To understand web psychology, we must first internalize that we literally see the world differently after we incorporate a new idea.
And that we have specific, sometimes irrational but common ways of looking at the world that we should take into account when designing any kind of UX.
To exemplify, before you continue reading, know that I have had 15 years of applying psychology in social and commercial communications after graduating as a “General Psychologist” from the “Universidad Católica de Honduras, Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz” and have been fortunate enough to create my own empirical and statistical experience by analyzing the behavior of tens of millions users in a myriad of websites from extremely successful small business to gigantic online publications, SAAS, and lead acquisition performance marketing superstars.
But, only after structuring my empirical experience by contrasting it and testing it against a consolidated academic body of knowledge do I suddenly find traction in real ideas and feel secure to discard personal myths (much like therapy).
About Web Psychology
Psychology is all about understanding the mental processes and our behavior, and in the global marketing arena that is the www, neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology and neuromarketing are being actively used to influence behaviors online, increasing conversion rates (the rate at which people “convert” in our website).
Conversions in the web mean objectives, goals, KPIs, and so forth. In e-commerce, conversion rate optimization is used to maximize the ROI of web assets.
Do no harm! Any psychological approach must part of a moral and ethical principle, it should be a form of goodwill toward our customers and adhere to general ethics and branding guidelines: Deliver on your value proposition consistently and cultivate your credibility with integrity, wisdom, and ethics.
If you misuse these by not being honest or offering something you know might not really help your customers, you are hurting your brand, yourself, and others. So, don´t play with karma man! Be ethical dude!
As the fields of marketing and psychology become more intertwined, some leaders in the field have developed models that help us visualize and plan effective campaigns, these help us visualize and structure UX in an optimizable way.
Some common components include grabbing attention, optimizing communication, having your customer associate your product with the basic and specific motivators they inherently have, presenting a clear value proposition through storytelling, and prompting the user to “convert” at the optimal time.
The general recommendation is to apply some of the following models in a measurable sales funnel to later test and see what combination of strategies convert better in regards to a specific objective.
What objective? Whatever it is you want our UX to be, that depends on your objectives. Here are some of the more insightful principles collected by the CXL.com institute, along with some personal commentary.
The persuasion slide is fun and I start with this one because it’s by itself a great example of good use of neuromarketing and psychological principles.
It’s easy to understand, it’s easy to create and because you can fragment the process into specific pieces, you can optimize each piece of the model to maximize utilities. Because I could not find a visual of the slide with public licensing for my blog, I can only share this video, that you should see.
Gravity – The entire flow needs to flow with gravity, and Dooley uses the term gravity to describe the user’s primal motivation; Needs, Wants, Goals and pain points both at a conscious and unconscious level. To gain gravity is the first click, its the delicious-looking burger ad when you feel hungry.
Conscious motivators include product features, price, delivery, quality, and service, which as a consumer, should be the only things you should carefully consider before making a purchase. But we are human and we also have unconscious motivators to address, because if we don’t, we might be blocked before even having a chance to present our conscious value proposition.
Unconscious motivators have a lot to do with evolutionary psychology, with the cerebellum, the unconscious sub-brain that controls the information that comes from our senses into our consciousness. If you have pets, you can relate to these motivators, and Dooley refers to a few specific ones: Status/prestige, Sex, Food, Survival, and Fantasy. *Fantasy does not come from our genes, but rather previous primal drives associated with other archetypes, instead of direct survival emotional associations like Sex, the fantasy comes from artificial associations, like Indiana Jones and feeling capable of surviving difficult situations, Superman and feeling like a moral and powerful person, the avengers and feeling like being part of a morally superior group. Finally another subset of motivators that are semi-conscious like Job Security, Promotion, Boss Approval, Relationship loss aversion, Risk Aversion, and general loss aversion. ( That is also a cognitive bias).
“The Nudge”: This is how you get the customer’s attention and start persuading. Its a behaviorally triggered CTA at the right time, it should be always present and easy to access. “A nudge is a great reason to do something at the right time”.
“The Angle”:“is determined by the strength of the motivation you provide (the overall value). If the value you provide isn’t strong enough, the prospect will start to slide and then stop.” – Source
Friction – When you make it easy, people will do more of it. The abandoned cart process.
Difficult is considered risky
Internal associations and beliefs
Friction part 2 – Cognitive Friction, it “looks hard and complicated”, I don’t know how to move forward.
