While most people are familiar with BOGOF and similar offers in brick-and-mortar stores, digital psychology is still a bit of an unknown to most people. The techniques used online are often less obvious. At the same time, we consume digital content at an incredible rate, making the subtleties easier to overlook.
I’ve prepared a write-up of the eight common digital psychology techniques used on the Web. Let’s unwrap them one by one.
Your website has a clearly defined target audience. The topic has been covered so much that it almost became a cliché. I won’t reinvent the wheel.
But that fact has several implications, and one of them might be controversial, but people aren’t looking for your product or your services.
They are looking to solve problems. Address those first.
If you’re selling cars, attributes like the max speed and Miles Per Gallon are crucial. But you need to communicate the benefits directly. You need to solve their problem.
Your clients who shop for a car just to match their neighbours’ max speed are in the minority.
But if we take low MPG, it means savings. You can easily assign a monetary value to that attribute.
How much will your customer save?
How much longer will a filled tank last them?
How will it limit the number of necessary pit stops on their long journey?
These are just a couple of examples*.
You might be calling my bluff now since you’ve probably noticed that it’s not so different from traditional marketing.
There’s just one thing – being on the Internet makes it much more important. People use your website to speed up the purchase process. They’re doing it from the comfort of their home, or the discomfort of a morning/afternoon commute. Make their purchase process better!
You don’t have a second chance online. If a customer took the time to drive their call to your local shop, think about how much effort that is. You have a much higher margin of error. They won’t just leave and visit the competition after a first minor inconvenience.
But doing that online takes literally two clicks – back to Google and onto a new website.* – Disclaimer
The MPG example has other obvious ways to make the raw data more compelling but we’re deliberately leaving it out for now. You’ll see them in some of the next methods.
This technique is more about the discovery phase than the execution.
We’ve said that people come to your site to solve a problem, but what about those who don’t have a problem? Or rather, what if they don’t know they have a problem?
You’ll need to look deeper into their requirements, analyse their user persona and find their unknown need. After you’ve done that, proceed just like with any other problem – highlight that need and then explain how your solution solves it.
People tend to remember the first bit of information they see. They get heavily attached to it so use it to your advantage. One study has concluded that you’re likely to score a higher salary if you’re the first one to mention a big wage during your interview – even if you do it as a joke!
A good example of using this technique is a pricing page, which often uses one of the two approaches:
That’s because the first thing people see will stick. If you have a £49, £99, and £199 plans with the middle one singled out, your visitors will remember you as the “£99 company”. When they read through your features or product descriptions, they’ll use the price that stuck with them as a benchmark.
Let me know in the comments and we’ll go through them together to see if you can improve anything.
It’s an old direct marketing technique. When you’re selling something, you are the one that introduces a concern. You don’t wait for the prospect to do it. That way you can be a step ahead and address their pain points first.
Your website should do the same. Customers have a problem, you have the solution, but they will doubt you can help them. And that’s normal – it’s likely they’ve never heard about you before.
Address these doubts using social proof, which I describe later, or use a completely different method. But make sure the visitor is left with little to no concerns of their own after scanning your website.
As a bonus, this helps establish trust and transparency. If you’re open about the possible shortcomings of your product or service, people will remember that.
I hate losing. Do you? It’s a fact that we feel stronger about a potential loss than we do about a potential gain.
The most obvious use case is monetary value. Gaining £100 isn’t as persuasive as a potential loss of £100. But you can apply the concept to anything.
A notable mention here is the negative headline technique. Next time you’re writing the copy for a website, consider adding a negative headline here and there.
Turn How to convert more leads into How to avoid losing leads.
Do you still remember our Miles Per Gallon example? It’s making a return with loss aversion. Spending less on petrol is a strong benefit but it’s a theoretical exercise. If they can afford the use of their current car, raw savings aren’t as influential.
You want to tell the customer they are currently spending too much on petrol. In short, they’re losing. Not only does it introduce loss aversion, but you’re also addressing an unknown need/problem.
Scarcity is directly connected to loss aversion.
If your offer is limited, make that fact stand out. Only 10 left makes your offer exclusive and signals a potential loss. “If I don’t take advantage now, I’ll lose my chance!”
Whether it’s a limited quantity or a time constraint, it will give your customers a sense of urgency.
Be careful not to overdo it, though. We’ve seen plenty of e-commerce shops create fake “low stock” alerts. It’s very easy to spot. If your entire shop is low on stock, people will start asking questions about the legitimacy and whether you can deliver on your promise.
Over 70% of consumers trust an online recommendation from someone they don’t know.
That’s right, we’re onto the social proof. You can showcase it using:
Even raw data works as social proof. Do you have 11,521 newsletter subscriptions? Did a product get ordered 127 times in the past 24 hours? That’s social proof right there!
You can get really creative with social proof – highlighting a sold-out product works as well, and it also takes advantage of the scarcity and loss aversion techniques. When I trust a company, I often sign up for email notifications about product stock rather than finding it elsewhere.
Not the bad type, though. Triggers can be visual, such as the call to action buttons, remarketing campaigns, etc. I’m sure you’ve been a “victim” of social triggers.
Two popular examples would be the future of children and more recently, the greener environment.
What will have a bigger impact when you buy life insurance, the attractive price or a guarantee that the future of your kids is safe? Now that we’ve called it out you might pick the logical option but subconsciously, most people would pick the internal trigger.
To sum it up, I like to think about digital psychology as part of the wider consumer psychology and the studies analysing consumer behaviour. It helps us understand why we take certain actions and how to influence our choices.
If you think it’s a bit controversial, I’m with you. But in the right hands of a web designer or a UX expert, using subtle cues can help us make the Web a better place. And that’s why we’re here.
I hope that by introducing you to the eight examples of digital psychology, I can make your customers’ lives a bit easier.
Will you use these tips responsibly?
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Originally published Jun 06, 2022 4:27:05 PM, updated June 9 2023.