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Increase Conversions With a Secondary Action

Conversion optimization is all about setting expectations, communicating and demonstrating value, and minimizing friction. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for conversion optimization, there are many techniques that marketers can use to improve website performance. In this article, we review a simple, effective, and sometimes unconventional technique for capturing more leads and customers: introduce a secondary action.

Increase Conversions

Conversion Optimization in a Nutshell

While many organizations experience steady website traffic, many of them are missing out on quality leads and new customers due to underperforming websites and poor conversion rates. To achieve the best performance, it is critical to monitor website usage, identify opportunities for improvement, and then address them. This is where conversion optimization comes in.

A Conversion Is a Transaction

Simply put, a conversion is a transaction between the website owner and the website visitor – the website visitor provides something that they value (an email address, credit card information, or their time) with the expectation of receiving something they value in return (a quote, a product, a job interview). Common examples of conversions include: filling out a contact form to generate a lead, completing an online purchase, or applying for employment.

Example Conversion

The visitor expects to provide...

The visitor expects to receive...

Complete a Contact Form

Personal contact information and the time needed to interact with the business

Answers to their questions, and ultimately a solution to their problem.

Complete an Online Purchase

Payment for the product and personal contact information.

A product that meets their needs and expectations.

Online Employment Application

Personal contact information, a strong resume, and the time needed for interviews.

Consideration for a position, and an opportunity for an interview.

Conversion optimization is the practice of identifying potential barriers that could prevent website visitors from converting, and then testing and implementing website improvements designed to increase the likelihood that visitors will take action. A website that is optimized for conversions will see better results and greater ROI from the same audience.

Common Optimizations

Conversion optimization is a broad subject, and a successful initiative will address many parts of the visitor’s experience. Some of the more common optimizations address things like the design or layout, the messaging, or the complexity. For example:

Common Types of Optimizations Icon


An organization might adjust the layout so that the call-to-action (CTA) is more prominent, and easier to find so that visitors are more likely to convert.


An organization might simplify the content for readability and impact, or add additional content to better meet the needs of the visitor and prevent them from navigating away from the page without converting.


An organization might simplify the conversion path by removing steps, or eliminating form fields to make it easier for the visitor to convert successfully.

While these types of optimizations are important, they don’t address a common barrier that can prevent visitors from converting: a conversion action that is mismatched with the visitor’s current stage within the buyer decision process.

Conversion Readiness

Buyer's Decision Process Icon Diagram

In order to convert visitors successfully, it’s important that the visitor is comfortable and ready to perform the action that is asked of them. This “conversion readiness” relies upon a good match between the action itself and the visitor’s current stage within the buyer decision process.

Every buyer ultimately makes a purchase decision based on this decision-making process. There are many different models for this process that vary in depth and complexity, but the core concepts are pretty much the same:

Problem/Need Recognition Icon

Problem/Need Recognition

The buyer recognizes that they have encountered a problem or have unmet needs, and they are in need of a solution. Someone probably provides a solution to this problem and the search for that solution begins.

Information Search Icon

Information Search

The buyer begins to explore the possible solutions to see what options exist. There are often many different kinds of solutions, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Evaluate Alternatives Icon

Evaluation of Alternatives

The buyer takes a closer, more scrutinizing look at these options, and evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of each solution: Which specific benefits are most valuable to me? What compromises am I willing to make?

Purchase Decision Icon

Purchase Decision

Based on their evaluation, the buyer makes a decision to move forward with their chosen solution. During this stage, buyers seek confirmation that they should in-fact move forward, often by verifying that other customers are satisfied or that circumstances haven’t changed unexpectedly.

Post-Purchase Icon

Post-Purchase Evaluation

Finally, the buyer has made the purchase but can experience “buyer’s remorse.” The buyer seeks the confidence that they made the right decision and unmet needs during this stage could result in a returned purchase.

Many of us have likely heard or uttered the phrase “I’m just looking.” This is a great example of a situation where a potential buyer was not quite ready to commit to a conversation with a sales associate, likely because they are in the very early stages of the buyer decision process. This can be uncomfortable for the buyer, and can quickly lead to the buyer abandoning the search and moving on to search elsewhere.

Often, a thoughtful evaluation of the transaction – the actions we ask the buyer to take. the commitments we ask them to make, and especially what they should expect to receive in return – can reveal misalignments that hurt our ability to convert.

Introducing a Secondary Action

So how can we address this misalignment in practice? Conventional advice for conversion optimization often emphasizes REDUCING the number of calls-to-action. Many sources state that you should have one clear and consistent call-to-action. While this approach most definitely helps to focus the visitor on the task at hand, it can also be limiting. If the visitor is not ready to take the action, they can be left with no other choice than to leave and continue their search elsewhere. By introducing a secondary action into the conversion path, you provide a clear alternative and enable the visitor to continue interacting with your brand without compromising the primary goal. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Example 1: “Contact Us”
Generate a Lead for a Service-Based Organization

Example 1: Contact Us

For many service-based organizations, the primary purpose of the website is to generate leads. Visitors searching for a service-provider find their way to the website, and browse the website in an attempt to evaluate the organization and its services. Ultimately, the company wants buyers to “Contact Us” with a clear need, but the buyer wants to know if it is worth their time. This person is likely in stage 2: searching for information – they are compiling a list of potential vendors, and they need to know that the vendor meets some baseline requirements BEFORE they are willing to generate the lead. They ask themselves questions like:

  • Can I afford this?
  • How long will it take?
  • Do they do the type of work that I need?
  • Are they good at what they do?

