Should You Use a Curiosity Gap to Persuade Your Visitors to Click?

The “curiosity gap” is a powerful copywriting technique…

It’s so powerful, in fact, that using it recently led to a 927% increase in clicks on a Pricing page.

But before I show you how we got those incredible results, let’s answer the obvious questions: what the hell is a curiosity gap? And how can you use it to a) keep visitors engaged and b) compel them to move forward?

I spoke about the curiosity gap at Microconf 2013

I spoke about the curiosity gap at Microconf 2013

The curiosity gap is the space between what we know and what we want or even need to know.

Your prospects want to fill the information gap. Your job, as a copywriter or marketer, is to delay the filling of the gap for as long as you can – without introducing too much discomfort – in order to keep your visitors engaged… To keep them hanging on, really.

What Else Could Have Compelled Eve to Bite the Apple?

Curiosity is a driving force that’s often stronger than fear of loss and desire for economic gain.

Think Pandora’s Box. Think Eve. Think Lot’s wife turning back to look, even though she knew the punishment was death. Think of every cliffhanger since Scheherazade‘s 1,001 nights. Think of those Upworthy headlines everybody whines about now (but which I continue to love). Hell, think of that damn storage locker slamming shut on Storage Wars just as something’s about to be revealed… and just as we go to commercial…

Not knowing everything yet is intriguing for people.

We need to connect dots.

We need to bridge gaps.

Which means that clever copy hackers can lure prospects into our sales copy – or deeper into our funnel – with a little dose of strategically placed curiosity.

For marketers, using the curiosity gap generally means:

  • Introducing something new that our existing knowledge or previous experiences can’t explain; similar to cognitive dissonance
  • Starting a story, pausing at a climactic moment, and delaying the conclusion of it
  • Withholding key information for a manageable period of time (but not too long, which can deflate curiosity)
  • Introducing an idea, action or concept… and connecting it with an unexpected outcome or subject

What does the curiosity gap look like? Well, thanks to Upworthy, we’ve seen a lot headlines that use it, like so:

Note: I stopped to watch all these videos - and more - while writing this post.

Note: I stopped to watch all these videos – and more – while writing this post.

But it’s not just good for headlines. The curiosity gap is a great tool to keep in your back pocket whenever you want anyone to a) read for a period of time – as on sales pages or in body copy – or b) watch your explainer video. It’s fantastic in emails, when you want to drive people to click to a landing page, and as subject lines, like these:

Curiosity gap in subject lines

Subject lines with curiosity

It’s also, as you’re about to see, a pretty compelling way to get people to take action…

The A/B Test:

Curiosity Brings in a 927% Lift in Clicks on a Plan,

with 100% Confidence

We recently ran an A/B/C test on the Pricing page for Mad Mimi, a very cool email marketing platform you should check out…

The test was supposed to be a simple pricing table test. We created 2 treatments:

  1. Variation 1 – Reorder the plans to lead with the most expensive and see if, in keeping with primacy effect, we increase clicks to sign-up for the more expensive plans: Silver and Pro.* Subordinate hyper-expensive Gold plan. Optimize button copy.
  2. Variation 2 – Optimize button copy.

Here’s the creative:

Curiosity test 1

Variation 1

Curiosity a/b test clicks

Variation 2

Primary goal: Decrease clicks to sign up for the low-priced Basic plan while increasing clicks on the higher-priced plans.

Secondary goal: Increase clicks to sign-up overall.

We haven’t reached a conclusion on the goal of increasing sign-ups for the Silver and Pro plans; in fact the test is still running for those goals…

…But we did see an incredible lift in clicks to sign up for the Gold Plan…

Curiosity A/B test lift

On Variation 1, Mad Mimi saw a lift of 927% in clicks to sign up for Gold. With 100% confidence. Variation 2 killed it on the other goals – like engagement and choosing Basic – but Variation 1 was a clear, untouchable winner for the Gold plan.

Now scroll back up to the Variation 1 screenshot and look for the Gold plan. That’ll show you why I’m mentioning this test in this post… See where Gold is listed on Variation 1? See what’s missing from it? You guessed it: the price.

In the absence of knowing the price for Gold, visitors clicked to find out. All those extra clicks on Variation 1′s Gold links were “curiosity clicks”…

So, Should You Use Curiosity to ‘Compel’ People to Click?

In the case of Mad Mimi, curiosity clicks didn’t lead to an increase in sign-ups for Gold plans. (That the Gold plan starts at $1049/mo might have something to do with the drop-off, though.) If Mad Mimi had a strategy to better position the price of the Gold plan on the landing page for that link, this curiosity gap could be quite good for business…

The question isn’t really whether you should use curiosity gaps or not. They’re powerful when done right and on-strategy.

The question we might want to ask first is this: Is clicking the best success metric?

Before you answer that, here’s a story: Back when I was at Intuit, the marketing team decided to challenge the creative team to prove our chops against an agency. (Oh, the joys of being in-house creative.) We were to write and design the emails for a boxed software solution – I think it was Quicken – and the group that created the winning email would be, like, crowned Most Awesome or something. So we went about our business. And when the test closed, the agency reigned supreme.

Why?

