We see it quite often: website owners devote time and effort to testing different newsletter tools, studying web design trends, analyzing return on investment from their online campaigns, or many other tasks that are essential to maintaining a powerful online presence. One aspect that is often pushed aside in this process is paying close attention to the site visitors and understanding what drives them.
Psychology constantly produces amazing insights into how our brains work. If we take this knowledge and apply it to websites, we can strengthen our sites’ appeal to our target market, improve the sites’ performance and see an increase in click rates, exposure and even sales.
We’re here to guide you through five key concepts in psychology that can take your site to the next level. Whether you are about to create a website or you already have one up and running, this is for you.
Our brains try to make things simpler for us. One of the ways it does that is by helping us make connections between images, words, sounds and colors. We see representations of one object, say, an image of a blackboard, and we associate it with learning, with a classroom, perhaps with our children or own childhood experiences. This process is known in the professional lingo as “priming” – a memory effect in which one stimulus triggers the remembrance of another.
Implemented in business and marketing, priming can influence consumer behavior in many ways. One study conducted in grocery stores showed that the background music played in the store had a direct impact on the wines purchased – French-sounding music raised the sales of French wines, while German-sounding music resulted in more German wine being sold.
Another study, seeking to identify the power of priming in altruistic behavior, had similar results. Patrons dining alone were handed bills at the end of their meal, upon which various quotes were printed. The patrons who received bills with a quote promoting altruism were more likely to leave a tip, and their tips were generally more generous.
If you’re doubting to what extent this can apply to websites and online interactions, take a look at this study, in which site visitors were observing the same car website only with different background colors. The results show that the background color influenced the visitors’ interaction with the site’s content. Those who were exposed to a green website background with small dollar signs spent more time looking at prices, while those exposed to an orange-red background focused more on the cars’ safety details.
The bottom line here is that every bit of content that you display on your site can send signals to visitors, helping them form an opinion about you and your brand. You have the power to influence this opinion to your benefit.
When visitors access your website, they are expected to perform a number of decisions: Should they click and browse further, or move to another site? Should they contact you for information or should they book an appointment right away? Should they subscribe to your newsletter or will it be enough to follow you on Twitter? Should they make the purchase now or think about it some more?
If it were up to you, we all know what their choices would be. The thing is, it is up to you! More than you think, at least. When you create your own website, you can do so much to point visitors into the direction you want them to take. For instance:
If your visitors or clients are able to imagine themselves in actual engagement with your products or with your vision, they will be more committed to your site and to your brand. You need to foster the feeling that this engagement is real, not abstract, by making your visitors a part of the story. Here’s how you get there:
Studies show again and again that people react better to images that have a human face in them. That’s because they themselves can relate to the image more. But there’s a caveat here. Standardized stock images that depict people in staged environments are hardly relatable. Your site visitors will react so much better to images of people who look real, people who they can imagine themselves in conversation with.
Using images that evoke “real people” is one way of creating a more personal atmosphere on your site, but it will not be effective if your tone of voice doesn’t follow suit. To make your visitors feel personally involved with your site or your brand, address them directly in a second-person and active style. What sounds more compelling to you: “the house of your dreams” or “a dream house?” When you create the texts to your site, remember that there is a person sitting on the other side. Now, talk to that person.
You want to achieve a situation in which the visitors feel like they are involved with your site on a face-to-face level. Consider how non-profit organizations raise money online and offer patrons the option to donate for a very specific act. The more concrete the goal is – building a classroom, sponsoring a rescue dog, funding a life-saving operation – the more meaningful the donation feels to the person who is making it. In short, you want to foster a sense of connection, something that is more meaningful and memorable than a random visit to some site.
So far we discussed how psychology can impact your site visitors. Now, dear website owner, it is time to focus more on your psychological bents. Since you decided to create a website dedicated to a specific theme, brand, or idea, we assume that you yourself have a certain degree of experience in that field. That is a very fine thing, but it makes you susceptible to what is known as the “curse of knowledge.”
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads you to assume that everyone you speak to share the same experience, same understanding and same attitude towards the topic at hand. As a result, you neglect to clarify important things, you risk being misunderstood, and, frankly, you might end up sounding like a pompous jerk (sorry.)
To avoid this unfortunate situation from happening on your website, you need to constantly be able to look at the site from two perspectives – your perspective as the know-it-all expert, and your visitor’s perspective. Take a look at your site header, for instance. That’s the first thing people see when they load your site. Is it immediately clear what kind of site this is? In the texts that you upload, are your word-plays fun but not too complicated? Are you over-using technical terms that are only known to a bunch of industry-insiders?
The curse of knowledge can be lifted, and it is entirely within your power to do so.
Human beings are social creatures. Our beliefs and actions are shaped by our interactions with other people, or by how we predict other people will evaluate us. Social phenomena like conformity, solidarity, competitiveness, reciprocity or niche-identities have a significant impact in almost every sphere of our existence – from the clothes that we wear to the hashtags that we favor.
You can employ these phenomena to promote certain behaviors when you create your site. Here are just a few examples:
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