Color is an essential part of how we experience the world. But do colors really matter for conversion optimization? Can a button color guarantee better performance for a call to action (CTA)?
No single color is better than another. Ultimately, what matters is how much a button color contrasts with the area around it.
This post explains what really matters for website CTAs and button colors. The “definitive” studies you’ve read are far from definitive, and a superficial approach to testing (i.e. try any random button color) won’t help you build a rigorous experimentation program.
Table of contents
- The psychological associations of colors
- Experiments with color usage
- What is the best color for CTA buttons?
- Why you should be skeptical of button color case studies
The psychological associations of colors
Different colors can lift us up or bring us down. There’s also a psychological side to colors—certain colors are associated with different qualities and emotions.
In different cultures, different colors mean contradicting things. For example, white is the color of mourning and death in Chinese culture, but the color of death in Brazil is purple. Yellow symbolizes happiness and peace in Hinduism but represents sadness in Greece and jealousy in France.
People from tropical countries respond favorably to warm colors; people from northern climates prefer cooler colors, and so on.
It’s also said that, in North American culture, the color blue creates a feeling of trust, but also encourages appetite. Green supposedly means nature, freshness, growth, and money. Yellow brings with it sunshine and happiness.
There’s some truth to these interpretations, but can we translate these supposed associations into conversion lifts?
Experiments with color usage
Red can make you a winner…
Almost universally, red means stop. Red means danger. Red means hot. And by analyzing the results in the 2004 Olympics, researchers found that red also means dominance.
They examined boxing, taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling, and freestyle wrestling, basically all of the one-on-one sports. In those sports, competitors are randomly assigned red or blue outfits, so no rigging is possible.
In 16 of 21 rounds, those wearing red won. Similar tendencies were found in the 2004 European Soccer Championship. Researchers are careful to point out that the effect is subtle at best. And that red can be a deciding factor only among evenly matched competitors—but it still exists.
“We find that wearing red is consistently associated with higher probability of winning,” University of Durham researchers Russell Hill and Robert Barton wrote.
…or a loser
Researchers at the University of Rochester found that the color red can also keep us from performing our best on tests. In their experiments, they wanted to find out if the perception of red would affect the results of IQ tests or major academic exams. In an academic context, the color red is traditionally associated with marking errors.
Four experiments showed that just a brief perception of the color had a negative impact on the results. ““It led people to do worse without their knowledge,” said Elliot, one of the authors.
The findings showed that “care must be taken in how red is used in achievement contexts,” the researchers reported, “and illustrate how color can act as a subtle environmental cue that has important influences on behavior.”
Color and the taste of hot chocolate
It turns out that the color of the container in which food and drink are served contributes to the perceived taste. That’s true, at least, for drinking hot chocolate, explains researcher Betina Piqueras-Fiszman.
Piqueras-Fiszman and her research partners had 57 participants sample hot chocolate served in containers of four different colors: white, cream, orange, and red. All were the same size, and all were white on the inside.
The flavor of the hot chocolate served in orange- and cream-colored cups was judged better by the participants. However, the sweetness and the aroma was judged to be similar, no matter the color.
“There is no fixed rule stating that flavor and aroma are enhanced in a cup of a certain color or shade,” recognized Piqueras-Fiszman. “In reality this varies depending on the type of food, but the truth is that, as this effect occurs, more attention should be paid to the color of the container as it has more potential than one could imagine.”
If color can impact our athletic performance, academic achievement, and perception of taste, can it also affect our decision to click?
What is the best color for CTA buttons?
Red might increase your chances of winning in sports. Your next hot chocolate may taste better in an orange cup. But what does this have to do with conversions on the web? Does red really give you an advantage for your CTA button?
Green vs. red: A call-to-action button war
Over the years, there’s been controversy about which color converts best for your CTA button. Unbounce declared that the future of CTA buttons was “BOB” (Big Orange Buttons).
There are also a number of interesting A/B testing case studies in which an orange or mostly red button was tested against other colors, often green.
When you think about it, green is mostly associated with positive emotions. When the traffic lights turn green, it means you can drive. Vice-versa with red. The color is mostly associate with negative emotions.
