Influence. It’s the secret ingredient to attract site visitors, persuade them to action, and boost conversions.
Since long before the first official website design in 1996, psychologists have studied the literally tons of triggers and buttons that can be pushed to influence and persuade the human brain. Dr. Robert Cialdini's cornerstone findings on the psychology of influence and persuasion have carried over from the 1980s to today's digital age. This article will discuss the first three Principles of Persuasion and how you can use them in your own website strategy.
Anyone who has ever borrowed money from a friend or relative probably knows how, as humans, we’re wired to pay our debts. Reciprocity explains our natural drive to treat others as they treat us and return favors. For websites, the principle of reciprocity works quite well once clear user paths have been identified. So before you get started planning the user interface, you should first make sure to gain your users’ trust and motivate them to engage with your content.
“Website visitors who receive free content are more likely to reciprocate by doing business with the company later on.”
–Nielsen Norman Group
Giving it Away For Free
Using reciprocity efficiently on your website means that you give your users something of value before you ask anything from them. Giving away digital resources is the most common execution, such as free newsletters, ebooks, and video tutorials. This is especially important when your products or services are expensive or complicated. Giving away free resources and tools provides the ability to initially engage with a potential client, then later begin nurturing them until you finally ask for a sale. Another frequently employed tactic is giving away a “free trial” for a limited amount of time, and then later offering a paid membership which can be canceled at no cost, as Spotify does.
The key here is the freebie (the “quid”) and the commonly used trade of asking the user for their email address (“quo”) is not done at the same time. According to Nielson Norman Group, asking for the user’s information prior to the actual giveaway can cause annoyance and drive them to leave the site. Instead of asking users to complete a tiresome form before receiving the free ebook or whitepaper, start by offering a content sample.
With any reciprocity technique, be mindful of the demand on your users’ time and effort. By taking this into consideration, you're more likely to engage users and build long-term meaningful relationships. Allow your visitors to make an informed decision before asking for their contact information by first providing them with some content that may interest them or provide some immediate value. Their impression of you will be more positive and they’ll be more likely to fill out the form. They will also be more likely to remember you and return to the site the next time they need similar information or insight.
Mobile Reciprocity Considerations
After downloading a mobile app, the first thing you’ll encounter is a request to send you notifications. How often do you automatically “allow” those alerts right away before exploring? Most users prefer to experience the app, explore the content and the UX before deciding if it’s relevant or engaging enough to desire notifications from it.
With constant privacy scandals, the question of location sharing is something even more sensitive than notifications. Users may only “reciprocate” once they have established “trust” with that business or entity. Mobile apps and websites should only request location information from their users when it’s relevant or necessary in the user journey. Allowing the user to modify a search when asking for information about something outside of their own location is an added convenience that is usually noticed and appreciated.
Make it Memorable
The cheap and easy approach to free content will not pay off here and will only lessen the brand impression. Make the giveaway a memorable experience. Creative social media campaigns and even co-marketing with other brands will leave a lasting impression leading up to the purchase. Reciprocity techniques have been shown to directly impact visitor behavior long after the freebie has been given and have been proven to increase consumer happiness. Special deals (like crafty coupon campaigns) make the user happier, which in turn causes a rise in oxytocin and a decrease in stress levels. The added bonus is that special deals help to increase overall revenue, and discounts discourage cart abandonment. Giving away free stuff that also leaves an impression can be the foundation for building blocks towards increasing trust, engagement, and ultimately winning new business.
“A recent survey from RetailMeNot found that 80% of shoppers said they feel encouraged to make a first-time purchase with a brand that is new to them if they found a free offer or discount. In the absence of a special deal, customers would otherwise abandon their carts.”
- RetailMeNot, Inc.
Once they finally do make the purchase, continue to use reciprocity techniques to keep them engaged. Connect with them socially to offer more discounts or freebies or send them more personalized communication.
2. Commitment & Consistency
As humans, our inherent psychological desire to maintain a positive self-image creates a deep need to be viewed as consistent. This is known as normative social influence. Once committed to something, you’re more likely to continue through to completion in order to maintain the image. Cialdini’s research even found that people will go out of their way to be consistent and feel more positive about their decisions, even when they might later discover their decisions were poorly made.
“Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”
To get your users to behave consistently, you need to make sure the level of effort is low in the beginning to reduce the barriers. The foot-in-the-door technique is a strategy used incrementally, with small requests in the beginning gradually becoming larger as trust with the user grows. Beginning with low-stake commitments that are easy to make will get them to engage more readily in the activity you want. Conversely, websites or apps that require them to create an account before using the site will frequently backfire because they ask for too much personal information too early on in the relationship. Take it slow!
