5 Psychologically Proven Principles to Boost Conversions on Your Website

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Visitors land on your site, but how often do they convert? You’ve optimized according to best practices and thoroughly tested your website, but that isn’t always enough to get the sale. Luckily, there are five psychologically proven principles you can follow to increase conversions.

When it comes to conversion optimization, most people think “copy,” “headline,” “A/B testing,” or “traffic source” are the only things that matter, but good conversion optimization goes beyond that. While those four things are essential, often there are more important underlying factors — deeply rooted in psychology — that can quadruple your conversion rate.

For example, do you know that being introduced to a number in relation to a question — high or low — can influence your answer to that question? Or that the number of choices you introduce to people can drastically influence their ability to make a decision? By keying into multiple psychology studies and research, this article shares five psychologically proven ways to boost conversion on your website.

Principle #1: People Want More Choices, But They Need Fewer Choices

It is easy to assume that the best way to increase conversions is to present people with a lot of options, but research indicates otherwise. Psychology shows that too many choices can be paralyzing. A case against giving customers too many choices was deftly presented in Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice,” and a notable study of reference that demonstrates the danger of giving customers too many choices is the famous “Jam Study” published by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper.

The study, titled “When Choice Is Demotivating,” observed the actions of consumers shopping at an upscale grocery store. Consumers were introduced to a tasting booth that displayed either a limited (six) or an extensive (24) selection of different flavors of jam. The findings were surprising!

The study revealed that the booth with more choices attracted more consumer attention (60 percent of people who encountered the booth stopped to have a look compared to just 40 percent of consumers who encountered the booth featuring limited choices) but sales from the limited booth outperformed sales from the extensive booth by a factor of 10 to 1 (30 percent of people who encountered the booth with limited selection bought jam compared to a meager 3 percent of people who encountered the booth with extensive selections).

The jam study proved that while we are psychologically inclined to find more choices alluring, having too many choices paralyzes our decision making; we become so excited about the number of choices that we decide not to act. The key then to getting people to take action is to limit their choices. The jam study isn’t an isolated example, and this TED blog references several other examples showing that people are less likely to make a decision when presented with too many choices.

Lesson: Present people with very few choices. If possible, give them just one choice. The more choices you make available, the more your conversions will suffer.

Principle #2: Decoy Price Your Way to Increased Sales

We all like to get a bargain.

The Decoy Effect (also known as the Asymmetrical Dominance Effect) is “the phenomenon whereby consumers will tend to have a specific change in preference between two options when also presented with a third option that is asymmetrically dominated.”

In more simple terms, the Decoy Effect is a process where a ridiculous option is introduced in addition to other options to draw more attention to the primary option you want people to take. Essentially, the new offer seems so outlandish that it makes your “main” offer seem like a bargain. One of the most popular examples of decoy pricing in use is by The Economist. They offered three main types of subscriptions:

  • Web Subscription (costs $59)
  • Print Subscription (costs $125)
  • Web and Print Subscription (costs $125)

While the $59 for the “Web” subscription seemed reasonable, it seems to be a mistake that both the “Print” subscription and the “Web and Print” subscription each cost $125. In reality, this was no mistake. The “Print” subscription was intentionally introduced, as a decoy price, to make the “Web and Print” subscription more attractive. Guess what? It worked. In an attempt to observe the effectiveness of this technique, Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational,” asked his group of 100 students at MIT to choose a subscription based on the pricing technique used by The Economist. Here are the results below:

  • Web Subscription (costs $59: chosen by 16 students)
  • Print Subscription (costs $125: chosen by zero students)
  • Web and Print Subscription (costs $125: chosen by 84 students)

Not only did the introduction of the Print subscription make the “Web and Print” Subscription more attractive, but it made the “Web” subscription even less attractive.

Lesson: Decoy pricing can be used to draw attention to a package you want more people to select. Introduce a seemingly inferior package at the same rate as your best package, or at a higher rate, and watch as more people rush to get your best package because they feel it is a bargain.

Principle #3: Use the Anchoring Effect to Make Your Customers Feel They’ve Got a Bargain

The Anchoring Effect is predicated upon the fact that the first piece of information you get about something will influence your final decision. For example, say you were shopping for a gadget and found that it typically costs around $1,500. Since this is the first rate you were introduced to, and especially if this rate appears elsewhere, the $1,500 becomes a reference point that you use to judge additional information in regards to that same gadget. In this case, finding the gadget for $900 on your site (even if that’s the gadget’s real price or even if it shouldn’t cost as much) instantly seems like a bargain.

The Anchoring Effect was demonstrated in a 1974 study by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in which they asked people to estimate the percentage of African countries that were members of the United Nations. Before the subjects were allowed to answer, a random number was generated by a spinning wheel. Participants were then asked if the number of African countries in the UN were higher or lower than that number.

Unknown to the participants, however, the numbers generated weren’t random. The spinning wheel was rigged to either show the number 10 or 65. For participants exposed to the number 10, the average response was that 25 percent of African countries were a part of the UN. For participants exposed to the number 65, the average response was 45 percent. Being exposed to a higher number made participants more likely to choose a higher percentage and vice versa.

Lesson: The anchoring effect can be used to reduce people’s objections to prices of your products. If you sell a product for $1,000 and have primed the customer to realize that products of the same nature come in the $9,000 range, they feel like they are getting a bargain as soon as you tell them that your product really costs $1,000.

Principle #4: Use Scarcity to Quadruple Your Sales

In a 1975 study titled “Effects of Supply and Demand on Ratings of Object Value” psychologists Worchel, Lee, and Adewole observed 200 female undergraduates and how they rated the value and attractiveness of cookies depending on whether the cookies were available in abundant or scarce supply.

They gave a group of students a jar containing 10 cookies, and they gave another group of students an identical jar containing just two cookies. They then asked the participants how they valued the cookies; the findings revealed that participants valued the jar with fewer cookies more highly than the jar with more cookies.

To further validate the effect of scarcity on how study participants valued the cookies, the psychologists then removed eight cookies from the jar with 10 cookies, and added eight cookies to the jar with just two cookies. The participants who originally had 10 cookies but now just two valued the cookies more, while the participants who suddenly had more cookies found theirs less valuable.

What this study shows us is that we find things that are available in large quantities to be less valuable while we hold more valuable things that are in scarce supply.

Lesson: You can also use this principle to boost sales. Use limited time offers, countdowns, and limited quantity offers to boost sales of your products.

Principle #5: Tap Into People’s Innate Tendency to Obey Authority

Research shows that we have an innate tendency to obey authority: this was demonstrated by the famous Milgram experiments which were a series of social psychology experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram. The experiments measured the willingness of participants to inflict pain on an ordinary citizen simply because the participant was ordered by an experimental scientist to do so.

The experimental scientist in this case presented themselves as an authority and subject-matter-expert. The aim of the experiment was to observe how far people were willing to inflict pain on others if they were told to do so by an authority figure. The findings revealed that people were highly likely to do something, even if it inflicted harm on others to the point of death, if they were asked to do so by people in position of moral or legal authority.

Lesson: People naturally obey authority, and rarely think logically about actions once asked to do so by an authority. You can key into this by having people perceived as authorities and influencers within your industry endorse your offer. This makes it a no-brainer for your audience.

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