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Using Psychology to Improve Website Conversions

Posted on 11.30.2015

By Dr. Liraz Margalit, Web Psychologist at ClickTale


If there is one important lesson learned from the many studies conducted in the Web usage, analytics and optimization fields, it is that to see results, online businesses need to "feel" their clients.

Understanding their behavior, their needs and the impetus for their actions requires a basic comprehension of psychology (and some great digital customer experience tools to gather the required data).

While there is no magic formula for button colors that convert, killer copywriting or winning layouts, it is possible to get inside the mind of a target audience and understand which elements prompt action.

Introspection and Web Behavior

The process of understanding behavior could be best described by the psychological term "Introspection," which essentially means to examine one's own conscious thoughts and feelings, to obtain privileged access to one's mental states. That's not easy to do, however, when it comes to Web behavior.

Introspection (and self-observation) is a method in which people are asked to verbally report their mental processes. For example, to say why they made a particular choice or how they arrived at a particular judgment. The main criticism to this method is that there is always a gap between what people report about themselves and their actual behavior. Therefore, when trying to optimize a website, relying solely on visitors' feedback regarding their experience is not the ideal approach. Instead, brands are using solutions to visualize visitors' online behavior to bridge the data gap in understanding action and inaction.

Introspection's Substitute: Behaviorism

Introspection is about human self-reflection rather than external observation. It reflects the inner process of the human mind. In contrast, Behaviorism is more quantitative and looks at the external, observable causes of human behavior.

To be practical in the realm of Web analytics, the context of actions is of the utmost importance in understanding browsing usage. While traditional analytics can analyze conversion rates and detect whether a website has succeeded or failed in reaching its goals, they are ineffective at providing a broader view.

When engaging in more refined exploration of human interaction on the Web, analysis based on server access logs alone (as is the case with traditional analytics) is anything but sufficient. To see the entire picture, it is necessary to examine and understand the visitor's behavior, motivation and resulting actions.

A key element in the Behaviorist approach to understanding online behavior is gathering mouse-movement data, which can pinpoint user intent and interests.

Mouse-movement recording technology provides a series of interesting advantages when compared to classical usability tools. For example, it can be mass deployed, allowing for large datasets; it can reach typical and first-time visitors in their natural environment; and, most importantly, it is transparent to visitors, so no experimenter bias or novelty effects are introduced, allowing them to browse websites in their natural environment as opposed to lab conditions.

Session recording technology enables businesses to easily examine what is going on behind the screens, in the minds of the users. For example, it can reveal how many users considered clicking the buy button versus how many of them actually clicked it. Or, it can provide insight into the order in which they complete the fields of a form. Marketers can use this technology to get quantifiable answers to the questions that plague them, including whether people actually scroll down the Web page (and how far), where they hesitate on the page (and for how long), as well as what elements they are interacting (engaging with or concentrating on).

Session recordings provide answers to these questions and many more. Videos can be generated for individual or for segments/groups or users (for example, based on engagement time, location or first-time versus returning visitors). Likewise, recordings detect page elements that visitors interact with the most, the rate of scrolls (to infer interest), or whether the pages viewed have a minimum scroll reach (which may indicate that some visitors are searching for specific content but are not being successful), to name just a few.

No Room for Guesswork

While it is possible to guess what changes to a Web page or website will achieve the highest conversion rates and then hope for the best, this is clearly not the best practice for online marketers as it wastes time and money, both valuable resources. Using Introspection and Behaviorism principles to develop valid hypotheses, understand behavior, run controlled tests and evaluate the results is the only path to improvement.

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