UX decisions should be made with the awareness of the different commitment levels and implement loss aversion techniques that are needed at each stage. The number of choices, the amount of information needed to make those choices, providing default choices when applicable, and maintaining a low interaction cost are optimizations that should all be considered. A users’ interpretation of ‘low-stakes’ also means that the more trust they have in the brand, the higher the perceived value of your product or service.
Secret commitments are easy to break, so whenever possible, encourage your users to commit publicly. Popular ways of getting public opportunities are contests that help visitors self-identify, customer campaigns that encourage public interaction, or monthly giveaways that include voting competitions with customer participants. Yelp.com does a terrific job of implementing microcopy that encourages their users at each step as they are creating content. When your customers are engaged, behave consistently, and show their support in public, you also get the added bonus of social proof.
2. Social Proof
There really is safety in numbers. Humans are influenced by this idea especially when they’re unsure of themselves or if those they’re observing are similar to themselves. No one wants to be the only person to buy your products or services, and people don’t want to make the wrong choice and be judged by those around them. That’s why we tend to be more likely to try a restaurant if it always has a line of people out the door or buy our electronics based on their popularity and online reviews. Social psychology is full of studies that clearly illustrate this human behavior. Adding content like user testimonials, celebrity or expert endorsements, business credentials, awards, and certifications on your website are all great examples. Implement social proof on your website to help improve trust and credibility.
Wisdom of the Crowds
Website visitors consider how their influences or people that are similar to themselves perceive products or services. Indicating how others appreciate the content can help to remove uncertainty and validate a decision in favor of purchase. Product sites that incorporate voting functionality and display badges next to popular items have been shown to DOUBLE the sales rate compared to the product styles without badges. Social media widgets that display the number of followers or likes can also be powerful, but only if you have impressive numbers. Displaying this type of proof can work against you if those numbers are not-so-great. Only 1 person shared the last blog post? How sad.
Hearing from those who are known to be experts in their field can also help to attract and persuade your visitors. Thought leadership can take many forms, like blogging, ebooks, videos, or podcasts. Getting the stamp of approval from influencers can also be a simple photograph on display with that expert using or wearing your product. The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab website proudly displays their impressive Number 1 Ranking they’ve received every year from Best Hospitals, U.S. News & World Report.
Anyone with a T.V. knows the value of celebrity endorsements. Up to 25% of commercials use celebrities to promote a product or service, even if they have no connection to it or expert knowledge about it. Shaqille O’Neal is a perfect example (also known as the king of endorsements). He gets paid millions a year to speak publicly for everything from Carnival Cruise lines to Papa John's Pizza to a sleep apnea mask. All of which he has no expert knowledge of. He’s Shaq!
Success stories can be powerful, especially when visitors can relate to the person telling the story. Recent studies have shown that high star rating reviews from users can increase sales growth from 5-9%. Customer testimonials, whether delivered by video or highlighted on the page in text, are one of the most successful forms of social proof that enhances positive responses and feedback from actual users. For 50% of all consumers, their very next step after reading a positive review about a company is to visit their website. And displaying the business logos of your customers on your website can increase conversion rates by as much as 400%.
For businesses not focused on products but delivering services or inspiring action, showing people engaged in delivering those services or taking those actions can also be very powerful. Habitat for Humanity’s website content strategy, for example, includes lots of engaging imagery, showing real-life volunteers happily working to change people's lives for the better.
We now know that people will reciprocate when you give them something of value, it’s inherently human for them to want to be seen as consistent, and that social proof can be used in various forms to persuade them to make decisions. These are human behaviors that have been the same for millions of years but can be leveraged in the content strategy of your website. But take heed and use these persuasion techniques wisely. Stay on the right side of the divide between persuasion and manipulation or you may risk repelling your users. You don’t want to lose the trust and credibility you set out to build in the first place.
Before applying an ample supply of persuasion techniques on your website, you need to really understand your users and what they value. What or who are their trusted sources? Do they tend to innovate and think independently or follow the pack? Is the industry based on certain expected standards that should be identified early on in the user journey? Once you have user clarity, develop a content strategy hypothesis, making sure the conversion fundamentals have been taken care of along with incorporating the psychology techniques with carefully selected precision. Then make sure and test the real content with real users. The data resulting from testing the headlines, microcopy, calls-to-actions, and everything in between will provide a window into what’s working and what may need adjusting to trigger those actions you want, at just the right time.