Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 25: When Time Is a Factor, How Much Copy Is Too Much Copy?

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 25, 2009

Mechanical_StopwatchI’ve been a web writer for quite a few years now, and I’ve developed a list of pet peeves along the way. It’s a short list of pet peeves, thankfully — yes, I’m one of those annoying people who loves what she does more with each new day — but it is a list nonetheless. And at the top of that list is this statement, commonly made by marketing managers or executives reviewing a website’s copy:

“There’s too much copy on this site! Let’s just get to the point.”

Balance that bit of opinion-based criticism with this statement we often hear from users in usability studies:

“I need info. Where is it? Why can’t you just tell me what I need to know?!”

Given that we’re sticklers for usability around here, I tend to listen a bit more to the frustrations of our users regarding copy quantity than to management. (Call me crazy! ;)) As a result, I lean more in the direction of writing additional content — and, of course, positioning that content in non-interruptive but easily accessible ways 🙂 — than in the “get to the point” direction. 

But am I right?

Are study user groups right?

Are managers right?

And, hey, you have an opinion on the subject. Are you right?

That really brings us to the obvious, oft-debated question: How much copy is enough copy on a website… and how much is too much?

The answer: Ha ha ha! Were you really expecting an answer here? I mean, how could there be just one answer? We’re dealing with people — so there’s always an exception (or a whole massive group of exceptions). But it would be nice to get closer to an answer… So let’s ask a better question. 

The better question: When my users are on my site and are trying to find a product without wasting their time sorting through content, how much copy is enough copy… and how much is too much? Now that’s a question we (with the help of Chowdhury, Ratneshwar, Mohanty and their lovely recent research) can answer.

Time-Harried Shoppers: Crafting Enough Copy to Help Users Make Decisions as Fast as They’d Like

Not everyone makes decisions the same way under the best of circumstances — nevermind when they’re uber-busy. The truth is that, when consumers need to make decisions quickly, time becomes a hugely influential factor in their choice processes. Chowdhury, Ratneshwar and Mohanty showed us (in 2009) that consumers will even alter their preferences, switch brands or fail to buy products when hurriedness enters into the equation

That’s right: Time is an influencer. Actually, it’s both an influencer and a barrier. (Double-edge swords are fun!) A lack of time can prevent people from making decisions… That said, when considered during your site’s content development, a user’s lack of time can actually work in your favour and help to persuade your users. 

Time is an influencer.

Here’s how time influences the decision-making of the 2 primary groups of consumers, Maximizers and Satisficers.

  • MAXIMIZERS – This group of consumers strives to make the best decisions possible and seek out content to help them make those decisions. Maximizers arebusy-shopper born window shoppers: the more options you present to them, the more time they’ll spend considering those options. When pressured for time, maximizers feel it heavily and may make a rapid decision accordingly,… but they’re more likely to feel regret about those decisions and change their minds later, if given the opportunity to do so. 
  • SATISFICERS – This group of consumers is willing to settle for decisions that are adequate rather than perfect. These folks like to get to the point. When pressured for time, satisficers hold up well, making rapid decisions with little regret; unfortunately, satisficers may be more prone to making the wrong decisions (given that they are happy with “good enough” and may not consider what “good enough” fails to address). 

Picture 3If you’re building a website for satisficers who may be rushed, less copy/content is fine-and-dandy (as are fewer options). Just get to the point — you’ll make satisficers happy enough to make a purchasing decision. (Just hope that they don’t have a maximizer partner at home to point out why their decision was not good enough and force them to return the purchased item to you.)

If you’re building a website for maximizers who may be rushed, you need to be a bit more careful with the amountPicture 1 of copy you choose to put on or cut from your site… not to mention how you organize/design that copy. Maximizers require enough content to make them feel that they can make the best decision because they know all the facts and are 100% informed of their options. …But when they’re busy, maximizers need to find a balance between getting enough content to feel confident and not getting so much content that they feel they won’t become 100% informed (because they don’t have enough time to read everything!), can’t make the best decision and, as a result, may not buy at all. 

Make sense? The primary point I’m getting at, without saying it, is that you have to know if the majority of your site’s visitors are satisficers or maximizers, and you have to write content for them

Example Site: Designed for Satisficers

This website is one of the top-converting sites today and is made, largely, for quick purchases rather than well-researched purchases — not too surprising for flower-ordering/-delivery sites. That is, it’s designed as if it’s made for satisficers first, maximizers second.

Picture 5










 can still help maximizers (rushed or not). But that’s not what the home page is for. That’s what the rest of the entire site is for. (Pretty smart, if satisficers are the primary visitors to this site.)

Example Site: Designed for Maximizers

Top-converting provides more content to help maximizers find the info they want to find… and purchase it only when they’re actually ready to. (That is, not from the home page.)

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At the end of the day, of course, as you’ve already guessed, building a site for satisficers makes less sense than building a site for maximizers. Why? Because satisficers are happy with “good enough”. It’s the maximizers who give a damn what you’ve got for info. It’s the maximizers you can actually help with your site’s copy. So give ’em what they need… and see how the amount of copy you place can lead to better conversions thanks to better persuasion. 



