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30 Psychological CRO Tests to Run on Your e-Commerce Site

30 Psychological Conversion Tactics You Can Test

Conversion rate optimization is all about psychology. But where psychologists are trying to figure out why people do what they do, the Conversion Rate Optimizer’s challenge is to know what stimuli will get people to take the action you want them to take. In this post we list 30 psychological CRO tests to run on your e-commerce site.

It’s not about being manipulative. That’s the dark side.

Dark Side - Psychological CRO Tests
Dark Side – Psychological CRO Tests

Noooo! I won’t! Even though that cookie is a really good incentive that preys upon my desire for immediate gratification (we’ll get to that later).

On the side of good: This is about showing people what they want and giving them every reason and every chance to get it. You might say it’s about helping people to achieve their goals – as much as it is about achieving yours.

The CRO also has tools and tests to know, beyond a Rorschach ink blot of a doubt, whether the psychological trigger s/he’s employed works… or doesn’t.

This is where we bring psychology and testing together, so you can try these already-proven, scientifically based psychological action triggers and see how they work on your very own e-commerce website.

For each trigger, we’ll include ideas for how to use it on your website – in your product pages, landing pages, or CTA buttons. From there, it’s up to you to A/B test these suggestions against what you currently have.

Not sure how to run an A/B test? Check this out.

Types of Psychological Triggers – and How to Test Them

Button Psychology

Get Noticed with Contrasting Colors (CTA buttons)

Signal Detection Theory + Visual Salience and Attention + Processing Fluency basically say that we’ve evolved to detect contrasting colors in our environment (signal detection theory) and picking out which items are important (salience). This comes in handy for identifying tigers in the grass and brightly colored fruits and vegetables – also for finding CTA buttons on product pages.

The idea behind Processing Fluency is that the easier the button is to find and identify its function, the more inclined the visitor will be to click it. We like things that are easy and simple to figure out.

Test it on your CTAs: Unless your CTA buttons already are in bright, contrasting colors (red and orange are popular choices, but not the only good ones), A/B test your current button color against a color that is in direct contrast with the majority of your website. Skipped art class the day they brought out the color wheel? Here you go; aim for opposites.

Test it another way: Contrasting colors aren’t the only way to make CTA buttons stand out (to capitalize on processing fluency). Increasing the amount of white space around the CTA, and placing it prominently, also ease the load on the overworked mind. A/B test increased white space to see if it boosts your conversion rates.

Use the Representativeness Heuristic: Don’t get too fancy with your buttons – they still need to look like buttons. Basically, we’re wired to recognize similarities in actual, tangible things, and things that are made to represent them. It’s the psychological foundation of why emoticons work (or why written language works, for that matter). It’s also why we recognize CTAs as buttons when they look like buttons.

Test it on your CTA: Try adding a 3-dimensional component to your CTAs, like a bevel or shadow, so they look more like actual buttons you can press with a finger.

Color Palette - Psychological CRO Tests
Color Palette – Psychological CRO Tests

Test it another way: The representativeness heuristic is also why we take → to mean forward movement. Try putting an arrow, or >> on your CTA button to let your visitor know they’ll be moving to another page.

Leverage Gaze Following: If you see someone stop and look to the right, you look to the right too – because you naturally assume there’s something worth looking at. This is called “gaze following” and it’s something we primates do as a shortcut to finding food, alerting to danger, and spotting celebrities on the street. You can use it too.

Test it on your home page: Have an image of person (any creature with eyes, really – it can even be a stick figure) staring directly at the form, CTA, or other action you want people to take. And remember: You can easily flip images. You could even A/B test one image looking at your CTA, and one looking away from it – just for fun (but believe me, the one looking towards your CTA will perform better!).

Looking at CTA Usually Converts Better
Looking at CTA Usually Converts Better

Conceptual Fluency: The psychological underpinning of “if she can see it, she can be it.” Human beings are more likely to do what they can envision themselves doing. One incredibly easy way to use this is to switch your copy from second person (you, your) to first person (I, me, my).

Test it on your CTA button: Try changing “Start your free trial” to “Start my free trial” and see what happens. When Michael Aagard tested these two variants, he increased conversions by 90% by switching to first person.

Test it in your product pictures: Instead of just showing the product, show the product in use – held in someone’s hand, worn on a real person’s body, etc. Zappos uses videos of people walking in their footwear. All of this helps the consumer envision what it’s like to use your product themselves, which has been shown to increase conversions.

Use Processing Fluency: When we consider doing something, we predict how easy or hard it will be to do. If we believe it will be hard, we’re less likely to try. Here’s the interesting part for CRO: Lengthy or difficult instructions will hinder conversions, but so will hard-to-read fonts.

Test it on your CTA buttons or on a form: As you’re A/B variant, make your font size slightly larger and choose an easy to read font like Verdana or Georgia (both of which were designed for Microsoft by type designer Matthew Carter, specifically to be easy to read on screens).

