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Monday, Apr. 21, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Conversion Rates, Eat Your Heart Out

By Robert Gorell
April 21st, 2008

organ donor conversion rate

Quick question for anyone with a lead-generation or e-commerce site…

Which is easier: Getting people to trust your website and complete its web form or checkout process, or getting them to literally donate their hearts and eyeballs?

Take your time.

Apparently, the answer depends on where they live. While 99.98% of Austrians agree to donate their organs upon death, only 12% of Germans do the same. Virtually all French citizens will donate a kidney to save a life, but the Brits? Only 17% of them seem willing. Meanwhile, your chances of having a heart (transplant) are nearly four times better if you’re having a triple bock in Antwerp than they are if you’ve already had a triple bypass in Amsterdam.

Seems odd, doesn’t it? Take a look at this graph from a recent Freakonomics article:

orgon donation conversion rate

Here’s how Dan Ariely — Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, principal investigator of the MIT Media Lab’s eRationality group, and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions — explains this bit of research (from colleagues Eric Johnson and Daniel Goldstein) in the Freakonomics post mentioned above:

…It turns out that it is the design of the form at the D.M.V. In countries where the form is set as “opt-in” (check this box if you want to participate in the organ donation program) people do not check the box and as a consequence they do not become a part of the program. In countries where the form is set as “opt-out” (check this box if you don’t want to participate in the organ donation program) people also do not check the box and are automatically enrolled in the program. In both cases large proportions of people simply adopt the default option.

You might think that people do this because they don’t care — that the decision about donating their organs is so trivial that they can’t be bothered to lift up the pencil and check the box. But in fact the opposite is true.

This is a hard emotional decision about what will happen to our bodies after we die and what effect it will have on those close to us. It is because of the difficulty and the emotionality of these decisions that they just don’t know what to do, so they adopt the default option (by the way this also happens to physicians making medical decisions, and also to people making investment and retirement decisions).

[...] The moment you realize that your intuition about your own behavior might be wrong it is clear that you need another, more objective input.

This is what experiments are all about. We could have never intuited the opt-in, opt-out effect, nor could we have intuited the magnitude of this effect, and this is why empiricism is so important.

If you know anyone who’s skeptical about testing content from the visitor’s perspective, please take a moment to share this with them.

. .

[Image credit: Kistyn E]

Add Your Comments

Comments (12)

  1. I’m always leary of analysis of research. Most studies aren’t designed to draw cause.

    Opt-in and opt-out statements can be confusing. Some statements contain negatives (i.e not, don’t) which changes its meaning.

    The real question should be: How many of the 99% of Austrians know they have donated their organs?

  2. Troy,

    I agree with you in terms of being wary of research that paints with a broad brush, but there’s no specific causality being drawn in this case. All this researcher is saying is that:

    A.) The design of the D.M.V. form is what’s skewing results.
    B.) Most assumptions we might have made based on this data alone would have been misleading.
    C.) It shows that empirical research and outside perspective make all the difference.

    Yes, whether Austrians know they have donated their organs is one important question here — very true — but that does not mean that’s the only other question worth examining further. How is the form designed? How is the question posed (like you say)? Do they make it easier to agree than to disagree? Are they more persuasive?

  3. Get your customers to opt in (Guide to Small Business Ecommerce Strategy)…

    Opt in vs. opt out on forms can have a huge impact on acceptance. And the perception of your brand as a spammer.

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  5. I think the opt-in/opt-out decision is quite a difficult one for most marketers. A while back, I found a company that found a way to straddle this dilemma and wondered if it would be interesting to you:

  6. I like the ‘soft’ opt-out strategy proposed by Mike Moran above. As a recipient of the quick follow-up reminder I’d be impressed with the honesty and forthrightness of the company, and very likely to allow the communication to continue.

    Its atechnique I’ll adopt for my own sites.


  7. Whatever the actual “cause”, be it form design or the human disinclination to consider unpleasant related details” we see the same shift in results in other areas.

    In our company the shift from opt-in to opt-out on the 401k election gave results very like the ones above for organ donation.

    D. Foreman

  8. Its true..simple but sometime I forget. thanks

  9. I think this will be very helpful thank you.

  10. Great article!

    I just add this article in my bookmark.

  11. I think donating our organ after death is a good idea so that we can help people which in need and let them live even if we die.

  12. Well, you have written a deep analysis article. I like read it. Don’t stop writing Sir. Thank you

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