Five Psychological Tips for Websites

Connecting with the digital brainGetting people to engage with your website and to click on anything is an ever increasing problem. The number of available web pages is rising dramatically – 40 new websites are created every single minute of each day. And together with the existing websites (all 260 million of them) Google reckons there are more than 1 billion pages of new content being added every day…! We are swimming against the tide of never-ending information it seems. On top of this, there is some evidence that our attention span is shortening. In the past we could pay attention to information for a relatively long time measured in minutes; nowadays in many instances it is mere seconds.

For website owners and their designers this poses a huge problem. How do you gain that attention when people will only give you a very short amount of time and your content is mixed up in an ocean of information that grows deeper and wider by the second? It’s tough online nowadays.

Here are my five top tips for increasing your website engagement.

1. Aim for the subconscious
Whatever you may think, your subconscious brain is actually in control. We might believe we have free choice, that we make decisions based on logic and that we are in charge of our thoughts and actions – but the evidence suggests otherwise. Considerable amounts of what you do each day, the decisions you make and the thoughts you have happen without you being conscious of them. So too is the case for your website visitors; they will decide whether or not to stay on your website or whether or not to click on something following some subconscious activity in their brain. Tap into that and you are almost home and dry. But how? All the research shows that what the subconscious brain is really doing is protecting us. It is trying to provide us with the right decisions so we get enough food, so that our species reproduces and so that we are fulfilled. That means what your website needs to do is appeal to these basic instincts. If your website focuses on people as individuals, if you refer to them as “you” constantly, speaking to them directly, you appeal to their subconscious processes. If your website hardly ever uses the word “you” then the chances are you are losing people more often than you would like. Websites that talk directly to people as individuals are the ones that succeed because they trigger those subconscious processes – “this website is about me”.

2. Target the hunger reflex
Millions of years of evolution have made us focus on things which are scarce. When we had to spend most of our days hunting and gathering food in order to survive our brains learned to focus on scarcity. If food was scarce we became even more interested in it. Deep within your head is a process which makes us really, really interested in anything scarce. In the past it meant the difference between survival and death. Our hunger makes us interested in scarce things. So, if your website offers a plentiful supply of whatever it is you are selling, it becomes less interesting. If your website is selling your services and you are always available, people become less interested in you. Scarcity increases interest. So, make sure your website includes some indication of scarcity of your resources or products; that way people instinctively become more interested in your site.

3. Focus on connecting
People are social. There is a reason for this: without being social we would never meet potential partners and so our species would never reproduce..! Socialising is an essential component of human life; without it there is no human life. Furthermore, we are successful as a species because our genetics is very mixed up. The more a species mixes up its gene pool, the greater the chances of adapting. So, the immense amount of socialisation that humans do means our genes get really mixed up and that makes our species much more successful. It all means that people cannot help themselves if your website is social. Whether you use memberships, forums, comments or add in social networking site widgets, it doesn’t matter. All that you need is a signal that your site is social and that you are prepared to mix with the group as well. The more social your website the more you’ll succeed in grabbing that online attention.

4. Make it seem like them
Even though we do socialise, we do tend to do it with people who are most like us. It might be a truism or not that people look like their dogs. But when you look for a friend or partner you tend to opt for someone who is similar to you in several respects. It may be similarity in thinking or often it is similarity in looks, but within your social circles there are many more similarities than there are differences. People like things that are like them. So your website needs to be made in the image of your visitors. If they are young and trendy, your website needs to be like that even if you are not. If they are old and boring, the same is true – your website needs to look old and boring even if you are young and trendy. As soon as people land on a site and see “this is my kind of site” they are much more likely to stay. Yet with the plethora of templates and blog themes available, far too many websites are being designed that look good, but are not in the “eye of the beholder”. You will only attract people to stay with your website if they think it is “like them”.

5. Reduce brain effort
Your brain consumes 20% of your calorie intake every day. It works very hard and never really switches off; even dreaming is a massive brain activity. Consequently our brains have processes which try to reduce overall effort. Our brains seek the easiest way out, in order to conserve energy requirements. One of the reasons why people don’t pay much attention to websites these days is because those sites make our brains work too hard. So we give up – our brain tells us “this is going to be too much effort, let’s get out of here”. A significant effort takes place in decision-making – everything we do each day involves decisions. Your brain has just decided whether or not to continue reading (thanks for doing so, by the way) but each new word you read involves a decision as to whether or not to continue. Decisions are fundamental to us and sometimes take a lot of effort. Many websites pose too many decisions – where to look, which item to choose, what kind of delivery..? Oh heck, I don’t know, I give up…! So offer your website visitors FEWER decisions. Make it all straightforward, one step at a time. If you reduce the number of decisions people have to make, they’ll pay more attention to your website.

So, there you have it – my top 5 Psychological Tips for Websites. There are many more besides these of course, but what is necessary these days in that ocean of information and that ever decreasing human attention span is focus on the visitor and how they are thinking and behaving. Only by doing that can you really hope to truly engage them.

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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones

@grahamjones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
RT @SteveHeadSpeaks: Thanks to @GuidesForBrides for having @ChrisHeadMagic at #ukwedconf @MiltonHillhotel learning from the best @grahamjon - 10 hours ago
Graham Jones

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