Illustration of person designing

When it comes to websites, everyone wants theirs to look good. That’s a given. But often times in that quest to look great, people forget about the primary objective of the website: to drive conversions. A website conversion is simply when someone completes a desired action on your website, like filling out your web form, clicking on your phone number, signing up for your newsletter, or buying your products. That’s how we measure if your website is doing well – with conversions.

Design plays a massive role in influencing conversions on a website, often in subtle but powerful ways. It shapes how users interact with your site, their perception of your brand, and ultimately, their decision to take action. Here are some key ways design impacts conversions:

Usability and Clarity:

  • Navigation: Clear and intuitive navigation makes it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for, preventing frustration and abandonment. Imagine landing on a website where the menu options are confusing or unclear – you’d likely leave quickly.
  • Layout: A clean and organized layout avoids overwhelming users with information overload. White space, headings, and bullet points improve readability and guide users through the content. Compare a cluttered website with poorly formatted text to one with clear sections and visuals – which feels more inviting to read? Take the website of Apple, known for its clean and elegant design, which emphasizes product images and minimalistic aesthetics.
  • Mobile-friendliness: Today, many users browse on mobile devices. This varies by industry and target audience as well. If your website isn’t mobile-responsive, it will be clunky and frustrating to use, driving users away.

Visual Appeal and Trust:

  • Branding: Consistent use of color, fonts, and imagery reinforces brand identity and builds trust. People are more likely to convert on a site that feels professional and reflects their brand expectations. Compare a website with mismatched fonts and colors to one with a cohesive visual identity – which feels more established and trustworthy?
  • High-quality visuals: Using professional photos, videos, and graphics enhances the user experience and showcases your products or services in their best light. Compare a website with blurry, low-quality images to one with clear, professional visuals – which feels more appealing and trustworthy?
  • Social proof: Testimonials, reviews, and case studies demonstrate the value you offer and build trust with potential customers. Imagine seeing positive reviews on a product page compared to none – which makes you more likely to buy?

Calls to Action (CTAs):

  • Clear and prominent: CTAs should be easy to find and understand, using strong verbs and contrasting colors to stand out. A hidden or unclear CTA will not convert users. Compare a small, text-based CTA to a large, brightly colored button – which is more likely to grab attention and encourage action?
  • Benefit-oriented: CTAs should highlight the benefit users will get from taking action, not just the action itself. “Buy Now” is less effective than “Unlock Your Free Guide.”

Remember: Design is not just about aesthetics; it’s about communication and user experience. A well-designed website guides users towards your conversion goals, building trust and making them feel comfortable taking action.

The Psychology of Websites

Websites are more than just digital brochures; they’re carefully crafted interfaces that aim to influence your thoughts, emotions, and ultimately, your actions. The psychology behind these design choices is fascinating and plays a big role in how users experience and interact with a website. Here are some key aspects:

Color Psychology: Different colors evoke different emotions and associations. Blue often signifies trust and security, while red grabs attention and can even induce urgency. Websites strategically use color palettes to set the tone, guide user attention, and influence their perception of the brand.

Cognitive Psychology: Users have limited attention spans and processing power. Design choices like white space, clear hierarchy, and familiar layouts help users efficiently find information and complete tasks. Hick’s Law, for example, tells us that too many options overwhelm users, so websites with streamlined navigation and focused CTAs (calls to action) encourage desired behavior.

I have worked on many e-commerce websites for products that are configurable – meaning they have different choices on how to buy the items, different colors, different sizes, lots of different customizations. And one of them had so many choices, the company didn’t get sales. And when asked why I thought they weren’t getting sales, I explained Hick’s Law. Too many choices were making people indecisive.

Social Proof: Humans are social creatures, influenced by the actions and opinions of others. Websites leverage this by showcasing testimonials, customer reviews, and social media icons, building trust and encouraging users to follow suit.

Have you heard of the Smoky Room Experiment from the 1970s? It’s a famous study in social psychology that investigated the “bystander effect” and “diffusion of responsibility.” Participants were invited to complete a survey in a waiting room. In some conditions, participants were alone. In others, they were with one or two others who were part of the experiment. Unbeknownst to the participants, smoke began to slowly fill the room. Researchers observed how long it took participants to report the smoke or take action. When alone, about 75% of participants reported the smoke within 6 minutes. However, when others were present, especially those who pretended not to notice the smoke, participants were much less likely to act. Only about 10% reported the smoke in these conditions.

