This site is dedicated to helping you understand online behaviour by providing you with blog posts, articles, news items, multimedia and downloads on web psychology

Why do people search for a business? So they can phone you

Website owners like to think that their business is all online. But that fails to take into account that human beings live in the “real world” not the virtual one. Over in the “real world” people still like talking to each other, meeting up with each other and doing business face-to-face.

It is rather like the notion of the “paperless office”.  Thirty years ago when desktop computers were being introduced into the office, people were claiming it would lead to a business world without paper. Since that time, sales of office paper have rocketed and there are few offices that do not have printers near each desk. The computer did not herald the arrival of a paperless office at all.

With the arrival of the web and email, a similar prediction was made – that we’d all be doing business virtually, rather than meeting up in the real world. In reality, things like social media platforms have triggered more meetings. Indeed, without arranging meetings in the real world through Facebook, Eventbrite or Meetup, for instance, there would be far fewer coffee shops than is now the case. Indeed, as the use of the Internet has risen so has the number of coffee shops. Could there be a connection?

What the Internet does is help facilitate more real world business than before. Yet many website owners persist in the view that they can rid themselves of this time-consuming real world activity and do everything at supposedly lower cost in the virtual world.

Perhaps new research from Invoca will change their mind. This study shows that one of the main reasons people look up a website is to find the phone number of the business. Indeed, 45% of calls appear to come immediately after a search on a mobile device.

Chart showing source of business calls

Clearly, people with a phone in their hand are more likely to want a phone number than anything else. Interestingly, though, the phone calls made after searching for a website on a mobile phone are only about half the length of phone calls made when someone is not mobile.

Also, what was interesting in the research on desktop search was that many people are looking for a map or directions to the company. In other words, whether it is a desktop search or a mobile phone search for a business, the focus was very much on engaging in the real world.

It seems that website owners are missing a trick if they do not emphasise their real world presence. Your mobile site should have the phone number as its most prominent feature and your desktop site should have clear labelling for a map and directions.

Far from using the web to divert customers away from the real world to the virtual one, we ought to be using the Internet to drive more people to our real world business.

Category: Online Business

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Customers do not “love” your brand

Love heartsBrand experts love to tell us that we should aim to get people to “love” our brand. Indeed, they point out that brands like Apple or Coca-Cola are adored so much that the fans simply “love” them.  The legions of people standing outside an Apple Store the night before a new iPhone is launched seems testament to this. As does the notion that Coke fans believe they can tell the difference between their brand and a competing drink such as Pepsi.

Research, however, shows different. In blind taste tests, Coca-Cola “lovers” cannot spot their adored brand as easily as they think they can. Furthermore, many of the people queuing for the latest iPhone are not users of the Apple product; instead they stand there in line as a service to the iPhone user who so “loves” their brand they cannot be bothered to queue up themselves.

A new study looked at brand “love” in a novel way. The researchers from Germany tested the physical reactions of people to exposure to the brands they “loved” and compared the findings to seeing images of their romantic partners. It is well-known, for instance, that when you see a picture of your loved ones your heart beats a little faster, your body warms up a little, and you produce slightly more sweat.

The volunteers in this study did indeed show such expected reactions when they saw images of their romantic partners. But these physical effects were not demonstrated when the participants were shown images of the brands they declared their “love” for. The reactions to favoured brands were equivalent to seeing images of friends only.

The study also found that the reasons we “love” a brand are based on rational decisions, like an assessment of quality. Such rational decisions are absent in real “love” between romantic partners. This further emphasises the fact that people do not “love” brands after all.

What does this mean for your business? It suggests you are wasting your time trying to get people to love your brand. Instead, get them to focus on those rational attributes such as quality. Tell them all about those things, rather than trying to woo them. Customers cannot be wooed it seems.

Category: Online Business


Do your product pages really need pictures?

Every marketer you speak with is bound to tell you that you sell benefits, not features. Most online stores are lists of features, rather than benefits. Amazon, for instance, doesn’t tell you the benefits of buying its products. Instead, it shows all of the technical details, lists of features and several images so you can see every aspect of what you intend to buy.

The world’s most successful online consumer retail store is clearly going against centuries of marketing advice. So how come Amazon sells billions of dollars of goods by focusing on features, not benefits?

The answer to that was in a blog post I wrote nearly three years ago about the confidence levels of consumers. People with lower levels of confidence tend to focus on features, rather than benefits.

From a marketing perspective that is important. If your customers are confident kind of people, they’ll focus more on the benefits. And therein lies another issue – the kind of pictures you use, or indeed whether or not you should use pictures at all.

The parade of pictures on Amazon are feature-based; they do not sell the benefits. So what kind of pictures might you need if your website has to sell benefits instead of features?

New research suggests you should not have pictures at all. A study conducted at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, found that people can focus their attention much more accurately when they visualise than when they are shown images. In other words, your attention is better focused when you create the images in your head rather than seeing those images.

Several years ago I worked with a group of Olympic athletes preparing for the Games in Sydney, Australia. I remember asking a leading sprinter “what do you look at when you are at the start?” He was completely clear with his answer – “nothing”. He looked at nothing – he was oblivious to everything going on around him. All he was doing was visualising his finish, breaking through the finishing line in the next 10 seconds or so. All successful athletes I have met do the same thing; they do not look at anything – they visualise the finish.