These are a set of recognized human heuristics that can be used as tools to “lubricate” your conversion funnel from a persuasion point of view. An interesting note on this, “Cialdini was hired alongside many other behavioral scientists for the Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2012.” – Source where Optimizely founder Dan Siroker also worked. This is a very interesting fact because it’s where suddenly data and evidence-based marketing becomes mainstream. Here is a playlist ( It´s long so please, view the videos after reading the article) of Cialdini himself.
B.J. Fogg guides us through the mist and puts context-relevant triggers on an easy path for motivated users.
In other words, we make it as easy as possible for the user to convert, right at the time when the user wants to convert, in such a way that the user understands it and feels he can do whatever “converting” means.
Behavior happens when enough motivation meets contextual triggers and one feels optimistic about achieving the desired outcome.
In online marketing BJ Fogg´s model is interpreted as follows:
High motivation means that your customers are convinced that the solution you have is what they need as well as something that is socially acceptable. And you need to remind them of this throughout the sales funnel.
Ability refers to being able to do something when you need to do it. Otherwise, you will forget about it. Buy now! Buttons that stand out are great for this, because they may grab your attention, feel “easy” and reinforce your intent at the right time of conversion.
Triggers: Treat people as if you don´t ask them to do something they won’t. In this scenario, Drip campaigns have great triggers and SEM is also a great tool.
Neuromarketing is about understanding the way our organs of perception, decision making, and consciousness work in order to increase the performance of marketing strategies.
This body of knowledge is quite scientific and has been acquired through both online UX A/B testing and biometrics. This allows us to learn what the optimal way to better communicate our value proposition is both to our conscious self and our unconscious self in a strategic funnel built for the unconscious and conscious facets of our users.
The unconscious is a big thing for neuromarketing. The first barrier of communication we need to address is our reptilian brain or “cerebellum” which is mostly concerned aboutfood, knowing whether to run or to fight, sex, comfort, and familiarity. In other words, survival. From a neuromarketing perspective, the first thing you need to do is make the cerebellum “notice” the idea you are selling and “like” it almost at the same time, I say almost because attention comes first and emotional associations happen afterward.
Cognitive Heuristics and Biases
Cognitive heuristics and biases are short formulas that usually work well for us when we are not really paying attention, like driving or farting discreetly. (Just kidding, I´m sure there are scenarios of uncomfortable self-conscious and discrete farting, but look, a good piece of humor is a great way of attracting the attention that we talked about earlier, also familiarity.
Every time I do play with humor, I’ll wink ;). They are heuristics when they are adaptative when they work for you, but they are biased because they are not really describing reality, they are just giving you quick rules of thumb, so to speak. They are more of an “off the top of your head” and less of a “real quick estimate”. This is a list, to get you familiarized with this amazing subject:
False consensus bias: We think everybody else sees the world as we do. This worked well when we lived in small communities as nomads or very very early isolated agricultural communities, but as information from other parts of the world came to individuals, this heuristic started to become less valid, but our brains, kind of stuck with it because of the massive amount of time these heuristics world for us.
“Anchoring or focalism” is a cognitive bias where an individual depends too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (considered to be the “anchor”) to make subsequent judgments during decision making. For example: Read this entire book and make money fast and easily with no effort!
We recall the past in a self-serving manner, just ask a politician about his time “in office ;)”.
Recency Bias: “Recency bias is a cognitive bias that favors recent events over historic ones. A memory bias, recency bias gives “greater importance to the most recent event”, such as the final lawyer’s closing argument a jury hears before being dismissed to deliberate.” – Wikipedia.
Selective perception is the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that caused emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs. Just try explaining broccoli is healthier than sugar to a toddler, or teach an old dog new tricks ;).
Confirmation Bias: People have a tendency to confirm things they previously believed. Like the beginning of any marital argument that starts with “HA! I knew you did like my mother”;).
Congruence bias: We test only what we expect will work and sometimes fail to see alternative solutions.
We tend to “Self” validate our statistical trend assumptions based on little data that we think is a “fair” sample.
Visual scanning: People have developed highly common ways of understanding visual content, understanding this might help you better design visual layouts for better communication. These are some good thing to keep in mind that “most” people do in western cultures:
Dominant headlines draw the eye ;).
People view graphic layouts and text in an F pattern.
People view In a Zigg Zagg pattern.
Eyes go for the big things first (But also any primal threatening things like snakes, scorpions, or rats).
People will usually only scan through the first 3 results on Google, but they might do a z pattern scan when doing WordPress plugin searches.
The left side of the page gets more attention than the right.
