Psychology of online visitors applied to content

Gwendal

Today, we’re looking at (some of) the psychology behind online behavior and how it can/should inform our content strategy.
At Cauzal AI (cauzal.ai), our mission is to empower anyone to deliver the most relevant content to every visitor. It starts by understanding our visitors to make content that matters.

Below is a 7–10min read, summary of our findings when learning about content psychology.

1- How does the brain function?

The need to control

Humans crave control because it offers comfort.

When things feel out of our control, our minds and bodies respond, with stress and tension.
Our visitors are humans too (well, most of them), and if they start to feel the control of their online experience is slipping from their hands, they will disengage from your site, from your product/service, from your brand.
How-to: Use smart and organized navigation, sticky menu, have a grid structure to your site, limit the colors to your core palette (not more than 3–4), ensure caligraphy is consistent, avoid unsolicited pop-up windows, ensure control on sound and ability to pause if you have videos on auto-play, make sure your CTA’ text and the actual target match, allow ample breathing space (white/clear)

Dopamine and anticipation

Robert Sapolsky is a neuroscientist who studies dopamine in the brain. ran experiments with monkeys and trained them to understand that if they pressed a button ten times after the light comes on (“signal”), a treat would appear.

Sapolsky measured the amount and timing of dopamine released in the monkeys’ brains during the phases of the experiment: signal — work (pressing the button) — reward (get treat).
In the first experiment, the monkeys receive the treat every time after pressing the button 10 times. In the 2nd experiment, only 50% of the time. In the 3rd and 4th experiments, Sapolsky gave the treat 25 percent of the time or 75 percent of the time

Many people think that dopamine is released when the brain receives a reward, but dopamine is actually released in anticipation of a reward. It’s the dopamine that keeps the monkey pressing the bar until the treat arrives.

Tip: Craft an experience that builds up the anticipation. Your visitors most likely know the outcome of converting (demo request, sale, download…), but it is your job to make the visit experience exciting enough to raise the dopamine level and keep them engaged. Think of it as a journey, make it a memorable one.

Managing expectations

When customers visit your website, the expectation factor is very much at play. The expectation will vary from one group of users to the next (depending on their segment, propensity to convert, where they’re coming from, etc…) but they all have some expectations. If you offer an experience that strays too much from what they anticipate, they will end up feeling a loss of control.
Don’t try to “hard-sell” them something that is not at all something they came for, or push them into viewing certain content without permission. this would trigger some resistance and at scale, significantly lower your conversion rate.

2- Understand your (many groups of) visitors

There is not a “one size fit all” approach here. You have to create content that caters to all of your visitors’ expectations and ways of processing information and message.

Web analytics features and common metrics

Web Analytics tools (such as Google Analytics) provides you with demographics info, source of traffic, repeat traffic. Note that some info is not available at the user level, like age range, gender, categories/in-market affinity.

A deeper look at the traffic will provide you with an additional layer of information: cookie lifetime, frequency of visits, past visits, path/sequence on the site, events triggered, category of content, interests, and timing of visits. These are harder to extract and require some technical skills to parse data, logs, and referral URLs.

Paid media data (Paid search, Social, Email, Webinars,…) provides access to original campaigns, keywords, all UTM parameters and all of this informs on your visitors’ behaviors. (Note that in order to unify data, you will need to get this information from your web analytics platform as well).

Your CDP, CRM, or enrichment platform data should be incorporated in the mix as well as it provides deeper feature sets of your known visitors (Industry, Size of Company, Title, LTV, …)

Behavior paths

It’s important to analyze the Behavior Flow report in order to reveal people’s thought process. If you notice that a certain page is commonly listed as the final place the users visited before leaving, then you might need/want to optimize it.

A few scenarios to look at:

  • The visitor left after finding what they wanted. Not necessarily anything wrong with people leaving a page. But if they left without taking concrete action, you lost them. Take these pages a step further and get your visitor to convert (subscribe to a newsletter, visit another page, fill a contact request form,…). What CTA(s) would work here? Tip: there will be more than one, experiment with many CTAs
  • They bounced because they didn’t find what they were looking for. Very common, especially when SEO is at play, or coming from a search engine. Ask yourself: “Why can’t they find what they’re looking for? How can we help?”. Tip: experiment with multiple headers, tagline, images. The goal here is to capture their attention, pique their interest. You have less than 15s for that!
  • The visitor left in the middle of the funnel. Whether it’s a sign-up or a sales funnel, it is a problem because you lost them. You also have some great info on where they left and it is likely going to be different based on the group of visitors. In this case, you might want to experiment on the amount of info you’re asking and personalizing each step of the process. Tip: experiment with fewer steps or less content per step, offer tailored pricing, evoke emotions at each step
Segments

Now is time for a little bit of data science! Based on the data above, try and define behavioral patterns. Don’t focus on demographics, this will be biased, group visitors based on their propensity to convert or not, and their behavior. What and how are they responding, whether positively or negatively.

3- Tips on content creation

Engagement of visitors on your website depends on the content you’re offering them and how you make it compelling for them to stay/learn more/convert to your product or service.

Evoke emotions

Good content always evokes an emotion; it can be provocative, funny, political, cute, educational or informative, good content piques interest and taps into a passion point.

Tell a story

Your visitors are human beings, hard-wired to respond to stories. A good story will engage both their mind and emotions as nothing else can. If you can tap into your audiences’ minds at this deep level, you have a much greater chance of engaging them with your content.

Be customer-centric

When you’re writing, continually ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” You need to always think in terms of the audience for whom you’re writing: Their needs. Their challenges. Their opportunities. Don’t wait until the very end to provide useful information and a CTA to buy your service/product. Remember, your goal is to build trust, not sell something.

Differentiate

Seek to differentiate your content. Not just for the sake of being different, but to gain attention and engagement. Remember, brains make decisions fast (design in less than 1 s, interest in 15s). Appeal to emotions and issues that your target audience cares about. Think about their typical day. What value can you deliver to them that will make their day, their week, their career better?

Create a no-pressure path to conversion

This is often referred to as “Compliance without pressure” or FITD technique (foot in the door).
Get visitors or customers to make a small commitment before asking them to make a larger one. Instead of overwhelming them with discounts and offers (hard sell), start by providing valuable content that has a subtle sales intent (soft sell).

Use the power of combinations

Your site communicates to your visitors through many elements:

  • Main Header
  • Primary and secondary CTA
  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Vision statement
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Customer stories
  • Pricing
  • Offers and discounts,
You need to apply the content principles described above to all of these. Because of the complexity of building a uniform version of efficient content as a whole, we recommend building variants of each of the elements you want to experiment with and let an intelligent engine make the winning associations and permutations.