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When it comes to conversions, your goal is a behavior. You can’t force or buy behavior (at least, not without violating some basic principles of marketing), but you sure can influence it. In order to be successful in your conversion optimization strategy, you need to be able and willing to get inside the mind of your user and guide them to convert.

This isn’t an easy process. Users prefer inaction to action, and when it comes to spending money, people are naturally stingy. It takes a lot of effort to persuade someone to act on one of your calls-to-action, but leveraging these five important psychological principles is a good start.

  1. Escalation. Escalation is a simple principle that it’s far easier to convince someone to do something if they are already committed on some level. Take the dollar auction game as an example. In the dollar auction, a dollar is put to a traditional auction in a group of people; they can bid whatever they want, and the highest bid gets the dollar for that amount. The twist? The second-highest bidder must pay his/her bid, but doesn’t get the dollar. By mid-game, participants are so invested in the game, they’re willing to bid more than a dollar in order to justify or make up for their potential losses.

You can take advantage of this by asking your users to commit to something small at first—such as a newsletter signup—before moving on to something bigger. As an entry-level idea, consider making your conversion an email signup, and then hit your email audience harder with more serious CTA asks.

  1. The Law of Pragnanz. The law of Pragnanz basically says that in general, we prefer things to be short, simple, and easy to understand. “Pragnanz” is German for “pithiness.” When a decision is unnecessarily complex, confusing, or bogged down by variables, we tend to avoid making it altogether. When applied to the world of design and online marketing, this means you should present your CTA as simply and as logically as possible.

In practice, this can manifest itself in a number of ways. You might offer a simple chart that compares your product to a competitor’s. You might use a calculator to estimate cost savings. You might just offer a short bulleted list of advantages. Whatever you do, remember—you have to keep it simple. It’s tempting to add more bells and whistles to convince your audience of your product’s worth, but minimalism is a better strategy in nearly all cases.

  1. Reciprocity. In social psychology, the rule of Reciprocity refers to an innate disposition to give something in response to getting something. Let’s use the example of a food truck. If you give people free samples of your food, they’ll get to sample your cuisine, but more importantly, you’ll prompt them to feel compelled to reciprocate. Your small giveaway makes them subtly feel more compelled to purchase a full meal with you.

Online conversions can work the same way. If you can give your users something valuable, they’ll be far more open to giving you something in return. For example, let’s say you offer a free sample of your product. In exchange, all you ask is for users to give you their name and email address. The average user, if interested in your sample, will be far more willing to give you their information than if you asked for it point-blank.

  1. Social Proof. Social proof is a simple psychological principle. We’re all social creatures, and in an evolutionary context, we’re used to surviving and thriving as a group. In order to maintain our social acceptance within a group and engage in “safe” actions, we’re predisposed to follow the actions of others, and mimic what we see others doing, even if it’s unconsciously.

In a digital marketing context, this means people are far more willing to convert if they see others who have done the same thing. How can you demonstrate this? The best way is through customer reviews and testimonials, which you include next to your CTA—and the images of real human faces don’t hurt either.

  1. The Framing Effect. The Framing Effect dictates that the way in which content is framed has a dramatic effect on its ultimate interpretation. For example, let’s say there are two medical treatments: one saves 200 lives, while the other has a 33 percent chance of saving 600 lives and a 66 percent chance of saving 0 lives. Most doctors choose the former. But when framed differently—with one treatment killing 400 people, and another with a 33 percent chance of killing 0 people and a 66 percent chance of killing 600 people, most doctors choose the latter.

Remember this when you create your CTA message. Treat the situation as positively as possible, with an emphasis on earning a benefit rather than losing or paying something.

Put the lessons learned from these psychological principles to good use in your own conversion strategy, but don’t forget the most important conversion tactic of all: experimentation. Even with these psychological predispositions in mind, it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly how your audience is going to react to a certain call-to-action or conversion opportunity. The only way to know for sure is to test two variants against each other, and measure which was more effective (then repeat this process ad infinitum).


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