Loss Aversion: We fear losing opportunities more than gaining them. Websites use this by highlighting limited-time offers, countdown timers, and scarcity messaging to motivate users to act quickly.

The Von Restorff Effect: We tend to remember things that stand out. Websites use contrasting elements, bold fonts, or animations to draw attention to important information or calls to action, making them more memorable.

Emotional Response: Ultimately, websites aim to evoke positive emotions that associate with the brand and its message. Images, videos, and storytelling can create feelings of trust, excitement, or belonging, leading to better engagement and conversions.

Some Design Principles that Influence Conversions

The Rule of Thirds:

The rule of thirds in web design is a powerful guideline for composing visually appealing and balanced layouts. It involves dividing your web page into a grid of nine equal squares, created by intersecting two horizontal and two vertical lines across the page.

Here’s how it works:

  • The grid: Imagine a transparent grid overlaid on your webpage, dividing it into three equal sections horizontally and vertically. These sections create four intersections, which are considered the “sweet spots” for attracting viewers’ attention.
  • Eye movement: The rule suggests that our eyes naturally tend to follow a specific path when looking at an image or webpage. This path starts at the top left corner, moves to the top right, then down to the bottom left and finally to the bottom right. The intersections of the grid are believed to fall along this natural eye movement pattern.
  • Applying the rule: You can leverage this knowledge by placing key elements like calls to action, important images, or headings on or near the intersections. This increases the chance that users will see and engage with these elements.

The 8-Second Rule

In the world of web design, the “8-second rule” refers to the idea that you only have about 8 seconds to capture a user’s attention and convince them to stay on your website. It’s essentially a call to action to prioritize strong first impressions and design your website in a way that quickly communicates its value and engages visitors.

Basis of the rule:

  • Research suggests that attention spans have decreased in the digital age, making it important to grab users’ attention quickly.
  • Studies have shown website bounce rates (users leaving quickly) increase significantly if pages take longer than 8 seconds to load.

What the rule implies for web design:

  • Prioritize speed: Optimize your website for fast loading times, especially above-the-fold content.
  • Focus on clarity and simplicity: Clearly communicate your value proposition and make navigation intuitive.
  • Emphasize visual elements: Use high-quality images, videos, and graphics to attract attention.
  • Keep it concise: Avoid overwhelming users with too much text or information.
  • Highlight calls to action: Make it clear what you want visitors to do next.

The Gestalt Similarity Principle

The Gestalt Similarity Principle, applied to web design, states that elements with similar visual characteristics tend to be perceived as belonging together by the user. They are grouped visually, even if they’re not physically close. This natural tendency helps users understand the website’s hierarchy and relationships between elements.

Here’s how web designers leverage this principle:

Grouping related elements:

  • Color: Use the same or similar colors for elements that belong together, like navigation items, product categories, or buttons within a specific action group.
  • Shape: Utilize the same shape for elements serving similar functions, like buttons, icons, or cards of the same type.
  • Size: Maintain consistent sizing for elements within a group, making them visually connected.
  • Texture: Apply similar textures to elements you want to connect, like subtle background patterns for related sections.

Highlighting important elements:

  • Contrast: Employ different colors, shapes, or sizes for elements that require special attention, like calls to action or key information.

Creating visual flow:

  • Gradient colors: Use smooth transitions between similar colors to guide the user’s eye through a specific path.
  • Pattern repetition: Repeat similar patterns subtly within a section to create a sense of visual unity.

Lots of people want to focus on driving more traffic to a website. And we love getting more traffic. But traffic alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make more money, get more subscribers, or have more sales. Once the traffic is there, you have to figure out how to drive conversions, and your design choices, as much as anything, play a role in how well your website converts.

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Amy Masson, Web Developer

Amy Masson

Amy is the co-owner, developer, and website strategist for Sumy Designs. She's been making websites with WordPress since 2006 and is passionate about making sure websites are as functional as they are beautiful.

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