The general goal of most websites is to attract viewers and persuade them to do something. More specific goals will vary depending on the purpose of the site, and most sites have multiple goals. For example, an commerce site goal could be to make a sale, or it could be to engage with potential future customers in a meaningful way. All these goals, big or small, have one thing in common, people. Websites exists to influence, inform, persuade, engage, or enable people. Therefore it seems obvious that a scientific understanding of how people behave, process information, and make decisions would benefit a website.

Every decision a person makes is influenced by a host of conscious and subconscious thoughts. This can include their past experiences, habits, preconceptions and biases, what the people around them are doing, the media, etc. Large companies know the value of good research, how small changes to just one element on a website can bring in massive gains when multiplied thousands of times. For smaller businesses the benefit is in having a website designed with the end users in mind, and with a full awareness of the psychology that drives peoples actions and decisions. There are a few principles that you can put to work quickly on any website,


There are several design elements that we can use to influence how a person reacts to a website.

Simplicity, don’t let the website design get in the way of the content. A well designed website should amplify the effect of the content, not distract from it. Any design element you place on a page should have a purpose, to guide the user to the content and encourage them to ….

  • Colour: Colour can be used to …
  • Space: plenty of space can reduce the cognitive load – best to use white space over visible lines
  • Simon’s Law: Hierarchical structures reduce complexity
  • Positioning of information: bias for right over left, the middle option, …


Content can be any one of a number of things these days, words, images, audio, video, downloadable files, games, SaaS apps, and I’m sure much more besides. However, for the purposes of this guide I’ll stay focused on words and images.

most browsers are impatient and looking for instant gratification, give it to them


Provide evidence that your product is great: Reinhard (1988) classes as ‘Any factual statement, object, or opinion not created by a source that is used by that source as support’ from here.


Words: what should good copy do?

  • Talk straight and to the point, people skim not read websites
  • emotions
  • be interesting, tell a story
  • communicate
  • You should write for your target audance
  • Compelling call to action
  • Avoid jargon, except when showing expertese (apple)
  • Break up information and make it easy to digest (bullets)
  • stats sound great and precise
  • recognise that the customer is buying the benefit, not the product. Eg. you don’t want to buy a hover, you want a clean floor. Try the ‘so what’ test.


Images can be used in several ways to guide a users attention, reinforce a concept or feeling, give atmosphere,

in a useful way, so it lowers the cognitive load

  • Empathy: Use photos of people who look approachable and friendly, and who the user can identify with. (see this). Including a person on the landing page has been shown to increase a pages conversion rate by over 100% (37signals).

People tend to be impatient when looking for information online, they skim content rather than read it looking for instant gratification.

Trust & Credibility

If you want people to part with their bank details its essential that they feel they can trust you. The same applies if you are a builder, lawyer, or pretty much any other type of commercial business. There are  many ways to re-enforce trust with your consumers, here are some of the easiest to get you started.

  • Quality content comes first, always, it reinforces a sites credibility. Long term viewers will choose quality content over website design
  • A well designed professional looking website. A clean, tidy, well maintained shop front conveys a positive image for the business, so will a well designed, uncluttered, and up-to-date website. Poor website design can make your business appear amateurish or worse, make you look like cowboys.
  • Familiarity:
  • Are you a member of a professional body?
  • Do you have any relevant qualifications or certificates?
  • Are you a member of an online trust scheme such as TrustMark?
  • Have you won any awards for your business?
  • Photos of staff or physical premises
  • Security Seals: If you take payments on your website you are likely to have an SSL certificate, you can also show trust seals for security scan services like McAfee or Symantec.
  • Testimonials and reviews from happy customers
  • Have you been in the news or featured in a well know magazine or website?
  • Do you deal with any well known companies, putting their logos on your site helps to re-enforce the solidity of your business especially if they are customers of yours.

What not to do

Users like control, don’t piss them off with popups and random redirects


Nudge: use lots of signals to guide your user to the desired action. Eg focal point/standout (price boxes). However, people follow habits and intuitions, not a web designers instructions, so make the website work with them.