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11 min read

How to use psychology to boost ecommerce sales

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

It’s easy to get so fixated on traffic and sales figures that you can forget real humans are behind them. Those numbers – whether they’re good or bad – are the result of the decision making processes of thousands of human minds.

Would you like more of your website visitors to become customers? If the answer is yes, then you can do yourself a big favour by dipping your toes into a few key concepts of consumer behaviour and the psychology of selling.

Search intent

One reason that key landing pages don’t perform as well as you would like is that they don’t match the search intent of the keywords that they’re targeting. Broadly speaking, search intent can be split into three categories:

  • Navigational: users search for a branded term in order to navigate to a specific website, known in advance. Example: “impression cro”
  • Informational: users are searching to find more information on any given topic. Example: “how can i increase online sales?”
  • Transactional: users are searching to find something to buy. It is likely that they are ready to spend there and then. Example: “nintendo switch bundle”

Google is getting better at working out what kind of search intent a given page is meant to satisfy. It’s rare to see a blog post ranking for a transactional search, or a product page ranking for an informational search. If the page that you want to rank for a keyword doesn’t match Google’s perception of the search intent, don’t expect it to perform well.

User expectations on a more granular level

Search intent goes deeper than the broad categories mentioned above. Searchers often turn to Google with a specific idea in mind of the kind of website they want to find. This gives marketers and business owners an additional headache, because even if your page is ranking highly and receiving traffic, it may not be converting visitors very well if it doesn’t meet their expectations.

Other than a page’s conversion rate, there are several metrics accessible through Google Analytics that can give an indication of how well the page meets user expectations:

  • Bounce rate: this shows the percentage of people who land on a page and then leave without interacting with it at all. Where bounce rate is high for organic landing pages, the chances are good that your page is not satisfying users’ search intent.
  • Time on page: this shows how long, on average each user spends on your page. Generally speaking, the longer they spend on a page, the more likely it is that it met their expectations.
  • Exit rate: this shows how many people ended their session on the site with this page. Unlike bounce rate, this metric does not show a lack of engagement with the site as a whole, but does indicate that an individual page might not be converting particularly well.

Optimising for searcher intent and expectations

We will discuss later in this post some strategies for optimising specific on-page elements, but some competitor analysis can make sure that your page lines up with the highest performing pages that currently rank for the keyword. It’s a good idea to look at the top three or four ranking pages for your target keyword and make a note of things like the wording of their titles and headings, how much text they have, how many images they’re using and how many products are featured (if it’s a transactional search term). Aligning your page with these will give you the best chance of matching searcher intent and optimising your page for search engines.

Psychological hacks to boost conversions

Good levels of traffic to a key page doesn’t automatically translate into satisfactory sales figures. CRO (conversion rate optimisation) refers to a collection of tools and techniques used to improve a page’s ability to convert visitors to customers. We see CRO as a scientific methodology, with changes made after testable hypotheses and experiments designed to prove the optimal configuration of a page. Again, it’s easy to lose sight of the humans behind the metrics, but we need to remember that individual minds are determining the results of our experiments.

This means that we can improve conversion rate by applying the psychology of persuasion. After all, the key landing pages on an ecommerce site are ultimately trying to persuade visitors to buy the business’s products. There are plenty of theories that could be borrowed and adapted for ecommerce sales, but I want to focus on three: the scarcity principle, power words and colour psychology.

The scarcity principle

A well-known tool among advertisers, the scarcity principle is the idea that people are more likely to be persuaded to buy something if they believe that they would miss out otherwise. It is even more powerful if people believe that, in missing out, other people are enjoying the product that they passed up the chance to buy. In this way, the principle has some similarities to FOMO (fear of missing out), a well-documented phenomenon that is apparently common among millennials in our ever-connected age.

The scarcity principle is important to bear in mind when running sales for a short period of time, but it can also be used to imply that a product has limited stock, or that a buyer is missing out on a popular trend if they don’t buy.

How to apply the scarcity principle

This idea is best-suited to textual elements on your site. You could try using it with the following elements:

  • Call to action buttons: try including language that is immediate, direct and personal on your CTA buttons. Example text: Buy yours now!
  • Titles and headings: Your page title is the first thing that users will see if your page comes up in the SERPS (search engine results pages) and your headings are prominent textual elements. These are the perfect places to shout about the limited nature of your sale or stock. Example h1: Up to 50% off limited edition sunglasses for one week only!
  • Page copy: Even on product pages, it is a good idea to have some persuasive copy. You should use the space that you have to its maximum potential, telling customers about your products key selling points, along with any limited stock, limited time offers, mentions of its popularity.

Power words

Also known as ‘ultimate terms’ the theory of power words dates back to the ’50s and remains important. It refers to the idea that there is always a group of words that carry powerful persuasive weight. These words, if used correctly, can be used to trigger certain thoughts and emotions in the reader that can help encourage them to buy your products. A word of caution, however: overusing these words or forcing them into your content can have the opposite effect, making your persuasive efforts seem forced and fake.

Unlike the scarcity principle, power words can be used in ‘evergreen’ content; they are not tied to offers or stock availability but can be used to sell the product at any time. Common power words include proven (implying safety and quality), new (implying novelty), you (creating rapport through a direct address) and negative words, like lose, which can be used to set up an undesirable state that your product will help a customer to avoid (e.g. “never lose your phone again with our tracking app”).

