Psychological Instincts To Boost Conversions

Psychological Instincts To Boost Conversions

Psychological instincts get attention!

11 Psychological Instincts To Grab Visitor Attention:

Instincts are triggered by our brain to alert us to threats. We are programmed to respond to some instincts, such as fear, without any conscious thought to protect us from harm. Fear and other instincts are powerful behavioural motivators and can be targeted by marketers to cut through the noise that surrounds us.

1. Use messages and images of death or dangerous events:

The instinct of fear or threat of death are powerful motivators
Image Source: Accuquote

The psychological instinct of fear activates and puts our information and emotional processing systems on high alert. This ensures we notice material that conveys danger and inspires fear or even death. Provided the images or messages are relevant to your product or service, try testing content that portrays danger or fear. If used appropriately they may help get an emotional response that is more powerful than conventional communication strategies.

2. Frame messages around potential losses rather than gains:

The instinct of loss aversion used on a landing page - You'll never see this deal again

Unconsciously people are more motivated by the fear of loss than of the anticipation of gains. By framing communications around a potential loss (e.g. Don’t miss out on our latest offer) rather than the conventional approach you can create a more instinctive and emotional response. Loss aversion is probably a brands strongest loyalty driver and should be employed to help retain existing customers and attract new ones. Test headlines that are framed from a loss perspective against one that is not to see if your visitors respond accordingly.

When you identify that visitors are going to abandon a transaction or leave your site try testing messaging around what they will lose out on. Frame your messages around the loss of key benefits from your value proposition when targeting existing customers who may be in danger of lapsing or switching to a competitor.

3. Let potential customers try out your product for free:

image of Experian credit report free trial offer - Endowment affect
Image Source: Experian

People value things that they own more highly than items they don’t have. This is called the endowment effect and experiments have shown that people put a higher value on things that they own, even if only partially. The ownership of goods appears to increase the perceived value of an item, especially for goods that are not frequently traded.

Free trials and samples works in a number of ways. Ownership (even if only as part of a trial) increases the perceived value of the item, it reduces the perceived risk of responding to the campaign (i.e. there is no cost), and our aversion to loss means that we are often loath giving something up once we have given it a test drive. Further, free offers can also trigger regret that people may think they will feel if they don’t take up the promotion. Free is also a powerful motivator as it triggers loss aversion and a desire to avoid regret.

4. Use limited offers or show stock levels to convey scarcity:

image of Golden Tiger Casino 1 hour to play - scarcity effect
Image Source:

It surprises me that many websites display promotional offers without any prominent end date. Scarcity increases the perceived value of items and so sites can create the perception of scarcity by setting end dates for promotional offers. Experiments have demonstrated that people are drawn to items that appear to have limited availability because of a fear of loss and a potential for regret.

We are particularly motivated by scarcity when we believe we are in competition with other people. This may be because our herd instinct uses scarcity as an indicator of popularity amongst our peers. Social proof is especially important when we are in an uncertain or new situation as we have no experience to fall back on. Make sure you demonstrate your site’s popularity for this very reason.

5. Use humour to encourage people to try something new:

image of ad using humour to get attention
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People like to stick with well-known brands when they are sad or scared. We are more risk averse when feeling emotionally vulnerable. However, when we are in a good mood we are comfortable and more open to trying something new. Use humour to engage people when you want them to try something new.

Humour breaks down barriers and makes us feel more positive about a situation. Research at Radboud University in the Netherlands found that humour distracts our natural resistance to advertising and creates a positive brand association. Humour is particularly effective at getting and retaining attention as most websites don’t use humour and so it also benefits from being a novelty on the web.

Humour doesn’t have to be employed throughout your website. It can range from cheeky or off-beat call to action copy, amusing headlines to attract attention and entertaining animation or graphics. PaddyPower is one site that has built their whole brand around having a laugh and not taking themselves too seriously. This aligns well with the market they are in (i.e. gambling) and helps them to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Image of humour in Paddypower copy
Image Source:

Humour benefits brands in a number of ways by:

  • Reduces tension towards the brand or buying process
  • Appeals to emotions by enhancing positive feelings and associations
  • Discourages and deflects criticism
  • Improves engagement by making messages more memorable
  • Distracts people from potential sales objections.

Try A/B testing using humour on your website and see if you can also benefit from using more light-hearted content.

6. Reassure new visitors with trust and credibility indicators:

Image from Dropbox of evidence of trust and credibility
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Make sure people feel safe and comfortable when trying to get them to experiment or buy from somewhere new. People dislike uncertainty because it makes them uncomfortable and will avoid it at all costs. Put new customers at ease by providing clear and relevant evidence that your website is reliable and trustworthy.

