So the previous article went into the branding of a website, oh yeah, and Chuck Norris of course (random Chuck fact, “When Chuck Norris stares at the Sun, the Sun goes blind”). However this one is a little more interesting in my opinion (only because it has psychology in it), I want to look into the psychology of a website. Something which to be honest isn’t something I get to use in my day job much (more because my job doesn’t require it), but psychology can be that 1% improvement which causes a website to succeed and/or the reason for a website to fail.
So with no further a due, again using random Chuck references let’s explain what the perfect website would include (in theory). Due to the size of the blog post I have split this article into three, and these can be easily viewed by clicking on the titles below:
The 7 Principles of Online Persuasion
Gestlat Law of Perceptual Organisation (COMING SOON)
Attentional Bias and White Space (COMING SOON)
The 7 Principles of Online Persuasion and the Fundamental Attribution Error
A lot of the psychology of a website can be attributed to common sense. i.e if something is significantly brighter than the background it will stand out and you should try and illustrate what you want people to perceive through colour. However there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. In this post I will list the 7 main principles of persuasion for a website…and an additional one for good measure.
Below is a bit of background knowledge around persuasion, however please feel free to skip to the list if you want.
Like many, potentially, you think you are responsible for your own decisions and can attribute these decisions to logic and a sound personality, and other people’s decisions are pretty much impulsive and down to their behaviour. For example if someone pushes in front of us in a shopping que we would instantly judge them as rude, impatient maybe. This is an assumption, because really the reason for this could be attributed to the influence of the environment and/or the immediate situation, for example, the individual could need medicine for their sick son. Yet, when we assign cause we rarely attribute such action to the situation and will attribute it to the person’s personality.
This “fundamental attribution error” plays a significant role in how we perceive our decisions, and why we act the way we do. Because we see our self as logical beings, and believe our decisions are carefully thought through. This is not the case and we are all influenced by the environment and/or the immediate situation around us.
Why is this? Well it’s pretty simple we are all wired the same way and we all have the same three sections of the brain controlling our actions, where each part of the brain is responsible for different actions. The three sections of the brain are:
- The primal brain (the reptilian brain), which is responsible for our basic vital functions including arousal (behave this is not just the arousal Chuck Norris caused when visiting the Virgin Islands, which have now since been named “The Islands”) and alertness. Both arousal and alertness can be a marketer’s best friend in attracting people to the perfect site, sex sells people, even if it is not the traditional sexy image you have!
- The emotional brain (the limbic system) this systems main function is responsible for the primitive emotional responses and in charge of registering the relevant stimuli in a scene and is responsible for some of our impulsive purchases. Or in Chuck Norris’ terms, this system is involved in anger, compassion and the feelings of pleasure. A website should at least be built to try and instigate the desired emotion from the user. For example how we feel when we see a bear wave is down to the emotional brain.
- The rational brain. This is responsible for our higher cognitive functions which are responsible for achieving short term and long term goals and helps us problem solve. If we need something and previously we have struggled to get it, it’s time to welcome the rational brain. Unlike the two other systems it is more draining on our resources but a lot less primitive but a lot less automated.
Before you get worked up, no, there is no specific part of the brain you should focus on in marketing, any plan should incorporate each system, and the idea people’s behaviour is due to their personality is a “fundamental attribution error”. There are 7 (plus one extra one for free) main weapons a perfect website uses from our understanding of the fundamental attribution error to persuade a user, and these are:
The 7 principles of online persuasion
Commitment & the foot in the door principle
- The foot in the door phenomenon is explained to be people’s tendencies to comply with a larger request if they have already agreed to a smaller one. If a website encourages one to like their Facebook page then asks you to rate their Facebook page after, it is a lot more attractive request than just asking you to rate a Facebook page.
- As humans we like to do what we say. Once you take a stand and other people see this, we feel a drive to maintain that position. We all remember a time where we knew we were wrong but still argued our case because it was the “principle”. Again bringing social media into this, if you like a facebook post/product you have made a public commitment to the product/post and your followers/friends etc now get the impression you support this post.
One of the best examples of this for a website is the ALS challenge, where we didn’t just dose our self in water but we felt inclined to donate as well even if this was not our normal charity.
R2D2 risking his life for ALS
Social Proof ( the trust factor)
- We’re not all Sheppard’s and most of us go with the flow. If XXX amount of people follow the company then our natural instincts is to think they must be trustworthy. I know this seems questionable, especially as there are some awful companies with large followings. But alas, we rarely trust an individual’s ideas against a group’s idea (even if the ideas are ridiculous).
- When you believe something is in short supply you will want, aka that fabled red sign saying “only 2 left, purchase one before we run out!” This call to action can influence the emotional brain like no one’s business. Think of black Friday where a vast section of the population goes mad, and yes I mean mad, to try and get to the deals before it runs out!
- This principle acknowledges that people we as humans are not very good at estimating pricings. People make comparisons; and this is why comparison websites do so well! Putting a few prices in front of people will, to an extent, allow you to create a website which encourages people to go for certain pricing and makes certain pricing seem more attractive. So let’s lower the tone. Anyone watch how I met your mother ? Barney Stinson introduced the cheerleader effect.
Barney’s theory, the “Cheerleader effect”, states that women in groups look more attractive than when they are pulled out an examined individually. “They seem hot, but only as a group. Take each individually? Sled dogs.” Not my quote but his before I come across some serious hate. Scarily enough this works on websites pricing, and so much so you can make one price look more attractive than the others by making it significantly cheaper than its surroundings and or introducing another persuasion technique.
Reciprocation (we like to return favours)
- Somebody offers you a free white paper or advice then you’re more likely to work with them. The bigger the favour is the more likely you will reciprocate this favour. An example, the government says they will raise tax by 19% but close to the election they only raise it by 4%. Even though we are still worse off, we look more kindly towards the government as it is perceived they have done us a favour.
- If there is evidence the website is tied to an expert or an influential body, then naturally we will trust the products.
A great example of this is ShoeDazzle, a company co founded by Kim Kardashian. The company itself was founded by two serial entrepreneurs who had no sway in the shoe world and this is where Kim came into play. They recruited Kim to be the visible head of the company, using her sway in the fashion market to sell their products.
- This specifically tells us we are more likely to look at stimuli we find novel and that generates an attentional bias. I won’t go too into this because I did an article sometime back which explains this through Call to action buttons. However it does nicely link to the next part of this article Attentional Bias and white space. If you would like to view this article please click here (COMING SOON).
Oh yeah last but not least be Chuck Norris
Be Chuck Norris
- Now for the Chuck Norris interlude, Chuck Norris isn’t one with the universe. The universe isn’t ready!
Thank you for reading the article and please comment as I am needy and need to feel loved. And honestly I need to know if people enjoyed the article, because being self obsessed I assume people want to read what I write, however I always fear I should write for you and not for me. So if you think I should write about something else make sure you tell me!
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Much love Harry
All images are accredited to their respective source.