10 ways to use psychology to lure web customers

I’ve been researching and thinking about the psychology of the social web and our Internet relationships. There are many common psychological techniques you can use in your every day Internet marketing.  Here are a few ideas to “psych” your visitors into spending more time on your website and your blog.

1) Social proof is king

In real life, “social proof” is the trappings of society that impart influence.  A person’s height, a fancy car, a diploma … all help determine influence, subconsciously.  Since we don’t have those physical clues in the online world, we look to “badges” like Twitter followers and Klout scores to provide a shortcut assessment.

With the density of information in today’s world, these badges are more important than ever.  In fact they may be even more important than your real knowledge, experience and accomplishments.  Strange but true. Think about your favorite blogger. I’ll bet you notice some of their badges like followers, AdAge rank, or tweets on a blog post, before you investigate their education or level of professional experience.

We make the same assessments about websites and blogs.  If you see a lot of tweets and comments, testimonies and awards, you assume something good is going on there.

Another way to accomplish this on a website is product reviews and ratings. Make sure ratings and reviews are clearly displayed on your site or product pages. Allow users to include information about themselves such as their gender, name, location and occupation. This makes the reviews even more compelling since it can create a connection to the demographics of your site visitors.

2) Give web tourists a reason to become residents

In the first few seconds you have a visitor on your site, are you giving them a reason to stay a little longer to learn about you?  This is commonly called a “call to action.” On my website, you can click to see free materials, download an eBook, watch videos, read case studies, listen to a podcast, read my blog … basically I give people lots of reasons to hang around by providing valuable material that would interest my target customer.

On my blog one of the most effective devices I have to help people stick around is the “Linked Within” app at the bottom of each post suggesting further reading.  This dramatically increases time on the site and increases page views on my blog by about 8 percent.

3) Put the most important action at the top

When you’re plotting out your call to actions, put your most important one first. The idea behind this is simple: what comes first is unconsciously regarded as the best.  I’ve been experimenting with this myself. One other consideration — if you’re stacking your calls to action down the right side of your page, keep in mind that the top right corner of your website is a blind spot. This is spooky but it really is true.

One time I was offering a free download at the upper right corner of my site. I was in a meeting with a web designer and was talking about the problem in front of a huge display screen of my website. I said “Without looking at the screen, can you tell me if I have a free download offer on my landing page?” Although we had been looking at the page all morning, he completely missed this element.  So, highlight your best offers first, but watch where you place them!

4) Provide instant gratification

When deciding to make a purchase, we are often influenced by how fast we can have the product.  Reduce or eliminate fields required to purchase or engage.  The other day I was required to register to comment on a blog. FAIL!

In a famous experiment participants were asked to choose between getting $5 now or $40 at a later date. MRI scans showed that when people thought about getting the money right away, the mid brain, or emotional center of the brain fired up. Even if you’re not selling something, use words like “instantly” or immediately in your content and headlines.

5) Illusion of scarcity

When something has a limited amount to it, its assumed value increases. We will want it even more. Make your product/offering limited by showing a limited stock quantity or limited time frame. This is a common tactic that most Internet marketers and offline/online retailers use. And it works. Because we feel good when we gain objects of value.

6) Build reciprocity 

Reciprocity is a big deal on the social web. I’m not sure it created influence, but adding up all these little low-impact “likes” and “tweets” can certainly create leverage over time. This is one of the oldest sales tricks in the book.  When you give something away on your web site, it triggers a sensation of indebtedness in your visitor’s mind. You can give away things like free product add-ons, guidebooks, content, downloads, free shipping etc.

Studies show visitors are twice as likely to complete a survey form after they were given access to free useful information.

7. Be sexy

Sex sells.  Always has.  Always will.  Even Zappos the online shoe store is using pictures of naked people in their ads.  This is a powerful human motivator but I haven’t quite mastered this on my website! I’m not sure sex is what comes to mind when you read my blog.  If it does, please let me know.  I’d like to hear about that!

8. Speak to your visitor by using the word ‘You’

Let’s compare this simple website copy:

“This new web service has many built-in features that allow for photos to be uploaded, organized, and stored. Photos can be searched for with only a few steps.”

“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 can find any photo with only a few steps.”

Write as if you’re talking to a person sitting right next to you. She is your prospective customer. She is your blog reader. And she is your friend. Don’t be afraid to use slang or community lingo to connect to their thought processes. Communicate about what she needs, not what you sell. There’s a difference.

