  (You can find out the size of your average view by looking at your screen size information.)  Again, every view needs a button.  Yes, every view.  No, I don’t particularly care if your designer thinks it’s ugly or overkill.  Nobody looks at an entire web page at once, they view single-size-servings one screen at a time.

It’s always good to have a back-up plan. (You know, like throwing rocks through the back window and making a four year old crawl through broken glass to heroically rescue his brother.  No, I didn’t do that, although the thought…)   Tthat doesn’t mean you should have buttons to help with your buttons.  However, you should offer alternative ways to contact you (read: a phone number and an e-mail address) all over the place.   (Again, every view.)

Users understand why websites offer “do you really want to do this?” warnings, especially for credit card transactions.   However, what websites don’t understand about users is that sometimes (often the number exceeds 10%) they fill out a form, think they’re done, and then leave…. Without hitting submit.  You see this a lot in checkouts (before the confirmation page); multi-page e-mail sign-ups; and tiered and escalating lead forms.  This is something that can – and should – be easily tracked and fixed.

Any other button tips you want to add in the comments?  Anyone?  Anyone?

P.S.  In case you’re wondering, 2.0 was just fine.  I mean, I know his parents.  The kid is going to be in years of therapy as it is.  Seriously, it was nothing that cupcakes, ice cream, a trip to the toy store and, well, a new pony couldn’t cure.


  1. says

    I absolutely LOVED this blog post. Being a mother of 3 I know only too well the fear and panic you must have felt.

    It’s brilliant how you drew a correlation between a 2 year old only wanting to push the RED button and how consumers draw blanks when navigating a website. The instincts of a consumer can be similar, at times, to a 2 year old. The reason I enjoyed your blog so much is because your advice on the “do’s and don’ts” regarding home page buttons is right on target. We constantly test and re-test buttons, graphics, colors, fonts, sizing, etc. The old A versus B testing really pays off.

    I might encourage you to write a follow-up blog on the dos and don’ts of shopping carts and ordering. It appalls me (and saddens me at the same time) how many merchants miss the mark on closing sales. Ecommerce sites that make it damn near impossible to order successfully all because of poorly designed or flawed check-out procedures are like throwing money out the window and watching it drift away.

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words, Leslie!

      Both of my nephews are diabolical and between the three of us, we will inadvertently blow up the world one of these days on one of our outings or with one of our games or “experiments.” With that said, I’ve got to admit I was terrified. Fortunately, both of the boys thought it was hilarious — thank goodness for blaring horns and flashing lights!

      I will do a Dos and Don’ts of shopping carts. I’ve written a lot about abandoned carts but it’s been awhile since I’ve done something on how to prevent them in the first place! Thank you for the idea, I appreciate it!

  2. says

    Great story and a happy ending.

    Reminds me of usability tests where you watch powerless while the person in the test just cannot seem to click on the “right” button to move forwards.

    • says

      Those tests KILL me. I guess that’s why they keep me in the cage (behind the glass) these days.

      Thanks for commenting John!

  3. says

    This was a great article, I love metaphors. Dropping the keys would be like dropping an internet connection, all hope would surely be lost!


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