4 Ways to Make Your Website More Persuasive

Last Updated Jun 20, 2011 12:52 PM EDT

By Bryan Zmijewski
I won't go so far as to say people are lemmings, but... most of us need validation from others before we will take action. In fact, some sociologists think upwards of 95 percent of the population are "imitators." Think about the last time you wanted to try a new restaurant or look for a new doctor. You probably asked people you know for suggestions, then based your choice on what your friends recommended most.

Online services and websites work in much the same way. They tend to take on a life of their own once they've reached critical mass, but before then customers need proof that they'll get something useful before they take a chance on a new website. That's where the art of social persuasion comes in.

The idea of using social persuasion as a Web design tool is a fairly new, but very effective concept. Here are a few small ways to make your business' website more persuasive:

  • A well-placed customer testimonial on a purchase page goes a long way toward encouraging someone to take the next step in the transaction process. It's an old-school advertising tactic, but it still works. Take a look at how HotGloo does this on its paid plan page or how Visual Website Optimizer puts a nice testimonial right next to the Buy button. Corporate and press logos can have the same effect. CampaignMonitor's sign up page is a great example of this -- the company advertises that it has high-profile customers such as Facebook and Apple right next to the form a new customer would fill out to create an account.
  • Twitter follower counts, Facebook "likes," RSS counters, and the like are fantastic tools for convincing your Web visitors that other people come to your site and find your content worth reading, buying, and sharing. Mashable is a great example of this in action. Next to each headline on its homepage, the site prominently features the number of tweets for each article. Knowing how many other people are reading and sharing the article entices new visitors to click through. Let visitors know there's something on the page that others found interesting.
  • Transparency of information helps convince people to buy. Take Amazon, for example. The site features the most helpful critical review right beside the most helpful favorable review on the product page. The transparency often catches people by surprise and prompts them to respond to these reviews and add their own after they try the product.
  • "Scarcity through consumption," used wisely, is also a very effective persuasion tool. When the number of opportunities to buy what you're selling decline, customer interest increases. Nobody wants to miss out on a great deal that everyone else is jumping on. Websites like Woot! and Homerun.com create a fever by limiting the number of deals and for how long they're available for purchase.
Customers are thinking, sentient beings with the ability to make up their own mind, but they're also not immune to a little nudging from peers. Harness that natural human tendency on your website and put it to good use.

Bryan Zmijewski is the Chief Instigator at ZURB an interaction design firm which helps companies design better products & services through consulting, products (such as Verify and Notable), education, training and events. Since 1998 ZURB has helped over 100 clients including: Facebook, eBay, Yahoo, NYSE, Zazzle, Playlist, Britney Spears among others. Follow ZURB on Twitter.