Usability: What Makes Them Click?

I find understanding what makes people do what they do fascinating. When it also falls in the realm of website usability, that’s even better. Reading: Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? by Susan M. Weinschenk (Ph.D. in psychology) really reminded me about how little our conscious minds are in control of what we do.

The basic concept of the book is that you need to appeal to all parts of the brain, the old, mid and new brains in order to get people to find your site compelling and make them click. The old brain is the part of our brains that are necessary to stay alive. It takes care of the mundane things like breathing, digestion as well as stuff to keep us safe. The mid brain controls our emotions. That impulse buying that we do – that’s where it comes from. And then there’s the new brain. That’s the smart part of our brain that does all the thinking. It’s the concious part. If you can engage all three you have it made.

Social validation. A good example of how our old brain works against us is social validation. We are not the independent thinkers that we like to think we are. We are wired to want to fit in and belong. Even though we don’t even realize it, we look to others to try to figure out how to act.

  • Where do you see this behavior on the web? Chat rooms. People will lurk before they participate in the conversation. If there are a lot of people hanging out, they will assume that other people will assist when questions arise. Surprisingly, the more people in the chat room, the longer it will take for questions to be answered.
  • Do you listen to strangers? You do if you follow the information from online reviews. By adding voting to pages on your site, you just might be able to encourage people that what you have to say has more meaning.
  • Like the user reviews you are reading? They can be even more believable with a story behind them. Knowing who is giving the review helps us feel more in tune with the review. The more they seem like we are, the more that we trust them.

Better to owe than not to give. Another way to get people to like you (and your site) is to make them feel indebted to you. Giving stuff makes people feel indebted to you. What can a website give people? The first thing that came to my mind was e-books. I recently got an e-book of bird treat recipes for signing up to something for Bird Talk magazine. Smart people. For consumer sites, things like free shipping can go a long way to good feelings.

Make it scarce. Scarcity makes us want stuff more. This works very well for sites that sell stuff. If someone comes to your site and sees that you’re almost out of a product that they want, it will make the customers want it all the more. This is especially good at getting people who haven’t made their final decision. This can push them over the edge.

Make it simple. Don’t give too many choices. Too many choices overwhelm us, and can nearly paralyze us from making our decisions. Barry Schwartz, who studies the link between economics and psychology, spoke at TED about the “Paradox of Choice“. Less really is more. Keep it simple and only give a few choices, not every choice under the sun.

Make it accessible. When I say accessible, I’m not talking about good website design (although you should do that too). People like immediate gratification. Since there is no way for people to actully see or feel their online purchases, get it too them as quickly as possible. iTunes (or’s MP3 shop) does just that. Buy it and get it. eBooks work well for this too.

Positioning. By putting the product that you’d like to sell in the first position on the page you increase your chances of selling it. They spoke about this for products, but I believe the same to be true about any type of information that you are trying to push. If you have stronger parts of your site that you’d like promote, display them at the top.

Talk to me. Instead of using the Queen’s English make it more conversational. We like it when people talk directly to us. By using the word “you,” you immediately give your users the feeling that you are communicating directly to them.

Talk to the old brain. The old brain is only interested in three things: safety, food and sex. By using images that scare, feed or turn you on, you get your users’ attention. The old brain is also always scanning. By using images that change, you’re more likely to get your users’ attention.

Get commitments. No matter how little the commitment that you get, it’s the stepping stone to something bigger. Try using surveys to get a little buy-in from your users. From there you can push for more. By answering the surveys your users are making a public statement about your site. The more public the better. They also have the extra benefit of social validation. If they are positive, they can be shared and enjoyed by others.

Use people. Use pictures of people to help your users associate with a person. The more the people look like your target users, the better. We naturally trust people who look like us. We feel more comfortable with attractive people. Narratives also help.

Tell me a story. Stories are natually engaging.  Adding a picture to your story helps engage all parts of your brain. Just hearing the word “story” helps perk us up for what we are about to read.

Get social. People like to find others out there that they can talk to. By allowing users to talk with each other, and by engaging your user in conversations, you are connecting with everyone’s need to be social.

These are my main take aways from this very enjoyable book. It’s a quick and fun read. I have some ideas on how to incorporate what I’ve learned on The Pet Wiki. It feels a little sneaky to actually follow everything that Weinschenk suggesets. I’ll let you know how it goes.