Web Marketing Today

Can You Pass this Short Quiz on Being Persuasive?

Making your site more persuasive will convert more visitors into customers. Being persuasive is not about manipulating shopper behaviors through mystical tricks or convincing visitors to do something contrary to their desires. It’s about using the science of psychology (specifically, persuasion psychology) to understand behaviors, meet needs, and motivate potential customers to act. When we understand the inner workings of behavior, we are better able to satisfy our customers and, in turn, improve our bottom line.

We’ll start with a short quiz to challenge you. These questions explore five important persuasion principles and how they apply to webpage design:

  1. If I receive two similar offers — one presenting a discount and the other offering a free product — which offer is more likely to capture me as a customer?
  2. Which will convert more customers: a single screen with 12 questions or 3 screens with 4 questions each?
  3. I am a medium size business owner looking to hire a consultant to help grow my business. Am I more likely to hire a consultancy with a client list of: Microsoft, Citrix and Adobe or one lacking these “name” clients, but including smaller clients, some of which I recognize?
  4. I am at the library and in a big rush to get to an appointment. I have a document I need to copy and there is a long line waiting to use the copier. What simple behavior is more likely to get me to the front of the line?
  5. How important is the “look” of your home page in establishing credibility and therefore converting more visitors into customers?

Take a couple of minutes to formulate your answers. Now let me explain the correct answers.

1. Principle of Reciprocation

With regard to quiz question 1, we are more likely to feel obligated for the free product than we are for the discount. The principle of reciprocation is a powerful and well documented one. Some persuasion psychologists believe that we are genetically hardwired, possibly as part of our group survival skills, to feel an obligation to reciprocate to someone who “gives” us something. Furthermore, the higher we perceive the value of the gift, the greater the obligation we feel. Any time you can give visitors something of value, your chances increase of converting them into becoming customers. In one study on the sale of raffle tickets, people who received a can of Coke, without obligation, bought twice as many raffle tickets as those who did not. (D. T. Regan, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 7:627-639 (1971))

When visitors accept something of value, they naturally feel an obligation to you. Take opportunities to give free items to your prospects. A discount appears to be a gift of sorts, but it may not be as effective as a “real” gift.

2. Principle of Commitment

The answer to question 2 on how many screens the questions are spread over is likely to be three screens. However, for this to happen the screens must feel efficient and the first screen must be easy to complete with minimal anxiety.

The applicable persuasion psychology principle is the “commitment” principle. It says that once we have engaged and started down a path, we are far more likely to continue along the path and believe in a positive outcome, than we were before we took the first step. If you arrive at a form which is long and complex, even though it is a single page form, you are less likely to fill it out, than a form that is easy to complete and with the simple steps clearly outlined. If you design a site that moves shoppers easily through the screens in a form, the likelihood of conversion goes up. Before you break up your forms in an attempt to increase conversions, however, make sure to address the product and vendor information needs as well as usability.

3. Principle of Social Proof

In question 3 we see a piece of the “social proof” principle in action. It is impressive to see big name clients. However, we are more likely to engage a consultancy that has successfully worked with clients similar to us, than clients far outside our business model. We want to join a happy herd we can identify with and fit into. We want the herd to be successful enough to demonstrate that we too can become successful members. In other words, we want to know that a consultancy has helped clients like us. When sharing a list of your clients, include a range of clients, large and small and from different industries, if appropriate. When communicating directly with prospects, look for opportunities to demonstrate your success with customers they hope to emulate.

4. Principle of Explanation

Social psychologists have studied this exact scenario as described in quiz question 4. Two groups of “line cutters” were tasked with this problem: one group approached and asked courteously if they could cut the line, and were allowed in 60% of the time. The second group approached and asked courteously if they could cut the line, but added the statement, “because I’m in a rush.” They were allowed in 94% of the time. Whenever we ask for something online, be it personal information, assistance, or a commitment to buy, providing a “because” statement is likely to improve results. (Ellen J. Langer, Arthur Blank, and Benzion Chanowitz, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36:639-42 (1978).)

“Because statements” can have a positive impact. I believe part of the reason they succeed is that you are demonstrating that you care enough about the other party to make the effort to give a reason.

5. Principle of Credibility

Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility (Stanford Web Credibility Research, 2002) tell us that 47% of visitors decide upon a site’s credibility based upon the professionalism of the site appearance. Spelling errors, formatting errors, amateurish graphics, poor navigation, and unfamiliar labels and behaviors all drive traffic away and make it harder for you to convince visitors of your reliability as a vendor.  Read the Stanford study’s 10 guidelines for establishing web credibility and the supporting research. Your home page’s appearance is key to your success. Make sure that it represents your best side.

Buying is far more of an emotional decision than most people think. Buyers like to think of themselves as logical, price driven, and practical. The reality is that we shop until we reach a “comfort” level; then we buy. By addressing good usability and persuasive design, you will help your visitors find that comfort level, because you will be perceived as someone with whom they want to do business. By understanding and integrating these persuasion principles, you will see your conversions increase.


Todd Follansbee
Todd Follansbee
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