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 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 3: Social Proof: Part II (Enjoy Your Stay)

Posted in Social Proof by persuasiveweb on June 3, 2009

paradise hotel

In yesterday’s post about the principle of persuasion known as social proof (and how social proof relates to Internet user review systems), I left off with an illustration of how consumer reviews are implemented on two popular book sites, an

While both sites offer user reviews, Amazon clearly demonstrates a deeper understanding of how social proof and user reviews can compel people to purchase its products. Many of Chen’s research findings that I cited in yesterday’s post align perfectly with the design of Amazon’s popular product review system.

That was books. What about higher ticket priced items such as hotel rooms? How are travel aggregator sites making use of social proof?

There are many more attributes of a hotel than a book – and there is also generally more at stake when it comes to making a vacation booking than buying a vacation book. As a result, we see a lot of rich detail on hotel site user review systems.

Let’s take a look at three popular hotel aggregator sites:

  3. incorporates ‘guest reviews’ directly into its product pages and provides some nice features for drilling into what’s important to travelers when searching for a hotel property. Ratings for service, hotel condition, and cleanliness give visitors an additional layer of detail than a single overall rating. Reviews can be filtered by the type of trip you plan to take – which makes sense given that leisure travelers will likely have a very different set of expectations than business travelers!

hotels positions its reviews as a ‘new’ feature. While perhaps late to the reviews game, the site designers have done their homework when it comes to allowing visitors to drill down into the information that matters most to them. A simple two-column layout and a surprisingly high number of reviews across the listed properties makes it easy for hotel searchers to get the information they need and feel confident in the overall assessments.

travelocity was one of the first travel aggregators to offer user reviews. However, the site has not evolved at a pace one might expect on the Web, and a lack of in-depth review features generally means more work for site visitors – and the advertisements are a distraction from the primary goal of the page, which is to persuade users to book via great user-generated content.


I’ve scored the 3 sites across 7 different dimensions to get a sense of their overall effectiveness and ability to persuade. I used a 10-point scale, giving equal weight to each persuasive element (this is subjective but it is my blog). The absence of a particular feature doesn’t necessarily translate into a ‘0’, since there may be a proxy for that missing element. For example, the ability to sort reviews by rating could be called a proxy for ‘Hotel Popularity’, but it’s not as elegant a solution. Photos, however, are an all-or-nothing element (i.e., it does mean ‘0’s for not having them).

So how’d they do? There is no runaway winner because no site provides all of the persuasive elements — and they each tend to excel in different areas. edges out the other 2 sites mainly because of its user-submitted photo feature, which I would argue is a highly persuasive element. Travelocity misses with the absence of helpfulness ratings and lacks depth in the areas of filtering and individual attribute ratings.

hotel site rankings

With their persuasive properties grounded in social psychology and plenty of research like Chen’s to support their continued use, consumer review systems are a unique value add on the Web. People have come to rely on the opinions of others for online and offline purchase decisions, and I suspect that without them we would feel lost. But that is an unlikely scenario… so long as people continue to take the time to provide their opinion.


DAY 2: Tricks Online Book-Sellers and Vacation Sites Use to Persuade You

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion, Social Proof by persuasiveweb on June 2, 2009

herd mentality

Read any good books lately?

When was the last time you came across a new or used book Web site or hotel aggregator site that didn’t offer consumer reviews? Would you go back if that was the case? Probably not, since user reviews are now the price of entry for any Web site that sells a large number of similar products or services.

It used to be that sites like and TripAdvisor were lauded for their user review systems. Epinions built an entire business around consumer-driven product reviews. Although the initial buzz has turned to quiet praise, why have so many sites continued to adopt user reviews? Likely because users began to expect – and then demand – user reviews.

But did you ever stop to think about what drove this expectation and why user reviews are so powerful?

User reviews are a form of social proof — a well understood persuasion principle — that is defined by Wikipedia as “a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. Making the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation, they will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.

And further, “Social influence in general can lead to conformity of large groups of individuals in either correct or mistaken choices, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as herd behavior.

Do we really follow the crowd (sometimes to our own detriment) when making important decisions about where to spend our money?

It would seem so.