DAY 23: Why Sex Sells – Romance, Scarcity and Persuasion

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 23, 2009


Influence guru Robert Cialdini and several fellow researchers this month published an article on “Evolution, Emotion and Persuasion” (Journal of Marketing Research) in which they discussed the interplay of evolutionary shaping, fear & romantic arousal and the widely used persuasion heuristic scarcity. Here, very briefly, is what their discussion led to:

  • FEAR – Fear contexts and fear-heavy content can cause normally persuasive scarcity appeals to backfire
  • ROMANCE – Romantic contexts and romance-heavy content can cause scarcity appeals to more effectively persuade

Why does fear cause scarcity appeals to backfire? Because, from an evolutionary perspective, people facing fear have survived by sticking together — not by being conspicuously visible, off doing their own thing and seeking out limited editions. 

And what of the power of romance in increasing the effectiveness of scarcity appeals? Simply, mate attraction equals reproduction, which is a very basic human need — and we become more attractive when we are differentiated from the larger group. That is, it’s good to own a limited edition as that scarce item is one more thing that separates you from the crowd and makes you more attractive to a potential mate.

Moving from Cavemen to Conversions

What can we as online marketers do with Cialdini’s insights into the popular persuasion heuristic that is scarcity? Let’s consider visual design. First, an example of a site that creates fear context — and the banner ads that attempt to persuade users in those spaces. 

Picture 10

According to Cialdini’s research, ComCast may not achieve the results they might otherwise have simply by virtue of the fear arousal that users felt prior to clicking the banner ad and landing on ComCast’s offer page / lead gen form. That’s because scarcity appeals and fear do not mix well. 

Fear’s not very fun… but romance is! So let’s go there next. Remember, romantic arousal — including photos of attractive people or even stories about romantic desire — can cause a person to think less about their decisions and be more readily persuaded by the widely used persuasion technique that is scarcity. 

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Missed Opportunities? Swimsuit, Lingerie and Other Women’s Apparel Sites

Given that attractive members of the opposite sex have been shown to make scarcity messages more persuasive, it’s surprising that sites targeted to women shoppers are so filled with photos of women. …And beautiful (which is not necessarily likeable) women at that! From a persuasion perspective, it seems safer to assume that women shoppers would be more effectively influenced with images of men-and-women…. So why do sites for women — like & (a scarcity-heavy site) — feature images of women only? Simply because women wear the clothes? Really? 

And why does not have a single man on their entire website? Is it because, after all, the site really is for men? Surprising. 


DAY 13: Designing Trustworthy Web Sites – Part 1

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 13, 2009


What elements are essential to making a Web site persuasive? Human Factors International (HFI) pioneered a new way to look at the effectiveness of Web sites, called PET Design, where P=Persuasion, E=Emotion, and T=Trust. In our ’30 Days of Persuasion’ we’re obviously focused on the “P” in “PET”, but I’d like to dedicate a couple of posts to trust as well. Today I’ll introduce some trust-building concepts for e-commerce sites developed by a Swiss PhD student, Florian Egger, back in 2003. In a follow-up post, I’ll explore how online start-ups and small businesses are applying these concepts to establish trust and credibility with first-time visitors – particularly on their home pages.

So, on to the concepts…

Trust and credibility are vital in the pursuit to persuade. If you can’t establish trust and credibility, then your site will not likely persuade. Which means it won’t convert, either.

Florian Eggers conducted an interesting series of studies in 2003 – for his doctoral thesis – on establishing trust online. His thesis, titled “Designing the Trust Experience for Business-to-Consumer Electronic Commerce,” explores the most influential factors in building credibility on a Web site, and goes so far as to design a checklist for evaluating trust factors and a survey for understanding site visitors’ perceptions of a Web site’s trustworthiness. Although Florian’s publication is nearly 6 years old, most of it is still relevant to the process of building trust on e-commerce sites.

So what are the elements of trust on which Florian’s research recommends focusing? There are four main categories:

  • Pre-interactional filters
  • Interface properties
  • Informational content
  • Relationship management

bankPre-interactional Filters refer to the trust that is established prior to direct interaction with a company. The reputation of the industry to which the company belongs is a pre-interactional filter. For example, people likely have more trust in banks than in high interest rate loan companies. Within a specific industry, what is the reputation of the company? How much offline awareness exists for the organization? If the company has an offline presence, what is its reputation? Offline brand awareness and experience play a critical role in trust – and are eventually transferred online. And, in addition to our own experience with a company, we tend to rely on the experience or advice of sources we trust, whether friends or publications – a concept known as transference.

The second trust factor is known as Interface Properties, which can be thought of as the ‘look and feel’ of a Web site – and it can be split into two components.

The first component of the interface is branding, which Egger refers to as a site’s visual design – and is primarily responsible for making that positive first impression. For example, are the graphical elements appealing and appropriate for this kind of Web site? But it’s not only visual appeal that comprises branding; other elements of interfacebranding include the company name, logo, and its unique value proposition. What exactly does the company do? Is it immediately apparent? Does the design compel users to explore the site further? And finally, the perceived professionalism of a Web site also factors into branding. It should be customer-centric and pay attention to detail (i.e., convey a professional image through good use of grammar and spelling).

