November 2, 2015

How to Gain More Customers with Conversion Optimization Psychology

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This is a guest post from James Scherer, the content editor at Wishpond and the author of The Complete Guide to Conversion Optimization Psychology.


Your website visitors arent rational.

They might think they are, but anyone whos ever bought a candy bar or fashion magazine at the checkout counter knows theres more going on in the heads of a consumer than Were out of bread.

We, all of us, react to subconscious stimulus without knowing were doing so. We prefer and respond to certain colors over others. We perk up when our name is said across a crowded room. We cant help ourselves. Smart web designers and marketers take advantage of these subconscious stimuli to influence the actions and behavior of their prospective consumers.

This article will break down five of the most influential psychological factors that affect your target market. You’ll learn exactly how each factor works, as well as a few actionable ways you can implement it to boost your own sites conversions.

1. Information Overwhelm and Progressive Disclosure

Information overwhelm (sometimes called infobesityor infoxication) is the simple idea that people have a limit to the amount of information they can absorb at any given time.

If you present someone with too much information or stimulus at one time, then their mind will start simplifying.Theyll focus only on the things they understand (like the back button or another tab).

We’ve all been there: standing in the yogurt aisle, brow furrowed, for 15 minutes as the rest of the world shops.

Thats information overwhelm. And its even more rampant on the internet than it is in your neighborhood grocery store. Avoiding it is one of the most important parts of creating a UX-optimized (and conversion-optimized) website.

This is where progressive disclosure comes into the picture.

With progressive disclosure, we present website visitors with information incrementally, rather than all at once. We give them a bit at a time and give them the option to learn more when theyre ready.

Implementing a progressive disclosure strategy means your website remains clean, simple, and appealing while still holding the information your website traffic might need to convert. Heres an example from the product page for our landing page editor:

progressive disclosure web design

Actionable ways you can implement this psychological factor:

  • Rather than including everything on one page, add learn morelinks after simplified breakdowns of your tools, products, or service.
  • Add chevrons (see image above) which, when clicked, expand the content.
  • Add a plus and minus button (or show more) link which reveals and hides additional information (e.g., Facebooks See All Commentsor Twitters View Summary).
  • Add a live chat feature to your product pages to prompt visitors to ask a customer support member if they have specific questions.

2. Loss Aversion


loss aversion chart

Loss aversion is simpler than the graphs above might appear:

The X-axis shows loss and gain: if you gain something (money, material goods, friendships) you shift to the positive side of the axis. If you lose something, you move to the negative side. On the Y-axis is value (think of it as happiness).

The right-side graph shows how we all think it works: if you gain $10, you move 10 units up the happiness axis. If you lose $10, you move 10 units down the happiness axis.

This is the common-sense interpretation of things. But its false.

The reality is that people are more affected (in terms of happiness) by loss than they are by gain. This is depicted in the graph on the right.

Let’s examine this psychological factor in action.

In the early 1980s, two groups of students are asked to come into a lab. The first group is given a mug and told its theirs to keep. The second group is shown a mug (can look at it but not touch it).

Theyre then asked to appraise the value of the mug. The first group is asked how much they would sell the mug for. The second group is asked how much they would pay for it.

The average price the sellers were asking for their mugs was $5.78 while the average price buyers were willing to pay was $2.21.

Remember, this whole process took under 10 minutes — proving exactly how fast we assign a subjective value to what we see as ours.

This study was actually repeated with a product which still had the price tag on it, and the results were the same.

Actionable ways you can implement this psychological factor:

Rather than framing your emails in terms of you only have 10 days left of your free trialconsider framing them in terms of loss. For instance:

  • 10 days until you lose access to Wishponds lead-generating platform!
  • 10 days before we have to block your login details!
  • 10 days before the 50 percent discount ends!

Even if your leads werent previously aware of the thing they have, making them aware of the loss of it.

3. Labeling

Do you identify yourself as a Conservative? A Democrat? A New Yorker? A mother? A techy?

A joint study from Harvard and Stanford found that labels impact our actions and behavior on a daily basis:

Subtle linguistic cues have the power to increase voting and related behavior.

The phrasing of survey items was varied to frame voting either as the enactment of a personal identity (e.g., being a voter) or as simply a behavior (e.g., voting).

As predicted, the personal-identity phrasing significantly increased interest in registering to vote and voter turnout as assessed by official state records. These results provide evidence that people are continually managing their self-concepts, seeking to assume or affirm valued personal identities.

