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 17: Is Cause Marketing Persuasive?

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 17, 2009

tide_base_loadsofhope_big_1_You’ve heard of cause marketing. That’s when businesses support/sponsor a cause publicly in order to, ultimately, line their pockets with the proceeds of goodwill. Think Dawn cleaning up birds affected by oil spills. Pampers’s tetanus shots for expecting moms. The Lexus/Scholastic Eco Challenge for students. Haagen Dazs’s support for bees/pollinators. And the oh-so-popular Sears sponsorship of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. 

At their most basic, cause marketing campaigns are product placements. The Extreme Makeover designers go running through Sears in search of appliances for the new home, with a big ol’ “Sears” sign overhead. Product placement.

Haagen Dazs Supports Honeybees

Haagen Dazs Supports Honeybees

So, here’s the question: Are product placements — as overt attempts to entrench a brand in one’s memory and, hence, as overt marketing — actually persuasive in cause marketing campaigns?

If you read this popular article from AdAge, you’d say that, yes, they are. But let’s dig a bit deeper than that, shall we? On Day 17 of the 30 Days of Persuasion, that’s exactly what we’ll do. 

When Consumers Reward Companies for Self-Serving Selflessness
Consumer decision-making researchers Drs. Becker-Olsen and Cudmore argued that consumers will support a company that engages in cause marketing (i.e., sponsoring philanthropic efforts) when these 3 things are true:

  1. The consumer believes the effort makes sense or fits with the company’s products/services offerings
  2. The consumer believes the act is from the heart (motivated by pro-social ideals)
  3. The consumer perceives the act as proactive rather than reactive

So Sears engaging in cause marketing on Extreme Makeover should enhance consumer attitudes towards Sears because it meets those 3 heuristics. That is, it makes sense for Sears to donate appliances; they consistently sponsor the TV program, which feels like true corporate motivation; and their efforts were not motivated by negative PR. Even further, Sears restrains its product placements, so viewers aren’t beaten over the head with their commercial intents.

Surprise, surprise: Even consumers think it’s okay for companies to engage in cause marketing… under the right conditions. 

…And When They Don’t (and Your Efforts Backfire)
You’re motoring along a road in Kentucky, and you pass over the black-filled remnant of what once was a pothole. You glance down, and what do you see but a big ol’ KFC logo and “Re-freshed by KFC” stamped in white paint on it?  

KFC Kindly Fills Potholes - And Makes Sure You Know to Thank Them

KFC Kindly Fills Potholes - And Makes Sure You Know to Thank Them

Now tell me, do you feel oh-so-glad that KFC was kind enough to take a few of their billions of dollars and fill in the potholes you thought your tax dollars were going towards? Or do you maybe feel a touch choked that not only are taxes crazy but now you’ve gotta deal with KFC’s thinly veiled attempt to get you off the road and into their drive-thru… where the chicken is barely chicken, nevermind “fresh”. 

KFC, you already knew consumers were hugely skeptical about being marketed to, but you had to go and slap your logo all over their streets. 

What KFC was trying to do here was to engage in cause marketing (not a bad thing) and enhance their brand in consumers’ memories (not a bad thing). But here’s where they went wrong, insofar as persuasion is concerned: they revealed their hidden commercial intent. How? By spray-painting every single pothole with their logo and even incorporating some sort of new tagline around their product as “fresh”. (Wha….?)

It’d be like every person on Extreme Makeover wearing a Sears t-shirt. And the entire program being named “Sears Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”.

According to Drs. Bhatnagar and Aksoy, companies like KFC can expect consumer backlash to heavy-handed cause marketing in the form of a negative impact on:  

  • The trust consumers have in that brand
  • The trust consumers have in the claims that brand makes
  • The trust consumers have in the media used

Companies Who Are Doing Cause Marketing Persuasively Online
The web’s a persuasive tool, so why not take these efforts online? These websites designed around cause marketing initiatives meet Becker-Olsen and Cudmore’s 3 criteria of fit, motivation and timeliness/proactive-approach. 

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty Fits the Product and the Brand Value Proposition: To Be Real (99.44% Pure!)

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty Fits the Product and the Brand Value Proposition: To Be Real (99.44% Pure!)


Accor Hotel Group Tucks Their Great Microsite (for the Accor Foundation) Into a Corner of Their Corporate Site... Rather Than Parading Their Philanthropy

Accor Hotel Group Tucks Their Great Microsite (for the Accor Foundation) Into a Corner of Their Corporate Site... Rather Than Parading Their Philanthropy


Virgin's Music Movement Fits Well With Their Brand and, As One of Nearly 10 Movements in Virgin Unite, Shows All the Right Motivations

Virgin's Music Movement Fits Well With Their Brand and, As One of Nearly 10 Movements in Virgin Unite, Shows All the Right Motivations

So, at the End of the Day, Is Cause Marketing Persuasive?
Well, 92% of US adults have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause the consumer believes in, and 87% of consumers say they’d switch brands if quality & price were the same but the other brand supported a good cause. So we can say that, when done well, cause marketing can be extremely effective. According to Nielsen Media Research, Extreme Makeover has helped Sears achieve better recognition and positive feelings among consumers:

August 28, 2007, New York, NY —  The Sears Department Store placement on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” had the top product placement score on broadcast network television in June 2007, The Nielsen Company reported today in a new metric based on both brand recognition and positive feeling.  According to Nielsen’s product placement measurement service, 58.1% of the “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” audience not only were able to recognize the presence of the Sears store brand during the program but also came away with a positive feeling for the brand as a result of that exposure. 

Time will tell how people actually respond to KFC’s initiative. 🙂 So far, it looks like the mayors of a lot of the towns KFC is approaching re: their city’s potholes are not jumping at the opportunity……..


DAY 14: Building Trustworthy Web Sites – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by persuasiveweb on June 14, 2009


In yesterday’s post, “Designing Trustworthy Web Sites,” I outlined the fantastic and still timely research conducted by Florian Egger in 2003 on building trust and credibility for e-commerce sites. Florian’s doctoral thesis includes a checklist of the elements to look for in a ‘trustworthy’ Web site, and they are categorized into the following high level categories — or trust factors:

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

Since yesterday’s discussion was so ‘theory heavy’, I’m going to let pictures do most of the talking today, but for each trust factor above, I’ll quickly summarize the basic premise.

Pre-interactional Filters refer to the trust that is established prior to direct interaction with a company. I’m highlighting Mint as a company that doesn’t just rely on conversations taking place about its site, but brings those conversations (happening amongst users and the press) back to its Web site via reviews and testimonials:


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: branding and usability. Companies that excel in building trust through their interface design choices include MailChimp, 37signals, Invoice Machine, and Product Planner:





Informational Content is the third factor in establishing and building trust with your site visitors, and it includes company identity, products, security, and privacy. Examples of companies doing a great job of building trust through content are Instabox, Clearleft, Tapbots,, 37signals, and MailChimp







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. MailChimp and have designed their sites to give visitors confidence in their customer service capabilities:



There are obviously countless more examples of small businesses and start-ups that are demonstrating expertise in building trust and credibility on the Web. If you’d like to offer an example of a site doing well in the areas outlined above, please use our blog’s comment feature and we’ll do our best to showcase your recommendation!

And if you’re interested in reading Florian’s extensive research in its entirety, here is the link.


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.