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Book Review – Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?

27 October, 2009, Written by 0 comment

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could climb inside your website visitors’ minds and understand what motivates their behaviour? Neuro Web Design by Dr. Susan M. Weinschenk attempts to do just that. Not many other books on the market explain the psychology behind user interaction in a way that references academic studies.

Chapter 1 takes us through the physiology of the brain and identifies the areas that serve different functions. The “old brain” which takes care of basic survival and essential body function needs. The “mid brain” where emotions are processed (often the source of our impulse buying behaviors). Finally the “new brain”, especially the pre-frontal cortex which is used for language processing, thinking, planning; the types of functions we can perform on a scale that makes us unique from other animals. Weinschenk explains how these 3 brains interfere with and influence each other. For example, whether we are feeling tired or refreshed (old brain), might effect our mood (mid brain), which in turn might impact how we perceive, process and react to visual information.

Chapter 2 discusses the power of social validation as a behavioral force. Most people find user polls and consumer feedback comments to be persuasive on their own choices. There seems to be an element of herd behavior in humans which drives us in the direction of conforming to the majority opinion. The more people in the majority group, the more persuasive the influence.

Chapter 3 introduces the concepts of reciprocity. Often unconsciously, people feel some social obligation if they receive benefits such as free samples of goods or free services. Some small sense of pressure to repay the favor is hard wired into our subconscious. In an interesting study, researchers tested the concept of rewards vs reciprocity. It was found that users were twice as likely to complete a sign up form after they accessed some free and useful information than if they were required to complete the form before accessing the information.

Chapter 4 explores the marketing power of “scarcity”.  If the availability of something is limited, we tend to value it more or take more urgent action to acquire it. We’ve all seen the commercials “Hurry, only a few stock left! ” or “Offer for today only!”  or “Learn the secrets only a few know!”  Barak Obama’s 2008 campaign team employed this technique very effectively when they offered online supporters text message notification of his choice of VP running mate before the general public.

Faced with too many choices, we freeze – and then don’t choose anything at all.

Chapter 5 looks at factors that influence how consumers choose from a range of options. In one study researchers offered shoppers a choice of 6 varieties of jam. In a second test, different shoppers were offered 24 varieties of jam. Unit sales were six times greater when the number of choices was more limited. It seems that faced with too many choices, we freeze – and then don’t choose anything at all. Anybody who has ever shopped for cell phone plans would know the feeling!

Chapter 6 looks at how words and imagery can be effectively used to grab people’s attention. When writing web content make it user-centric.
For example:

This software has many built-in features that allow for photos to be uploaded, organized, and stored.

is a lot less compelling than:

You can upload your photos quickly, organize them any way you want to,
and then store them so that they are easy to share with your friends.

YOU will pay more attention to web content that focuses on YOU, YOU, YOU.

Chapter 7 discusses how people want to believe that their own behaviors are consistent with their self-image. For example if somebody can be persuaded to perform a trivial community service they begin to develop an internal image of themselves as a “community oriented” person. It then becomes measurably easier to get this same person to accept a request for a second, more onerous community service request.

Chapter 8 explains how we more readily trust and listen to people who we perceive as similar to us in some way. Even if the message presenter is not considered similar they will still hold our attention if the message is juxtaposed with sexual suggestiveness. Marketers have built fortunes on the maxim that “sex sells”. No doubt this is a concept Bob Parsons, CEO of internet services firm GoDaddy, takes to heart! He knows his target demographic is skewed towards young adult males.

Chapter 9 analyzes how our fear of loss can be more powerful than our anticipation of gain. Even loss of privacy can be a serious disincentive for many people, which is why website owners need to consider carefully what information they really need to gather from customers. Some will baulk at even giving birthday details. A small note explaining what the information is used for is usually sufficient.

Chapter 10 describes how pictures and stories are the easiest way for the brain to retain information. We remember visual experiences better than anything else. This is called Pictorial Superiority Effect (PSE). Humans are also natural story tellers and we tend to be good at remembering information that has characters and a plot line. Customer testimonials are similar to this type of narrative experience.

Chapter 11 finally draws attention to how successful social media applications employ Mass Interpersonal Persuasion (MIP) tools to grow and achieve success. Researchers Fogg and Eckles (2007) described what they called the the three phases of the behavior chain of social media use. Phase 1 is Discovery. We learn about the service and visit the site. Phase 2 is Superficial Involvement. We try out the service and get started. Phase 3 is True Commitment. We create content, use the site, involve others, and stay active and loyal.

Neuro Web Design is an entertaining and highly readable exploration of the psychology behind online behavior. This book is a must read for serious marketers and web designers. Website owners will find many useful insights into ways of maximizing conversion rates and getting improved results.

Note: We are not Amazon affiliates and receive no financial reward for this review.

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