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July 12, 2013

How Your Brain Sees Your Website

In a recent presentation by Marketing Consultant Amy Africa, she suggests that neuromarketing (the study of the brain’s response to various marketing efforts) can lead us to better website design and more effective ways to persuade Web visitors to take action.

According to Africa, our “primitive brains” are responsible for the majority of our decisions, and these decisions are made instinctively — before rational thinking kicks in.  Because our primitive brains are concerned with basic survival, we immediately look for answers to questions like:

  • Is this familiar?
  • Am I safe?’
  • Can I see it?
  • Do I need to take action now?

Once our brains are convinced that what we are looking at is not a threat to our survival, then emotional and rational thinking can take over.  In terms of your website, these questions can be addressed as part of the overall design of the site, as well as in the language we use, the colors we select, and the placement of calls-to-action and other web elements. Here are some tips for dealing with each of these questions so your website can instantly resonate with visitors:

Is this Familiar?

Our brains like things that are familiar and easy for us to recognize quickly.  When we encounter something new or unfamiliar, our brains will automatically assess for danger or risk.  On websites, businesses often locate their logos in the top, left corner of the page, making it a familiar placement that we are used to seeing on the Web.  That’s not to say that a logo must always be placed in the top, left corner, but it is a common practice that can help reinforce familiarity in our primitive brains.

Am I Safe?

When our brains notice differences or changes, it interrupts an expected pattern and causes us to be alerted to potential threats. For instance, if your website’s navigation takes users to an unexpected page, it could raise a red flag and cause visitors to doubt your credibility or competence.  Users are wary of being tracked by spyware or accidently signing up for something they do not want, so make sure your website does not use questionable techniques and follows established best practices for usability and consistency.

Can I See It?

Approximately 50 percent of our brains are devoted to processing visual information, and once you see information, you cannot “unsee” it.  On your website, make sure you use plenty of pictures, charts, graphs, infographics, product photos, and other visual elements to help site visitors absorb and retain important information about your business.  Also remember to keep your branding consistent on all your marketing initiatives so when visitors find you on other channels (brick and mortar location, social media sites, review sites, etc.) they can easily recognize your business (which also relates to question 1: “Is this Familiar?”).

Do I Need to Take Action Now?

In marketing, our brains typically respond to urgency, such as time running out on a good deal or missing a great opportunity. In terms of your website, you need to have specific calls-to-action on every page that trigger visitors to take some type of action.

Whether you want them to buy something, call you on the phone, fill out a contact form, join your mailing list, or any number of other actions, you need to specifically tell them what you want them to do, and include some type of motivation (urgency) that will encourage them to do it right away.

The Primitive Brain Knows

Before our rational thinking can even kick in, our primitive brains are already evaluating information and making decisions that we are not even aware of.  By addressing the needs of our primitive brains in Web design, we may be able to improve how visitors see, think, and react to our websites, creating a more successful user experience that results in more visitors taking the action we want them to take.

Lauren Hobson is president of Five Sparrows, LLC. Five Sparrows provides professional website and marketing services to small businesses and non-profits.