Report: Negative news killed conversions in 2020

A new study analysed trends from millions of website visits and found negative emotional language coincided with lower conversions

In 2020, negativity led to lower conversions across a range of industries including ecommerce, fitness and nutrition, and home improvement, according to the Unbounce 2021 Conversion Benchmark Report.

Unbounce’s machine learning model and data analysts analysed the outcomes from almost 264 million visits to over 44,000 landing pages which led to 33 million conversions across 16 industry sectors including ecommerce, education, SaaS, business services, legal, home improvement, travel, real estate and fitness and nutrition. The analysis looked at how factors such as emotion, sentiment and complexity of language influenced a business’ potential to convert web traffic into potential customers.

The study found that 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 per cent), fear (+6.0 per cent) and sadness (+8.1 per cent). 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.

“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 Unbounce VP of marketing, Megan Sakakibara.

“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." 

Positive language in education scores an F. Analysis of which emotional sentiments drove higher conversion rates on education landing pages showed words relating to joy and anticipation, such as as ‘aspiration’, ‘proud’, and ‘succeed’, often correlated with lower page performance. 

The winners won out as traffic spiked across the board. In ecommerce, while traffic surged, the lower performing 25 per cent of pages saw little difference year over year in conversion rates. However, the top performing 25 per cent of pages saw conversions increase from 12.2 per cent to 15.3 per cent for desktop and 14.5 per cent to a staggering 18.3 per cent for mobile.  

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 per cent and 448.3 per cent over the baseline). However, the data suggested people weren’t looking for drill instructor-style motivational; instead, words of joy drove higher conversion in both fitness and nutrition.

“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,” Sakakibara added.

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