9) Get your visitors to make a commitment

 Your goal is to drive people to take some action: buy, download, register, etc.  And to do that, you need to convert visitors from lurkers to engaged participants.  Even the simple act of writing, typing or signing something strengthens commitment to your website/company/brand. The more public the commitment, the stronger it will be.

Getting your visitors to commit to your website can be as easy as getting them to comment on your blog.  Polls and surveys work equally well too because they make your visitors interact with you.

10) Use images that demonstrate similarity and attractiveness

Use images of attractive people who are similar to your target market’s demographic profile. People are most influenced by people they deem to be both attractive and similar to them. The brain is unconsciously sizing up people you see and their attractiveness can rub off on your website itself, much like how an attractive person in a cellphone ad makes the cellphone look more enticing.

This doesn’t just apply to images. Most Internet marketers know that in order to appeal to a certain group of people, you need a human face that will be the focal point of their empathy and connection. Hence, the widespread use of marketing personas.

I hope you’ve benefited from these ideas.  If the article made you think, please consider sharing it with others and commenting below. Thanks!

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  • Great advice as always Mark, thanks for the post.

    In regards to your mention of sex selling, I don’t know if it is coincidence or what, but the first post of yours that caught my attention was “The making of a social media slut”! lol

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  • What a great post, Mark! Just had to ReTweet it … I think I had better start following you more closely.

  • So I need to get some badges, make some e-stuff and find pictures of the shirtless men of True Blood, then I’m all set. Requiring registration is one of my peeves, I gotta agree.. keep it simple, eliminate the hoops. My secret trick is to have a little fun with it, amuse and entertain along with informing.. then hopefully they’ll come back for more. Now to package my “acronyms and shorthand” guide, available for this short time only. 😉 FWIW.

  • Mark, I like your points 1, 4 and 8 in particular. Sex sells? Overplayed, and for most people, it is not authentic, not really them (if you change your avatar to the photo you used in your post? Yeah, not really you).

    Social proof is the one I struggle with. Are we adding value, or perpetuating the focus on Klout, followers, etc, that moves people away from investing in the real relationships that social media can also create.

    Thanks for sharing!

    — @wittlake 

  • Anonymous

    I never thought about using images that are similar to my target demographic, but it makes sense. People have always been drawn to those that are like them and online is no different. Social proof is huge on blogs and websites, busy blogs attract more people and get them to come back. Blogs that look like ghost towns don’t. I’ve noticed the blogs that directly ask me about my opinion at the end of the article do a great job of getting reader comments…Marcus Sheridan at The Sales Lion is really really good at this.

  • Hilarious. There you go. I was using sex to sell and didn’t even know it!!!

  • Thanks MJ. Glad you’re here. I think you will find this is an interesting and fun community!


    You know the whole “badge” thing is a bit creepy but I can’t deny it’s there and powwerful and will get worse I think.  Always a delight to hear from you Davina!

  • Superb addition to the conversation (as always) Eric.

    Here’s a prediction. In the near future all we will have is social proof.  Performance and credentials won’t matter. They matter little even now. Think about when augmented realtiy gets here. These “badges” will be with us everywhere we we go. They willl be inescable numbers on our foreheads. It will be a strange, strange world indeed.  Social proof scores will be the new opium.

    I just learned this trick where you can sort your Twitter stream by Klout score. Ugh.  I want to sort by “people who are servant leaders” or “people who will teach and entertain.”  In some cases, Klout is a true proxy for influence (I think they are making progress!), but in many cases it is a proxy for “people with too much time on their hands.”

    Thanks, friend!

  • So nice to hear from you Steve. The image thing is huge. Very key and usually something easy to do. When I work on websites for clients I try to use pics of real people as much as I can but if I have to go to iStock photo, I try to make it real : )

    I enjoy Marcus’ blog and thinks he does a good job with a lot of these things. Thanks so much for your comment!

  • Anonymous

    Hello Mark great post! I really like #8! I think I will begin to use this tip today on scheduled post. Im currently running a series called Facebook Quick Bits and I will have some How-To’s, I can see this working well. Its simple advise but a great way to start thinking about these post.

  • As always, great stuff Mark. I expect nothing less. I really do agree with these points, and am considering a plugin for my blog that will list most popular posts.

