How to Find and Eliminate “Friction Words” in Your Web Copy

Friction in CopywritingIn my Mixergy course, I spoke briefly about something called “friction words”.

Friction words are words that describe things people have to do – not things people want to do. They cause cognitive friction. Web copy that converts is focused on what people want to do.

Most often, friction words are found in calls to action.

Why is that? Because, to my great dismay, people don’t spend much time writing buttons.

The reason I wrote “web copy” instead of “button copy” in the title of this post is because you probably wouldn’t read it if you thought this was “just” about buttons.

Here’s wassup: The shorter the copy, the less time people think they need to spend on it – when, in fact, short copy is hard to write and should demand more attention from the copy hacker. Great buttons take time to write.

AND buttons are SO MAJOR for conversion – [highlight]a visitor can’t convert without clicking a button[/highlight] – that you should slap your hands right now if you don’t give them the attention they deserve.

When you’re done beating yourself up, open your site in a new window, and look for these common friction words across your site’s buttons:

High Friction Words – AVOID!
(These words suggest that you have to give up something, whether time, money, energy or your inbox)


Sign Up




Donate / Sponsor / Support


Medium Friction Words – BE CAREFUL!
(These words suggest that you get to do something you want to, but it may cause work)








Once you find those words, set up a test or two in VWO (my go-to testing tool) or Optimizely (my new shiny toy), and try rewording those calls to action so that they focus on what the end user actually wants to do.

Low-friction words are the words we’re aiming for in calls to action. These are words that either let us achieve gratification passively or make something that is work feel less like work. These words may include:


Check Out (as in “check this out”, not “checkout”)




Now, sometimes you can’t simply remove the high- or medium-friction word. In those cases, you may wish to extend the length of your button and lead with a benefit / something good the user will feel when they do the work-filled thing your button is asking them to do.

The following examples will help clarify.

Transform the mildly off-putting prospect of work…

…into a power-packed nerd opportunity


Don’t make your visitors commit…

…when they’re still just looking for info


The word “donate” means “lose money”, so…

…replace scary words with wonderful benefits


I know how hard it can be to move your call to action copy from ho-hum, safe, expected or standard… to the point of least resistance. But it’s well worth it, don’t you think?

Because, allow me to repeat: a visitor to your site or a user of your app cannot convert without clicking a button. You can convert without reading a headline; you can convert without watching a video; you can convert without looking at testimonials or feature lists or benefits messaging or reasons to believe.

But you cannot actually convert online without clicking a button.

So go run the test!

Or, if you’re like me and you see this as a usability fix – because minimizing friction means maximizing usability, which makes it easier to convert rather than ‘influencing’ conversion – screw the test! Go make the damn fix on your site right now. …Actually, sorry, I should take my own advice and give you a low-friction call to action:

Boost Your Chances of Making a Sale!
Tweak Your Button Copy Fast… Right Now



About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Wow 7 years ago and still useflu. Thanks Joanna. Your [highlight]doesn’t work anymore[/highlight] you’ve probably changed your website within the last 7 years (or else you did a great job 7 years ago!).

  • Amazing blog !

  • medway808

    Great article. The second two examples look like they are displaying the same image for the before and after. Should they be different?

  • Hi Joanna, found you through Brian at copyblogger and wanted to ask, shouldn’t the examples above be before and after shots? The first example is, but the flight one and the donate one have the same image. Old post I know, but still great advice, I love the notion of ‘friction’ words…. Catch you later

  • Abrar Shahriar

    Hi Joanna,

    Fabulous post ! Definitely, I learn something new from this post. I can realize how to manage friction words in a content or website. I love your checklist of High/Medium/low friction words. It will definitely help to create my web page.

  • Aaron


    Firstly, these are all really great tips and I can remember it being such a lightbulb moment when I first read this post.

    I’m actually using this tip in a blog post i’m writing on calls to action on email campaigns, and came back here to grab the link to reference it.

    Upon arriving however, I noticed several of the images are broken and just wanted to let you know. It’s such a great post and the examples really make it so wanted to let you know some of them aren’t showing.

  • Annnd the comment stripped out the code snippets! I am sending this comment again via your contact form. – Gower

  • Hey Joanna, great post!! A lot of copy>paste into my internal checklist. So I shall attempt to return the favor:

    Re: modifying your buttons.

    In Appearance>Editor, open the following files where these comment buttons appear, look for the following snippets, and make your changes accordingly. They typically show up in Single.php (single-post), Page.php (single-page)

    Conduct a ‘find’ for the words “Reply”, “Submit Comment,” “Leave a Reply” and replace them with what you like before saving changes. You *may* have to do this in a few files, depending on how many layouts you have available in the site with a comments template included (full width, blog stream, sidebar-right, etc.).

    Change REPLY (I’ve capitalized it) to what you like in this snippet:


    Change SUBMIT COMMENT by looking for this snippet:

    Change LEAVE A REPLY by looking for this:

    For your Mailchimp widget in the footer, you *can* change that Submit as well, it’s just more of a pain to find it in all that jibberish embed code.

    And then of course, in your footer area – you have ‘sign up’ but that is plain text and thus easy to change out.

    I hope this helps you as you have helped me.


    • Joanna

      Um… you’re awesome. Thanks! That’s really sweet of you to take the time to write this all out —- amazing. What an awesome group of people I have in this Copy Hackers network! 🙂 Big thanks, Michelle / “Gower”.

