Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 28: 30 Ways To Persuade (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 28, 2009

It’s been an incredibly intense and rewarding 30-day journey into exploring and applying the power of persuasion on the Web. Of course, we’re not quite done yet (2 more sleeps!), so on Days 28 & 29, Joanna and I will summarize 30 of the 55 ‘persuasion opportunities’ we’ve discussed during the month. Why 30 of 55? It seems only fitting since this is the 30 Days of Persuasion! And following our final post on June 30th, we’ll be happy to give you the remaining 25 opportunities as part of our free e-book (100% free, no registration required, no sales calls or annoying follow-up, and in limited quantities!). 🙂

And with that tongue-in-cheek sales plug, here are 5 principles of persuasion and 15 ways for you to apply them to your own site:

I. Authority: We look to experts to show us the way.

time magazine1. Endorsements – Publications: Showcase endorsements from trusted publications to build credibility.
Example: Product review quote and logo from significant published authority (e.g., Time Magazine).

2. Endorsements – Experts: Showcase endorsements from trusted experts in a field to build credibility.
Example: Video testimonial from a well-known user (e.g., Seth Godin).

3. Endorsements – Influencers: Showcase endorsements from trusted influencers to build credibility.
Example: Preferred product selection or recommendation from authority figure (e.g., Rachel Zoe for PiperLime).

II. Commitment & Consistency: We want to act consistently with our commitments and values.

tell-a-friend4. Say-Do: You say you’re going to do something, and you do it.
Example: Specific call-to-action buttons that match exactly what you want the user to do (e.g., “Order the Swiffer Sweeper Now”).

5. Make “Free” Great: Give away items that are as high-quality as your paid items.
Example: Free webinars packed with useful content – not fluff.

6. Share with Friends: Visitors who would recommend a product to a friend are more likely to purchase that product.
Example: “Tell a friend” calls to action.

III. Contrast: We notice and decide by the differences between two things, not absolute measures.

comparisonchart7. Bang > Buck: Simplify product selection by telling users which product/service will give them the most for the least.
Example: A “best value” icon positioned on/near the product.

8. Line ‘Em Up: Position similar information across various products in a standard layout to help users easily scan and contrast features, pricing, etc. and, in turn, narrow their options.
Example: Price for products positioned in same proximity to each product and formatted identically.

9. Proximity in Lists: The items you place at the top of the list are the items that will create context for shopping (on your catalog page in particular).
Example: List the items your want users to choose from at the top of a list, with lesser items lower in the list.

IV. Engagement & Emotion: We want to interact with things that make us feel.

FamCarnival1510. Play: Make your site or the tasks on it feel more like a game to activate an emotional response in users and limit the amount of executive thinking (the bane of persuasion efforts) required.
Example: Car-builder tools on auto sites.

11. Interaction: Use interactive tools to help people find the information they’re looking for (rather than sorting through lines of text).
Example: Product recommendation quizzes.

12. Affect Recruitment Heuristic: Use images & messages that help your users picture themselves doing something with a purchased item, feeling a certain way (i.e., experiencing affect) about that image, and using that feeling to make a purchasing decision.
Example: Imagery of a melting slushy drink on a cabana (on a travel site).

V. Likeability: The more we like people (and companies), the more we want to say yes to them.

shaving-man13. Be Transparent. No, Really.: Be completely honest about your company’s motivations.
Example: Tell users that you’re giving them your product for free in the hopes that they’ll love it, share it and be willing to pay for it later.

14. Cause Marketing: Support a relevant-to-your-brand cause to help users relate better to your brand.
Example: Tide’s Loads of Hope campaign.

15. Win Healthy Debates: Encourage users to find flaws in your product – flaws you know you do not have. In seeking out a flaw but not finding it, users will be more likely to believe in you than had they been indifferent to flaws.
Example: Money-back guarantee if your product doesn’t save users at least 5 hours each month.


Part 2 to follow…

We look to experts to show us the way.


DAY 26: Applying Persuasion Principles – 37signals

Posted in Uncategorized by persuasiveweb on June 26, 2009


37signals is a small, Chicago-based company which prides itself on simplicity and offers a well-honed suite of Web-based productivity and collaboration software. In their words, “Our products do less than the competition — intentionally.”

Their founders have made a few waves in the business and developer communities because they’ve been vocal about how:

  1. Companies shouldn’t always listen to their customers (especially when it comes to new feature requests);
  2. Businesses should focus on generating revenue with products that offer real value (versus trying to monetize ‘free’) and;
  3. Venture capital isn’t the optimal method of financing a new venture. 🙂

Several months ago I read their popular publication, “Getting Real” — which is about building a successful Web-based application and business — and thoroughly enjoyed the author’s honesty and openness about what has worked and hasn’t worked for 37signals, as well as his view on business and quality of life.

