eCommerce Insiders

Using Urgency to Create Conversions Without Sounding Sleazy

No one wants to come off as a sleaze.

You’re building a brand, and if you sound like someone who’s just out to make a buck, it’s going to hurt you.

Customers crave connection and individualized interactions. You’re using content marketing to give it to them, but there’s more to cultivating sales than following the idea that “If you build it, they will come.”

If you want to drive conversions, there are plenty of techniques that work. Look through the marketing article archive here on the site, and you’ll find more than a few tools and tricks to use. One of the most effective is urgency, and that’s what we’re covering here.

When I first started copywriting, I hated using urgency. For anything. It felt dirty and cheap – but it was honest! Studying copy and seeing how other writers applied the technique showed me a few ways to move past that uncomfortable internal hurdle. Time, practice, and testing helped me see what works and what doesn’t – as did quite a few case studies.

There’s plenty of research to back up the use of urgency in copywriting, especially when sales are on the line, and the best part is that you won’t come off sounding like you’re trying to pull a fast one if you use the information in this article.

Give it a try – your bottom line is gonna love you for it.

Why Does Urgency Work?

There’s a reason urgency converts well (usually), and it’s based in consumer and behavioral psychology. Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion and extensions of Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge Theory can explain the mechanics of urgency to an extent, but mastering them is another story.

Some marketers have exploited this technique beautifully. One example that quickly comes to mind is Neil Patel. An expert marketer and globally recognized content expert, Patel does an excellent job of breaking down several different ways to create urgency and why they work in this article on Marketing Land.

The methods of creating urgency he covers include the following:

  • Scarcity,
  • Using a timekeeping device (watch, timer, countdown clock, etc),
  • Making it difficult for the prospect to take action (counterintuitive, but it works!),
  • Creating a scenario where the prospect works to avoid losing something/experiencing a catastrophe,
  • Cultivate a competitive situation,
  • Use time-related words,
  • Appeal to the prospect’s responsiveness instinct (the over-used ‘act now!’ is a good example),
  • Negativity,
  • Last chance/last opportunity for this offer.

What Neil doesn’t mention that is equally worth discussion is the types of people that positive and negative urgency can attract. If you are looking for an easily pleased and largely content demographic, stick with the positive urgency. Negative urgency works, but tends to be more attractive to individuals with neurotic tendencies. A 2012 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology states that:

“In three studies, the authors showed that negative urgency concurrently predicted alcohol dependence symptoms in disordered women, drinking problems and smoker status in preadolescents, and aggression, risky sex, illegal drug use, drinking problems, and conduct disordered behavior in college students.” 

In short, be careful what you wish for and how you target your prospective customers.

How Urgency Can Fail – Miserably

Like most marketing techniques, urgency can fall flat.

There’s one characteristic that most ineffective applications of this technique have in common. They sound sleazy. You can come off sounding like a used car salesman, complete with the cheesy tone and style.

But why? It turns out that’s much simpler than you might think. When you write from the heart, are honest and authentic, and spread a consistent brand message, chances are that it’s going to be well received.

Try to make yourself sound busier than you are or your product seem like it’s in higher demand than it is, and you’ll sound like you’re trying too hard. This is one arena where it doesn’t help to fake it until you make it. Lucky for you, there’s always something to urge your customers to act quickly for – from upcoming holidays to limited stock or an offer expiration date.

But urgency doesn’t work if you don’t do it right.

It’s not just about saying that time is passing or a calendar is filling up. It’s about provoking your potential customers to get involved emotionally with your copy. You’re trying to push them to feel. If you fail to do that, your use of urgency will fall flat.

There’s another situation where urgency can be an epic fail, too. If you don’t provide enough follow up information in your call to action, or provide too little detail, your potential customers aren’t as likely to act. Howard Leventhal did a study with vaccine brochures that demonstrates this point beautifully.