Because the success metric for the test was click-thrus. And while we’d oh-so-foolishly put the Quicken sale price in our email, the agency hadn’t, thus nearly doubling “curiosity clicks” to the landing page (i.e., to discover the sale price). Our paid conversions were higher, but only marginally, so that win paled in comparison to The Great Click-Thru Shaming, as it came to be known… ;)

Long story short: there are better ways to use the curiosity gap than to manipulate peeps to click. And be careful of what your “click thru” success metric might be masking…

3 Tips for Using the Curiosity Gap in Your Copy and UX

TIP 1: Keep information gaps manageable.
Very large and very small information gaps are not ideal for piquing curiosity. But a manageable information gap – one where bridging the gap is just challenging enough – can be stimulating and fantastic for engagement… For sales pages and emails, you don’t want to give the answer away right away. You want to lure the reader in, line by line, before you bridge the gap.

TIP 2: Anticipate their guesses.
To truly pique your readers’ curiosity, be sure that you quash their belief that they know the answer to your ‘riddle’. They need to be suspended in a state of curiosity for a short period for the curiosity gap to have any real impact…

TIP 3: Don’t abuse it.

~joanna

PS: I’ll be talking about this test and other conversion funnel experiments at Copyblogger’s Authority Intensive this May. Hope to see you there…

*We’ve done this test a million times. It works all the time. The only time it hasn’t led to a win, that I know of, was in a test Roland Mirabueno of Mindvalley ran, which he mentioned to me in a convo.

Write Better-Converting Copy Faster – Now on Sale:

  • http://twitter.com/ramin Ramin

    Simpleology is using this a lot in their “daily success quote” list, I love it.

    Here some of their subject lines:

    “It’s hard to beat the person who _______” Babe Ruth

    “The reason most goals are not achieved is ________.” Robert J. Mckain

    “If you want to double your success rate _______” Akio Morita

    Full quote always in the email. One of the very few emails I look forward to reading every day, and the fact that the gap makes me think about it, instead of just reading it makes it just more engaging :)

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks for the heads-up, Ramin. I hadn’t heart of Simpleology, so I’ll subscribe and see. Very cool!

  • http://about.me/chaswagner Chas Wagner

    Great stuff Joanna. Asking a question, as you do in the title of this post, and in two other headlines, is a really strong curiosity builder. Why is that???

    Because, more than likely, we don’t know the answer to the question that has just been posed. Two things happen then.

    Our competitive streak comes out, right? Like you said before, “we need to know,” because we always feel the need to stay one step ahead of the competition by being more in-tune with customers, the market, etc.

    Secondly, and very related, is we hate uncertainty. “The need to bridge gaps” is so strong because the unknown causes stress. You click, read, research, dig deeper and focus your attention because that proposed product, service, article or video maybe, just maybe, eliminates that dreaded uncertainty.

  • http://thepersuasionrevolution.com/ thepersuasionrevolution.com

    This was such great use of the curiosity gap…from your email subject line to the actual test. bravo!
    oh and that click-thru shaming seems vaguely familiar….arrrghhh!!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Oh, the shame of “losing” to someone that stooped to using a tactic you wouldn’t.

  • http://coreyjpemberton.com/ Corey Pemberton

    Nice, Joanna. The curiosity gap is a great tool to have in your back pocket. But I’m glad you included a tip about not abusing it. It can be super powerful, and I’ve seen people (usually people just starting out with copywriting) get carried away with it! Takes some practice to find a nice balance.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Agreed, Corey! If you were to take that 900% lift as, like, something good to aspire to, then I think you’d possibly see the power of the curiosity gap the wrong way. Curiosity can make people do something they wouldn’t otherwise do, but you’d better have a solid, human-centric (i.e., not evil) strategy and UX path in place before simply using curiosity. Toying with people to boost clicks is obviously not a great strategy!

  • http://kipkitchen.com/ Karen

    Agree that curiosity is a good way to attract viewers to click/read on but in time to come, sites like Upworthy might just desensitize us.
    About pricing, I wonder if it’s good practice to hide part of the price. As a client, I’ve been frustrated and just moved on when the price is missing/incomplete.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I think that’s a great question: is it a good practice to hide your price, understanding you can’t hide it forever? That’s a question that would make for a great test – because we really can’t know. And letting our own biases in, based on experiences we recall, isn’t going to help anyone’s conversion rate.

      All we know now is, in this case, ‘hiding’ the price led to a ton of clicks; as I mentioned in the post, it we had a landing page for those visitors, where we positioned the $1049/mo price, it might have been a good strategy for conversion.

  • yazinsai
    • Joanna Wiebe

      hahaha — nice. I hesitated to click that link for fear of some spammy site, but I did nonetheless. :)

      • yazinsai

        It works Joanna! It works :)

      • Joanna Wiebe

        Yeah, I dared to try it. But, my oh my, I was pretty sure my screen was about to fill with pop-ups. Even still, I clicked. That basically sums up the post. :)

  • http://www.amazon.com/The-Twelve-Days-Christmas-ebook/dp/B00AB97VHU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354201839&sr=8-1&keywords=rick+yuzzi Rick Yuzzi

    Now you’ve got me curious about the silver and pro results:-) Although I predict they are slightly higher on variation 2.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, Variation 2 won or trended above V1 for all the other goals, including clicks on Silver and Pro.

  • http://www.simpleeonline.com/ Rebecca Berggren

    well played! your email title piqued my curiosity . . . so I had to go in for more. I love how it also makes the copy more playful.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Cool, Rebecca!

  • Vladislav Melnik

    Hi Joanna. Nice toughts! I always think fear of loss is stronger than curiosity. But you deliver good examples here! :)

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, I don’t think any studies have absolutely identified X, Y or Z as universally most persuasive. For some, loss aversion is bound to be stronger than curiosity; Lot didn’t turn around, but his wife did. That said, most games include a strong component of curiosity AND huge fear of loss… but we keep playing games, and losing.