Why Giving Citizens Lots of Choices is a Bad Strategy for Citizen Signups

Every major provider of mass Emergency Notification Systems offers some kind of web-based registration or signup form.  Some of them are very good and others, frankly, are terrible.

Rather than go through all the reasons why some forms are not good at getting people to sign up, this article focuses on one: too many choices. Many forms ask people to make too many decisions, resulting in them never completing the form at all.  

Consider the following from a variety of expert sources:

Sid Bharath, Business Writer:

“When more choice is offered to a consumer, the decision-making takes longer and requires more energy, eventually driving them to the safest option, [which is making no decision]….  Instead, try making it a bit easier for them. Give them fewer choices and fewer options and see if it increases your conversion rates and sales.”

The Economist:

Too many options means too much effort to make a sensible decision: better to bury your head under a pillow, or have somebody else pick for you…. As the French saying has it: “Trop de choix tue le choix” (too much choice kills the choice).”

Nicholas Cardot, Web Marketing Consultant:

“Increasingly the scientific/academic community, as well as the marketing world, have been churning out studies that prove emphatically that more options always leads to fewer actions. And conversely, fewer options always lead to more actions being taken. “

Now, you may think that asking people to register for emergency alerts is not selling anything.  But actually, it is. You are selling the opportunity to be notified in an emergency and the price you’re charging is the time and effort the citizen needs to make in order to fill out the form.

Sophisticated marketers have tools that let them measure completion rates (how many people complete a form as a percentage of visitors to the page) and other results.  They use technology to see where people get confused and at what point they stop filling out a form or complete a process.  

We do that too. And we’re going to tell you that asking citizens to decide if they want information about trash pickup, weather advisories, community events, etc. is a bad idea if what you really want is to get citizens signed up for emergency alerts.

And here’s another thing: it’s not necessary to ask all these questions when you get citizens signed up.  If instead, you focus on getting them registered for emergency alerts, and then, later, you ask them for the other information, you can have your cake and eat it too.  

So here is our suggestion to get the maximum number of signups for your emergency alert system. Make the initial registration process as simple as possible for your citizens. Then, if you want, after they’ve enrolled, you can request more information.  

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