Yi-Fen Chen conducted a study in 2007 titled, “Herd behavior in purchasing books online” that examined recommendation systems and their impact on consumer behavior.

Here are some of her findings:

“The rapid growth of e-commerce has created product overload in situations where consumers have become unable to effectively choose products they are exposed to”

“The opportunity for consumers to choose among growing numbers of products has increased the burden of information processing before product selection”

So the Web has created too many choices for us (no revelation) – choices that may have always existed but never been fully exposed. Students of persuasion know that with an increasing number of choices, decisions become more difficult to make. And that’s a core benefit of user reviews: they are intended to make decisions easier for consumers, and the prevalence and popularity of reviews would appear to indicate that this is a real outcome.

But why do reviews make our decisions easier? Chen explains:

“’When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other (Hoffer, 1955)”

“Informational cascades occur when individuals follow the previous behavior of others and disregard their own information”

I interpret this to mean that we (i.e., humans) don’t like to expend too much energy on making decisions. And when you consider just how many decisions we are forced to make in a single day(!), it’s no wonder, really. In fact, it’s this desire to make it through the hundreds of daily decisions and still have the energy to eat, talk, laugh, exercise, and play with our kids that is largely responsible for the study of persuasion – as so many of the persuasive principles we’ll discuss on this blog relate to our moving through life on ‘auto pilot’ – and how understanding this behavior can work for you and your Web business… to compel people to reach for their mouse and make the next click.

Chen also provides insight into specific elements of user reviews that can influence people’s behavior:

“Star ratings of books can influence consumer buying behavior and cause an informational cascade”

“Providing cues for eliciting herd behavior will influence consumers and lead to online herd behavior”

She references the following cues:

  • Star ratings
  • Sales volumes
  • Recommender system recommendations

As consumers come to rely even more on reviews in their complicated purchase decisions, cues such as these are quickly becoming part of what users expect to find on all Web sites. It’s no longer enough to provide a simple star rating. Users want more.

And finally, Chen makes a point of examining the influence that the source of reviews has on our behavior:

“Previous studies have demonstrated that source – expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness – positively influence consumer attitudes towards a brand and purchase behavior”

“Consumers are influenced more by ‘collective intelligence’ than by a small group of experts”

“Consumers clearly prefer to receive guidance from those perceived to be similar to themselves”

Her first point about expert reviews being potentially more influential is countered by the other two excerpts. I interpret them to mean that if a book has 5 expert reviews and 5 consumer reviews, people will lend more weight to the expert source. However, when the number of reviews by end users exceeds the volume of professional write-ups by a reasonable margin, there is power in numbers – and the numbers tip the influence in favor of the laypeople.

Chen’s final point about similarity is also insightful (and relates to another persuasion principle known as likeness), but I don’t see it being put into widespread practice by e-commerce sites. However, ratings and reviews vendor Bazaarvoice does offer the option to profile reviewers to its customer base, probably knowing full well that review readers will assign more credibility to people that appear to be just like them.

So, given Chen’s findings, how are popular book-selling Web sites doing in terms of their use of consumer reviews? Let’s take a peek at the powerhouse of the used book market, Victoria BC-based, and the leader in new book (and everything else) sales, (For anyone who hasn’t read the press release, Amazon acquired in August 2008.) does indeed provide book reviews (in this case for Cormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing”), but only in their most basic form. A review date and ‘smiley rating’ are the only two attributes of each review:

abebooks reviews, parent company of AbeBooks, does things a little differently and offers much more depth in their implementation of reviews. The book-selling behemoth incorporates a number of social proof elements into each set of recommendations in order to compel people to engage [and hopefully purchase]:

amazon reviews

With only a brief scan of its product pages, it’s pretty clear that Amazon understands consumers and what they have come to expect from an e-commerce site. And with an average annual conversion rate north of 15%, the company also has a firm grasp on the principles of persuasion and specifically the power of social proof.

[This post is getting a little long, so in part 2 – coming tomorrow — I’ll examine the implementation and effectiveness of consumer reviews on several hotel aggregator sites.]

And in the sprit of Amazon’s product reviews… was this blog post helpful? 🙂