Psychological principles may be the magic bullet to conversion optimization

A couple of weekends ago I was sitting comfortably on the sofa and although I’m not an avid television watcher, I felt like watching a good series. I looked around and found a great candidate on Yelo Play. I’m not a Play subscriber, but I can subscribe right from the television set. So, I clicked on “Nu abonneren”, convinced that I would be watching this series in a minute or two.

the Telenet Play Interface

But alas! They tell me it might take up to an hour to activate the new package… What?! Unfortunately, one hour later it is already time for bed, so no show for me anymore.

I must admit I was pissed off about my ruined evening. If you go to Netflix and you subscribe, it doesn’t take a minute and you’re enjoying their whole library…!

I was also a bit ashamed of myself. What a first world problem! What was going on that I got so annoyed because I wanted something and did not get it right away? Then it dawned on me that it was a simple psychological principle: our growing need for instant gratification. We want something and we need it right away. We order on Amazon and we expect next day or even same day delivery.

One might argue that this is a bad development and that it isn’t the best trait of us human beings, but it is a fact, and it is becoming stronger over the years.

Now let’s look at it from a commercial perspective. What happens when you as a company are not able to deliver instant gratification to your customers? Will they wait for you? Or will they go to the competition? You may have just lost a valuable customer. And another one. And another one.

Psychological principles at play

Instant gratification is only one of the psychological principles at play that have a very profound impact on the way we do business and deal with our customers.

Even in the digital world, doing business with customers is not about technology, it’s about people. And how these people think, react emotionally and make decisions. The better you understand what makes humans tick the better you are at delivering a great experience.

Some of the psychological principles at work are very well known. You can find many resources on the web and you see their application on almost any website these days:

  • Social proof: people look at what other people do and copy that behavior. In websites you typically see this as the indications of “most popular” packages. Or the client logos on your website that communicate: if they trust us, you can trust us, too.
  • Scarcity bias: we unconsciously assume things that are scarce are valuable. The scarcity bias impulse frequently kicks in when we are told that a product is in short supply and we might miss a great deal unless we book/pay now!
  • Authority bias: the tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by that opinion. Look at the famous sports person that figures in a shampoo commercial. Just because they are well-know their opinion has weight. Or again: what if you have an online tool and you can display the Google logo. If they use it at Google it must be good.

Except for the fact that these mechanisms are well known, they are also very intuitive. We all understand what it is about and how it affects us.

But not all psychological principles are that clear and intuitive. In this article I’ll touch upon two other examples we encountered in projects recently and that resulted in heated debates.

The more choice, the better

There certainly is some truth in this statement. Research shows that users are motivated by having choice and being presented with different options. This plays to the human need of having control over a situation. Offering your customers choice will definitely improve how they perceive your service.

But you can also take it too far. Research also indicates a “paradox of choice”: while offering choice is a good thing, offering too much choice is a bad thing. When people are confronted with too much choice the cognitive effort required to make a choice becomes too big and results in an analysis-paralysis. The more options there are, the less people actually make a choice and the less engaged they are.

So think about this: are you offering your users too much choice? Think really hard about what you are offering to your customer. How many different variations of a product? How many different packages? How many decisions does your user need to make? How much cognitive effort does it take for him or her to make that decision? Rationalize your packages and increase your chance on conversion.

We need less clicks

It’s almost a cliché and we hear it over and over at clients. Users need to reach any goal is less than 3 clicks. Less clicks means higher conversion, right?

Well, partly. What if research shows that an additional click could even increase conversion?

The first discussion we had was in the realm of e-commerce. Take a clothing store for instance: is it better to show products right away, or do we let our visitors select first which type of clothing they want to see, Men’s, Women’s or Children’s clothes?

If you let users choose first, this is an additional click indeed, but it is not such a problem. First of all, this extra click brings users closer to their goal (seeing only those clothes they are interested in, so it is a meaningful click). But more interestingly it has an additional side effect: it makes users interact with your website, makes them choose something and this increases engagement. This is the psychological principle of consistency: if I’m actively interacting with this website, it must mean that I am really interested. So, you become interested.

Another example of this discussion was about the pop-up in which users need to make a choice in language. The client absolutely wanted this gone. The browser needs to take care of this. Now, I’m sure you can derive a great deal from the computer settings or the IP address, but this can often go wrong. Personally, my computer and browsers are in English, but I still prefer to see websites in Dutch for instance. Is this extra click such a big problem? Again, it is a meaningful click because it brings users closer to their goal (seeing the information in the language they prefer) but is also engages the user more.

In this regard, we’d like to refer to another blogpost we wrote on increasing interaction with users during the so-called “app intro”. How do you get your user of to a flying start? One way is to make the user make a few meaningful clicks in order to get to know your tool and the most important functions. Read more in our blogpost Active engagement in user onboarding.

Test, Test, Test

Is it always the best option to have an extra click? Not necessarily, as always, it depends. But it is a good thing to be aware of all these clear but also more subtle psychological principles at play.

But how can you be sure they work as expected. Well, there are only 3 things you need to do and that is to test, test and test again.

How can you do that exactly. There are 2 main tools:

  • A/B testing: in A/B testing you are showing one version (version A) of a design to one half of the visitors and you are showing another version (version B) to the other half of your visitors. And then you measure the conversion rate in each group.
  • User testing: classical user testing may also be a good way to detect if users get annoyed or motivated by certain elements in the design.
    In addition, you may need to know more about the in’s and outs of these psychological principles. Because they are so unintuitive you really need to learn the finesses.

That is why we train our UX consultants extensively in this domain: because we know it will allow them to help our customers to increase conversion. We train them in understanding psychological principles as well as the testing methods that we described, so they can prove that the design works.

Luckily this is a very fascinating domain that all our consultants are very passionate and enthusiastic about. If you’d like to let our consultants bring their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm to your project and help you increase conversion, do not hesitate to get in touch.

PS: Interested in getting to know these psychological principles? Here is a great tip: the extension BrainyTab. This extension explains a Cognitive Bias, Mental Model or Dark Pattern every time you open a new tab to help improve your decision-making process.

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