    I am always more interested in any website that uses ‘you’ or says “I was able to create a 70% rise in blog subscriptions” I will want to know what they did. Very stiff and formal language will turn me off.

    I agree sex sells, and to that end i did an experiment – I wrote a post that was mostly dating advice and gave it the headline – SEX! That Got Your Attention Didn’t It? – it got TWICE as many views as any other post that week. I do not think that was an accident.

  • Of course, what a concept!

    Thank you Mark for sharing and shining a light on using psychology, the study of human behavior to “lure web customers.”

  • Mark: excellent advice as always – you rarely if ever disappoint with your insights. The social proof comment is very intriguing, and personalizing your content is just so important . I also agree that you should stay away from the “Sex Sells” concept – as will I.

  • So I was going through my Google Reader and saw the Pink Floyd sign. Decided I HAD to read the post because they are my favorite band. Go through the post, and realize there is no mention of Pink Floyd. So I double check and realize its Freud, not Floyd.

    You are a tricky one Mr. Schaefer :). I never realized that the top-right corner is a blind spot. That IS kind of spooky. I always assumed that is one of the best places to put your call-to-actions because it is above the fold.

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  • This is really a timely post for me, Mark. I was just this weekend looking at your and a number of other top blogs for the common elements and strategies, in preparation for improving my woefully inadequate blog. I know I’m not making the best use of it. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to do a total redesign, yet. But I did note improvement I could make, including more attractive elements and things like the social proof and clear calls to action you mention. Now, I can use your list as a reference for additional, incremental improvements. Thank you!

  • Good stuff Mark, 3) Important at top is particularly interesting and new to me. How do you define Top Right. Is it where you have the lovely splash of colour or is it the top of the column where the Search tools are?
    PS Just Followed on Twitter. Off Topic.
     I note you have about 25 tweets in last 24 hours (ignoring @Replies).
    @JeffBullas record was 120 in 24 hours. Yep I counted them. Is there a sensible limit?

  • my blog is a test site for things to come. I play with elements. lots to learn.
    I like all that you have said about the nature of things as they are; but that is for static desktop places mostly.
    What about when you go mobile and space is premium? Are you going to ask them to click on a link to read something because all the space you have is to prove your social worth?
    Phones are the most used mobile medium, not so much room for social proof. ipad and whatever comes along to compete with it, Google/Motorola will give more realestate; but still you don’t have the room.
    What are you ideas on how the social proof experience will change when the screen becomes a lot smaller?

  • MARK,

    Greetings from rural Australia.

    Social proof is indeed KING.  And always has been.

    In high school, there is the ‘in crowd’.  And those on the outer.

    In business, it’s The Fortune 500.  And those underneath.

    In Australia, it’s the Business Review Weekly (BRW) Rich List. 

    Vanity Fair with its numerous lists of Top 100’s.

    And online its Twitter followers. Facebook Likes.  More badges than the Scouts ever thought of.  And Klout scores.

    The human race is obsessed with measuring itself and comparing individual achievements with benchmarks.

    Followers and Klout scores intrigue me the most.

    As a moderately low user of, but great lover of Twitter, I’m always gobsmacked at the angry tweets when someone loses a follower.  I’m more an observer than an active participant, so am always gaining and losing followers.  Outside of my morning greeting to my followers, I’m hard pressed to tweet any more for the day.  But I scan my tweet stream at intervals, looking for morsels of information I can laugh at, retweet because it’s great value, or catch up with my news online.  So 21st century, reading news online!

    And then I come to Klout.  The newly crowned monarch for social proof.

    As a user of Hootsuite, I see Klout scores every time I click on an avatar to learn more about a person. And am gobsmacked at scores of 70 and above.

    Which means almost full time online.  Chatting, retweeting, making sure you have the right followers with equal or more Klout than you.

    Does it mean that person is successful in their chosen business?  

    As a product designer of one of the world’s most boring and undesirable products, I have a website with a shopping cart.  

    But most of my time in my business is spent offline.

    Using a phone with a cord in the wall.  Email.  Snail mail to deliver my brochures to customers and prospective customers.  And Australia Post to deliver my parcels all over the world with the all important Thank You package that goes into every parcel.

    Then there’s the follow up 45 days later to make sure their product is performing as they expect.

    And in eleven months, another missive from me asking if, again, their product is as they wish, because, their product has a 12 month guarantee against wear and tear and now is the time to let me know the good or bad news. 