This suggests that the new research has a point. When people visualise, they appear to be able to focus better and pay more attention to what is important. You can use that principle in your product pages. All you need to do is to use word pictures or stories of the benefits, rather than showing pictures of the products you sell. That way, people will translate those stories and word pictures into images inside their heads, visualising those benefits. In turn, that means they will be more focused on buying.

Category: Internet Marketing

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What is the fastest way to write engaging email subject lines?

Newspaper Headlines

The Huffington Post writes several headlines for every article and then tests them to see which one works best. Over at Upworthy, they write 25 headlines for every article and will measure which one gets the most readers, ultimately sticking with that one. Headline writing for popular media sites is now as much of a science as it is an art.

But there is a message in their methodology. If your headline is not right, you won’t get readers in this fast-paced, distraction-heavy online world. These sites often spend more time on writing the headlines than they do on the article or blog post itself. Indeed, in the world of newspapers the people writing the headlines are usually paid more than the writers of the text below them. Not only that, big-selling tabloids usually have a couple of people whose sole job is to write the front page “splash” headline.

When it comes to email, the subject line is your headline. It is the first thing people see, and it is instrumental in helping recipients make the decision whether or not to open the message.

So the question is, how many alternative subject lines do you write for your emails? Do you split test your email subject lines to find the ones with the best open rates? It is also worthwhile reflecting on how much time you spend writing the subject line, compared with the text of the email itself. If you want the best open rates – particularly for marketing emails – you need to spend more time writing the subject line than you do in writing the email itself.

However, this all takes time. So, how can you write truly engaging email subject lines without spending hours on them? The answer is found in new research that investigated the engagement rate of different kinds of email subject lines.

The study looked at more than 9 million email subject lines in over 3,000 companies sending out emails to more than 2 million people. So it is a substantial study.

Contrary to popular belief, the research discovered that there was no relationship between the length of the subject line and open rates.


The study also found there were some real “turn-off” words in subject lines, including the often used word “free” as well as “secret of” – both words that so-called Internet Marketing Gurus recommend you use.

What is more important is that the “call to action” is at the beginning of the subject, rather than at the end. Furthermore, the study revealed that there were some words that had a positive effect on opening rates such as “still time” or “fastest”. This suggests people prefer saving time to saving money.

So how can you use this information to speed up your subject line writing?

The first thing to realise is that in spite of what many people say, stop worrying about fitting your subject line into a certain number of characters. Focus on the quality of your subject, not the quantity of the characters. That will speed your writing up.

Next, forget trying to squeeze in all those so-called marketing phrases such as “free” or “secrets” and so on. Again, you are less creative with headline writing when you feel compelled to use particular words. When you remove the pressure for specific wording, you’ll write more quickly.

You could stimulate your subject line writing by using some tools, such as Content Row’s title generator, the browser extension Headlinr or the WordPress plug-in KingSumo Headlines.

You could also check out each subject line you write using the Headline Analyzer or the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer.

Three steps to fast subject line writing

  1. Focus on the reader and tell them immediately what action to take
  2. Forget about the length of the headline or using so-called trigger wording
  3. Check you subject line using an analysis tool

That’s it – do that and your subject lines will engage people and you will get higher open rates. However, it is worthwhile focusing more attention on the subject line than on the email itself.

Category: Email


Modern website design ignores Gestalt psychology

Website showing on tablet device

Many modern website designs feature massive images and blocks of text. You have to scroll down to see each new piece of content or to find further details.

The reason so many websites have this kind of design is because of the growing trend for tablets. People with these mobile devices like to flick through each screen of information, and it grabs their attention when it is big and bold.

The problem for this kind of design is something known as “Gestalt Psychology”. This is the process whereby we understand the whole thing from the sum of its parts.

There are several “laws” of Gestalt psychology, one of which directly impacts upon a website’s ability to get people engaged. This is the “law of closure”. Effectively it means our brains automatically complete things, even if they are not actually completed. For instance, in the diagram below you will see a circle and a rectangle, even though all you are actually shown is a series of lines. Your brain is putting those lines together to form a whole, even though it is not there.

Gestalt closure

This is a real problem for modern website design. Because the big bold sections make people feel as though the element is complete, there is no incentive or apparent reason to scroll down. Consequently, people often only see the top section of web pages designed in this way and do not look further.

Eye tracking studies and website heatmap studies confirm this. Clicktale, for instance has shown that horizontally blocked design makes us feel as though the page is complete and hence we do not scroll down.

Overcoming Gestalt laws in modern design

The “trick” to avoiding people thinking the page is complete is to make sure it isn’t. Web pages need to break in places that a designer would say “looks bad”, such as through the middle of text or though a portion of an image. That way you interfere with the sense of completeness, encouraging people to scroll down.

Some websites also use design features such as a line with a downward arrow suggesting to people that they should scroll the page. The following block might appear at the bottom of the screen, for instance, demonstrating the need to go downwards. In Gestalt psychology this down arrow signals lack of completeness, inviting people to wonder what they cannot see.

Gestalt scroll indicator

The laws of Gestalt psychology also apply to other areas of your web design. Often, forms do not get the submissions that website owners want or expect because the form design has broken one of the laws of Gestalt. SmartForms has an article where you can find out more about using Gestalt to design great forms.

You can also used Gestalt psychology to sell more online.

Modern design trends may look great, but they are not that good for business if you don’t take into account the Gestalt effect.

Category: Internet Psychology

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