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2 min Read
January 14, 2016

Get nerdy (and more effective) with Hick’s Law

Big Duck

It was a pretty exciting day when I learned about Hick’s Law. For years, I had argued that the more options people are given online, the less likely they are to take action at all—and now I had an academically accepted law to back that insight up!

Here’s a quick explanation: Developed by the British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, the law states that the amount of time someone takes to make a decision is directly proportional to the number of options they are presented with. There’s even a fancy equation that includes logarithms and scary greek symbols.

In case you need more proof (or just enjoy nerding out), the law was most famously shown in action with an experiment involving two supermarket jam displays—one with six, the other with 24 mouth-watering options. More people took notice of the larger display, with 60% as opposed to 40% of customers stopping for a taste. But whereas 3% of the samplers actually bought jam from the larger display, the six-option display produced a 30% conversion rate.

What exactly was happening at the larger display? It clearly did a good job of attracting interest, so why didn’t that interest result in action? It’s called (just when you thought the nerdiness was over) analysis paralysis. Basically, overwhelmed by desire to make the best decision possible, people shut down and decide to pass.

And now we turn to the fast-paced, cluttered world of your supporter’s online experience. Email inboxes and social media feeds alone offer enough options to paralyze a time-strapped supporter. If you succeed in inspiring someone to move their eyeballs to your social post, click to open your email, Google your organization, or even (hope of hopes) type your URL directly into their browser, every second from that point on is important.

In the experiment described above, we were talking about people with an entire supermarket trip—ten minutes at least—to think about which delicious jam deserves a coveted space in their refrigerator door.

Likely you’re not offering even six options for taking action in a single email or web page, but when 55% of internet users spend fewer than 15 seconds on any website, even one additional option can have an effect on your conversion rates.

In conclusion: be mindful of how much information and options you’re throwing at your audiences—give them too much and they’ll freeze!