To create credibility and trust in your website consider the following issues:

  • First impressions count. Attractive and well-designed websites help create a sense of trustworthiness.
  • Make it easy for customers to contact you – ensure a ‘Contact’ link is the last item in your navigation.
  • Clearly display your address and telephone number in your footer and if appropriate in your header.
  • Show awards to demonstrate your standing in the sector.
  • Display customer numbers if impressive or a client list.
  • Statements and claims should be backed up by third party evidence.
  • Show logos of well-known business partners or sponsorship partners.
  • Make sure prices are clearly displayed as people want to know how much your product or service will cost.
  • Shipping costs or other administrative fees also need to be clear as people will often want to compare what you charge with your competitors.
  • Ensure copy doesn’t have errors or broken links that could create a poor impression of your site.

However, you should also A/B test displaying some items such as customer testimonials, product reviews, returns policy, privacy policy, trust marks and popular payment methods. Sometimes credibility indicators can raise unnecessary concerns (e.g. around security) if they are introduced at inappropriate stages of the user journey or they may just be a distraction. This is where A/B testing can help identify when they benefit conversion and when they may actually harm your business goals.

7. Ensure visitors feel in control:

Image of pricing plans
Image Source:

People equate choice with control and people want to feel in control as autonomy is a powerful motivator. So always offer some choices. This could mean having a back button on your sign-up form so that people feel they have a way out if needed. By all means reduce exit points at key stages of a user journey to focus their attention. However, if you remove all navigation elements apart from the one you want them to take users may feel trapped and respond by abandoning the form or transaction.

At the same time it is important to limit the number of choices to 3 or 4 as if you give people too much choice they can freeze and avoid choosing anything. Too much choice creates anxiety and cognitive strain as our brains struggle to categorise and choose between all the different options available. The paradox of choice is that people will avoid making a decision if they believe they have too many choices and are unable to make a choice that they will be happy with. This becomes increasingly difficult as the number of options we have to choose between rises.

8. Create curiosity by holding back information:

Image of landing page using curiosity
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Dopamine in the brain is not only a pleasure chemical in the brain but it also causes us to want and desire things. It motivates us to be curious about ideas & information. You can use this desire for knowledge by stimulating information seeking behaviour. Create desire and curiosity by giving people a limited amount of information upfront and offering them more information when they complete a task (e.g. offer a free white paper or sample if they complete an email address form).

9. Use visual and auditory alerts or novelty to grab attention:

No Cheating banner on using novelty to get attention
Image Source:

Dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability, when something unexpected happens, and is especially sensitive to cues that a reward is coming. To grab attention build some unpredictability into the customer experience and include an auditory or visual alert. Similarly, we are also pre-disposed to be wary of change – so also consider using novelty to grab attention.

10. Use images of food to grabs attention when people are hungry: 

image of bowl of chilli from JustEat app
Image Source:

Visually appealing images of food can trigger our saliva glands and get our attention. Smells of food can be even more powerful and so most food stores and restaurants try to use this to their advantage. Scientists are also working on ways to digitise, transmit and reproduce smells through the internet. This could become a new tool for engaging and motivating visitors to sites which are food related.

However, in the mean-time high resolution images of food can still be an effective means of engaging with visitors who are looking for their next meal. Even if your site is not food or drink related why not try images of food or drinks around meal times to engage with visitors to remind them to return after their meal. It may be a way to personalise your site to align with what your customers are doing in the off-line world.

11. Sex! 

image of mobel on sign up offer
Image Source:

Sex or the implication of sex can be a very a powerful attention getter. The desire for sex is one of our strongest and most basic instincts. We also make decisions, largely unconsciously, on the possibility of sex – having more sex or being more sexually attractive. Certainly it must be appropriate to your product or service and how it is presented is also critical.

Indeed, Adore Me, a lingerie website, A/B tests some of the world’s most attractive models to understand what works and what doesn’t work for selling its products. Perhaps surprisingly, blondes don’t work, props are a distraction and couches are ok. Fascinatingly the model has more impact than the price.

“If customers see a lacy pushup on a model they like, they’ll buy it. Put the same thing on a model they don’t, and even a $10 price cut won’t compel them. Pose matters as well: the same product shot on the same model in a different posture can nudge sales a few percentage points in either direction. “ Fast Company.

Popular models can also help sell more expensive versions of the same item which can add millions to the bottom line. So, if anyone ever tells you that sex doesn’t sell, just point out that if done in the right context and in an appropriate way, it certainly can.


Psychological instincts are powerful motivators because they trigger automatic responses from our subconscious mind. It subconscious brain that manages most of our attention and is driven by psychological goals. Use these instincts to get your messages noticed as much of time visitors don’t see what you want them to as there are so many distractions on and off-line to compete with. Also try A/B testing different ways of communicating these instincts to understand what works and what doesn’t.

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