#SITSClass: Give Readers Choices… But Not Too Many

It’s our final lesson for the Think Like a Marketer class! If you missed the previous lessons, you can find Lesson 1: How to Blog Using Successful Branding here, Lesson 2: How to Create Brilliant Ideas & Brainstorm here, Lesson 3: What’s In It For Me & The Customer Experience here and Lesson 4: How to Blog by Giving Readers an Easy Button here.

Lesson 5: How to Strike a Balance by Giving Readers Choices


Consumers like choices. Think about M&Ms. You don’t just have plain M&Ms anymore. You have peanut, peanut butter, almond, pretzel, dark chocolate, mint, coconut and so on.

Your readers like choices too. Ways to share a blog post, ways to enter a giveaway, and so on. But in blogging (and in shopping), sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Let me tell you why.

Why Not Too Many Choices?

You might be thinking, “But people LIKE choices!” That’s absolutely true. But people actually make decisions more easily when there are fewer choices. In fact, some studies point to the idea that people make no choice at all when confronted with too many choices. A study featured in the NY Times goes into the psychology behind it. Here’s an excerpt about the study:

In a California gourmet market, Professor Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth of samples of Wilkin & Sons jams. Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment, and each one received a coupon good for $1 off one Wilkin & Sons jam.

Here’s the interesting part. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.

Did you hear that? 30 percent vs a mere three percent! We humans apparently suck at taking action when there are too many choices. We don’t take action because too many choices make things overwhelming and sometimes even confusing. It also clutters things up. If you can’t focus, you just don’t bother.

So how do you strike a balance? It’s tricky and sometimes it’s a bit of trial and error. Here are a few of the most common ways bloggers can give readers choices (but not too many):

Sharing Posts

Most blogs have buttons so that readers can share a post on Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, etc. But does your blog offer the ability to share on sites like Bebo, FriendFeed, Diigo, Orkut, Reddit, MySpace or Twackle? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t even know what half of those sits are! In fact, Chris Brogan actually wrote about this topic just last month.

People don’t need 15 ways to share a post. Look in your analytics and see where your referring traffic is coming from. Make sure you have sharing buttons for the places that bring you the most traffic and the places you WANT to gain increased traffic from. Then ditch the rest. I have no data to back this up but I’d say three to five ways to share is safe; try not to go over seven.

Resource Pages or Blogrolls

Depending on the type of blog you have, you may have a resource page. Resources pages are typically one of the highest clicked pages on websites. Why? Because we’re information addicts. But it’s easy to get overloaded when the page is just a link dump.

The same goes for a blog roll. If your blog roll page (or section in your sidebar) is 30 links long, you’re really not doing those bloggers any favors.

For both of these examples, try dividing them into categories so people can make sense of them.

Giveaways

If you do giveaways on your site, you most likely offer more than one way to win. Great! But do you offer 20 ways to win? Or do you make this entry worth one point, this one worth two and so on. If so, simplify!

While I’m sure you have people who enter all 20 ways, I can bet that you drive people away because they feel their chances are too low if they don’t enter all 20 ways. Or even ten of those ways. In fact, I’ve left for that very reason.

Offer multiple ways to win but try not to overwhelm people with so many choices.

Asking for a Vote

Many bloggers participate in blog voting sites. You want to be the top 25 on this site, that site and that site over there. You put their badges on your site so people know to vote for you (which they love cause you’re driving them lots of traffic for free). And you ask at the end of your blog posts too.

If you participate in these sites, spread out asking for votes for multiple sites. Don’t ask for someone to vote for you at three places. Focus on one and shoot up higher in the rankings.

Questions to Encourage Engagement

One tried-and-sometimes-true way to encourage engagement with your readers is to ask a question at the end of a post, on your Facebook fan page or on Twitter. However, sometimes you just hear crickets, right?

Are you asking three or four questions at the end of a post hoping that people pick one to answer? Or are your questions too open-ended? Questions that give the readers too many ways to answer may scare them away. However, you have to know your audience and what they respond to. If the questions you’re using aren’t working, try being more specific or asking a “this or that” type question. For example, today I asked my readers if they say “grilling or barbeque.” It’s easy to answer and all of them ended up writing more than just a one-word answer.

While there’s no official “homework” for this lesson, I’d like you to discuss one or all of the following questions with your group (and using the #SITSClass hashtag on Twitter):

  • Have you struggled with any of these areas? If you are offering too many choices, how will you simplify?
  • Have you ever left a blog because of how many options there were for something?

Download your lesson handout here so you have it for easy reference.

If you have a question about today’s lesson, hop on over to the Think Like a Marketer section of the forum and ask away! You can also find us on Twitter by using the hashtag #SITSClass and by following me on Twitter @momcommblog.

For those of you officially enrolled in the class, you’ll be receiving a wrap-up email from us soon so stay tuned!

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Comments

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  7. Thanks Melissa! I’m so glad you linked to that study, and that I have some evidence to back up my instinctive thoughts.