In many cases we cannot remove the primary “Contact Us” call to action, because we do not know exactly how they have arrived here and we cannot assume the visitor is NOT ready to convert. However, we could add an additional, secondary action that doesn’t require such a deep commitment. For example:

  • Download the Case Study – The visitor could provide an email address in exchange for a detailed case study outlining the services, performance, and customer impressions.
  • Ask an Expert – A live chat enables the visitor to get answers quickly, without committing to a phone call. Often the user provides an email address or some other identifying information, generating a lead.
  • Download a Guide or E-Book – The visitor could request an in-depth educational resource that helps them better understand the service, or that positions them to get more value from their efforts. These kinds of resources are very valuable to the buyer, while the targeted content helps you identify high-quality leads.
Example 1: Contact Us

Each of these secondary conversions provide the buyer with access to high-value information, while still generating a contact for future lead nurturing initiatives.

Example 2: “Add to Cart/Buy Now”
Make a Sale On an E-Commerce Website

Example 2: Buy Now

For e-commerce websites, the primary purpose of the website is to generate revenue from actual sales. Visitors are typically searching for a product that meets their needs, and they use the information on the website (and often other sources) to evaluate the product and decide if it meets their needs sufficiently. The buyer will not complete the purchase until they feel that they have selected the right product.

Just like in the first example, they could be merely browsing for solutions – trying to understand what kinds of products could meet their needs. However, since the actual purchase could potentially take place online, the buyer could also be in stage 3: evaluating alternatives. This buyer is aware of your product, as well as the products of competitors. They need to know how they will benefit from the product, and how the product stacks up against other options.

  • How much will this cost?
  • In what ways will I benefit from this product? How much do I value these benefits?
  • How might this product fall short compared to other options? How important are these drawbacks?
  • How might this product outperform other options?

Obviously, it’s not a good idea to REMOVE the primary “Add to Cart” CTA, but we can encourage the buyer to take action and continue making progress towards a decision by adding a secondary action. For example:

  • Save for Later / Add to List – When a buyer adds a product to a list, they do so intending to return. This provides us with valuable information that we can use to help this buyer make a decision and push them back into the funnel.
  • Download Comparison Sheet – The buyer could provide an email address in order to receive a robust resource that breaks down the options available within your product line, or that highlights key differences between your product and that of your competitors.
  • Download Case Study – Build additional value by providing access to downloadable case studies that highlight especially creative and impactful real-world examples of the product in action. Visitors can provide an email address to have it delivered to their inbox.
Example 2: Buy Now

These kinds of secondary conversion actions provide the buyer with deeper information to assist them in making their purchase decision, but they also extend the organization’s ability to make an impact throughout the buyer’s search.

Additional Considerations

Not Just Any Resource Is The Right Fit

When a buyer needs more information before they are comfortable engaging with your sales team or making a purchase, there are many ways you can provide it to them. For example, a website might include an entire portfolio of previous projects or a catalog of case studies, and it might be more appropriate to include links to these directly on the page, rather than including some sort of conversion action.

The main consideration here is to determine how you can provide the buyer STRONG VALUE for a LOWER COST. The cost of “Requesting a Quote” might be perceived to be too high when considering the potential phone calls, marketing emails, meetings, and other potential engagements one could expect. But a user might be willing to provide their email address in exchange for a valuable resource and an occasional email. Often, these high-value resources are created specifically for this purpose – to act as the carrot at the end of the stick.

Different Types of Conversions Are Different

It is important to remember the CONTEXT of the conversion. The person who provides their information via the “Request a Quote” form has very different expectations than the person who simply downloaded a case study or a comparison sheet. Aggressively trying to set an appointment to talk about a project or a product could backfire and leave a bad taste.

Set clear expectations for communication, and respect the context of the transaction. The more you ask of the visitor, the more value you must provide in return. Remember: the cost to the buyer goes beyond the initial transaction and they information they provided – it also includes how you use the information they gave you and whether you continue to provide value.

Go Beyond Lead Capture

Many of the examples of secondary actions included capturing the buyer’s email. We do this so that we can extend the relationship beyond the initial visit with targeted email communications, but this might not always be appropriate. There are also other, lower commitment ways that an organization can still reach this audience. For example, if you encourage a visitor to download a case study, the visitor might be able to see it immediately without providing an email address. You can then reach this audience through “retargeting” ads to promote a stronger call-to-action and bring them back into your funnel.

Shouldn’t I Just Change My Existing Call-to-Action?

While it’s true that a single CTA can perform better than multiple, this is not always the case. Highly targeted landing pages work really well with a single CTA because you have more control over the audience. These landing pages are usually about a single topic within a specific context, so we can be much more confident about where the visitor currently sits within the buyer decision process.

However, adequately addressing the various stages of every buyer’s decision could require MANY different pages, each with a single CTA,. This can be cumbersome and challenging for many organizations to implement. And in some situations, it’s simply not correct to remove the primary call-to-action in favor of a softer one. For example, an e-commerce site would typically not remove the “Add to Cart” button to try and capture those that aren’t yet ready.


Many organizations stand to generate more leads and close more sales by integrating a secondary action. At its core, this technique is about gaining better visibility of consumers throughout the funnel, and better access to consumers at earlier stages of their purchase decision. This enables us to help these consumers navigate the buyer journey, and extend our influence throughout the funnel.

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