A purchase is a decision.
An email opt in is a decision.
Want more conversions? You must understand how the human brain makes decisions.
The vast majority (upwards of 98 percent) of decisions are made subconsciously by the oldest part of the human brain. All the conscious mental processing happens that people typically think of as “weighing their options” actually happens after the decision is already made–as a way of justifying the decision by attaching logic to the choice.
This is critical for marketers to understand because the old brain works very fast and looks for shortcuts to help it make quick determinations.
If you want to make your website convert efficiently, you must first acknowledge that you can’t do this with logic and words, no matter how persuasively they are written.
But you can influence with emotions.
Here are four ways to design efficient webpages that will support the decision-making process and help your visitors convert.
1. Create a Small Number of Clear Choices
There’s a misconception that freedom of choice is always good.
If you provide hundreds of varieties to choose from, people are bound to find something that they like, right?
In reality, giving people too many choices causes a cognitive overload that leads to choice paralysis. It’s quite similar to how a computer might hang or even crash when you open too many programs simultaneously. Except that when faced with having to make a difficult decision, the human brain takes the easier route: to suspend or forego the decision-making process entirely.
Put simply, visitors presented with a lot of options to choose from end up not choosing anything at all.
Unfortunately, a lot of websites, especially in ecommerce, are guilty of what we in the conversion optimization industry call “puking all over the visitor.” When you’re looking for art brushes on Artdiscount.co.uk, for instance, it’s like being thrown into the wild and having to look for the brush you want from 239 other brushes:
Fineartstore.com does a better job. Instead of letting online shoppers trudge through all 57 choices for an art brush, their site helps visitors narrow down on the particular brush they want by categorizing brushes based on their purpose.
While this example is far from perfect, it gives you an idea on how you can guide visitors to what they’re looking for, easing the cognitive burden by giving the brain a series of small, simple choices rather than expecting it to process an excess of information all at once.
The key is to avoid overwhelming visitors. Remove similar choices as much as possible. Help visitors decide by presenting options with obvious differences.
2. Use a Big Anchor
Human beings have a tendency to draw assumptions about things based on the first piece of information they are given.
It’s called anchoring, and it has an important role in our decision-making processes. As humans, we automatically “anchor” on the first thing we see – that is, we evaluate succeeding pieces of information based on the things that precede them.
For instance, if you were in the supermarket trying to buy shampoo and you saw one that cost $2 and another that sold for $20 for the same bottle size, you’d think the last price stupendous. However, if you saw the $20 bottle first, you may consider buying one that’s priced in the mid-range but may be suspicious of the quality of the $2 shampoo.
Anchors serve as reference points when people make decisions. So you have to be very careful with how you present information on your website. In this example from project management software Teamwork, the prospect is given five options for a monthly subscription, with prices ranging from $12 up to $149. While a visitor may pay attention to the highlighted popular plan first, you can bet they’d anchor on the $12 plan since it’s given as a first option.
Another project management software provider, Easy Projects,on the other hand, clearly knows about anchoring. Their pricing page shows the most expensive option first, followed by their “most popular” pro plan, and then the free plan for single users last.
Anchoring has a huge influence on your website visitors so don’t take it for granted. Presentation should be deliberate, with the goal of priming visitors to decide. You can display products in decreasing price order or add a new, high-end item to move sales among reasonably priced counterparts.
3. Define Your Cultural Tribe
Humans are deeply tribal.
Our behaviors are heavily influenced by our tribal identities – the different tribes we belong to out of chance (e.g., nationality) or preference (e.g., being a sci-fi aficionado). We crave social acceptance and seek approval from others, especially those in our tribe. Hence, if you want your pages to be more persuasive, you need to know not only who your target audience is but also what “tribes” they align themselves with.
Most marketers understand the importance of social influence, but an important nuance of that persuasive principle is the fact that people are influenced more by people similar to them, or those with whom they share a cultural affinity.
Make sure that your online visitors can connect to you and feel that you’re in their tribe by letting your content and copy reflect values that are important to your company, allowing your visitors to start forming a loose emotional connection with you.
A lot of companies strip their content and copy of all traces of personality. The results often backfire, as their pages not only become bland but also generic. The copy on Comindware’s homepage, for instance, says that it’s an “innovative collaboration and project management tool.”
But with “innovative” being so vague, and with so many other tools out there claiming the same thing, this copy clearly fails to evoke any emotional connection or a sense of shared values with visitors.
Compare Comindware’s tone and copy with Basecamp’s and you see the difference:
Instead of using ambiguous jargon, Basecamp shows a fun cartoon that instantly conveys its values to visitors: it’s a software for people who want to finish even the craziest projects on time. Plus, it uses social proof in its copy, telling us that it helped over 285,000 companies finish more than 2 million projects.
With such a huge tribe, who wouldn’t believe that Basecamp works?
The takeaway here is that you need to put effort into knowing all about your audience, including their fears, dreams, and aspirations. Remember that people are the ones who make decisions, even in B2B. And don’t be afraid to alienate outsiders with your editorial tone: you can’t please everyone all the time. The people who can’t relate to your values are far less likely to become your loyal customers.
4. Understand the Power of Visuals
People are visual beings, and the most effective websites are created to deliberately harness the power of visuals to help visitors more efficiently make their purchase decision.
Half of the human brain is devoted to processing visual information, which is a good news/bad news situation for online marketers. Visuals can be an excellent shortcut to help the brain arrive at a quick choice, but they can just as easily distract visitors away from your conversion action.
A common mistake among web designers is assuming that large, gorgeous graphics is the key to delighting users, often at the expense of usability and conversion optimization. Check this homepage from the marketing company Gumarketing.com, for instance, which features great graphics but also contains a lot of unnecessary and distracting movements:
As you might have guessed, the page is a giant rotating banner or slider, and a lot of things happen the moment you land on it. I’ve been against rotating banners from the start because the movement distracts and aggravates visitors, making it difficult to read the messaging yet impossible to ignore.
In contrast, this homepage from Web Talent Marketing puts images to great use, letting the visitor know what the company is all about (revenue!). While the page could still be improved, it is worthy to note that there are neither distractions nor surprise movements that can distract visitors:
The point here is that you should never use motion unless it directly supports your call to action. Similarly, you should use graphics sparingly and on purpose, in a way that helps you gain trust and confidence from your visitors.
What Should You be Doing?
Supporting your visitors’ decision making process is at the heart of conversion rate optimization.
Remember that the decision-making region of the brain…
- Shuns complicated choices
- Anchors on the first piece of information it sees
- Is influenced by social factors and
- Is easily stimulated by visuals
(Want more conversion rate optimization ideas for your website? Check out these 32 split testing ideas!)
By applying these principles on your website, you’ll remove the heavy mental lifting that many sites require from their online visitors.
Help visitors more efficiently complete their tasks on your site and the money will follow.
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