  8. Hi….I just joined the Sitgirls and am looking frwrd to learn a lot…And this lesson was indeed useful to learn a lot. Could u pls guide me how to go about doing the analysis..I visited Google Analytics..but there is sooo much of info there..that I just flew bk from that site:\…

    • Hi there- since you have a Blogger blog, you should have a “stats” tab at the top with your analytics. You shouldn’t need to set anything up outside of that!

  9. I’m doing my very first giveaway and used your advice! I have tried engaging people by asking questions, but it’s still a hit and miss. I get very little Facebook interaction even though I try. Great advice! I’ll definitely keep it handy.

  10. Good post! I especially relate to the part about too many ways of entering giveaways. Nothing drives me away faster than a gazillion methods of entries for giveaways. And, I also hate when the methods are worth more than one entry and you have to make multiple comments.

  11. That’s perfect. I’ve read that same study. Very interesting stuff. Keep it simple, I always say.

  12. Good post. I need to add share buttons on my blog. I keep forgetting.

  13. Maybe this is why I haven’t had a lot of entries for my giveaway. Hmm. Thanks for the info!

  14. I started including a question at the end of each blog post, but wasn’t sure if it sounded too silly or too much like a formula, so I wrote a post without one to see if it would change my comments.

    The next day, my husband, who reads my blog sometimes, but not all the time, called me in the room and asked me what was wrong with my blog post. I was all offended, “what do you mean what is wrong with it?” He told me that it had an unfinished feel, like there was something missing, then it hit him, there was no question at the end. Apparently the question is a big deal. lol. So I started using them again.

    For share buttons, I have facebook, twitter, and stumbleupon. I used to have a couple others, but they weren’t being used, so I took them down.

  15. Good info on cutting back choices for ways to share. I’ve read many posts on which are the latest and greatest sharing vehicles – but after reading this information, have cut back and limited to just a few of the most popular ones that I use myself! Thanks for the inspiration to simplify!

  16. I know this is not the point of the article, but do they really make coconut m and m’s?

  17. I love these lessons. Haven’t been able to participate as much as I’d like because of a move from Missouri to Alaska (right now I’m in Teslin, Yukon Territory, Canada). So though I’m not doing much right this week I will get them done.
    Also, wanted to say that too many choices is just too many. I know when I go into a restaurant with a HUGE monster of a menu I feel overwhelmed and like I probably didn’t get the best thing I could have and that can make me disappointed before I even get my food…we humans are funny creatures.

  18. Great post – I, too, am overwhelmed by the choices in this crazy blogging world. My sister and I tag team our blog, and it’s still too much. Right now, we’re only focusing on Twitter and Facebook – we follow SITS and blogwalk, but after that, it just become too much. The only thing we haven’t tried yet is giveaways – which i think we’ll start in the next few weeks.

  19. Really great point about too many ways to win a giveaway. I’ve been on sites where you have to leave a comment, tweet, friend on FB, refer, and frankly, I just give up and don’t enter. It’s way too overwhelming for me. Great advice today!

  20. Good to think about. I know I have left giveaways on other sites without entering because it’s a pain when there are a lot of ways to enter. Plus, you can’t do it quickly because they make you wait 10 seconds between entering a new comment/entry! I usually keep my giveaways with one mandatory and 2 optional. Most of the time readers will do the mandatory and that is it.

    And I was just looking at my “share” bar below my posts and wondering if I should reduce it. I think I have 7 or 8 options right now, but I only get traffic from 3 or 4 of them. So, I am definitely gong to shrink that!

    Thanks for the helpful information!

    • Sounds like yours is a giveaway I would enter! For the share buttons, try using just the 3 or 4 for a couple of months and see if you notice a difference. I have three on mine now: facebook, twitter and stumbleupon and I really feel like it’s helped!

  21. I admit to being one of those people who feel totally overwhelmed by too many choices. Picking out a paint color nearly sends me to therapy. And I had Digg and Stumbleupon buttons, but I didn’t even know what they were, so now I only have to. I thought my posts looked naked without all the buttons, but now I know I made the right choice. YAY!!

    I will be attempting my first give-away soon. I’m a little nervous about those crickets. But I have made some of the changes you suggested, and I can tell a difference already!!

    • That’s really great to hear, Holly! It’s a pile of little changes we make to our blogs that make a BIG difference! And I hate choosing too– sends me in a tizzy!

  22. All solid tips. I like the ones regarding questions best. You’re right…we could scare people off by demanding too much in the way of engagement.

  23. I hate give always that take a hour to understand.

  24. When I first satarted blog hopping, I was completely turned off by the giveaways with a mile long list of instructions. While I understand better now what they are doing, I still don’t agree and will usually not participate.
    When I did my 2 or 3 giveaways on my blog, I had maybe 3 or 4 things to do to enter and tried my best to make it as easy as possible.
    I used to use the sexy share buttons at the bottom, but I only had 6 or 8. I have seen some blogs who have 15 or 20 and I had no idea what they were! Now I just have a share on twitter or facebook and a facebook like button. Seems to work much better for me!
    Bernice

  25. Crickets! Sometimes I hear them for sure and wonder if the content doesn’t grab someone or maybe the question at the end is too open ended. Thanks for the tips and the download! I’m going to try tweaking and see what happens.