Labels such as these encourage people (or your prospective customers) to see their actions as representative of their nature. People see actions as who they are, rather than simply how they act.

Note: The same researchers who increased interest in voting by referring to people as votersversus someone-who-votesalso determined that this positive reinforcement was only true with positive labeling. They stated that its likely people are equally averse to being a cheateror someone-who-cheatsas they are in favor of being a voterversus someone-who-votes.

Actionable ways you can implement this psychological factor:

  • Refer to your customers or leads in terms of their segment (be upfront about this) as soon as they engage with your business. Not only is it possible labels such as pro-planners and white-labellers will create a feeling of exclusivity (another psychological factor outside the scope of this post), they may also increase retention. If people have positive connotations of being a white-labeller, theyre more likely to want to remain one.
  • Change lead-gen form fields from Are you interested in marketing?to Are you someone who wants the latest marketing advice?
  • Exclusively use labels with a positive connotation to reinforce the desire to be labeled as such.

4. Selective Disregard

Selective disregard is more something you want to be aware of and plan for than it is something you can use to optimize your site. Nonetheless, its been the downfall of more than one A/B tester and online advertiser.

Selective disregard is related to information overwhelm in that they both concern the brains propensity for ignoring things it doesnt deem crucial to the matter at hand.

Have you ever been walking down the street, lost in your own thoughts, only to have a good friend appear, as if by magic, a foot in front of you saying theyve been calling your name and waving for the past minute?

This decision-making by our brain (to ignore things it doesnt think are important) is the basis for selective disregard. Because we rely so heavily on visual stimuli being noticed by our prospective customers, its a massive problem for online advertising and marketers in general.

Youve probably read a few case studies that say testing the wording or subtle color differences in your landing pages or website can improve your conversion rates by some crazy percent.

Theyre not wrong. Its always worth a shot. But the truth of the matter is this: those subtle changes probably wont be noticed by your customers. Any advertisement you create that doesnt stand out like a clown in an office meeting is not only unlikely to be clicked on but is unlikely even to be seen.

Actionable ways you can implement this psychological factor:

Rather than using this psychological factor to improve conversion, you simply need to be aware of it:

  • When creating online advertisements, make sure youre standing out. Consider color contrast, simplicity, and message.
  • Every usability or design adjustment you make to your website, funnel, or dashboard needs to be obvious.
  • Before throwing out inconclusive (or even failed) tests, first determine if the test was really likely to be noticed by visitors. If not, run it again in an exaggerated way.

5. The Law of Past Experience

Your website visitors arent children, experiencing the internet and the role of a consumer for the first time. Theyre individual people with histories, beliefs, and assumptions that you can anticipate. This, if taken into account, can frame the way you present your brand.

The law of past experience (also called the concept of mental models) is essentially the idea that our previous experiences influence our current ones.

This is common sense: If I had a bad customer service experience with a cable company, then Im far less likely to buy from them in the future. If I knew a bully named Jeffrey in high school, its unlikely Ill name my child Jeffrey.

You might think, then, that the law of past experience would be tough to take advantage of in a customer-centric way — that each and every experience for each and every one of your prospective customers would influence them in different ways.

And yet, some past experiences — like red means stop or that someone with a badge is an authority figure — are universal and can be used by your brand to optimize your website.

An e-commerce company was seeking to improve click-through on their Add-to-cartCTA button. The test they ran looked like this:

comparison of three add to cart buttons

As you can tell, Variation 1 resembles the Add To CartCTA used by Amazon and Shopify. This variation improved click-through by 49 percent.

Though this sites visitors knew what all the CTA buttons meant, they knew and understood the middle icon more fully. They were more comfortable with the norm.

This is the law of past experience in action. Innovation and change are all well and good, but sometimes breaking the mold confuses and alienates prospective customers.

Actionable ways you can implement this psychological factor:

  • If you have a large competitor, differentiate yourself in ways that dont break entirely from the mold — particularly if youre looking to stealtheir customers.
  • Before running your next courageous A/B test, consider if youre being overly innovative first. Will people feel comfortable with what youre doing and why?
  • Consider your target market before jumping into website redesign. Are they likely to be quick learners or are they more susceptible to confusion?

Over to You

Weve just taken the first bite of the apple that is psychological conversion optimization. These five are some of the most influential, but theyre by no means the full extent of psychological factors that affect your website traffic.

A lot of this is pretty academic (and can be a tad dry) but I encourage you to do some reading on the subject. Your prospective customers (and bottom line) will thank you.

Further Reading: