Ethical Urgency: The Conversion Optimizer’s Secret Weapon

by Today's Eggspert

Last updated on April 5th, 2018

Read that tweet one more time. The desire we want to instill in customers and the value we want to assign our products: it all comes down to urgency.

But that’s nothing new. Urgency is one of the core conversion principles relied on by marketers for more than a century. Claude Hopkins was testing it in A/B tests since the 1800s. And it still works.

Bottom line, if you’re not leveraging urgency effectively, you should start now. It’s low-hanging fruit for lifting your conversion rates.

What is urgency?

There are several definitions of urgency. Let’s look at two:

definition of urgency

According to these definitions, urgency can be created in several ways. In particular:

  1. Urgency starts with importance.

Something can’t be urgent if it’s not important.

  1. Urgency deals with time.

Every play for urgency has a time limit. Act before that limit, and you get the goods. Procrastinate, and you lose. This is important because people tend to put off difficult decisions — and that, in itself, is a decision.

  1. Urgency deals with quantities.

Urgency results when people must act now (the time element) or lose something valuable. Your sales copy should raise the value of your product/service, then create a need to act now.

People are incredibly motivated by loss avoidance. By all means, use it.

How to put it to work

Here’s the good news. Urgency is a variable that your copywriters and designers can control to a high degree. Your sales copy, calls to action (CTAs), and images can all be used to create a sense of urgency. You simply need to decide on the tactics that fit your particular promotion.

To help, we’re going to review some of the top urgency plays available today, all of them capable of raising desire and driving action.

But first, let’s review the rules.

Rule 1: Use Genuine Urgency

Urgency can be either genuine or implied.

An offer that expires in 24 hours or so is genuine urgency. If you consumer does not take care of it NOW, they won’t be able to.

Implied urgency is where you use words such as now or today to hint to readers that they ought to take action sooner than later. There’s no genuine urgency, but the language used implies that there is.

Of these two types of urgency, real urgency is more effective than implied urgency since it is attached to something tangible — namely, a time deadline or limited quantity. To get your best results, only use implied urgency if you’ve no other option.

Rule 2: Handle with Care

Consumers can spot promotional urgency (read, fake urgency) from a mile way. How many stores have you noticed that have closing down sales, yet never actually close down? After a while, it becomes a joke, doesn’t it?

Continually using implied urgency without ever delivering is one surefire way to lose credibility. People will grow tired if you promising “50% off for 24 hours” every couple of days.

Why should they act now if the same conditions will arise in a day or two? Trust your value proposition to generate sales rather than habitually using urgency gimmicks.

You need to approach urgency in a subtle manner. Consumers are too savvy to fall for obvious sales tricks.

Fortunately, you only need a dash of urgency for it be effective, and if you do it right, it will strengthen your brand and add value to the items you sell.

Here Are the Urgency Plays that Work Today

Remind customers of the pain of NOT buying (loss aversion)

As reported by the New York Times, people often buy products or service because they have a problem that’s causing them pain, and they want a solution that will bring about a desired result.

For nearly all people, pain is a greater motivator than pleasure. (Impending loss seems more devastating than the possibility of pleasure or benefits.)

Some tactics you could implement:

  1. Remind people of the discomfort of continuing to live with their pain or problem, and that it can be solved if they only take action.
  2. Remind them how embarrassing it is to have that pain or problem, and that it can be solved.
  3. Remind them about the future insecurity and consequences of not dealing with this pain or problem right now.
  4. Expose the un-confrontable issue most people have about this pain or problem.

You can remind them about these areas anywhere throughout your copy.

A good place to start is in your headline to instantly grab their attention and suck them into reading the next line… and then the next line… and then the next line… until they get to the ‘Add To Cart’ button and buy!

Example 1: Carphone Warehouse’s Site below makes an effective use of loss aversion to create a sense of urgency to entice users to make a purchase.

wasting euros on phone tariff 

Example 2: Queen of Free makes effective use of loss aversion (image courtesy VWO)

Queen of free

Example 3: DC Finder implemented a loss aversion tactic to increase urgency and increased conversions by 68% over the former benefit-based copywriting.

dc finder

Example 4: Terminix’s use of loss aversion is effective.


Raise customers’ fear of price increase

Since price is a major conversion influencer for most products, tactics that offer a reduced price for fast action can significantly increase conversion.

Nobody wants to feel like they were ripped off because they could’ve got the item cheaper, so this plays on a strong psychological chord.

Example: Fast growing Australian retailer Kogan, has created a price-bump model called LivePrice, where the price slowly creeps up every second.

55 full hd tv

How LivePrice works:

Use action words in CTA buttons

You can create a sense of urgency by using action words in your CTA like “Now,” “Today,” “Immediately,” “Instantly,” etc.

