8 Rules for Persuasive Web Design and Content

How to use the art of persuasion in your website’s design and copy

Every website starts with a goal. Whether your selling a product, marketing a service, or simply providing information, you want the people visiting your site to leave with a sense of purpose and value. Generally, this requires that users to buy into something– that something could be a tangible object or an abstract concept. To achieve this, there are plenty of simple steps you can take to employ persuasive web design principles.

1. Use ‘You’ Instead of ‘We’

When you’re trying to sell or market something, it’s easy to get caught up in your own POV. After all, you’re excited about your business– and you can’t wait to share it with the world.

But be careful not to frame the content on your website from a ‘We’ perspective. When a person gets to your landing page, they do so with little consideration as to who you are, what you like, or what you think about your own business. It may sound cruel– but users are a bit selfish. They want to know how your business relates the them. What can you offer them that’s better than your competitors? What makes your product or service perfect for them?

By employing ‘you’ and ‘your’ in your copy, you form an immediate connection with your reader. Writing this way also helps you to frame your business in relation to your clients and customers. When paired with user research, and a real, data-backed understanding of your target audience, you can write effective copy that speaks directly to your audience’s needs and desires– thus persuading them to stay on your page.

2. Tell a Story with Emotional Appeal

We believe in the power of storytelling. It’s an essential element of modern branding and marketing. And when you’re considering how to tell your story, go back to the very foundation of your website– your user’s goals.

When writing copy and making design choices, think about your user’s needs and desires, and appeal to them on an emotional level. This is likely dependent on the overall tone of your site (will humor work? or is something more sombre appropriate?)

The point is, you want to use copy and design to stir an emotional reaction, particularly on your landing page. It’s hard to persuade somebody to read something boring. Try to avoid dry, technical language, but rather get to the heart of your user’s goals and appeal to them conversationally.

3. Bring Value to the Table

Using value propositions is probably one of the most important elements of persuasive writing. As a consumer, your first thought when viewing a product is usually what’s in it for me? Related to our first tip, try to think about what value your offering has to your audience, as opposed to just listing off its various features. It’s all well and good that your product has extra bells and whistles– but they won’t mean much if their value isn’t stated. All the copy on your page should clearly tell your audience what they stand to gain from engaging with your brand.

There’s some evidence to show that consumers aren’t just interested in what they stand to gain from a product or service, but what they might lose by not using it. This phenomena is called ‘prospect theory’, and poses that people are more keen to avert a loss than receive a gain. Think about this when writing value propositions– writing them to reflect what a person might miss out in if they don’t buy in.

4. Use Headlines Effectively

Headlines are a wonderful way to break up large blocks of text. But they have an important function. Headlines should be eye-catching and gripping, but more importantly, they shouldn’t give everything away in one sentence.

People are bombarded with information online. Have you ever told somebody you ‘read an article’ online, but you actually just saw the headline on Twitter? Us too.

It’s a common phenomenon, and if you want users to take in more information about your business and learn about its value, your headline should leave something to the imagination. Create intrigue with your headlines by asking a difficult question, or promising something that will be revealed in the text below.

5. Engage with Visual Elements

Visuals are the most crucial aspect of any good website. People are drawn to visual elements much more than copy, and using copy and images together can help draw users in and tempt them to read more. It’s important that you play these two elements off of one another to create a website who’s content is enticing and keeps users clicking through:

  • Use white space to avoid overwhelming your page with content
  • Alternate image and text, using visuals to draw the eye toward your text
  • Incorporate text into your images, for instance using larger fonts to emphasize features in a product image (Apple, unsurprisingly, does this particularly well)

And it’s not enough to throw any image on the screen– ensure that your images fit with the overall mood and theme of your brand to create a memorable user experience.

6. Consider UX in Your Copy

Your copywriter and designer should be collaborating. That’s because words play a huge part in persuasion– even if your UX is incredible and your navigation is well thought out, you still need to take care with the words you use to guide people through your site.

Illustration - UX Design

Use clear, simple language, particularly for top navigation and buttons on your site. For example, a button that says “Apply Now” speaks more clearly to a person’s goals than a button that says “Read our Application” or “Requirements for Application”. Use language that implies action— it’s more clear, and more intriguing.

In line with the concept of clarity, try to give users less options as opposed to too many. Providing a few simple paths through your site that are clearly labelled (avoid clever or cute language when guiding navigation) is much more effective than offering several pathways that might give your user choice paralysis.

7. Build Trust

Another key element of persuasive content is building trust and establishing legitimacy. This can be difficult, especially for new companies that are still building their online presence. But there are a few tried-and-true methods that are simple to employ:

  • Use testimonials to make new clients or customers feel at ease. User’s rely heavily on reviews and testimonials, so featuring them clearly (especially on your landing page) is a sure-fire way to build trust instantly
  • Write using language that signals expertise. This usually works best when describing more technical elements of your product or service, but indicating years of experience, relevant educational backgrounds, and general knowledge of staff can also help boost legitimacy
  • Overcome objections to persuade users by addressing and easing their fears. Thinking about what your user’s pain points with your product might be is an effective way to build trust by showing your potential customers/clients that you’ve thought through their needs carefully

8. Keep it Simple

According to a study by the Nielsen Norman group, 79% of users scan, and 16% read word-for-word. That means that wherever you employ copy, you need to make sure your using point first writing– state your point first, and back it up with details later. Additionally, use tools like bullet points and sub-headings to break up your text into readable tidbits.

Having said that– make sure you write your text for readers, too. Where copy is necessary, make it more readable by breaking it up into smaller chunks– short paragraphs, short sentences, and simple language that’s easy to understand.

If you try to impress your readers with difficult language, you’ll lose them. A good rule of thumb is to only use complex language when describing technical prowess– that’s one area where readers tend to find complex language persuasive.

For all this and more, Design In DC’s digital creative agency is here to help:

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