Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 29: 30 Ways to Persuade (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 29, 2009

Let’s continue yesterday’s “30 Ways to Persuade” post with the remaining 15 ‘ways’. FYI: The 10 categories into which we’ve divided these persuasion opportunities are based on the work of Robert Cialdini and HFI (among others).

Remember that we’ve got an additional 25 persuasion opportunities in our free ebook (which we’re currently preparing and hoping to share out… um… soon). 🙂 Without further ado…

VI. Reciprocity: We feel obligated to return favours performed for us.

Reciprocity16. Give to Get: Give your customer something before you ask them to give you anything.
Example: Free software download, followed by an email request to rate your software 5 stars, if they like it.

17. Ask for Favours: Without giving anything, ask users to do a favour for you, with the favour element clearly highlighted.
Example: “Can you please help us? We’re trying to get the word out about our blog – so would you do us a favour and Digg it if you like it? Thanks so much.”

VII. Scarcity: The less available something is, the more we want it.

Scarcity18. Sales – Urgency: Highlight the end date or time for a sale.
Example: “Sale ends midnight (MST).”

19. Sales – Flash: Intentionally limit sales to a very short period of time – and explicitly state the time.
Example: Clear start time for sale, and countdown of hours left in your sale.

20. Just 1 Left! Provide a real-time countdown of the quantity of a high-value item available.
Example: Number of seats remaining for a concert or on a flight.

21. Exclusive Access: Provide access to an event on your site to a limited number of people only (and commit to that number) to encourage those with access to take advantage of this exclusive opportunity.
Example: Invite a select group of preferred customers to your site for a sale, and give them a personalized access code as well as start/end times.

VIII. Social Proof: We look to what others do to guide our own decisions and behavior.

Social Pressure22. Herd Behavior: Showcase ratings & reviews from users alongside offerings to help narrow decisions for shoppers.
Example: “Rated 4.38 out of 5 stars by Canadian entrepreneurs.”

23. Social Pressure: Quantify the number of others who are already doing what you want your new users to do.
Example: “Already 80,000 users worldwide in just 6 months.”

24. Intelligent Recommenders: Use data from other shoppers and/or the current shopper (e.g., past behaviours) to recommend new best-match products and effectively narrow choices into sets.
“People who bought the Apple iPhone also looked at the Palm Pre.”

IX. Trust: Show your character and competence to help people feel confident in choosing to work with you.

paypal_logo25. Low-Risk Purchase – Return It: Build trust and reduce barriers for shoppers by explicitly stating your return policy.
Example: “No hassle returns! We even pay the return shipping.”

26. Clear Payment Options: If you allow users to pay by PayPal, credit card, e-check and/or other methods, or if you have credit terms, highlight those options early in the process (pre-cart).
Example: “Don’t pay for 90 days – or pay easily today by PayPal, Visa or MasterCard.”

27. Interface Properties – Brand: Clearly brand your site to ensure users know they’re on a legitimate site for purchasing and feel confident providing their credit card info.
Example: Consistent brand elements throughout the experience.

X. Other: Extra persuasion tips/tactics that are so unique, they just can’t be categorized.

repetition_warhol228. Repetition: Say it once. And remind them of it again to reinforce facts and reduce barriers related to uncertainty. (You don’t want users to have to hit the Back button to find that info… and end up abandoning their carts.)
Example: “We accept PayPal” messaging near purchase calls-to-action and again at entrance to cart.

29. Because: The word “because” is a cue to people that they are in the presence of reason and logic and that, in turn, they don’t need to think – the thinking’s already done for them.
Example: “More people choose our product because it’s the only one that removes stains in 4 minutes flat.”

15. Security: Highlight security & safeguards on your site to help users trust that you’ll protect their info.
Example: HackerSafe logo placed prominently on main pages and nearby buttons in cart.

It’s been a phenomenal 30 days for me. I’m looking forward to helping to craft this blog into a great resource for all things persuasion, usability, emotion and trust – and I really hope you’ll help us shape this blog into what you need and want. It’s all about increasing conversion, baby! 🙂

Oh, yeah: Download the free ebook as soon as it’s ready. And please Digg it and share it with friends!



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. 

Picture 16

Picture 27

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 5: Can You Sell More by Offering Less? Exercises in Scarcity Marketing

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 6, 2009


One day sale!

Limited time offer!

These deals won’t last!

We’ve seen messages like these our entire lives. There is a well-known persuasion principle at work here and marketers have been using it to sell product and services forever. It’s the principle of scarcity.

What is scarcity?

According to Wikipedia, scarcity is “the problem of infinite human needs and wants, in a world of finite resources.” What a great definition!