    These old fashioned methods have driven 250,000 customers around the world to my business.  And kept them there.  

    I have no badges on my website or my blog.  My blog is simply to entertain my customers about my rural lifestyle, which they find romantic and charming.  But rarely leave comments.  But my stats show they send my posts to their friends.  Who send them to their friends.  But – if comments are the measurement of how popular my blog is, it’s a dismal failure. 

    My Klout score on Twitter is never higher than 42.  And often dips to 30.

    I have a pitiful number of Likes on my Facebook business pages.

    And by all accounts would be deemed seriously lacking in social proof.

    And as a business with an online presence, am doomed to fail in the long term.


    I rank in 4th position on Google Australia for my basic keyword search term.  After the paid ads.  Have never used Adwords to drive traffic to my site.   More than 150% of visitors to my website click me as a favourite.  So they’re clicking more than one page to come back to.  I grow by more than 20% a year, every year.  More than 30% of new customers are word of mouth.  15% of orders are for gifts to be sent all over the globe.  And I receive on a daily basis love letters by email and snail mail from customers who I would happily walk over broken glass for to make sure they stay in love with my company.

    I also have to contend with a steady stream of web designers emailing me from my website negatively critiquing it.

    But my customers love it.  It’s down home, simple, and there’s something about it that makes them want to leave me a comment on their online order about their enjoyment at finding me.

    My social proof is sky high with the people who matter most.  Those who pay for my product in exchange for a seriously exceptional buying experience.

    That’s the only social proof that matters.  The one that runs deep and is genuine.

    As a keen observer of people, I’m always reminded that much of what we see in people is only skin deep.  It’s only when we get up close and personal that we can really judge the mettle of a person or a business. Your customer wants to see that you’ll walk over broken glass to make them happy.  And if you willingly do that, you can kiss the importance of a Klout score goodbye.  You don’t need it.  Your customer will be your messenger of good tidings.  To their friends.  Family.  Co-workers.  All the people who trust them.  

    Love your posts, Mark, and retweet them often.  They give me much joy when I read them every morning in my Google Reader.

    And thank you for allowing me to add my interpretation of social proof.

    Best wishes and take care,


    Carol Jones
    Interface Pty Ltd
    Designers of The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover

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  • (applauding) Wow, what a great comment. Thanks for the insights and for staying centered in a world of social proof! 🙂

  • Whole New Can of Worms my friend!!! But you’re definitely thinking the right way!

  • There really aren’t any rules on Twitter. If somebody annoys you with too many tweets, undfollow them. And I have. : ) A rule of thumb is that 20 is about the limit before it starts to get annoying but I probably go between 10-40 on most days. Jeff, who lives in Australia, schedules his tweest to go round the clock. I rarely schedule tweets … maybe 1% Hope that helps!

  • Glad to be timely for you Neicole!

  • Yeah, check out some of those “heat chart” studies.  Kind of makes and L on the screen!

  • Thanks Colin. Very kind of you to comment today. Much appreciated!

  • I love thinking about this stuff.  So interesting to me!

  • Oh gosh that is so funny.  I have used slut and whore in a headline but need to try that one. I’ll have to make sure mother is not reading my blog that day : )

  • Wonderful!  Glad this was helpful to you!

  • Indeed! So I will be looking forward to a post about all of this then? 🙂

  • Great advise and terrific insights, Mark! I just loved the comments here today as well.  What I like most about your writing style is that you are able to turn fundamentals into something interesting and helpful.  Everything you’ve discussed here is fundamental “selling” practice that you have “translated” into something that the Social Media world can apply.  This is not meant to belittle what you are saying at all but hopefully help people understand that people don’t change, the fundamental human psychy has not changed but Social Media for the first time in history has allowed business people (and consumers) to collectively leverage this in massive scale.

    The clarity you bring to this is just awesome, as always!

  • Hi eric, I too believe the “Sex Sells” thing can be overused, but like anything, too much of a good thing ……..  That being said, as Krysia said (and I’m sure lot’s of others did the same) Marks’s blog about being a social media slut attracted her attention but she’s continued to come back even without more “slutty” mentions.  Mark is a master of “gear changing” and is constantly switching up this blog with interesting topics, cartoons, funny stuff and still manages to keep it on point. It takes a mix of strategy to make something work and i think that is the important message here. 

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  • Love, love, LOVE this post, Mark. Great advice here.