Leading marketers know how to gain followers and influence people through words. So do the best converting websites. According to Neil Patel, there are 12 time-related words that are known to increase conversions through urgency.

They are:

  • Now
  • Fast
  • Quick
  • Hurry
  • Rapidly
  • Close
  • Approaching
  • Never
  • Seconds
  • Again
  • Over
  • Instant

Example 1: Organizing for America (image courtesy Smashing Magazine)

which one seems more actionable

Example 2:

host gator

Example 3:

party poker

Example 4:

get started watch a video

Example 5: Demonstrates this idea of adding urgency to a call for action.

tap tap tap

In this example, the “Buy Now” call-to-action button has “Intro Price” stamped over it, subtly suggesting that the longer the user waits to take action, the higher the risk of having to pay more later.

A few more tips for your CTA

Put your CTA at the top of the page

Move your call to action above the fold. If visitors can’t see your CTA, they won’t be able to take the conversion goal you wish them to take.

Repeat your CTA several times

If your page is long, repeat your CTA multiple times throughout your copy. Visitors should be able to take action at whatever point they make up their mind.

There’s actually a psychological reason for doing this: Studies have shown that the more often we’re exposed to a stimulus, the more appealing we find it.

By repeating your CTA, you allow decisive people to easily take action right away, and less decisive people to be exposed to the stimulus of your CTA multiple times. It’s a win-win.

Create scarcity

Pressure makes people act. If they think an item will soon become unavailable, they are more likely to buy it. This ‘limited availability’ tactic is driven by either deadlines or supplies, and works well either way.

People simply do not like loss, and are more likely to act excessively, even if they know they haven’t given the matter as much thought as they should. It’s better for them to do that than risk missing out altogether.

You can put limits on anything. As a business decision-maker, you have every right to do so.

If you are a consultant, this is easy. You only have so many hours in the day, so many slots for meetings, and so much energy to expend.

reserve your consultation with Neil

Similarly, if you sell physical products, you can easily run out.


Example: Notice the small print, “Only 500 available”

this weeks ebay offer

For digital products, you may need to create scarcity. To do that, you can make the item “rare” or difficult to achieve.

Position it as a rare opportunity

When something is rare, its value exponentially increases. You can leverage this by limiting access.

A coach, for example, may ask prospects to fill out a long form before being considered as a client. A consultant may ask prospects to read his book or manifesto. By restricting access to their services, they make their services seem more elite.

Or what about the webinar you attended because the expert said he would only present it once, and there would be no recording. You might have blown off the webinar if it wasn’t a one-time opportunity,

Example: With events, this is relatively easy, as you can see in this Anthony Robbins ‘Date With Destiny’ seminar, “Held only twice anywhere in the world this year!”

Anthony Robbins

Free shipping

An E-tailing Group study revealed that unconditional free shipping is the #1 criteria for making a purchase (73% listed it as ‘critical’). In another study 93% of respondents indicated that free shipping on orders would encourage them to purchase more products.

This quote from Wharton professor David Bell sums up just how enticing free shipping is:

“For whatever reason, a free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10.”

Ironically, you could get higher conversions — even if you made the product more expensive — simply by offering free shipping.

Example: Free postage is offered just above the “Shop Now” button. Once customers have made the purchase decision, they typically want it in their hands ASAP.

mensware sale

Next day shipping

Offering ‘Same Day’ or ‘Next Day’ shipping will help you capitalize on this psychological trigger and thus increase conversions. Of course for digital products, you can emphasize how customer will gain immediate access to the product.


iPad 2

Explain the product won’t be FREE/CHEAP forever

By revealing the product will cost $XX-XXX in the not too distant future, it instantly adds tangible value but will motivate people to sign up or buy now to avoid paying more later.

Introductory offers

When you launch a new offer, new product, or a revised edition of an existing product, having some sort of discounted introductory offer for the first couple of days/weeks or for first-time users of the online e-commerce store can generate a spike in sales.


emirates airlines

Use Promotions

When conversion rates have dropped due to slow-downs in the market, consider running a short promotion. Just be careful not to do this too often. If people believe you will reduce your prices soon, they won’t buy at your regular rates.


48 hour sale

Use holiday promotions

Sometimes, all you need is a reason for the promotion. Holidays and major events definitely qualify. Since holiday seasons are short term, these promotions have built-in urgency.

If you haven’t been running holiday promotions, give it some thought. 55% of consumers say they expect retailers to use purchasing and behavioral data to offer relevant promotions, according to IBM’s Online Retail Holiday Readiness Report.


foxtel offer

Use topical promotions

But you don’t have to wait for holidays. You can also strengthen your brand image by supporting relevant events (e.g., earth day).

