Online psychologyThere is much advice about web page layout, the icons you might choose and where you should put certain items, such as a shopping cart. But these are mere window-dressing. As humans we only notice these things consciously after we have determined whether or not we like the page – and that takes less than a second.

So what can you communicate in fractions of seconds that will make your website visitors want to stay even longer?

Here are five tips that will help do that.

1. Demonstrate exactly what kind of site it is

When you land on the page you are reading there is plenty of visible text. It tells you straight away “this is a page that requires reading”. When you land on Facebook, you see lots of faces of lots of people saying lots of different things; instantly you know this is a page where people chat. When you land on YouTube, it says to you immediately “watch me”. Web page design needs to signal the single function that you want your visitors to take. In my case it is “read”, in Facebook’s case it is “chat”, on YouTube it is “watch”.  Far too many websites have designs that confuse because they have multiple functions – there’s a bit to read, something to watch, something else to engage with. It all ends up too confusing in that fraction of a second when we are making up our mind whether to linger or to click away.

2. Make people feel they belong

The pictures you include on your website should show the kind of people in the kind of activities that they identify with. Frequently on this website, for instance, you will find pictures of business people in business attire and activities. That’s because these kind of people are the main readers of this website. When they see pictures of “their kind” they feel the site is for them. Consider, for a moment, that your website promotes a wedding venue. You have pictures of lovely young couples. But what if the person looking for the venue is a grandmother, getting married for the second time, late in life after having been widowed? She is not going to identify with the young lovelies in the pictures and will be more likely to click away. The pictures on your web pages should help people feel they belong.

3. Limit choice

Far too often web pages give us too much choice. There’s a relationship between choice and activity. When humans are faced with too much choice they freeze, unable to decide. Research suggests people find it easier to choose when faced with just two or three options. So if you need to provide more than three options, turn that into a cascade of choices where people select from a couple of options first, then select the next option and so on until they get to their final choice. Web pages that offer people several choices make it harder for the individual to work out where to go next. It also means that “calls to action” are best if they involve little choice. Sometimes you see web pages that offer you various places to go, once you have arrived at the home page. If there are more than three main choices you make it harder for people to decide.

4. Use the right words

Research shows we can read the headline on a web page in a few hundred milliseconds after landing on it. People are assessing whether or not this page is what they want to look at and the words are assessed at an unconscious level providing data to our decision-making centres in our brain. If the words are not what they are looking for, their brain is already saying “this is not for me”.  There are 462m web pages with the headline “Welcome to my website”. I doubt if you have ever searched for that or your brain has ever gone “wow, that’s exactly what I am after”. Keyword research is essential – but it misses out the most important word that people are looking for: YOU. When your website uses the word “you” it signals that you are talking directly to the individual – it makes them feel the site is personally directed to them. Don’t you agree? Whoops, there I go again, making it about you.

5. Show them you care

Trust and credibility are important factors in making a decision as to whether to stay or go. One of the biggest triggers for increasing trust and credibility is getting the feeling that you are being cared for. Signals that you care for your visitors are essential. People look – often without realising it – for a phone number or email address so they can contact you if necessary. That means contact info needs to be visible on every page. They look to see that you are available and respond – do you have a chat facility, for instance? Do you have an FAQ page or a help section? People like to see that these things exist and that means they need to spot them instantly when they visit your page. Much of their searching is subconscious – people often scroll to the bottom of the page before quickly scrolling up to the top again, all within a second. When you assess what they were looking at, their eyes are going to the phone number in the footer for instance. They want reassurance they can call you if they need to. It is a subconscious assessment of whether or not you care.

So, there you have it, five over-arching psychological considerations that will help you shape your web pages for better connection to your visitors.


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