So what you think? Which button color won? Here’s what the case studies had to say.
Case study 1
Dmix wrote about about a test of green and red button colors. In their testing with 600 subjects, they found that conversions increased by 34% when they used a red button.
Case study 2
The next test comes courtesy of HubSpot. They ran a similar test with green and red buttons on a client site. They ran the test for a few days and, in total, had more than 2,000 visits.
Their result? The red button outperformed the green button by 21%.
Case study 3
The third test comes courtesy of VWO. Their client was an ecommerce site selling mobile phones and accessories. They tested “Buy Now” button colors on the site. The competition included a white button with green text, green button with white text, and red (dark orange) button with white text.
And the winner was—you guessed it—the red button, this time with a 5% conversion lift.
Case study 4
This study, instead of comparing reddish versus green buttons, looked at an orange versus blue button. In their tests, the blue button won, producing a 9% lift.
Despite that “upset” by blue buttons, red or reddish buttons were dominant, a trend supported by other studies as well.
And yet, didn’t Peep write the following about colors in web design in this post:
I liked this tweet by Naomi Niles:
I couldn’t agree more. This kind of narrative gives people the wrong idea about what testing is about. Yes sure – sometimes the color affects results – especially when it affects visual hierarchy, makes the call to action stand out better and so on. But “green vs orange” is not the essence of A/B testing. It’s about understanding the target audience. Doing research and analysis can be tedious and it’s definitely hard work, but it’s something you need to do.
In order to give your conversions a serious lift you need to do conversion research. You need to do the heavy lifting.
Serious gains in conversions don’t come from psychological trickery, but from analyzing what your customers really need, the language that resonates with them and how they want to buy it. It’s about relevancy and perceived value of the total offer.
Why you should be skeptical of button color case studies
Let’s take a look at one last example, which will help this make a whole lot more sense. RIPT Apparel tested the color of their “Buy Now” button to see if it would make any difference to their bottom line.
This is the original version:
And this was the new button:
To no great surprise, conversion numbers went up. Looking at the previous cases, one could say that if they changed the button to red it might convert even better. Well, not quite.
Take a look at the original again. Do you see something that should be there but isn’t? The original is missing a button! The “Buy Now” CTA gets lost in the design. You can see the new button clearly, regardless of whether its green, red, yellow, or any of several colors.
This, unfortunately, is how the great controversy of button colors got started. You see amazing results that suggest that one color always converts the best. That is, until you look closer.
More often than not, these tests reveal that, previously, there was no button, or the button is just much more prominent. It stands out from the rest of the page and converts better because it’s a high-contrast color, not any single color.
Monetate, which ran the blue vs. orange button test, had this to say:
But, if you dig into the results, you’ll see that orange buttons were almost always tested against a control of no button at all. In cases like these, it’s hardly a surprise that orange buttons make a difference. Of course they do … when compared to no button at all! Practically any button will make a difference, regardless of color.
In the case of RIPT Apparel, they tested one final version, with a yellow button:
Conversions went up a further 6.3%. So yellow beats green? No, no, no.
The CTA button color makes little difference on its own
The color of the button has little-to-no effect on its own. What’s more important is how it changes the visual hierarchy of the page and how it makes the call-to-action stand out.
It also depends on what we’re used to seeing. Bing increased their revenue $80 million by finding the exact color of blue for their links. People are used to seeing blue links. When the World Wide Web first came to be, blue was the color of links. (Microsoft engineers working on this also admitted that “…it was a shade of blue quite similar to the one used by Google.”)
There is no best color for conversions. In the yellow button’s case, they also added urgency (“$10 only for 24 hours”), which has been demonstrated time and time again to lift conversions. In the case of Bing and blue, it was the power of convention in action.
Back to HubSpot
The same can be said for the HubSpot’s example. Take a look at it again:
Do you notice anything that might contribute to the red button being a better choice? Something in the overall design of the page?
Green is one of the main colors of the site! And what happens when you add a green button to the mix? It won’t stand out. They could have tested green against almost any other bright color and would have seen the same “amazing” results.
