Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg developed a hierarchy of conversion. It makes great sense of the conversion process—and is along the lines of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (i.e., how people are motivated to achieve certain needs). In the Eisenberg model below, you’ll note that “persuasive” is at the top. And, that’s the area of optimisation where psychology comes into play. But, please fix all the other areas of the pyramid, working up from the bottom, before you start thinking about persuasive psychology.
If we intend to use psychology as part of the conversion optimisation process, it’s important to understand how the human brain works, then we can appreciate what happens when a user/customer views, reacts/responds to a landing page—or indeed the entire website.
When optimising a landing page, the objective includes removing as much friction (the aspects that deter users/customers from continuing on their scent trail or responding to the call to action [CTA]) as possible.
Friction occurs when we view a landing page and our brain takes in the information (words and pictures) presented on it and struggles to process it. What we finally process will affect what we learn from the page and, ultimately, that affects our decisions. So, psychology, consumer marketing (creating and selling products, goods and services to individual buyers), and various aspects of neuroscience are disciplines that come to play within the field of conversion optimisation.
For conversion optimisation we draw from two models of the brain and its operation. These are: Dual Process Theory (first attributed to William James and further developed by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo [elaboration likelihood model], and Shelly Chaiken [heuristic-systematic model of information processing]) among others, and the Triune Brain Theory (Paul D. MacLean, evolution of the vertebrate forebrain and behaviour).
Dual process theory
Daniel Kahneman, noble prize winner and author of “Thinking Fast and Slow” describes how our brains have two modes of thought: fast, instinctive and emotional “system 1” (implicit), and slower, deliberative and logical “system 2” (explicit). Bart Schutz, persuasion psychologist, Online Dialogue, applies system 1 and system 2 to explain how and why for certain actions, marketers want customers to take their time (so that they can understand the propositions fully). That way, websites can engage the customers’ system 2 thinking through the content presented to them.
The Triune brain
Paul D. Maclean’s triune brain is an evolutionary model of the brain that assists with understanding how it functions. According to the theory, three distinct brains—reptilian, limbic (early mammals) and neocortex (primates)—are combined in the human brain. These are interconnecting and influence one another: none of the three brains work independently of the others.
Let’s look at the three brains in the context of someone viewing a webpage so that we can explain their impact on conversion optimisation.
Reptilian – instinctive, acts without thinking, it governs our heartbeat, breathing, temperature and balance. This part contains the brainstem and the cerebellum. Marketers engage our reptilian part of the brain with headlines and visual imagery, the things you notice immediately when a web page opens. It is this part of the brain that asks, “Is this for me, and if so, what’s in it for me?”. It’s most responsive at the beginning and end of an interaction.
Mammalian/Limbic – comes into play once our attention has been captured. It makes value judgements and decides whether it likes what it sees. The main structures of the limbic brain are the hippocampus (consolidates information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation), the amygdala (fear and pleasure), and the hypothalamus (production of hormones—some of which govern our reactions to what we see, hear, smell and touch). The limbic brain, therefore, governs our emotions. It also determines the amount of time and attention we give to doing something, and it is responsible for much of our spontaneous and creative behaviour. Marketers attempt to influence our emotional limbic system to sell us the dream!
Neocortex – is our rational or superior brain. When we’ve made our decision about whether we like what we see on the webpage, the neocortex comes into play to rationalise our value judgement(s). It comprises the left and right cerebral hemispheres, which control the opposite sides of our body. The left hemisphere is more linear, verbal and rational. The right hemisphere is more spatial, artistic, musical and abstract. So, when designing a landing page, we must include appropriate supporting information because it helps the neocortex rationalise and underpin the limbic system’s feelings and wishes.
Practical application of psychological techniques
Now that we have a better understanding of how the brain works and how we respond to webpages, we can look at an example to see how persuasive psychology techniques are used to help increase conversions.