Getting Urgency Right to Nail Ecommerce Conversions

There’s more than one type of urgency, and more than one way to use the technique to make a sale. If you want to guarantee an increase in conversions, you need to apply multiple forms of urgency on your sales pages, and do so with finesse. The two main types to focus on are written and visual. Some sites can use audio elements to enhance the sense of urgency, but this is not a primary technique, since consumers can always turn off their sound.

Create Urgency with Good Sales Copy

Sales copy needs to touch the heart of the prospect and push them to take immediate action. In order to accomplish this goal, it needs to resonate with your potential clients’ inner thoughts. That’s not an easy task.

Copy that stinks will still convert the occasional prospect, but bad copy can actually send a good potential customer running. Make sure that you invest in well-written, highly-targeted copy if you want to make sales.

Stay away from clichés, overly-used phrases, and bad grammar. Use proven techniques – sales copy isn’t the place to reinvent the wheel for your business.

Not sure you can do it? Don’t fret. Plenty of business owners hire writers to craft their sales copy. There are professionals who specialize in product packaging, product descriptions, sales pages, and the like. These experts employ urgency on a regular basis, and know how to make the best use of the technique.

Don’t just agree to a professional’s recommendations, however. Test them. A/B test all sales copy – your version against theirs, two writers against each other, or two pieces by the same writer – and tweak until you’re very happy with the conversion rate.

It’s an upfront cost that pays off beautifully over time.

Imply Urgency with Smart Visual Design

The user experience (UX) of an ecommerce site is an area that is quickly gaining a reputation as influential, if not vital, to improving conversions. Most designers and marketing writers will tell you that placing social proof and testimonies near the call to action buttons can improve your credibility and improve conversions. You get the importance of the “right amount” of white space.

But how can you create visual urgency? Is it even possible?


The ecommerce environment is visually complex, and as the rise of the infographic, video posts, and listsicles reminds us, humans are visual creatures. You’ve got to cater to the visual nature of your prospects in order to convert them into customers.

Urgency can be implied with smart visual design in many ways, from the incorporation of timers and graphic elements that imply urgency to color choices that drive action.

Marketers have been aware of the impact the color of a “Buy Now” button for years, and it’s easy to see why oranges, reds, and similar shades work. They remind us of emergency lights and touch us on a deeper level. One that screams “ACT!” But what else works?

As we already mentioned, timers can work extremely well. Use arrows to draw attention to your CTAs, eliminate visual clutter that distracts readers from focusing on the step you want them to take, and make the visual path through your sales funnel clear and friendly. Only provide obstacle that help you (like an email capture or chat window), but don’t use those on sales pages, and don’t over use them, either.

A well-designed web page provides a clear and enjoyable journey to your checkout. Urgency helps that journey feel faster while eliminating obstacles to purchase and reducing fear and inhibition in your prospects. Used well, it’s a digital marketer’s best friend and an ecommerce business owner’s ally.

Looking for More?

If you love the idea of using urgency in your campaigns but want to learn more about it first, check out these marketing resources (not all are about urgency, but they’ll reinforce the concepts we’ve discussed):


For more information on the psychology of urgency and consumer behavior, check out the following resources:


Christina Boyes

I’m a fan of honest words, clarity, and impact. A copywriter, editor, and translator, I spend my days guzzling coffee like a champ. Once in a while, I do some writing and revising, too. I’m co-owner and copywriting head at Rusmexus Writers, and the brains behind the email and web copy at a handful of eCommerce brands.  Intellectual challenges and chocolate are my fuel. If you know what a seismometer does, care about healthy diets and lifestyle, or are a fan of travel, we should talk.

Tagged , , , , ,

One thought on “Using Urgency to Create Conversions Without Sounding Sleazy

  1. Roz Bahrami

    Great article, definitely agree with you! I think that if you sound to sales-y and make it seem like your company is only after my money I am less likely to go with you. A take it or leave it approach sometimes works really well because it shows how confident you are that a customer is unable to find a better product.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *