Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

Persuasive Web Design

If a web site falls in the search engine forest, would anyone hear it? If the web site belonged to Victoria’s Secret, it wouldn’t be missed by a shopper like my young adult daughter. She doesn’t need search engines to find Victoria’s Secret products.

Why? Because the company sends her discount cards in the mail every month to lure her with 20% off or Buy One, Get One Free offers. They know she uses them and bribes (begs) me to come to their store so she can talk me into buying more Pink (trademark) sweatpants. Being price conscious, she searches online first for deals and compares that with information from the catalog she gets in the mail.

Whether online or off-line, she loves the Victoria’s Secret shopping experience. And best yet, marketers skillfully converted her while in her teenage years with a line of products for her generation. She’s absolutely not afraid to enter the store, despite its obvious emphasis on sensuality.

Persuasion Requires Comfort and Trust

Branding is more than a logo or web site design. It’s the customers’ experience with products or services that counts and contributes strongly to word of mouth advertising and repeat sales. The customer experience doesn’t need to be a one-shot approach. Our experiences are culled from anywhere we learn to trust a company and feel comfortable enough to do business with them.

Interest in persuasive web design is exploding due to user behavior studies. What jazzes us off-line, also works online. We want to be remembered. Marketers know this. The result is intuitive design. We want products on sale, services by credible companies, solutions to problems and answers to questions.

We want a choice in how we get these things.

Persuasive design invites and encourages interaction between you and your visitors. This can be something subtle such as beveling an “Add to Cart” button, instead of using plain text, because people like to push buttons. For travel sites, it may be guest stories. Real estate sites show rotating views of rooms in a house to help you decide if your Golden Retriever will fit in the living room. Amazon suggests related books during the purchase process and emails recommendations based on your purchase history.

An online form that includes the reason for requiring a phone number will be rewarded for this consideration by delivering qualified sales leads from people who really want to make contact. This is because persuasion is not about manipulation. Rather, you want to understand visitor intent and satisfy customers’ needs. Requiring a phone number for a newsletter sign-up communicates a severe lack of understanding about why people sign up for them.

But I Built it for You!

So, what happens if your web site has been found in a search, all bright and shiny, and no one is completing a task on you site? You may even track some interest and wonder why, 3 or 4 clicks into the task, your visitor suddenly jumps off the site. This is where human behavior and getting into the minds of your target market gets interesting.

I tested a web site designed for “Generation Y” users by planting a teenager in front of it and watching her use it. She, being of the MySpace and IM generation, is not afraid to push buttons. Past experiences with web site applications help her understand how to select, move, delete, save and edit choices in new sites.

We remember past experiences with other web sites. Our memories guide us to trust new sites and find what we think we know how to do. We may develop a certain amount of trust in our own abilities to try something we’ve never seen before.

In this test, the teenager quickly discovered what the application’s goal was and she mastered the basics. However, she wanted to do things the application didn’t allow. Quickly, she became a dissatisfied user. She felt the site was more for 12 year olds. I knew the site was built for a wider age range that could go up to age 20. A site built for a certain demographic that misses its mark is dangerous to the bottom line. Fortunately, this company knew enough to get it tested before launch.

Sometimes I test web sites designed for young people, but the payment has to be by credit card. They need someone such as a parent, who must then go through the purchase process, decide to trust or not trust the site and possibly not understand what they’re seeing because it’s not targeted to them.

The Cutting Edge of Persuasive Design

Today’s persuasive web design strives to reach those who may be struggling to connect with your product or service by offering reasons they may benefit from it and making the value immediately clear.

It also connects both on and off-line marketing into one long continuous experience between company and customer.

Social media provides user generated content such as comments, ratings, reviews, personal experience stories and community discussions. This provides a goldmine of information on user intent, interests, habits and choices. Understanding this information helps you to put site elements on a web page at the right moment during a visitor’s decision making process. Content and marketing writers want to create pages memorable enough to be bookmarked or linked to when someone is in a hurry and can’t buy now, but may be able to return later and do so.

Still being explored are emotions and the part this plays in web site design. Should the cancer information web site experience be the same for the person who just learned they have the disease vs. family members doing research on a loved one? We’re unable to pick up on our visitors’ emotional states, but we can look for patterns and make predictions.

Our emotions and mental state play into impulse purchases off-line. There’s no reason to think web sites are any different.

(This blog post is adapted from an article written for and published in the Search Marketing Standard, Summer 2007 issue called “Persuasive Web Design”, by Kim Krause Berg. )

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