5 ways to use cognitive biases to your advantageAt its core, conversion optimization is all about psychology. Make sure you understand how people think and what motivates them in their decision-making and leverage that knowledge to optimize your marketing.

Cognitive biases – we all have them quietly working behind the scenes, shaping how we view the world. From jumping to a faulty conclusion without having all the facts to rationalizing a decision after it has been made, the human brain has an entire toolkit of ways it processes information that makes each person see things a little differently. Even people who think of themselves as totally rational and logical individuals have cognitive biases at work, continuously distorting how they perceive things. In fact, some cognitive biases are so widespread that you can actually expect most of your web visitors to have them. And this can be very useful to you as a marketer.

Here are five cognitive biases that you can leverage to increase conversion rates and make your website more effective.

The Von Restorff Effect

According to the Von Restorff Effect, items that are especially distinctive and stand out are more likely to be remembered than items that blend in with their background. This is why so many students highlight key points in their textbooks when studying: they’ve learned that it is easier to remember the information that is highlighted because it stands out from the rest of the text. This principle is not only applicable when you are reviewing for finals, however – it also can have a big effect on conversion rates.

Von Restorff EffectYou can leverage the Von Restorff Effect to design your website so that customers will pay attention to what you want them to see and remember. For example, you want them to pay attention to your call-to-action (CTA) button. How did you select the color of this button? Did you select a color that works well with the rest of the page and flows nicely, or did you go for big and bold? The Von Restorff Effect suggests you may want to go with the latter.

Similarly, consider any specific facts you want potential customers to remember. Maybe you have great stats on the success rates of customers who have used your product or service. Use fonts, colors, and formatting to draw your visitor’s eye and make the info stand out. According to the Von Restorff Effect, doing so will help customers remember this information and, if you\’ve done your job well, increase the likelihood they will convert. Be sure to use some sort of attention heat map tool like AttentionWizard to ensure you get the visual emphasis just right.

The Serial Position Effect

Serial Position EffectAccording to this phenomenon, when people are viewing items in a list, they are more inclined to remember the items that come first and last than what comes in the middle.

Do you put client logos on your website? Do you organize your features and benefits into bulleted lists? Chances are you tend to list things in order of priority, with the most important up top and descending in importance as the reader moves down the list. You probably didn’t know that many studies have been able to plot a curve that shows how well people remember items on a list. The results are always the same: the memory high points are at the beginning and end of the list, and the lowest points are in the middle. So reorganize those logos and lists, putting the most significant portions of information at the beginning and the end. The things in the middle may be quickly scanned over, but positioning your key items first and last will help focus your customers\’ attention on what\’s most important.

The Framing Effect

People react to a particular choice in different ways, depending on whether a specific option is presented as positive or negative. This is called framing. For example, college students threatened with a late fee will more inclined to register for their graduation on time than those enticed by an early registration discount. This type of psychological effect can influence everything from decision-making about graduation gowns to whether or not defendants accept plea bargains in the court room. It also influences the probability of people converting on a web page.

framing effectAccording to psychologists, since bad experiences are stronger than good experiences, losses are felt more strongly than gains, and thus the fear of loss is more motivating that the potential for gain. Imagine the profound effect this simple principle could have on your messaging. As a marketer, you\’re trying to persuade visitors to do something (make a purchase, sign up for a trial, give you their email, etc.), and your messaging probably focuses on the many ways doing so will benefit them. But knowing about the power of negative framing, what if you tested an alternate approach that emphasized what could be lost (or not gained)? Since the framing effect has consistently proven to be one of the strongest biases in decision-making, you may test your way to a new messaging strategy that dramatically increases your conversion rate.

The Picture Superiority Effect

Picture Superiority EffectImages are much more powerful and memorable than text – a phenomenon called the picture superiority effect. It\’s probably not surprising to you that pictures are more easily recognized and recalled than words, but did you know that when text is paired with images, the content is even easier to remember? This is especially true when the time someone is exposed to the information is limited, which is exactly the case when someone comes to your web site.

Not only do people remember visual input better, but they also process visual information 60,000 times faster than text. This puts some pressure on you as a marketer to get the image just right. Don’t think of your imagery as a design element – think of it as a communication vehicle. Know that your images are communicating more than your text is, cementing themselves into your visitors’ brains as a concrete concept. Also remember that your images are not only giving your visitors their very first pre-conscious impression of your site, but will also be the lasting memory that stays with them longer than any headline, copy, or call-to-action text.

The Bandwagon Effect

Svg+xml,%3Csvg%20xmlns%3D%27http%3A%2F%2Fwww.w3We may hate to admit it, but apparently we like doing what other people are doing. And the more popular something gets, the greater the probability of even more people trying it. This is known as the bandwagon effect, and it is largely responsible for many of the kooky fashion trends that you end up wearing even after swearing you never would.

Social media is prime real estate for putting the bandwagon effect to work to your advantage. When people see that their friends like a certain page, they will be more inclined to like the page as well. But even on your website you can leverage the bandwagon effect by proudly displaying how many customers you’ve served, by showing ratings and reviews, and by putting social share buttons with counters on your blog posts and event registration pages, showing how popular they’ve become with other readers.

Selling to the Brain

At its core, conversion optimization is all about psychology – convincing an individual to perceive your company in a certain way and to make a decision to do business with you. Make sure you understand how people think and what motivates them in their decision-making and leverage that knowledge to optimize your marketing.

This article originally appeared in Tim’s ClickZ column June 10, 2014

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