How does it persuade?

In a nutshell: You want now what you may not be able to get in the future.

We find things that are scarce desirable. If something is difficult to obtain, then getting it demonstrates to ourselves and others that we are in control of our environment. If a person or company comes along and threatens to take away that which we desire or somehow limit its supply, it triggers our primal need to remain in control – and not be controlled.


If you can control supply, then you have a significant lever on demand – and you can artificially create scarcity. The De Beers Company buys huge quantities of diamonds on the world market, simply to keep them scarce so that their high price is maintained. OPEC works in a similar way.

A study conducted by Zhang, Ying, Fishbach, and Ayelet in 2005 supports this, concluding that “individuals evaluate losses more extremely than gains of similar size”.

water shortageThink about the gasoline shortage in the early 70s. Or consider what happens with dwindling water supplies during a drought or emergency. Gas and water are considered essential to survival (well, sadly, gas is considered essential in North America) so people line up at the mere mention of a shortage and can actually fuel a downward spiral. But the same principle holds true for ordinary, everyday items as well as for luxury items.

For example… people flock to see a heavily censored film. Music that is banned on radio stations typically shoots up the charts. ‘Bad boys’ are often desirable to young women if for no other reason than prior admonishment from trying-to-do-right parents; rebellion is definitely connected to scarcity (i.e., trying to have what you are told you cannot or should not have).

rubiks cubeThe same holds true for banned substances. When we realize that we do not have something, we desire it. But when someone or some agency bans that ‘something’, it only makes things worse. Interestingly, when ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was first published it was banned. Apparently many black market copies were sold and it made the author, D.H. Lawrence, famous.

And in the more recent past, do you remember the insanity surrounding these popular – and heavily advertised – Christmas gifts? The Pet Rock (1975), Star Wars toys (1978), Rubik’s Cube (1982), Cabbage Patch Dolls (1983), Tamagotchi (1996), Furby (1998) and the Nintendo Wii (2006) are all examples of scarcity being applied during the holiday season: People were actually injured in the stampedes to obtain commercial items in limited supply.

Now if something is not scarce, then it is not desired or valued as much. Praise from a teacher who seldom praises is valued more than praise from a teacher who is liberal with his or her praise. And if everything is scarce, then scarcity itself lacks value and people become too used to it. Studies of retail sales have shown that if more than about 30% of goods have ‘sale’ sticker on them, the effectiveness of this method decreases. How persuaded are you by furniture stores that advertise weekly blowout sales?

Scarcity on the Web

How are companies applying the scarcity principle on the Web?

Going once, going twice, sold! ebayeBay is an entire business built on this principle, combining limited supply and a highest bidder pricing model to create a massive marketplace fuelled by scarcity – which ends up being highly persuasive (and addictive!). The study by Zhang, Ying, Fishbach, and Ayelet refers to this principle (as it applies to buyers and sellers) as the “endowment effect,” which is defined as “the gap between the price buyers are willing to pay in order to acquire an object and the price that sellers would demand in order to part with this object.”

Gone in a flash! Scarcity is also applied as a persuasion technique by online apparel and fashion retailers — using a concept called “flash sales” — where goods are offered at sizable discounts for a limited period. Take a look at the following examples from and




Deals are flying out the door! We’re also seeing the scarcity principle applied by travel aggregators and airline sites. What could be more persuasive than learning there are only 2 seats available at the sale price?



Here are some ideas and things to remember when you’re trying to generate the same persuasive effect on your own site:

  • Strictly limit the amount of product you’re selling in a promotion. Display the quantity right up front in the headline where every visitor can see it — and strictly adhere to your statement.
  • Create time-sensitive deadlines that actually expire. Set a date for the promotion to end and offer a special discount on the product if purchased before that time — and don’t be tempted to extend the closing date. Credibility is the key to generating scarcity.
  • Try providing special ‘insider access’ passes or memberships to the first X number of respondents — or if your visitors order before a deadline. You increase value and evoke quicker responses by limiting the number of memberships available.
  • Offer forward-dated discount vouchers for future product releases. For example, “Buy our amazing software this week at $199 and you’ll automatically receive our next release with 12 additional features at just $99.”
  • Display dramatic ‘visual countdowns’ to increase the sense of scarcity and amplify your visitors’ urge to purchase.

Hopefully this sprinkling of scarcity mechanisms will inspire you to employ them in your own headlines and throughout your Web copy. If you state simply and clearly that a genuinely scarce commodity is available to a hungry target market (who you know want what you have!), and you can make it disappear before their eyes, people won’t stop reading. In the end, if you’ve done it correctly, they’ll place the order.