The Secret to Persuasive Design is in the Invitation

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 daughter. She doesn’t need search engines to find the site because they send 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 mom to come to their store so she can talk me into buying more “Pink” sweatpants. Being price conscious, she searches online for deals and compares that with information from the catalog she gets in the mail.

Whether online or offline, she loves the Victoria’s Secret shopping experience. They make her feel invited. And best yet, marketers skillfully hooked her while in her young adult years.

Branding is more than a logo or site design. It’s the customers’ experience with the product or service that counts and contributes strongly to word of mouth advertising.

Persuasive web design is exploding due to user behavior studies. What jazzes us offline, 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 honest answers to questions.

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

A form that includes a reason for requiring a phone number will be rewarded by getting qualified sales leads from people who really want to make contact. Persuasion is not about manipulation. Rather, you want to understand customer intent and satisfy their needs. Requiring a phone number for a newsletter sign-up communicates a severe lack of understanding about why people sign up for them.

What Did You Overlook?

So, what happens if your web site has been found, all bright and shiny, and no one is completing a task on your site? This is where human behavior 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 to understand how to select, move, delete, save and edit choices.

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, who may be impressed. A site built for a certain demographic that misses its mark is dangerous to the bottom line. They underestimated how previous experiences online may affect how people use their application. They also may not have realized how computer savvy teens are. Fortunately, this company knew enough to get it tested before launch.

Today’s persuasive design strives to reach for 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.

Emotional Connection

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 can help web designers place site elements on a page at the right moment during a visitor’s decision making process. Content writers work to create pages memorable enough to be bookmarked or linked to.

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

(A version of this was originally run in the Search Marketing Standard. Released by permission.)

Discussion at Cre8asiteforums: Do You Know All The Who’s, For Whom You Are Developing?

And there is nothing more detrimental to a bottom line, be it traffic or various conversions, than snubbing a group or part of a group that actively wants in.