What is Behavioural Web Design?

Jeanette Helen Wilson

Published Thu 28 Jan by Jeanette Helen Wilson in Recommended Articles, Perfecting Your Website's Design and Marketing More Effectively

Behavioural Web Design sheds new light on design theory - demonstrating that our decisions are rarely as rational and conscious as we might think.

Behavioural web design has its roots in behavioural economics, which challenges the traditional belief that logical decisions are made consciously by rational people.

Colin Camerer, a pioneer in his field, says: 'The study of the brain and nervous system is beginning to a allow direct measurement of thoughts and feelings'

The measurement of these thoughts and feelings can enable us to design websites that best match users to our products and services, instead of expecting users to fit around our website design. It’s a more person-centred approach. However, it could also be accused of using an understanding of human psychology to manipulate users into parting with their hard-earned cash. 

Marketers are constantly finding new ways of selling their products, and as web users become increasingly averse to the hard-sell, it’s becoming more and more difficult to frame products and make successful conversions online. 

Nick Chater, who is Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, suggests that far from using human psychology to better manipulate online users, behavioural economics helps web designers to ‘have the skill and experience to turn those insights into products and services that make our lives happier or safer.’

So how can the research of behavioural economists help web designers keep their users happy?

 Here are some examples:

  • Behavioural economics studies have shown that given too many choices, the customer is more likely to regret the choice they make, so offering less choice is actually beneficial to your customers
  • Too much choice makes customers more nervous about choosing the wrong thing, so limiting choices offered means they feel calmer, happier and more likely to make a choice with which they are satisfied post-purchase

Practical Guidance

Putting Behavioural Economics into Practice with Website’s Design and Usability

According to behavioural economists, the best websites contain clear messages to the user: so when they land on your home page (or any other page for that matter), they know exactly where they are and where to go next.

Pages that are cluttered and give out mixed messages end up frustrating users and they’re likely to make a quick exit.

Here are some ways in which your website can be more attractive to more readers, using the understanding we’ve gleaned from behavioural economic research:

Make Them Feel Part of Something

Tell them others have already signed up... And how many! Phrases such as ‘14,000 online users have already signed up to our monthly newsletter to get free tips and advice... Join them now!’

People love to feel like they’re part of something, even if this is only a virtual group. Social proof is what we call the powerful force of wanting to belong and ultimately wanting to conform to the general pattern of human behaviour. This doesn’t mean that everyone wants to be identical: only that, as inherently sociable animals, we like to be part of a group.

Legitimise with a Voice of Authority

Those who are thinking of buying something online are always going to have more barriers than someone to whom you’re selling a product face to face.

Show users that others are not only using your product / services, but are happy with them. The best way to do this is by including customer reviews and testimonials

This is the most popular way of gauging how good a product or service is. For new users, it makes them feel that they’re risking less if they have proof that others have used the product or service and have had a good experience. 

Show ‘People Like Us’

Online customers not only like to see that other people have signed up to a particular product or service: they also like to see that their peers have done so too. 

The online world can seem tenuous and online users are, naturally, aware of online scams. To reduce this feeling of anxiety and reluctance, having a recommendation from an expert in your field can go a long way. Backing up your claims with quotes from someone in a perceived position of authority can help convince users that you’re a safe bet.

Avoid Loss

More attractive than gaining something is avoiding loss of something

Working out what your demographic is and research into their lifestyle, what their likes and dislikes and aspirations are likely to be, and you’re half way there. People like to feel that products and services are designed to fit around them, so show them you’ve got them at the heart of what you do.

This might sound strange, but behavioural economists have discovered that people are more likely to buy something if they think they will lose out in some way by not buying it. Having items labelled as being ‘Limited Edition’ can boost sales, as can scarcity (‘Only 2 left!’)

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