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Persuasion principles from Cialdini to catch lost visitors on your website

Introduction

See what I did there? I used a persuasion principle in the title of this blog to entice people to click on my article because people have the fear of missing out on visitors.  I will elaborate on this specific persuasion principle later in this article because I want to explain the concept first. This article will describe different persuasion principles you can use and why they are so effective. Furthermore, I will discuss when you can use these principles and where they can be applied based on bigger websites that already use them. 

Why should you use persuasion principles?

These principles are used by most organizations in the world because they are proven to have a significant effect on users’ decisions. A big influencer in this field is Robert B. Cialdini. His book about the Psychology of persuasion explains the psychology of why people say “yes” – and how to apply these understandings (Cialdini, R.B. (1993)).

You can use them to strengthen your copy and build the whole experiments around them. Don’t just apply these techniques without testing them first because the effect of these persuasion principles will be different depending on the website and its customers.

These changes are usually very easy to get set up and can give a significant boost to your conversion rate if used in the right places on your website.

Persuasion principles

In this article I will describe 7 persuasion principles; Reciprocity, Authority, Liking, Scarcity, Commitment-consistency, Social-proof & Unity.

Persuasion principles #1: Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the internal need to return the favor for anyone that has given you something. This “something” can be anything from a car to just a small compliment. For example: When your friend keeps buying you drinks at the bar,  you might feel obligated to return the favor and buy something back from them. This means that when you do something for your visitors they might feel more obligated to return a favor like a subscribing for a newsletter subscription for example.

Netflix using the persuasion principle reciprocity
Netflix using the persuasion principle reciprocity – 2020

Netflix uses this persuasion principle for its video streaming software. People will be more likely to give back with a subscription because Netflix gives away a free month of watching time. In spite of some people who might abuse this system, the pros outweigh the cons in this scenario. Usually you will have already given your payment details so giving back requires no action at all.

Banklinko using the persuasion principle reciprocity
Banklinko using the persuasion principle reciprocity – 2020

Another example is on Backlinko where you can receive exclusive SEO tips for just giving your email address because this plays off the concept of reciprocity. For a lot of informational websites, it might be in their interest to develop an ebook to give their users in exchange for their email address. I am betting your email list will grow dramatically using this persuasion principle.


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Persuasion principles #2: Authority

Authority is the fact that people like to base their own actions on people that are an “authority” in a given subject. The opinion of an expert can, therefore, be really powerful. For example, in the food industry, famous chefs use specific knives that they use in their day to day lives. When a company is selling these knives and describes that Gordon Ramsay uses these knives for example. Users that consider this particular individual as an expert in the field will be more likely to buy the same knives. Websites can use this to display testimonials in strategic places to increase conversion rates. 

Gordon Ramsey selling his brand of knives on Youtube
Gordon Ramsey selling his brand of knives on Youtube – 2020

Gordon Ramsay takes this effect to another level by making his own brand of knives because he is an authority in de culinary world. If one of the top cooks in the world uses these knives it will probably be a good choice for a set of knives. That’s what many people will probably think when they see this, the knives could be horrible for all we know.

Lacoste using the persuasion principle reciprocity with Novak Djokovic
Lacoste using the persuasion principle reciprocity with Novak Djokovic – 2020

Lacoste also uses the effect of authority by making famous tennis player Novak Djokovic be the ambassador of their brand. He even weirs their brand when playing so he is really tied to the brand. This makes it that a lot of tennis players are wearing Lacoste these days and I am guessing it will affect anyone that defines themselves as an active and fit person. This also plays into the effect of the persuasion principle Unity.

Persuasion principles #3: Liking

If there is a company that you really like for either their product or the work they do? Then you are probably far more likely to engage with this company and buy products and or services from them. This persuasion principle is called liking and is used by most companies that want to build long term relationships with their customers. It’s all about finding ways to make visitors sympathize with your company.

Nespresso landingpage for partnerships
Nespresso landingpage for partnerships – 2020

A lot of company’s do this by making theirs about us page really interesting. Say Nespresso for example. On their website, they show that they help and support farmers in other countries so they don’t have to live as poor people. Some people might find that something that makes the company sympathetic. Nespresso actually has a different about us page for all the “good” work they do because it plays into the effect of liking even more. In this case they also describe all of the good causes they support by showing them on these pages.

Neil Patel staring into your soul
Neil Patel staring into your soul – 2020

Another example is from the marketing guru Neil Patel. His whole brand is involved in him as a person sharing knowledge with everyone in the world. By using clear pictures and placing the about section as side navigation you are able to place this effect on more pages than just your about page. If you go to his website you will notice that his face is literally everywhere and even in as favicon.

Persuasion principles #4: Scarcity

Imagine you walk in the store during the corona crisis and notice there is only one pack of toilet paper left on the shelves. This pack of toilet paper will be in high demand for shoppers because it’s the last one in the store. This persuasion principle is called scarcity and it can be applied in many forms.

Booking.com using the persuasion principle scarcity
Booking.com using the persuasion principle scarcity – 2020

This started becoming very popular in the travel industry on booking websites. It would for example show with a text how many rooms were left on a particular trip. This would give people the feeling that they need to book fast before someone else would get the room. You can also do this by just showing how many people are looking at the same item because this would give even more pressure towards the consumer to buy something. 