    I actually just had a conversation with @jeffgoins:twitter  this morning about the badge thing. It’s amazing how powerful that is. Before social media, the same was true with traditional PR/Marketing awards. Having the trophies in your office, or in this case, the badges on your blog, really validates you with your readers and prospects.

    Interesting point about the blind spot in the top right corner. I didn’t realize that existed, but it makes a lot of sense. Not to rave on and on about @jeffgoins:disqus but he mentioned how his email/feed sign-ups went through the roof when he added a sign-up at the end of every blog post. I definitely need to look into my “blind spots!” 

  • Hey, any comment that starts love, love, love is going to be a winner in my book!!!

    Thanks for this kind comment Laura! Glad it was helpful.

  • That’s a good way to put it Steve. It’s also why I stress as much as i can that to succeed in this space you need to have a good fundamental education in marketing.  At the end of the day it’s about human behavior.  Thanks!

  • I was with a client today is who is just figuring out social media. After a three hour meeting, he turned to me and said, “and we’re behind in mobile too.”  I just had to sigh. Of course it’s true. Companies have so much to consider these days.  They have to do everything at once and do it well.

  • Thanks for recognizing my effort to try to mix it up.  It’s a challenge, but a fun one!

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  • fresh material, well presented.  Love the social proof idea and impression of “scarcity” in particular. And appreciate being reminded of personalizing with “you.” thanks!

    Elizabeth Harrington
    Qualitative Research Professional

  • Chelsea

    Great article! 

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  • Paul

    Would anyone mind taking a quick look at http://psy.co and how many of these principles apply?

  • Thanks for sharing it

  • This is probably the stupidest spam comment I have ever seen. However, there is some entertainment value in it. OK, it stays.

  • Glad to have you comment Elizabeth! Thank you!

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  • Anonymous

    A very good look at how these 10 tried and true behaviors can (and should) be applied in the online world. The medium doesn’t change the consumer psychology. However, shorter online attention spans require excellent execution for success.

    Thanks for showing how we can effectively communicate our message.


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  • There are many ways on how to make such internet business
    work so well and enhanced. Before, I never know that psychology is important in
    making the marketing flourished. SEO works are important in the internet

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  • Wow, I’m applauding too! That was like a post in itself. And look at that… Illusion of scarcity – sounds familiar 🙂

  • Clare Delaney

    Mark, firstly, thank you for the great post! Perhaps you should add another way of luring people to your web – the way I arrived today, which is to re-tweet a slightly older blog post to introduce it to a new audience. I’m happy you did so, and I have taken notes.
    I think you have a very interesting community – the comments show great perspectives! I particularly enjoyed the comment from Carol Jones, well said! I also appreciated Eric Wittlake’s comment about us losing real connections. (Your response painted a grim picture indeed, but all too plausible).
    I have a quick query for you please. You say we should reduce or eliminate fields required for purchase or engagement – I couldn’t agree more (and when I see a quick-to-complete sign-up form being immediately followed by a whole page of things to complete, then I get downright angry). But then later you suggest adding additional fields for Commenters (e.g. location, occupation) in order to add social proof. Are those not contradictory points? Even though those additional comment fields would of course be optional.
    Either way, thanks for a great post – I learnt and will apply!

    Clare Delaney
    Eco Friendly Matters on EcoFriendlyLink.com

  • Kimberly Danner

    You stated in #7 that you were wondering how to add sex appeal to your site but haven’t found a way to incorporate it yet. What do you think about adding an area to your page dedicated to the psychology of sex appeal in marketing and business? Writing about the topic may be enough sex appeal (you could add some images to coincide with topics) or possibly having a few female guest bloggers write an entry.

    Fantastic article, even without tons of sex appeal, you have great traffic on here. Keep up the good work and looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  • Mark,
    While reading this article I do feel like you are sitting beside me.. Might sound funny even reading it I hear it in your voice :-D. You have a gift of writing and making it personall to everyone. Grt article!! I am loving this new learning curve! P.S. Your website is sexy! 🙂

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  • Nelson A. Dominguez

    This article was eye opener! I really enjoy reading it. I came up with lots of ideas after i reading it. Is amazing how psichology connects with marketing. I dare to say that marketers are indeed psichologists, and that in the very deep part of their subs-consious they have a psychologist trying to understand human behavior by their ways to buy, follow and like thinks.

  • Steven J Hanley PhD

    Good stuff here!

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