Social Proof refers to third party evidence that supports the value proposition of a marketing campaign.
The aim is to make visitors feel more trust and security hoping this helps when making a conscientious buy or opt-in or convert. It’s unique to the customer’s situation and best for the seller if they are the ones handling the social proof that the customer is experiencing. Argumentatively its best for the customer if he or she looks for third-party examples from third-party informational resources. Here are some examples:
Allow customers to self-select, so you have to talk about something the customer understands and feels identified with. If I´m talking about a Guatemalan business and my customer is from the USA, I won’t sell it.
Can Act as an interesting point.
Case studies use the general story formula of before (pain points) during (Problem-solution aware) and happy ending.
Can support an actual claim.
Reviews and Testimonials: As a customer, I can feel reassured that other customers like me are getting good service. “We understand you”.
Reviews: The place where you talk about your experiences.
We all look at reviews before we go to a restaurant
We all look at the number of reviews and other data. This also provides a great sense of credibility, for example, 10,000 reviews mean, “10,000 customers already use the solution you are already thinking about.”
It’s great content marketing, we get people interested if we talk about the right social proof case. Word of mouth is a great, impossible to measure ( except in actual ROI).
Specific Proofs are also credible because we don’t expect a brand to blatantly like about something. Coke never says “This product will make you happy”… they just normalize the association of oxytocin creating media and their brand. (Which is basically the essence of branding).
It’s a way to self assess, as a customer, if I feel identified with the personas in the testimonial.
Conducting customer interviews for testimonials.
1. Get approval from a customer and legal department.
2. Customers must reflect the ideal persona
3. Customer needs to get 45 minutes of time for a good interview.
4. Ask for open questions, not YES, and NO.
5. Look for an interview structure that allows for a story to be defined with Before, during, and after.
Good specific questions to ask:
Before you bought this product/service, what was going on in the company that caused you to look for a solution like ours? (What was the pain point?)
What was your purchase experience like?
You might need to probe a bit to get a nice quote from your customers.
*Once you do, get the “quote” to be approved by the customer. Never publish without specific consent for the specific quote.
Where to include social proof?
Usages of social proof are set where we want the user to get past a pain point or an objection.
Use and test different mediums.
Specific, short, and sweet.
Actions vs Attitudes / Negative Social Proof
Negative social proof is a good way of letting others know you are not doctoring reviews.
Don´t scrub negative reviews. It’s important feedback too. Read them carefully.
Common mistakes about social proof.
Choosing customers that are not ideal customers.
Displaying the comments in a way that is not credible. (No name, no picture, no context, no narrative).
Not using it to support a specific claim.
Not using it to support a specific claim, it needs to be specific to the narrative, in the customer journey.
Links and proof of the testimonials. (Help users validate that this is legit).
Keep social proof fresh, here are some “fresh” ideas:
Our brains want to rationalize through others’ experiences.
Video can be an interesting avenue. Add video proof from customers.
Push all the social proof.
Audio/only… interesting new opportunity.
Emotional Content Strategy by Talia Wolf
Emotional content strategy relies on the feelings and needs that have been developed and associated with the motivation to buy. “It’s not about the product, it’s about how you feel while you are (using the product).” – Talia Wolf explains that emotional targeting for mobile is different from emotional targeting for desktop: Mobile is highly less converting, because we act differently than we act on desktops. People on mobile need a different user Journey that requires emotional triggers to beg for a little more time.
Talia’s Wolf´s Emotional Strategy Development Framework is a model enabled by her, to create great emotionally coherent and congruent content. Here is a video on it:
Variable reward schedules, marketing, and Neurochemistry as explained by Brian Cugelman
(Updates on this blog: Adding some thoughts from Brian Cugelman).
Brian Cugelman talks to us about Dopamine, along with some interesting information.
And how he manages online media:
About reward systems
Juan F. Aguilar is a web advisor, a Psychologist and self taught web developer, with over 18 years of experience empowering people to leverage web technologies in a smart and cost effective way. Specifcially in UX, CRO and SEO.
Juan has helped over hundreds of web based projects increase their utilities, either as a private contractor or consultant.
He has worked with big fast growing brands like HealthCare.com, StarMedia.com, XYZNetowork.com, RepublicaInmobiliaria.com and AntorchaDeportiva.com to small and medium sizef businesses trying to maximize their lead generation and general online strategy and results.
Connect with Juan on LinkedIn
I also write about important social issues of our current times, that are probably very relevant for you, you can find theme here.