Why Wikipedia’s appeal for money is in the wrong place

You’ll have noticed Jimmy Wales looking ruggedly handsome at the top of every Wikipedia page. But have you clicked? Probably not, because the promo is in the wrong place. Here’s why…

Web users are goal-driven. The big brains of web design have known this for a long time, and you only have to observe your own online behaviour to understand exactly what it means.

Let’s say a friend calls you up and says, “I’ve just been diagnosed with Mortimer’s disease.” She gives you a few details about her doctor’s visit, but the moment you’re off the phone you’re straight onto Google. Now, at this point, do you think you can be tempted to click some other medical-type links? Perhaps you are interested in brain aneurisms or dialysis? Of course not. Your goal is to find out what’s wrong with your friend.

The majority of web activity is like this. Your goal might be to book a plane ticket, buy a book, or find out why everyone is suddenly talking about astrobiology.

This is of course relevant to Wikipedia. If your search for ‘Mortimer’s disease’ has led you to Wikipedia, you might vaguely register the hot bearded guy at the top of the page, but only for a fraction of a second before you start reading the stuff that you really came for. And because your short-term memory is only able to hold onto stuff for about 20 seconds, the bearded fella will quite literally be out of your mind before you’ve read halfway down the page.

So what should Jimmy do to drum up some more donations? He should take advice from Jared Spool about how to use seducible moments.

Seducible moments? Say what?

Imagine an 18-year-old walking into the student union two minutes before the end of happy hour. Nothing can distract him from the beeline he is making to the bar. However, once he’s got a cold beer in his hand, he is ready to turn his back on the barman and face the crowd. That is the seducible moment – when the student is ready for distraction.

The seducible moment for Wikipedia is at the bottom of the page, when the user has achieved the goal she came for, and is looking for the next thing to do. They could use that space to make a much more targeted appeal to users: “Did you find this information useful? Donate to Wikipedia so that we can continue making great content for the world.” (This also uses the persuasion technique of reciprocation – ‘I’ve given you something for free, now are you going to give me something back?’)

So how about it Jimmy? Do some A/B testing with the alternative approach, and see which link gets you more donations. I know where I’m putting my money.

How can you apply this to your own site? Here are a few tips:

  • Use personas and scenarios to identify user goals on your site. Who are the users, and what is it they want to achieve when they get there? Once you’ve identified goals, you’ll be able to identify the seducible moments (usually just before or after the goals).

    Think about Amazon – they don’t show you any promos during the checkout process, but when you’ve reached your goal of checking out, they feature promos again. Promote your business goals only once you’ve helped users to achieve their goals.

  • You can’t just make your promos bigger – no matter how big, brash and animated you make a promo, if you’re showing it at the wrong moment, users will ignore it.
  • Don’t try to fit everything onto the homepage. Rather figure out where the seducible moments are for particular types of content. You’ll get a much better success rate if you cross-promote at the right times.


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