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5 psychological hacks to increase your website’s conversion rates

Conversion optimisation specialist Peter Boyle delves into your customers’ minds to give you 5 psychological hacks to increase conversions on your website.

You’re no fool.

You know exactly what it takes to increase your conversions. Testing and research.

Run a split test, identify the better variant, scrap the under performing variable, rinse and repeat. Simple.

Before long you’ll be seeing huge gains and a conversion rate that would make even Amazon jealous, right? Maybe, but probably not.

Having such a data centric approach is great for measuring effectiveness, but it doesn’t help understand how you’re going to improve underperforming variables. You’ll identify poorly converting variables, but you won’t know what to do to improve them.

Without looking at how to improve your variables any tests you run are little better than guesswork, sure you might get lucky every so often, but generally speaking you’re not going to see any meaningful gains.

So what’s the remedy preventing a guesswork approach and identifying exactly how you can increase conversions?


You don’t need to be the next Sigmund Freud but having a basic understanding of the psychological principles of persuasion will drastically increase the effectiveness of your copy and your conversions.

Here’s a look at five psychological principles you can use to increase the effectiveness of your copy.

The pleasure principle

Speaking of Freud let’s kick this list off with one of his principles, the Freudian Pleasure Principle.

In short, the principle outlines how we all seek pleasure and avoid pain. Common sense right?

The principle’s pretty obvious, but how do pleasure and pain fit into ecommerce and online businesses?

Pain = Cost

Pleasure = Benefit

For conversions to increase, the benefit (or pleasure) of an action must outweigh the cost (or pain).

Don’t mistake ecommerce customer costs as purely financial. Costs come in all forms, from the clicking of a button to the submission of card details. Think of every conscious action a customer might take as a potential cost.

Whilst no means exhaustive, below you’ll find a table which lists some of the more common costs and benefits for online businesses.

Costs and benefits

When addressing the balance between cost and benefit, don’t make the mistake of thinking your free email or consultation deliverable is what your prospect really wants.

In the table above, each benefit is nothing more than a vehicle. Your prospects aren’t interested in the vehicle, but rather where it’s going to take them.

What’s more likely to get you to hand over your email address? The simple promise of a conference call, or a detailed breakdown of benefits including:

• Identifying profit losing areas of your business

• Receiving a free, individual sales/marketing strategy

• Specific pricing advice etc.

Ted Levitt nailed the concept when referring to the sale of a drill bit, he says,

“People don’t buy a quarter-inch drill bit, they buy a quarter-inch hole. You’ve got to study the hole, not the drill. The drill is just the solution for it.”

The consultation is just like the drill bit. It’s the vehicle, your prospects are interested in the destination.

Focus on the specific benefits your prospects will receive. Everyone is looking for a solution to their problems, show them how your product can alleviate their pain and you’re more than halfway to convincing prospects to purchase.

Trust and credibility

You’ve heard the saying ‘customers buy from people they like’, right? There’s truth in the old axiom, but I think it’s more accurate to say ‘customers buy from people they trust’.

If you were approached by a stranger who offered a new Apple watch for £100, would you buy it? Of course, you wouldn’t. Any sane person would question the legitimacy of the product and the intentions of the salesman.

You don’t know or trust him, so you wouldn’t buy.

The same principle applies to online businesses. If you can’t instil a sense of trust in your prospects they’re never going to buy from you. There’s no quick fix to building trust, but there are a few best practices to help grease the wheels.

Social proof

No one trusts the man who says ‘don’t worry, you can trust me’. In fact, the knee-jerk reaction to that statement is often one of distrust.

No one’s going to believe your trust building claims because you’ve got an agenda. They buy, you profit. Your word counts for very little. That’s why you’ve got to let your customers build trust for you.

Testimonials and user reviews are the staple of many large commerce sites and with good reason. They work.

Reviews, in particular, are some of the most persuasive trust building elements around. Prospects believe the reviews of existing customers, be they good or bad because reviewers are impartial and have nothing to gain.

According to iPerceptions, 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site which has user reviews. Research from Reevoo supports this, reporting an 18% uplift in sales for products and services with reviews.

How social proof increases sales

Trust seals

In ecommerce everything hinges on trust. You can’t expect someone to input their card details or fork over their hard earned cash if they don’t trust you.

Whilst testimonials and user reviews can help build this trust, when the exchange of money is concerned you’re better off utilising a third party trust seal.