Test it on your home page copy: Simple, clear, and brief should be the goal of copy across your website, but many websites verge on verbosity. Invoke your inner Hemingway and cut your verbiage for this A/B trial.

Make’m Nervous with Choice Rejection – When you force people to actively reject an option (like, say, to subscribe to your newsletter), they start to consider the benefits they’re giving up, which triggers Loss Aversion (we’ll get to that later), and are more likely to accept the offer. In practice, this is how it works.
You design a pop-up ad asking if the viewer would like to sign up for your newsletter. Variant A would be a simple “Yes” or “No.”

Variant B would go like this:

“Yes, I’d love to get weekly coupons, news, and a roundup of deals.”

“No, I like paying full price for everything.”

Test it in your pop-up copy: Be explicit about the benefits of saying “yes” to your offer, and the downside of saying “no.” Joanna Wiebe used this technique and increased her conversion rate by 400-500%.

Emotional Color Theory

The idea here is that color is tied to emotion – and emotion leads to action. Therefore, color can affect conversion. This isn’t just for CTA buttons (though red tends to spur faster reaction times and just might push impulse buyers over the edge); it’s for your entire website. Conversioner’s Talia Wolf introduced a pink hue across this prom dress website, contributing to the emotional experience of mothers and daughters shopping together. That pinkification raised revenues by 86%.

Note: If your products follow trends, then the colors on your site should too. This tells your customers that you are on-trend and will keep them on-trend too. What colors are in? Pantone’s color of the year for 2017 is Greenery (it’s always a good place to start).

Pantone's Color for 2017
Pantone’s Color for 2017

Test it across your website: Use this color cheat sheet to create a variant of your website that capitalizes on these color-emotion connections. Choose the color family you believe will work best with your product and audience.

  • Red – For impulse purchases, sale signs, promotions and CTA buttons.
  • Orange – May increase a sense of urgency, happiness and optimism. Try it as the dominant color of your website, or your CTA buttons.
  • Yellow – If you’re selling food products, yellow stimulates appetite (and green denotes freshness).
  • Green – Use to create a fresh, natural, relaxed ambience on your site – great for eco-friendly products.
  • Blue – Authority, most often used for banking, medicine, and other serious products where trust is of paramount importance.
  • Pink – The color of calm, joy, femininity and romance. It’s a natural choice for businesses catering to women.
  • Purple – Creativity, spirituality, and luxury for women of a certain age. Most often used in brands that target older women.
  • Black – Power and luxury, can be used to increase perceived value.
  • White – Clean, modern, simple, sophisticated.
  • Gray – Practical, neutral, contemporary, classy. But can be boring, depending on how you use it.
  • Gold – The color of money, exclusivity and luxury (works well with black or white to increase perceived value of the product).
Gold = Success ?
Gold = Success ?

Pain Spurs Action

Whether it’s emotional pain or physical pain (there actually isn’t much difference, neurologically speaking), focusing attention on pain actually makes that pain feel worse, and we’re more driven to alleviate it as a result.

Test it on your product page or landing page: Take the pain point that aggravates your target audience the most, and use a sentence or two (or five) to dwell on it. Add an image showing someone suffering from it. Then, show how your product fixes the problem – and most importantly, tell or show the “after” to your gruesome before.

The Power of Placement

Anchoring Heuristic: The tendency to place more importance on the first piece of information you see is called the “anchoring heuristic.” It’s the impulse that makes us walk out of a store with the first thing we saw, and the instinct that tells us Zappos is the best online shoe store because it’s the first shoe ad we saw on Facebook.

Test it on your home page: Take a best-selling product and feature it prominently on your home page, so it’s the first thing people see when they come to you. Then see if your conversions for that product increase.

Test it on your product page: When listing your product price, display the high “regular” price first, then show the discounted price under it. This will increase the viewer’s perceived value of the product and make them feel like they’re getting a great deal. Compare this variation against its opposite: Placing the lower price more prominently, and the higher price less.

Eye-Catching Placement: A 2014 eye-tracking study showed that the eye is drawn to the upper left corner and the center of any given page. Eyes are also attracted to larger things before smaller things, and raised graphics before sunken ones. See what happens if you:

  1. Place your CTA button in the middle of the page
  2. Create a pop-up opt-in CTA that appears in the middle of the page
  3. Make your CTA button larger than your logo (but not so big that it stops looking like a button)
  4. Visually raise your CTA above the rest of the page (see example below from DailyMile)
Eye-Catching Placement
Eye-Catching Placement

Cialdini’s Six Conversion Hacks

1. Reciprocity

Humans are hardwired to pay back favors. Give away something of value, and people will be naturally moved to give back.

Test it: Try doing a “free sample” promotion. Maybe where you throw something in for free with an order – like when you get makeup samples free with purchase. It’s something very few e-commerce stores are doing, so it can also be a way to set yours apart. For best results, make the freebie something your ideal client would actually buy. Remember to track conversions from before and after you implement your promo.