  • SERIOUSLY, This is one of the best copy blogs in the WORLD. This makes me want to have a “button day” on all of my clients web-properties and map out how to improve all of the butons.

    • Joanna

      Comment of the Day brought to you by Mr. Jaquez! Any comment that flatters my blog is the Comment of the Day. 😉 I love the idea of a “Button Day”, BTW — why not optimize one thing on all your sites on X day?

  • Hey Joanna,

    I’m really starting to love your advice-packed posts! This time though, I’ve pipped you-used the word ‘Discover’ in a tagline before reading the post! Nice to have the validation though… 😀

    The text on the CTA is terribly tricky though…some instances can’t quite use ‘Get, Discover, Earn etc.’ I get that it’s a contextual thing but the niche stuff drives me nuts. NUTS. To think, the site comes down to a seductive entry button text..ah well. 🙂

    • Joanna

      Of course, “Get”, “Discover” and “Earn” are just a handful of words to choose from. My hope is really that peeps will give their button copy a bit of thought — and search if need be — the next time they go to write a page. And I’m not just talking about the main calls to action! There are also all those pathetic “learn more” buttons and links that run down a page… those are DYING for optimization.

      • I so know what you mean!

        The way I see it; every funnel to another page on your site is a CTA. Every single one of them.

        Getting the flow right is not the only thing. It’s the emotion you conjure up in that flow. That, is the ONLY thing.

  • Just to be a total pain, I checked the button for signing up for your weekly newsletter and it’s ‘sign up’. Is this an exception case or just a missed button?

    Since I have something similar, what would you recommend changing it to? (I tried ‘keep in touch’, worked pretty well so far)

    • Joanna

      Gosh, you are such a PAIN, Garrett!! 😉 The great unspoken truth about all buttons that are built into WordPress themes is that they are impossibly difficult to change. So on this blog, I have “Submit Comment” and “Reply” when I’d much rather say something like “Share Your Voice”. On my product pages and in the catalogue, I’ve got “Add to Cart”… but that is not optimal. And, of course, the “Sign Up” you already mentioned.

      Should I ever put together a “copy optimized” theme, I’ll make all the buttons modifiable.

      As for “Sign Up”, your idea of “Keep In Touch” is good… if people want to keep in touch with you. If they want articles and offers, you could use, “Yes, Sign Me Up for Articles & Deals”. As always, finding out what people want and directing those words back at them in your copy is the way to go.

      • Gonna chime in here…it’s a well debated UX thing. Submit. So much fun…

        At least you’ve used the Submit Comment text rather than the ominous and final ‘Submit’. 🙂

      • Joanna

        You wouldn’t think people would ever want to “Submit”… but with so many copies of Fifty Shades of Grey sold, y’never know. 😉

  • Johan

    Hi, thanks for the post!

    What about a button that says: “Give Me A Free Consultation, Please!”

    It has the word “GIVE” in it…

    • Joanna

      Ah, yes, Johan — the reflexive verb “give”. You got me on that one. I didn’t get into the reflexive use of “give me” in the first-person. This entire post was inspired by all the calls to action I’ve been seeing in emails from and on landing pages for World Vision, CCF, WWF, etc. (’tis the season!), which almost always use “Give today!” or “Donate Now” as buttons. So that’s the “give” I was talking about.

      But, you’re right, if you put your buttons in the first person — that is, if you make the button sound like the visitor is saying it rather than like the visitor is agreeing with the website — then “Give”, as in “Give Me X”, can be AWESOME! Equally awesome are “Send Me”, “Yes, I’d Like to Get”, “I Want”, “Show Me What You’ve Got”, “Share My Opinion”… the list goes on. In fact, I think I’d like to do a test of first-person vs third-person buttons. Thanks for the idea! 🙂

  • Joanna, these are AWESOME tips! Thank you so much. I really resonate with the part about not wanting to make your visitors commit when they are still looking. I have often felt that knee jerk reaction when I see stuff like “Book Now” when I’m just searching around. Thanks for putting into words what I couldn’t 🙂

    • Joanna

      Thanks, Jacqueline. There’s a lot of persuasive power in the concept of commitment… but if it’s used prematurely, it can – as you’ve pointed out – totally chase people away.

  • What’s the problem with “buy” or “learn”? The potential customer is supposed to invest something here. What do you suggest as alternative for those 2 words?

    • Joanna

      “The potential customer is supposed to” = famous last words. What YOU want them to do or think they ought to do means JACK to them.

      Instead of “Buy Now”, you could try “Get Yours Here”… and even “Add to Cart” could present less friction, although it would do little to increase one’s interest in clicking. With a moderate friction word like “Learn”, you could use a short benefit to introduce it: “Grow your business! Learn more”.

      • Nice tips there Joanna. I have some usability concerns though. I believe that a ‘button text’ should explain clearly what happens next or else the bounce rate of the linked page will show inflated numbers. Some users might feel tricked if button text sounds that ‘it’s free most probably’ but it turns out to be ‘pay for this’. What do you think?

      • Joanna

        Right, your Page B numbers could be inflated if your Page A button is promising something better than what’s actually going to happen… but that’s not what I’m recommending here. We can’t solve for every single person with the copy we write; we’re trying to solve for that large piece of the pie that can be converted into paying customers. So if “get yours here” sounds like “get yours free here” to some small percentage of people — people who can’t see that there is a price nearby and that this is, in fact, a paid product — then so be it. I’d never recommend tiptoeing around or pandering to a small group when you can do right by the larger, more qualified group.

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