How To Improve The Psychological Effect of Countdown Timers (One Simple Conversion Booster)

Issue #5 of Rinaldo's weekly newsletter

Hello friends,

Every marketing, eCommerce or business page in the world seems to be using countdown timers these days. I wanted to share a couple of quick hacks on how to actually make them effective, research-backed, as always.

With this countdown timer, you will notice that the date is bolded, but the top part isn't.

You should get into the habit of emphasizing important things while de-emphasizing less important elements.

Not only this approach helps users who are skimming the page, which will be a large portion of the users, but also the visual nature of this approach and the contrast it creates is typically more aesthetically pleasing.

It really pulls the eye in.

You might also be wondering why does it use a static date as opposed to a dynamic countdown timer.

There are 2 reasons.

Firstly, there is a concept called parallel individuation.

Basically, you can distribute your attention equally among the three elements. If you see three elements moving your eyes can track all those individual motion paths simultaneously. 

However, this ability collapses when you add a fourth element. At this point, your attention becomes unevenly balanced where you need to shift back and forth between elements and it becomes cognitively demanding.

How does this relate to countdown timers?

Countdown timers are excellent when there are less than 24 hours. In that case, you have 3 entities: hours, minutes and seconds.

But when there are more than 24 hours left you need to add a fourth entity - days.

This fourth item surpasses our limit of attention where comprehending this countdown timer becomes cognitively demanding. 

It is really important to avoid this cognitive difficulty. 

Secondly, research shows (Alter, Oppenheimer, 2008) that processing fluency (the ease in speed with which we process information) is directly related to distance. If something is difficult to process then it seems farther away in space and time.

That's the exact opposite of what you want in this context.

You want this date to feel as subjectively close as possible so that you motivate people to act right now.

The addition of the day entity is counterproductive because it makes this format difficult to process which makes this date seem farther into the future.

When you have more than 24 hours left I recommend showing a static date that has a higher processing fluency and thus should feel subjectively closer. With less than 24 hours, switch to a dynamic countdown timer. 

If you really want to stick with dynamic countdown timers for 24+ hours then don't show a separate entity for the day. Instead, allocate all of the days into the hours entity.

That way, you still have three entities and you retain a lot of the processing fluency.  

I also used a red font here. 

Research shows that red objects seem spatially closer to us. This spatial effect should also be applied to the domain of time. Red font makes a future date seem closer in time.

Update your timers and have a splendid week!

-Rinaldo Ugrina

P.S. Let me know if you want to see more simple hacks like this or if you have any specific web elements you want me to analyze.