The second component of Interface Properties is usability, which Jakob Nielsen (1993) describes as a system’s learnability, efficiency, memorability, error prevention, and user satisfaction. A usable site should be easy for first-time visitors to grasp and engage with. Is the content organized and laid out logically? Legibility should be high if the appropriate fonts sizes and sufficient contrast are used. In terms of the site’s navigation, how easy is it to understand the labelling and categorization of content? Upon visiting the home page, users should be able to form a mental model of how the site is organized based on the content, layout, and navigation. Usability also addresses how information is requested from visitors (e.g., during registration and checkout) and how the site delivers feedback, guidance, and error messages during data entry. Even site performance is an important element of usability, relating to the availability of pages and the download speed of those pages (and it goes without saying that there should be no broken links or orphaned pages!). And finally, the degree to which visitors feel that the Web site is relevant to their needs is also a function of its overall usability.

Informational Content is the third factor in establishing and building trust with your site visitors. It’s a pretty big topic, spanning how a company presents information about its identity, its products and services, as well as its security and privacy measures.

mercedes_logoIdentity. So how do consumers assess the trustworthiness of your organization without a face-to-face interaction? On the Web, this can be addressed by providing complete information about the history of your company, its legal status, and the people behind it. You can also use well-crafted content about your company’s values, partnerships (especially with trusted organizations), achievements, and community participation (including charity support) to bridge the gap. How you message your company’s success will influence visitors’ trust, whether it is providing a portfolio of recent work or links to an annual report or the size and reach of your customer base. Does your site show that there are real people behind the company – including key names, photographs, bios, and email addresses?

cologne-perfumeProducts and Services. The quality and depth of information about your products and services also contribute to establishing trust. Whether visitors have a specific goal in mind or show up simply to browse, detailed descriptions of your offerings will help them make confident and informed decisions. Product descriptions should be objective and free of sales jargon and lofty claims. Images should effectively complement your product descriptions. Prices should be prominently displayed – and being transparent with respect to additional costs (e.g., shipping, taxes) early in the purchase flow will prevent negative surprises for your visitors later on. Are product availability and shipping times provided? These are all ways to reduce the perception of risk for your site visitors.

VaultSecurity. Speaking of risk, your site’s content should include summary level and detailed information about your security and privacy measures – as risk and trust are closely related. Consumers react well to explicit security policies, which typically detail how data is transferred, processed, and stored. But although consumers appreciate the sense of security such policies provide, it has been observed that they rarely read them in great detail – so a prominent link to your policy will likely suffice. Your ordering process should take place on secure pages and provide multiple payment methods to address visitors’ varying comfort levels with credit, debit, or electronic transfer of funds. Displaying seals from trusted third parties that assess your company’s commitment to security is also a common consumer expectation.

confidentialPrivacy. As with security policies, people like seeing that a Web site has a privacy policy, although most of them hardly ever read it. For those folks who do venture into the finer details, it should be written in an easy-to-understand way and clearly state what personal information is collected, how that information will be used within the company, and whether it will be sold to other companies. Your site should feature a seal from a trusted third party that audits your organization’s privacy practices. And when it comes to registration and purchase forms, you should only request personal information that is absolutely necessary – and that matches the expectations of customers. Sensitive data such as social security and drivers’ license numbers require special treatment and assurances.

The fourth and final trust factor is known as Relationship Management, which describes the quality and availability of resources for site visitors before and after a purchase is completed.

For pre-purchase interactions, the availability and ease of locating different methods of contact – both online and offline – can be an indication of how much a company cares about its customers. Is there a dedicated livechatcustomer service area that includes multiple forms of help such as FAQs, live chat, and user forums? Once communication is initiated by a visitor, response time becomes an additional indicator of the value a company places on its customers (and no response at all will likely result in no sale). Is the company’s response to your question relevant and complete? Does the response include a ‘personal touch’ such as a real person’s name and email address? And what is the tone used by the respondent?

Post-purchase interactions include how the order is processed, how it’s fulfilled, and how any issues are handled. Once a purchase is complete, are customers able to manage and track the progress of their order? Seeing an order progress through the various checkpoints helps consumers feel confident in the vendor. Fulfillment refers to the delivery of the product. Was it delivered on time? How about the package’s condition and presentation? The correctness and completeness of the order is critical, and the amount charged by the company should be identical to the original amount specified on the Web site. And finally, the company’s method of handling returns and customer service inquiries is crucial to the maintenance of trust and development of the customer relationship.

Part II: Applying trust-building theory to your Web property

If the list of trust cues and considerations seems daunting, it should. Trust is not something you achieve quickly or easily or with a single headline on your home page. No, trust is built over time and across multiple interactions, and it should be treated as a fragile commodity. From what people read about your organization on the social Web, through their first exposure to your site, and on to completing a purchase and experiencing the quality of your company’s customer support, there are dozens of opportunities to build or erode trust… so let’s explore some examples in the next post.