Let’s begin with the large image and headline. These elements elicit a reptilian response; i.e., is this for me? In the visual hierarchy, the first thing that grabs our attention is the large image of the woman. Because her eyes are focusing on the headline copy “Change the way the world learns English”, the imagery immediately helps those whose native language is not English to identify themselves as the target audience. Choosing a person of colour for the photograph does seem stereotypical (unless the company chose the subject based on data), but it gets the message across!
Both gaze cueing and Cialdini’s liking technique (people are easily persuaded by people they like) have been used to trigger a response from the reptilian brain, answering the question “is this for me?”. Eyes convey a lot of unspoken information and attention is drawn to the gaze of another person’s eyes—we do it automatically. In this instance you notice the woman looking at the headline, which directs the website user’s attention to it also.
In addition, a focusing effect is used in selling the two main USPs, which are positioned above the fold. (Note the absence of additional visual distractions around the copy.)
- “Groundbreaking technology adapts to your students’ and employees’ unique learning needs in real time”
- “A dedicated language consultant is ready to help you”
Below the fold, the copy and graphics describe “Our Proven Method”. This is supporting information written to focus the website visitor’s attention on what they need to know so that they can justify their decision about whether to buy the language course.
The information is written to appeal to the user’s system 1 or 2 brain, depending on what the user wants and their cognitive load capacity (the amount of mental effort required by the working memory to process information). This is cleverly and clearly done in the page layout.
The system 1 information is on the left-hand side of the page. It comprises four headings with supporting graphics. It is quick to read and easy to digest and does not require a lot of effort so cognitive load is low. It also speaks to the reptilian brain as it draws attention by using graphics and headlines while the headings offer justification to the neocortex.
On the right-hand side of the page, you can see the system 2 targeted information. It’s written to appeal to the limbic system and neocortex, therefore, encouraging emotional and rational thoughts about the product. It comprises detailed paragraphs that expand on what the headlines and graphics on the left have already promoted. It takes time to read the content, slowing the user down and requires much more cognitive capacity.
If you want to consider the content of the page in terms of the right and left hemispheres of our brain, then the content on the left (the headlines and graphics) are targeting our right hemisphere (which focuses on spatial abilities, face recognition, artistic and musical abilities, and abstract thoughts), while the detailed content on the right appeals to our left hemisphere, which focuses on more linear, verbal and rational things such as language, mathematical and logic abilities.
Other persuasive psychological techniques have been used on the Voxy landing page. The Forer effect (or Barnum effect [Bertram R. Forer]) is put to good use, using words that are appealing but vague enough to be applicable to most people who would be looking for English language courses. In the teaser below the headline, we can read that Voxy suits “students’ and employees’ unique learning needs in real time”.
This idea is also supported by the wording “makes it easy for our team members” in the first testimonial (at the bottom of the page).
If you look down to the body copy to the right of “OFFER SEAMLESS BLENDED LEARNING” you can see that here the website is trying to appeal to our need to belong (Maslow) and for conformity with the words “dynamic group classes”; Voxy customers aren’t simply left to self-study, they get to meet (virtually) their teachers.
In addition, the self-generation affect/effect, which enables us to remember information we generate ourselves more readily than information we read, is used in the right-hand body copy “USE A WIDE RANGE OF AUTHENTIC CONTENT”. The promised array of content allows users to conduct their own research and tailor their course based on their personal learning needs and progress.
So, in closing, we recognise that psychology (and other brain sciences) has its place in increasing landing page conversions. Considering how our brains work when designing a landing page is important and should figure in your conversion optimisation toolbox and checklist. It will help with content clarity and messaging, and page layout, which ultimately enables conversions. But, you need to be careful when implementing persuasive psychology.
Only use psychological techniques when they are relevant and appropriate (choose those that fit your needs and not just because they exist), and don’t try to apply them all in one go. Too much all at once won’t appeal to or resonate with your website users and you’ll lose them—it’s a case of less is more and being thorough in checking your data.