Have you ever wondered why we choose certain web sites over other web sites? Let us take my case for example. Two days ago, I wanted to check for a USB stick that looks like a camera. I had only one intention, to buy a flash drive looking camera. As I typed it in Google, I had hundreds of listing of USB sticks with a REAL camera attached to it. WOW! How did I fair in my search? Let us say, I ended up wasting 2 hours of my time browsing websites and getting distracted with all the cool stuff I saw especially the retro cassette 4 GB usb flash drive. Did I eventually buy a USB stick? Nope, I totally lost interest when I saw cassette USB stick.

So what makes us chose websites over the others? Disclaimer. I am not a psychologist. However, I have always been fascinated with human behavior. Here is my theory: We are attracted to a site if it evokes certain emotions. I was reading this book on the psychology of web design. The author mentioned an interesting point that most human behavior are governed by the unconscious. The author said, “To get us to click, they have to persuade us. But donʼt make the mistake of thinking that the best way to persuade us is to make a logical presentation”.

We know that all websites have target behaviors. They are either get us to buy, to register, to donate, to read, to follow and to click. But how do they get us to buy, register, donate, read, follow and click? If, we, designers understood how our minds work, we can create effective websites that engages our target market to make that sought after “click”.

The “Psychology of clicking”

In my reading and research of the “psychology of clicking.” Clicking a website is a result of several factors.

We click because we think we are gaining something.

When we act or interact we are motivated by gain. Whether it is business gain, increased intelligence or bragging rights, often times we find ourselves checking a website because it means something better for us.

We click because we are curious

Many of us click because we are simply curious about what is in the site, what we will find in the site, if what we heard are true.

We click because we trust

When we decide to click or navigate a website, we make several assessments in a blink of an eye—Will this be a waste of time? Will the site I click to be safe? Will the information I seek be relevant? Will I get what I need efficiently? We need to feel a sense of reliability and trust in what we are doing when we decide to interact. When we do, we are more likely to interact with a sense of purpose.

However, these reasons does not seem to provide an adequate understanding on the science of the click. In my research, I discovered that the human psychology plays a major role in why we chose websites over other sites. Here is what I discovered:

We value what others think.

Most people view themselves as independent thinkers. The truth is that the need to fit in and belong are wired in our nature. We want to fit in. We want to be like the crowd. There is a strong drive that when people are in social situations, they look at others to see how to behave. This is especially true when we are uncertain about what action to take. Take the online ratings for example. If we see a product that has only one out of five stars, we do not even take a closer look. However, if the product has around five out of five, we are curious why people rated it like that. This is because online ratings validate that other people opinion are important and if they think it is good then it must be good. In addition, if the online rating provided a personal experience with the product or service, we feel that we are making the right decision in clicking into that product.

Tip: Add reviewer feedback to your website. If you can add names and dates to the feedback it becomes a power tool in making us click.

We click because there is a sense of obligation

What happens if someone gives us a gift? It triggers a feeling of indebtedness. We feel the need to reciprocate that act of giving. Anytime something is given away at a Web site, it creates a feeling of indebtedness and reciprocity. Take antivirus softwares for personal computers. They often provide free download of their software for a 30 day trial period. You run it and test on your computer and it works. It cleans all the viruses out. Out of relief, you now feel obliged to buy the software as it has already proven its use to you and solved your problem.

Tip: Give away free information in your website. For example, if an e-commerce site sells a camera, there could be a portion of the site that features an excellent guide in taking pictures. If users come to the site to read about taking pictures, and they appreciate the information that is provided for free, they might feel as if they have been given a gift. This does not guarantee that they will buy the camera but it does increase the likelihood they keep away from a competitor.

We click because we feel that there is less of that product.

If something is scarce, it will seem more desirable and more valuable to us. Showing a limited stock or a limited time frame motivates us to act. We treasure exclusivity, rarity, uniqueness and we act quickly when opportunities arise. We are absolutely pushovers when things have a time limit. This work because we perceive a chance to miss the deal if we donʼt act.

Tip: When you design an e-commerce website, try to invoke scarcity. Add the phrase “only <number of items> left in stock.” You would discover that many people will feel better if they hurry up and purchase that item before they are all gone.

We follow the rule of the first.

If you type a query in google search, do you look at the very last page of the search results? No. All of us go to the first page first listing. And if we are interested enough we go to the second page of the results. This is the rule of first. The reason for this is that our mind freezes if we see a lot of options. We may say we prefer a lot of options, but the reality if there are a lot of choices, we canʼt decide.

Tip: Create a website that if we see something we like, we can get it right away. If we cannot promise to give it immediately, let the web user know it will be very soon. In addition, if you have a product or information that you want the web user to use, list it as the first product or information in your website. Chances are it will have a strong pull among your web users.

We are afraid to lose.

Remember the old adage, “ A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We are most afraid of losing what we already have. We are reluctant to take away or subtract items. Letʼs take for example the model of a computer you are configuring has the better processor. It is “included in price”. If you want to spend less money, then you chose a lesser processor and subtract money. If we feel that we cannot afford the entire package, we have to face the idea of taking away options — an idea we donʼt necessarily like. Why? Because, if we experience the whole package, we are most likely to be reluctant to take something away.

Tip: In designing a e-commerce website try creating a layout that includes everything you want to sell and add a choice of subtracting rather than adding items. More often than not, the web user will be reluctant to lose what they, in some sense, feel they already have.

In the end, we are but social animals. Many of our decisions stems from the fact that we want to fit in and belong to a community. We will always figure out a way to use whatever technology out there to be able to communicate and be social. Hence, the growth of many social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube, etc.

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