    Happy Friday!

  26. OK–I got stuck on the M&Ms picture. :) Seriously, though, this was a fabulous article! Thanks so much for taking the time to share so much great advice!

  27. I try to always ask one question at the end of my post, but sometimes I turn to my readers and just go “HELP!?” like I did yesterday. I guess on those posts I need to keep remembering that if I’m over-whelmed my readers will definitely be.

    • I think asking for help can definitely work if it’s something people have lots of opinions and experiences with. For example, asking for advice or help like “where do find a lawyer that ….” isn’t going to get as many responses as “I’m not sure which one to purchase. What’s your favorite brand of ___” Sometimes it can’t hurt to ask– I can’t tell you how many things I’ve gotten answers to from my readers and followers!

  28. I’ll visit blogs and if there are at least 3 ways to enter, I’m IN! I don’t mind advertising on my blog another blogger’s giveaway. I try to get more traffic my way! Although, I do need to do more “pre-posts” because LIFE gets in the way!!!

  29. Oh! I guess the reason why I don’t really comments is that I’m always asking more then one question at the end of my posts… I thought it was a better way to engage conversation (you know… in case they don’t have anything to say about question 1, they can answer question 2 or 2…) But I think I’ll try only one question from now on! Thank you!

    • It really depends on your readers. Some readers LIKE lots of questions and respond well to them. If so, great! I think for most of us though, only 1-2 questions helps. It also helps if the questions are relatable, i.e. something most people have experience with.

  30. I leave blogs all the time if they have a 101 ways to enter a giveaway. Even if it’s something I really want to win, it makes it so difficult to sit there forever and like this page and then those 4, and then follow 8 people on twitter, and so on.

  31. I find that asking questions in my posts work too. Especially if I address them personally, for example “Moms, have you ever had this happen to you?” It does increase comments and conversation. Great lessson! I have really enjoyed the class so far.

  32. I don’t think I’ve given readers too many choices…yay I’m doing this right! I have noticed that when I put a question at the end of a post it doesn’t really increase the amount of comments I get. I don’t know how to get people to comment more….what gives? Any tips you can give me?

    • It’s a bit of trial and error for sure. I think the best way to do questions is 1. not to ask them for every post and 2. to make them relatable. when we ask a question for each post, it becomes “wallpaper” and people just don’t notice them as much (again, depends on the blog. Some do well with a question for EVERY post). Also, make them relatable and simple. For example, if you were posting a question on your fan page, you’d have more success with “what baby item did you find a waste of money?” than “I’m looking for a company who can do a custom ___ for under $5 by next week.” Of course, I’m exaggerating but you get the idea!

  33. Good thing I’m not committing this (yet… hehe)

    I’m going to keep this in mind especially about Questions to Encourage Engagement I’ll give it a try :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] on the left and the “Share” on the right. If you give people too many choices, studies show people don’t take action at all. My advice is to strip this down to just the handful of places your readers would be most likely to [...]

  2. [...] it a bit (like the Reddit and Delicious ones for example). I wrote a post on SITS about how giving readers too many choices will often lead to inaction (in the post I link to a study published in the NY Times that supports [...]

  3. [...] main menu, I think you’re giving readers too many choices. I wrote about this at SITS– giving people too many choices can actually lead to a reader not clicking anything. For example, under Reviews/Giveaways, you have [...]

  4. [...] of links or link to overall categories instead? It’s a lot to look through and sometimes too many choices leads to a reader not taking action (i.e. clicking a [...]

  5. [...] reader too many options will stop some readers from taking any action at all. I wrote about giving readers too many choices over at SITS a while back. Plus, if I’m new to your site, I don’t really know what they [...]

  6. [...] are supposed to use. For example, there are three ways to share a post on Facebook. I wrote about giving readers too many choices on SITS to explain why you should limit choices. If you have analytics, see which set is being used the [...]

  7. [...] your posts? Pick one and ditch the rest. It’s confusing for readers to have too many choices. Studies show that they’ll do nothing instead. Chose whichever one readers are using the most (if you can [...]

  8. [...] The area under your posts is a little messy. For example, the email icon is a little higher than the others. Also, the Share/Bookmark looks a little out of place, especially since the font is different than for the part that says “more vlogs” and “more featured posts.” Can you check how many people are sharing with anything other than FB, Twitter and email?You may want to narrow it down a bit to the ones that bring you the most traffic. I wrote about this in a post on SITS Girls: Give Readers Choices But Not Too Many. [...]

  9. [...] it down a bit to the ones that bring you the most traffic. People do better with fewer choices (here’s a post I wrote at SITS explaining more about [...]

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