To HubSpot’s credit, they to say in the case study that they “cannot generalize these results to all situations.” But still, a green button on a page with a dominant green design? Really?
Color matters for your calls to action. But saying that one color converts better than another doesn’t hold. There is no universal best color. What works on one site doesn’t necessarily work on another.
Visual hierarchy matters. So does making your CTA buttons stand out with a high-contrast color. The “green vs. red” debate is less about color per se and more about whether the color helps the button stand out.
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Peep, I was seriously worried for a minute. Thank goodness you pulled through for me.
All is good, no need to worry.
And this is Ott, author of this piece.
Well, I think color is an important factor. But marketers don’t need to be obsessed with it!
Factors affecting color effectivity are color contrast and color complementarity.
1) Color contrast. This element is important because if the button color does not get the attention of the potential customer you don’t get the sale/sign-up…
2) Color complementarity. If the only factor on the equation was the color contrast, we would chose the most striking and flamboyant color. But reality tell us that most of the time this is not the right answer. Color contrast must be coherent with the rest of the colors used in your website.
Therefore, use a high contrast color, complementary with your website color chromatic range.
BTW, Great website Peep!
PD.- The article talks about order button color tests and does not make any reference to the most tested website on earth (Amazon). Their buttons won all the tests they made using different color combinations.
You can see them at:
Contrast and complementary matter for sure as well as various other things.
The idea behind this writing was to make people realize that while colors of your buttons and other elements are important, it’s the site as a whole that needs to make sense first.
I was at a meeting with Shane Cassells, Online Conversion Specialist, NACE at Google as he looked over our site.
Google tested 4,000 shades of blue prior to picking the button on the search
I wonder how many people came to this post hoping you had the answer that would help them generate millions of dollars.
If you think about it for a second and you asked 10 friends what their favorite color was you might get a majority but more than likely you would get 2 to 3 choices of colors. You can apply that to this theory of button colors. Not everybody likes green or red or blue or yellow. There has to be a call to action and in the case of buttons or links it is making them stand out from the content so people have ease of use to click.
Terrific article. Thanks for sharing.
Well, for sure lots of people clicked and were hoping to hear me write that color X is the best. But, you know, hopefully there is a bit less confusion now about the whole “this is the best color ever” situation. A bit more clarity.
Yeah it requires more work but, what doesn’t?
Nice post! I was going to write something pointed and long-winded about how Red Vs. Green is a worse debate than Gun Control in the US, but realized that Francisco Moriones made many of the good points that I would have. In addition to Color Contrast and Color Complementarity, I’d add Color Appeal and Trust. If your website makes good use of more earthly colors, then having a bright pink button will look on the cheesy side and might not appeal to your audience.
Trust and color appeal are a bit tricky – different people view them differently so there’s possibility there to make mistakes. But in general yes, you have to take into account readability and a host of other things as well… So is not easy, but definitely worth it.
As with pink buttons, would be interesting to see a design that could pull that off successfully :D
I couldn’t agree with you more. CRO is all about digging deeper, finding out what is important to people before they buy. Making things clear to users. Creating a great user experience and using smart calls to action. as you said, it’s about relevancy and perceived value of the total offer.
If you do that right, you will win! Awesome post!
Glad to hear you got some value out of it, thank you.
If you’re wondering who am I , then I’m Ott – author of this post ;)
Brilliant article. I’m very impressed with the blogs on this site.
Thank you ;)
Excellent article! I enjoyed the previous article on this subject, but this one was far more enlightening on the influence of color and conversions. Thanks Peep!
Glad to hear you found value from this article – while the previous one was written by Peep, this one was from me ;)
Interesting. I wonder if red keeps people from performing well on tests as it’s often used to point out mistakes and to give a bad mark on homework? Could be a subtle correlation in the mind.
It definitely does! The second research on the color red (non conversion based) concludes pretty much that.
As a designer in an in-house web team for a large UK publisher I was repeatedly frustrated when the whole “orange button” thing was doing the rounds. Time and time again I had to point out that it was really dependant on the rest of the page. I found using Easyjet as an example of where an orange button wouldn’t stand out!
