Major Conversions Study Finds in a Year of Negative News, Increasing Negative Language Killed Conversions for Marketers

Unbounce, have released its 2021 Conversion Benchmark Report, a unique and compelling annual study of online trends and consumer behavior.

One of the central findings was that, while negativity drove an unprecedented amount of clicks and content consumption in the media in 2020, it had the opposite effect on marketing campaigns. An increased use of negative emotional language coincided with lower conversions across multiple industries including ecommerce, fitness and nutrition, and home improvement.

Unbounce’s proprietary machine learning model and team of data analysts analyzed the outcomes from almost 264 million visits to over 44,000 landing pages which led to 33 million conversions. A mountain of data was refined and rich, validated insights drawn on what worked and what didn’t as marketers from across industries sought to engage with a flood of online visitors in a year unlike any other.

The report broke down insights into 16 industry sectors including, ecommerce, education, SaaS, business services, legal, home improvement, travel, real estate and fitness and nutrition. It looked at how factors such as emotion, sentiment and complexity of language influenced a business’ potential to convert web traffic into potential customers.

Some key findings from the study include:

  1. In a year of negativity, negative language did not convert. In ecommerce, online sellers significantly increased their use of all types of emotional language, but especially language considered negative — anger (+8.9%), fear (+6.0%) and sadness (+8.1%). The increase in negative language (words such as ‘angry’, ‘ruthless’ and ‘depressing’) was seen in several industry sectors and frequently correlated with a decrease in conversions.
  2. Positive language in education scores an F. Analysis of which emotional sentiments drove higher conversion rates on education landing pages, showed that words relating to joy and anticipation (words such as ‘aspiration’, ‘proud’, and ‘succeed’) often correlated with lower page performance.
  3. The winners won out as traffic spiked across the board*. In ecommerce, while traffic surged, the lower performing 25% of pages saw little difference year over year in conversion rates. However, the top performing 25% of pages saw conversions increase from 12.2% to 15.3% for desktop and 14.5% to a staggering 18.3% for mobile. 
  4. When it came to fitness, tough love led to poor results. Compared to other segments, fitness and nutrition pages saw significantly higher levels of negative sentiment. The industry has the highest levels of language associated with both anger and disgust (117.8% and 448.3% over the baseline). The data suggested though that people weren’t looking for drill instructor-style motivational, in fact words of joy drove higher conversion in both fitness and nutrition.

“The past 12 months has been a fascinating and emotion-filled year where business was not as usual and consumers across the globe shifted perspectives and behaviours like never before,” said Megan Sakakibara, VP of Marketing at Unbounce. “People seemed to devour content and conversations seeded in negativity in 2020, but interestingly this negative sentiment had the opposite effect when it came to marketing campaigns. The data from our study uncovers the enormous challenge marketers faced trying to land the right tone in one of the most heady social and political times most have ever seen. The findings in this report provide real value for marketers and ultimately will enable them to learn from the lessons of 2020 in order to build high converting campaigns in 2021.”

To view the full report – please click HERE.

How was the study conducted?

The Unbounce data science team, made up of a group of data scientists, data analysts and data engineers, analyzed the behavior of 264 million visits  to 44,000 landing pages, culminating in 33 million conversions. Unbounce used its machine learning model to sort the pages available into topics (like industrial tools or medical law), based on the content of these pages. Then pages were manually refined to match 16 industries from the Global Industry Classification Standard and the North American Industry Classification System. The study’s sentiment analysis is based on the NRC’s Emotion Lexicon (also known as EmoLex), a list of English words associated with eight basic emotions (anger, fear, anticipation, trust, surprise, sadness, joy, and disgust) and two sentiments (positive and negative). Unbounce used machine learning to detect the concentration of these sentiment-associated words on each landing page as a way of determining overall emotions related to the copy that appeared. 

The conversion data analyzed in this report comes from November 3rd, 2019 to November 3rd, 2020.

The traffic data is comparing traffic from August 1st to November 30th, 2019 to August 1st to November 30th, 2020.

*Only events (-29.9%) and business services (-3.1%) saw declines in overall traffic.

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