In addition to focusing on simplicity, it’s apparent that the folks at 37signals know a thing or two about persuasion, and specifically around the principles of social proof and contrast. In today’s post I’ll again use screenshots to highlight how this company is converting visitors into customers:








So there you have it.

37signals’ design team offers up some great examples of how to effectively weave social proof, authority, contrast, and credibility messaging throughout your site. While I question their choice to pack so much content into their home page, it wouldn’t hurt (even a little!) to emulate the company’s overall approach to persuasive design.


DAY 16: Bloggers Persuade With Authority

Posted in Uncategorized by persuasiveweb on June 16, 2009


If a police officer stopped you in the street and told you to move because there was a parade about to begin, would you comply? What if a policeman said you matched the description of someone who was wanted for burglary, and that you should go with him to clear it up… would you go?

Most people in these situations obey without questioning. We see the uniform and never think to question the possibility that the policeman may not, in fact, be a policeman.

Then there is the story of the doctor who prescribed eardrops for a patient with an earache, but in his haste to attend to a more pressing emergency wrote on his pad, “Place in R ear” instead of “Place in right ear.” Guess where the patient received his eardrops? Obviously rectal treatment of an earache makes no sense at all, yet neither the patient nor the administering nurse questioned it. The fact that a legitimate authority gave the instructions completely clouded the common sense of another highly capable professional.

The dual effect of authority is that not only are we compelled to obey it, but we are not permitted to challenge it! This makes authority a very powerful persuasion principle.

How did that happen? It turns out that from a very young age we are trained to obey authority figures: first our parents, then teachers, policemen, managers and so on. Eventually our need to comply extends to anyone who seems to be our superior. We effectively divide the world into those who are superior to us (and who should be obeyed) and those who are inferior (and who should obey us!). We then make the critical error of equating superiority with authority.

Indicators of authority

What are the cues that tell us when someone else is in a position of authority?


Uniforms are overt symbols of authority. They show membership in and allegiance to specific groups. We typically associate uniforms with police and military forces, but we extend our belief to water inspectors, security guards, postmen, and more. Of course, less-than-honest individuals can take advantage of trusting folks by simply donning a uniform.


We assume that if someone is wealthy, then they must be successful. And if they are more successful than us, then they must somehow be superior to us. We hurry to help and obey those who seem richer than us, perhaps also in the hope that they will share some of their wealth or impart some wisdom that will help us attain what they have. Just like with uniforms, this is not the most difficult form of authority to ‘fake’.

Physical attributesschwarzenegger

Evolutionary programming tells us that, in general, a taller, stronger person could hurt us – so we tend to associate authority with taller men and women. It is also a fact that more executive positions are held by taller people. Interestingly, there is also a reciprocal effect at work here: we actually perceive people in positions of authority to be taller than they really are. Although it is an expression not often used today, ‘Walking tall’ is a reference to this aspect of authority.

Knowledge & experienceeinstein

With age come knowledge, experience, and wisdom (hopefully!), and although it’s not necessarily true of all cultures, authority is extended to people of more advanced years – especially in Asian societies. But age is not a pre-requisite for knowledge and experience; in fact, everyone has the ability to develop themselves as an authority by demonstrating their abilities to the people they wish to influence. Even the youngest player on a professional hockey team can still be team captain if he demonstrates the ability to lead and play to a consistently high level. Experts (i.e., people with significant experience) are typically authorities in their domains.

How can the authority principle be applied online?

It has become clear over the last few years that a very effective way to establish oneself as an authority on the Web is through blogging. And to be successful at blogging, one does not need a uniform, wealth, size, strength, or membership in the AARP. Blogging gives everyone an opportunity to establish their authority – by demonstrating expertise – on a topic, process, product, service, etc.

If you also happen to be in the business of selling online, blogging can pay off even more. Your ability to persuade site visitors increases with authority, so becoming a trusted authority through blogging can actually help you sell to your target audience.

Here are a few examples of bloggers who have established themselves as authorities in their respective areas – and who have translated blogging success into business success:

Danny Sullivan (Search engine expert)

Avinash Kaushik (Web analytics expert)

Bryan Eisenberg (Site conversion expert)

Mike Arrington (Silicon Valley start-up expert)

  • Blog: TechCrunch
  • Company: TechCrunch
  • Products or services: Research and reports about Internet companies and products

Lance Jones & Joanna Wiebe (Online persuasion experts)

If you want to set yourself apart as an expert and gain the authority needed to persuade people online, blogging is low-risk, high-reward endeavour – but it requires passion and a tremendous commitment in order to be truly effective. Just ask Joanna and me… writing the ’30 Days of Persuasion’ is turning into one of the most intense – and rewarding – periods in my life. My hat goes off to all the people who have made the commitment and continue to deliver week after week, month after month, and year after year.