I hear you! Every time I see the BOB recommended as treatment, I cringe.
Great article – after all is said and one and all things being equal, red will generally be the correct choice for a call to action button.
Great article. Quick question, any reason why your email signup popup on the right side of your site (13 Ways to Increase Your Conversion Rate – Right Now) isn’t using a red (or similar) button based on your findings?
This was the best article I have seen on the psychology of color choice directly aimed at “Buy” buttons. I just recently started A/B testing both colors in some of my remarketing campaigns and appreciated the effort that went into the post as it was exactly what I needed.
Great Article. I suggest at least two other factors should be considered when analysing results of colour tests such as these. Colour tone affects legibility. For example, red has a darker tone than green so white lettering on buttons of these colours is easier to read on the red button and the brain has less work to do (fluency). So I would expect better results from red all other things being equal.
Secondly, significant proportions of the population are colour blind and may struggle to interpret some colour combinations. This is statistically worse for men than women. So, if your site is about gender specific clothing for example, you may have to factor this in any analysis of results you do.
Red also appears to recede in relation to other colors, so it makes the white letters stand farther out. Try putting red text on a white button and you can see the inverse of that.
I think the whole “Green vs Red” is the most wrong assumption I always do. I still can’t believe that Red outperform Green especially on Checkout pages.
This shows that you always need to run your tests and don’t depend so much on your assumptions. You need to think and test “out of the box”.
So cool to come across an article like this from a friend like that!
Great and very comprehensive post.Colors are very important, but your website proves that the most important thing, however, that something like this can be useful to read.Thanks.
Good collection of research here. I’m not surprised red converts better than green though I came to this article curious about blue vs red which wasn’t answered conclusively. Perhaps for a service requiring some degree of trust, blue would work well.
My company insists that the button color be part of the “primary palette”, meaning it’s always competing with other elements of the same color on the same page. When I suggest another color in order to create contrast, the feedback is “That color is off-brand”.
While understanding that placement, size and content also play huge factors, is there any hard evidence I can point to that says “Stop making your buttons the same color as other stuff on the page”?
I came here after a google search for tests on RED vs ORANGE buttons. Strange that they always win when put up against blue or green…but so far I haven’t seen any split tests between the 2 WINNERS (which seem to be the “BOB” Big Orange Button (“Belcher button”) with DARK BLUE TEXT and the RED with WHITE TEXT.
Those are the 2 that always win the split tests..Has anybody tested them against teach other and published the results??
Hannah, did you read the post?:) There are no buttons that always win. It’s a myth certain infomarketers want you to believe. Get out while you can!
Great article, Ott. You start out leading readers to believe that red converts the best, and then you bring up interesting perspective to get readers to think more deeply and realize that color is only one piece of the puzzle.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a well-written piece like this.
purple is not the color of death in Brazil!!!
Another BS click bait article asking a question and then answering it by saying there is no answer. Thanks Internet.
Ha! Alas that is the truth – there is no universal best color. People ask this stupid question – but they shouldn’t! So this article sets them straight – stop looking for the unicorn, and think in terms of contrast and visual hierarchy.
Purple is not associated with death in Brazil. I’ve been living here for a few decades and I’ve never heard of that belief, not even for minorities. The article does have some good conclusions though.
I tend to keep things simple and rely on my gut feeling about visual factors but that is indeed just a part of the mix. The overall conclusion of your article calms my nerves as well. Thanks for sharing and outlining some interesting results Ott.
I think the most basic thing is being overlooked here with this “green vs red” argument.
When you’re creating a landing page or buy button it’s not about color as much as it is about CONTRAST.
Your button needs to be in STARK CONTRAST with its backdrop and should be the loudest thing on the page.
The idea is to get people’s attention so they know WHAT and WHERE to click.
Couple that with a color palette that speaks to your audience and you’re in conversion city.
That alone will do tons more for conversions than just making these two colors battle it out all the time.
If everyone is always using Red or Green, the colors will eventually lose their effectiveness and as soon as someone comes to a website that has a PURPLE or CYAN button, it’ll likely get clicks JUST because it’s different and a breath of fresh air.
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