2. Consistency

Nobody wants to be a hypocrite; we have a deep desire to match our actions with what we say we’ll do. And, we also like to keep doing what we’ve been doing – as long as we’re rewarded for it. Which brings us to conversion. Studies have shown that the more we say “yes,” the more we will continue to say “yes.” And you want your customers saying “yes.”

Test it on your home page: Try a “commitment checkbox” popup on your home page that says “Yes! I am ready for [your biggest benefit] today!” You’ll have to figure out (and test) what benefit your target audience wants most to use in this copy – it might take a few tries. But, when ConversionVoodoo did this, that checkbox resulted in 11% more conversions.

3. Social Proof

When we see that other people have liked something or have done something, we feel like it’s a safer bet. Social Proof reduces purchase anxiety – the fear that a product won’t live up to expectations, or that the purchaser is going to be cheated in some way.

Test it on your product pages: Put user reviews on your best-selling product pages (for starters), like Modcloth and Zappos do, for six months as a test run. See if your conversions increase or decrease, and by how much.

4. Authority

People follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts. You can be one, or you can buy one (er, hire).

Test it on social media & your home page: Find an expert in your industry or public figure that resonates with your audience, and ask them to endorse/mention/publicly use your product. Many Youtube video-makers and bloggers are happy to do this, when appropriately compensated. Consider this a line item in your marketing budget. You can set up tracking from those links to your site so you know exactly what revenue to attribute to this experiment.

Test it on your unsubscribe page: Huckleberry’s “unsubscribe from emails” page leverages the authority of no other than Bruce Lee. It’s charming and funny, and they get far fewer unsubscribers as a result.

Huckleberry’s “unsubscribe from emails” Page
Huckleberry’s “unsubscribe from emails” Page

5. Liking

We buy from people we like – which makes your challenge to become more likeable. People tend to like people who are like them, and they base those judgements primarily on visual cues from your website and social media and personality cues in your copy.

Test it: Achieving likeability is heavily involved with brand strategy and buyer personas – and if you haven’t done the groundwork there, you aren’t ready to test anything. What is your target audience pinning on Pinterest right now? Look at the topics, colors, and style for inspiration on what changes to make and test on your website.

6. Scarcity… deserves its own section.

Scarcity / Loss Aversion / Urgency – AKA FOMO

Cialdini’s Principle of Scarcity is that people perceive limited quantities as more precious and valuable. And, embedded in this principle of persuasion are the related psychological triggers of Loss Aversion and Urgency.

Loss Aversion: The idea that losing something hurts more than gaining something, so we will go farther out of our way to avoid losing something than we would to get something. In practice, this means if the deal is for a limited time, we’ll jump on it so we don’t lose the opportunity (which would hurt).

Urgency: Same thing as loss aversion – we don’t want to miss out.

Then there’s the related commodity theory: The idea that scarcity increases perceived value because possessing hard-to-get items makes people feel unique and special.

And there are so many ways to use these.

Test it on your product pages: Items in limited supply are very appealing – so on your product pages, let visitors know when there are “9 items left!” with low stock notices. Show your limited supply and track your conversion rates – they’ll very likely increase, because people believe supply is limited because demand for these items is higher.

Test it on your product pages another way: Another urgency instigator is the limited-time offer. One retailer tested a limited next-day shipping offer on their product page and boosted sales by 226%.

Test it with your products themselves: Consider introducing a limited edition line or ‘small batch’ specialty products to leverage the desire for exclusivity.

Test it on product & sales pages: Try installing a sale price countdown on product and/or sales pages to remind viewers how much time is left before the discount goes away. (See how Huckleberry does this below) You can also try this with free shipping or next-day shipping offers.

Huckleberry Sales Price Countdown
Huckleberry Sales Price Countdown

Test it seasonally – Starbucks only offers Pumpkin Spice lattes in the fall; McDonald’s McRib is so hard to find, they made an app to locate it when it appears. Consider testing what happens when you only make seasonally-tied popular items available for short, specific periods of time.

Test it with a VIP area: Scarcity + commodity theory = exclusivity, another way of raising perceived value. Consider testing a VIP area of your site for your best buyers, where they can see (and buy) new items first, and get some customer appreciation perks. Nurture your best buyers – they’re the ones most likely to buy more and bring their friends.

Each of these ideas is a hypothesis in the making…

Every A/B test you conduct will be based on a hypothesis – a statement of what change you plan to make, and what you *think* will be the result. That change is your variant, which you’ll compare against what you already have (the A to your B).

Each of these ideas for how to test psychological conversion triggers is the raw material out of which you can create hypotheses for your e-commerce website. For more on hypothesis creation, see this article.

Why test when each of these ideas is founded in multiple scientific psychology studies?

Because all of these ideas are part of a larger context of what your target audience wants, thinks and feels. You’ll have to test to know, for sure, what works best with your specific customers.

So, decide what to change, form a theory of how that will affect conversions, and set up an A/B test to see how you do.

Published by

SaaS Consultant & Customer Success Evangelist. Founder at Authentic Curation. Moderator at @ProductHunt & @GrowthHackers. Previously: Growth at @Inboundorg. INFJ.