Axe limited edition 2012
AXE limited edition 2012 – 2020

Another example would be the deodorant company AXE. They frequently make “limited edition” scents to give the consumer the feeling of scarcity whilst there are obviously sufficient other fragrances available.

Amazon using stock as form of scarcity
Amazon using stock as form of scarcity – 2020

Another way of implementing this is by showing the stock of a product because it can give people the feeling that they need to buy fast before it is out of stock. Amazon does this on a lot of their product and will only show these notifications if the stock is very low of course because the effect won’t work when there are plenty of items in stock.

Persuasion principles #5: Commitment-consistency

This persuasion principle describes our inner need to stay consistent in what we have said and done before. When people make a decision they subconsciously tell themselves that this was the best decision. People don’t want other people to see that they changed their minds because this makes you look inconsistent and sloppy.

This feeling is even stronger when people make a commitment to being consistent with the outside world. Let’s look for a smoker for example. Research has shown that someone who commits to quitting to the outside world has a higher chance of not smoking ever again.

Another example is buying certain brands that people always buy. Someone who always buys like is more likely to keep buying Nike because the individual thinks that people around see him as a ”Nike” guy.

Nike trying to get the first commitment
Nike trying to get the first commitment – 2020

This persuasion principle can be done on websites by letting people make small commitments on your website because the user will want to stay consistent. When the user needs to fill in a big form to subscribe for a newsletter for example. You could first let them fill in their name and e-mail and click the next button. Afterward, the user will notice this effect and will be more likely to fill in the rest of the form.

Facebook interests on a profile page
Facebook interests on a profile page – 2020

Another example would be through social media. You can use this platform to let people make public commitments to your brand by asking them questions about your brand or making polls. These people are far more likely to buy something from you because then they will be a ”your brand” guy or girl!

Persuasion principles #6: Social-proof

This persuasion principle describes that people make choices based on other people’s actions in uncertain situations. In these situations, other people’s behavior seems like the best and right behavior that you can replicate.

Amazon review as social-proof persuasion principle – 2020

One way of implementing this persuasion principle is by getting a lot of people to review your products. Products that have a positive review score are far more likely to get purchased by a customer. You can place these reviews on product pages and category pages and see an immediate increase in sales! 

Writing a review for a change at winning something on Coolblue
Writing a review for a change at winning something on Coolblue – 2020

The problem is that collecting reviews can be hard because people will need some incentive to even place the review. Why would they spend time to make a review of a product on your site? I see a lot of companies doing monthly giveaways for people that have written a review and promoting this trough mail after people make a purchase on the website. 

Another way of doing it is by connecting the reviews of similar products to increase the number of reviews per item. Imagine you have the same pants with different colors on your website. The review that will be written on the blue pants can also be used as social proof for the red pants.

Trustpilot reviews – 2020

Most companies will also want a good score from companies like Trustpilot to increase their reputation. When you have a good grade on that website you can use it to boost your sales because it’s another example of the persuasion principle.

Sharing a your page as social-proof – 2020

Some companies like Amazon even put options to share products and services to social media. Imagine your best friend sharing a product he really likes on his Facebook page. You will probably be a lot more convinced to buy the product because you (hopefully) trust in your friend’s opinion. A review of someone you know is even stronger than the one of a stranger on a random webshop. 

Persuasion principles #7: Unity

The last persuasion principle that has been added by Cialdini later is called Unity. This principle describes users need to be a part of something or belong. This can, for example, be through race, ethnicity, nationality, family, politically, religiously, and more. As long as someone can define themselves as being part of a group. 

Cialdini describes it as a shared identity that both the influencer and influence are a part of. This means you need to build this identity with people to apply this effect. There are several tactics that you can use the reach the desired effect.

Kickstarter uses persuasion principles like Unity for their whole concept
Kickstarter uses persuasion principles like Unity for their whole concept – 2020

An example of unity is co-creation. A platform that uses this effect is Kickstarter. By pledging towards a product or service people feel they helped to create the product and feel connected to the product or service.

Another example would be through the use of your target group’s language. How does your target group speak and write? You can try to identify keywords and this particular style of writing in your texts to create unity with your target group. A computer company that sells gaming related items for example. The text on a website like that will probably differ a lot from the website of a bank. It’s important to connect with your target group on every level and this a way to do it.

Conclusion

These are only a small portion of persuasion principles that can be used to increase your conversion rate because there a lot more out there not written by Cialdini. I chose to discuss these persuasion principles because they have proven to be effective if implemented within your marketing strategy correctly.

Just browsing through a few big sites will unveil the sheer amount of times these companies have used this to influence their customers. I am challenging you to try at least one of these persuasion principles on your website to see what results you can get with a b testing! You can check out my other guide on how to test pieces of text on your website with Google Optimize: https://jeroenwiersma.com/how-to-evaluate-your-google-optimize-ab-test-with-google-analytics/

I hope you found some of this article useful and I wish you the best of luck with implementing them.

Kinds regards,

Jeroen Wiersma

Sources

Cialdini, R.B. (1993). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

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