How to apply power words

  • Titles and headings: You don’t want to go overboard, but power words can be used sparingly in your titles and headings. Example meta title: Toddler car seat – safest in the UK | The Car Seat Co.
  • Page copy: There are endless applications of power words in copy and there is skill in knowing when to use them and which ones to choose. As a rule of thumb, choose power words that line up with your brand identity and USPs. If innovation is part of your brand, use phrases like, “discover our new…” or if a USP is that your products are handmade and high-quality, try using phrases that speak to their reliability, like “guaranteed to…” or that speak to your business’s reputation, “…trusted by over 1000 happy customers“.

Colour psychology

Colour psychology is difficult to approach, simply because of the amount of unreliable pop-psychology you can find that talks about it. I’m not a fan of plucking insight off the first website you see when it comes to a topic like this, especially if you want to form a hypothesis for A/B testing or more complex multivariate tests.

The core principle of colour psychology is that different colours bring out different automatic subconscious responses in human observers. Obvious and well-known examples include red making us wary, alert or angry, or blue making us feel calm and peaceful. But the reactions we have to colours are more complex than those examples. Here are some other lesser-known but documented reactions, taken from article from publications like the Journal of Marketing Communications and the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (and yes, I’ll admit it, I found these via the Wikipedia article, which is pretty thorough on the subject).

  • Red: excitement, lust
  • Yellow: happiness, competence
  • Green: envy, life
  • Blue: corporate, high quality
  • Pink: sophistication, sincerity
  • Purple: authority, power
  • Brown: ruggedness
  • Black: expensive, fear
  • White: purity, sincerity

The above list doesn’t cover every implication of the colours, and changing variables such as the colours’ shade or brightness can also make a difference. However, there is enough there to give you a broad idea of the kinds of associations we make all the time about different colours without thinking about it.

How to apply colour psychology

Being able to have some control over your visitors’ reactions is a big advantage in the competitive world of online sales. While the applications of the previous two psychological theories have been more relevant to written aspects of your pages – titles, headings and copy – colour psychology applies to the aesthetic aspects. It is also worth noting that most companies don’t have complete freedom over the colour palette they use on their website. It is good practice to remain consistent with your brand and only to vary the aesthetics of your site within reasonable parameters defined by your brand colours, which will hopefully have been chosen with some thought given to this already. Bearing that in mind, here are a few areas you could apply colour psychology:

  • CTA buttons: One of the easiest elements to change is the call to action button. Try making them bold and bright to attract attention, colouring them with a colour that has an effect in line with the product or service page they lead through to or the action they signify.
  • Banners: Many ecommerce sites have some form of banner on the homepage, showcasing products and offers. Your banner should be designed to attract attention and, while it shouldn’t stray too far from your brand, there is often scope to be flexible and use colours that have the right associations for the featured products.
  • Other imagery: What will your customers think when they see the images on your pages? Will they be excited? Reassured? Bored? Use images that don’t just show off your best products, but that also guide your visitors’ thoughts and desires in the right direction.

Turning ideas into measurable improvements

Everything discussed in this article is qualitative. While the experiments to provide evidence for the theories may have been based on scientific testing and quantitative (numerical) results, applying the theories to a website seems to be based on ideas and expectations – what we think will work best. For ecommerce businesses who expect to see a strong ROI from any new initiative, we need more.

The way to make sure you see ROI from changes like this is in the testing and implementation. Tests designed to measure the effect of any proposed changes on your site’s conversion rate will turn your ideas into numbers, making any significant improvement clear. In the world of conversion rate optimisation – the broad term for making ongoing improvements to your site’s ability to make money – there are two methods of testing: A/B testing and multivariate testing. The former involves testing two versions of a page, with one difference, to see which one has the highest conversion rate. This is the fastest way of testing small changes. The second method involves changing more than one element and comparing all possible versions of the same page, with a different version for each possible combination of elements. Multivariate tests take longer than A/B tests, but allow you to see which elements have the biggest impact on conversion rate.

Scientific testing is difficult to carry out without tools like VWO, which is our primary CRO tool of choice at Impression. Without the ability to show different versions of pages at the same time to different segments of your audience, any changes will have to be implemented at different times and your results will be less reliable. However, the psychological theories I’ve talked about still have merit and you could still benefit from making changes to your ecommerce site, even if you can’t test the changes thoroughly first. If you do so, keep a close eye on your conversion rate and don’t hesitate to abandon your changes if they’re not working out. As a baseline, I would recommend with checking your pages to see if they match the search intent that Google has identified for their target keywords. This can be a quick way to get more traffic or conversions if certain pages are underperforming.

As a baseline, I would recommend with checking your pages to see if they match the search intent that Google has identified for their target keywords. This can be a quick way to get more traffic or conversions if certain pages are underperforming and can be analysed through Google Analytics or simply by studying competitors who outrank you.

If you want to improve your website’s conversion rate in a quantifiable, scientific manner, but don’t have the means to do so yourself, get in touch with us! We would love to have a conversation about how we could help. You can also read our CRO service page for more information.