Trust seals are those tiny little badges trustworthy sites add to their purchase pages saying things like ‘PayPal verified’ or ‘McAfee secure’. They verify the legitimacy of your site and reduce anxiety as all data is secured by a reputable third party.

Trust marks

Trust seals may be small, but their effect is profound. An Econsultancy study indicates that trust seals instil the greatest sense of trust in customers when shopping online.

• Trust signals are imperative to the successful enhancement of your brand and growth of your business.


Urgency / scarcity

Cart abandonment has unfortunately become a major part of the buying cycle. It’s a considerable ecommerce concern predicted to cost online businesses somewhere in the region of $1.5 trillion this year.

According to The Baymard Institute’s list of 31 cart abandonment rates, ecommerce companies can expect between 50% and 80% of their prospects to abandon their carts.

That means even the highest converting products out there still lose 50% of their customers at the final stage of their funnel.

Why? Often because of friction causing elements that cause prospects to stop and reconsider their purchase.

Thankfully there’s a simple solution to negate the effect of last minute friction and drastically reduce cart abandonment. It’s a simple method that plays on a prospect’s fear of missing out.

Adding a time or quantity limit to your sales can actually suspend logical thought and stimulate a quick action. The fear of missing out on a good thing is a catalyst that kicks all other conversion tactics into overdrive.

By adding a simple time limit and product counter to a split test, Marcus Taylor increased the conversion of a single landing page by 332%!

Landing page conversion rates

Creating a sense of urgency is also incredibly simple. Generally speaking there’s two methods online retailers use:

Time Sensitive

Time sensitive deals add a time limit to the offer. It’s a method successfully implemented by companies including eBay, Amazon, and Groupon.

Daily deals

Limiting time forces prospects to take immediate action. Those who add products to their cart to purchase later have to buy now or they risk missing out.

Limited stock

Knowing there’s only a handful of products is a sure fire way to tempt indecisive prospects into purchasing. Travel sites use stock limitations to great effect.

In the below screenshot from, you can see how they’ve supercharged the effectiveness of stock scarcity by adding the time the last room was booked.

Adding a sense of urgency is a great way to destroy any last minute friction, however, don’t include false limits. Fake stock or time limits are easy to spot and guaranteed to ruin any trust you’ve managed to build.

Hick’s law

Have you ever stood behind the person in a fast food queue who, despite queuing for 10 minutes, still has no idea what they want to buy?

It’s infuriating. But it also highlights the problem with too many options.

Hick’s Law is a psychological principle explaining how reaction time increases along with the number of reaction stimuli. Basically, the more choices you have, the longer it takes to make a decision.

In a McDonald’s queue you’re eventually forced to make a decision. However, for ecommerce sites, there’s no such queue. If a prospect can’t make up their mind, they’ll just exit your site.

Reducing the number of options makes it less confusing for your prospect and contrary to popular belief actually increases conversions.

Back in 2000, a team of psychologists conducted the Jam Study. They offered a variety of 24 jam samples to customers on day one and included a coupon for $1 off any jam. Day two saw them offer a variety of six jams.

Although the large display attracted more attention, the smaller display produced 10 times more sales. Less choice makes the purchasing choice far easier and nearly always results in more sales.

Customers might think they want a wider selection, but sales statistics tell a far different story. Limit your purchase options and you’ll see higher conversions and happier customers.

Law of Prägnanz

The Law of Prägnanz could also be described as the law of simplicity.

According to this law, we prefer things that are simple and easy to understand. When we’re confronted with an overly complicated design or idea, we simplify it into something that’s easier for us to understand.

Unfortunately, this simplification often omits many of the details. The last thing you want is to lose your primary benefits and selling points when prospects simplify your overly complicated copy.

When it comes to creating copy remember to KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

Make use of white space, typography, bullet points and simple language for prospects to easily understand the primary benefits. Sometimes less really is more.

It’s a lesson Device Magic learned after simplifying their home brought a 31% increase in sign ups.

Device Magic conversion rate uplift

If there are any design elements or extra copy that isn’t 100% essential to your overall message, get rid of them. Remember to KISS. Your prospects will thank you for it and you’ll see a lift in conversions.

Behavioural psychology offers some great insights into the what drives purchasing decisions. However, never take any advice as gospel. What works for one, may not work for another.

Never stop testing and collecting data. You’re optimising for your audience and should be adapting your plan based on their actions.

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