What kind of topical events could work? Sporting events, special days/months, or birthday/anniversaries all make great reasons for a special promotion.

Example: Image Courtesy of PRLog

webhost uk

Show how much time left until offer expires

Use a ticking count script to show visitors exactly how much time there is left to take advantage of an offer.


2 days left to buy

If a user stands idle for 10 minutes on a page, there’s a high chance you’re losing them as a client. A way to bring them back is to create a pop-up offering a discount code (it can be minimal, such as 5% or $5 off)

Use promotional codes for unlogged idle users.

Automate follow-up

When you’re about to leave a website, an exit pop-up will appear asking if you’re sure you really want to leave – and will usually give you a special offer if you decide to stay. To see it in action, check out

Whilst this tactic does increase conversions, I don’t recommend it because it can damage your brand image by looking desperate in trying to close people on their first visit. After all, most people need to see the offer 7 times before they will buy.

A better strategy is to collect prospect contact details, and use an automated follow-up sequence. This will allow you to get more sales at full price, before resorting to price discounting late in the follow-up sequence. AdWords remarketing is another good strategy to remind prospects about your offer.

If anything, use an exit pop-up simply to collect visitors contact details — and let your follow up sequence take care of the selling.

Use testimonials to create social pressure

A study published in the Washington Post revealed that social proof is one of the most powerful ways to create urgency.

In the study, researchers examined the way in which signs could be used to persuade customers to use less energy in the summer months by relying on fans as opposed to air conditioning.

These are the four signs that were tested:

  • Sign #1: You can save $54 a month on your utilities bill
  • Sign #2: You can prevent the release of 262 pounds of greenhouse gasses each month
  • Sign #3: Be socially responsible — save energy
  • Sign #4: 77% of your neighbors are already using fans as a means of saving energy

The sign that performed best was number four, which was the one that relied on social proof to persuade.

In this instance, positive social proof was more effective than

  • saving money (sign one)
  • saving the environment (sign 2)
  • making responsible choices (sign three)

All three of these are positive behaviours, but none of them could match the power of peer influence.

This is hardly a revelation, and it ties in closely with this study concerning related pricing research on savings, and in particular a Wharton study that reveals that customers today often feel time is a much more precious commodity than money.

The bottom line is that positive social proof should be placed upon your most crucial landing and sales pages. Use social proof at the point at which your customers are close to completing a purchase.

Example: Image Courtesy of KissMetrics

request a demo

Add micro-donations on checkout

To entice users to make purchase decision is to give more meaning to their action.

For example, you could donate $2 to a charity for each purchase. (Imagine adding a time limit to that offer. That could significantly impact people’s sense of urgency.)


small things big difference

your quote summary

This could also work for product or membership trials.  For example, you could donate $5 for each trial signup within a certain period.

american cancer society

Allow them to see their competition

Think Black Friday mayhem or an Ebay bidding war.

Once people realize that they are competing with other people for limited quantities of [something], their desire to win escalates. That translates into extreme urgency.

As an example, if you are looking to make a booking via, you’ll see red text telling you exactly how many people are checking out the same room, in real time.

You can learn more about this here. even gives you information about how many people are viewing properties in a particular city. A modal box pops opens and shows you your virtual competition/companions.

hotel last booked

Urgency Drives Action

Urgency has almost a primal quality. It inspires an unreserved desire to act. As long as you act ethically, it’s foolish to ignore it when creating your promotions.

The key is to understand why people need your offer. How will it benefit them? What do they lose if they don’t act now?

Once you understand what’s at stake, you can select the best urgency tactic(s) for your promotion.

So what are you waiting for? Go back to that low-performing promotion and look for the urgency opportunity that awaits.

Do you leverage urgency in your promotions? What works best for you?

One Comment


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  1. Raphael says:
    July 4, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Great post David! Thanks for sharing and including so many details and visuals.

    With many of my clients, scarcity and urgency have been some of the most powerful methods to increase conversions (especially in e-commerce). When applied correctly, I’ve found its impact to drive very positive results – however, I must also agree with you on having to be careful to avoid overuse or misuse of such tactics:

    Incorrectly applying urgency or overusing it will only lead to fatigue and loss of authenticity – and it’s positive effects might stop working so well.

    In addition to your already excellent examples, I want to add that flash sale websites such as HauteLook and Gilt are some of the best examples when it comes to combining urgency and scarcity: Their sales starts at a specific time, and their heavily discounted items WILL sell out; therefore, it almost forces visitors to buy on impulse, or they’ll miss an incredible deal on products they otherwise wouldn’t probably be able afford. In fact, these companies’ whole business model is entirely based on urgency.

    Once again, thanks for the great post.

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