Using Science to get more website leads

by Lindsey Winsemius - Posted 6 years ago

I love researching and talking about the psychology behind website behavior. Whether or not you share my passion, your website can benefit from knowing HOW and WHY people are using your website the way they do.

I’ve gathered a few of the latest results from major eye-tracking and website behavioral studies, summarized them, and am sharing them with you. Use your new knowledge to improve your website and get more leads from visitors.

How to improve your website with science:

Scientific Fact 1:  Users ignore ads or related content.

Web users’ habits are evolving as quickly as the web itself. Do you remember hearing about “banner blindness”? Banner blindness is the tendency of users to ignore content that looks like a banner ad. Remember when banner ads were hugely popular, appearing all over in their pre-set sizes and shapes? 

Display advertisers got more savvy in creating ads that look more like the content on the page, but users go savvier, as well. As a result, we are ignoring more and more content on pages that appear to be ads.

That means legitimate content elements that have certain ad-like characteristics are ignored, too. 

What characteristics do visitors assume indicate an ad?

Location. If you have content that is placed where ads traditionally appear, such as the top of the page or the right-hand side, that content is less likely to be read.

Visuals. Think back to those banner ads again. Gifs and other animations were often used to attract the eye. Now, people tend to ignore these gimmicky eye-catchers in favor of skimming headlines and searching for the content they want.

Proximity. If legit content is placed too close to ads or promotions, your visitors are going to ignore that content, too. 

Banner Blindness lives on

What you should do:

- Limit the ads and promotions on your website. If you are including ads, be sure to place them far away from your content so users can easily see the different between ads and your content.

- If you’re running ads on other sites, design them to look like native content that is relevant and compelling. Avoid gimmicks and consider ways your ad can actually add value for users, such as offering something for free.

Scientific Fact 2: Users don't like non-relevant content.

The Gestalt law of proximity: items that are close to each other are assumed to be part of a group and thus related in function.

As people learn to scan and categorize web pages at faster and faster rates, they make snap decisions on what content is important to them, and what content they should ignore. 

If you’re including ads or promotions not relevant to the info on the rest of your page, readers are not only going to ignore the ad, they’re going to ignore the entire section close to the ad.

In a study done by Neilsen Norman Group,

A study participant who was learning how to remove a jar label looked at the right rail just once, presumably deciding that it contained only ads. The right rail did indeed contain sponsored stories, but also housed helpful, fun videos demonstrating how to do various craft projects, such as crocheting a rug or making a magnetic frame. The user was put off by the ad positioned in the same page section and examined no other content in the right rail.

Using science to improve websites

What you should do: 

- Keep your call to actions as far away from ad content as possible. You don’t want to lose potential leads because they’re ignoring the action you want them to take.

- Make content in the page relevant.

- Use descriptive headers to immediately tell visitors what each section is about (avoid gimmicks or elements that don't inform).

Scientific Fact 3:  Users prefer left over right.

Whether we’ve been poisoned by blog sidebars and Google’s old tendency to place all the ads along the right of the page, web users don’t like the right side of the page.

Web users spend 80% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 20% viewing the right half. 

Users look at left side of webpage more

What you should do:

This doesn’t mean you need to abandon all that great content in your sidebar or leave the right side blank. 

- Put the most important content on the left side.

- Use the content on the left side of the page to help the users identify quickly what they are looking for, and direct them to relevant content on other areas of your website.

Scientific Fact 4: Users like predictable websites.

Predictability isn’t a trait we revere in our entrepreneurial culture. But when it comes to your website design, predictability is important. 

Eye-tracking studies find that people’s behaviors on websites (where they look, how they spend their time) differ based on their goal.

For example, if they’re trying to find the most affordable option, they’re going to spend most of their time scanning prices of products, versus someone who might be looking for the best ratings, or a particular product feature.

Users like predictable websites

Makes sense, right? A website that is predictable makes the visitor's goal easier to accomplish, which will make them happier and more likely to spend longer on your site.

What you should do:

- Make pages predictable and consistent so users can scan quickly to find what they need. Follow typical design trends when it comes to where you put your price, features lists, and so on.

- This is where mapping the customer’s journey on your website might be helpful, so you can learn where they might be looking at certain times during their purchase process or when deciding to contact you.

- Ask people who aren't familiar with your website to test it using specific goals, such as how easy is it to find the cheapest price or the best rated product. 

Scientific Fact 5:  Visitors like websites that are consistent.

Just like visitors prefer predictable websites, they also like websites that are consistent. Consistency is another way to you can help visitors quickly find what they are looking for.

For example, if you have your call to action (CTA) button in orange on the homepage, the rest of the call to actions on your website should also be orange. This will quickly tell users when and where they can take action, without having to waste extra time scanning, or risk missing an action altogether.

Design consistency example

What you should do:

- Make your call to actions the same colors.

- Use the same navigation on all pages.

- Keep headers the same size / color on each page for easy skimming.

- Follow a simple color palette (one that matches your branding) throughout your site.

- Use the same logo, color scheme, and imagery on your website, social channels, and all other marketing.

Scientific Fact 6: Sections matter.

This comes back to the Gestalt law of proximity.

Like information is expected to appear together. People assume that similar content and user interface (UI) elements will be placed together on the page.

When buttons, drop-downs, checkboxes, or other actionable elements are too far away from the objects they act on, people don't see them. Often, users don't realize what they're missing and simply assume the features aren't available.

For example, e-commerce studies have found that users often overlook additional options of colors or sizes when these options aren’t placed properly.

In the example below from the iTunes on an iPhone, the Updates button is far away from the icons, prompting some users to assume they needed to update the apps manually each time.

Proximity example

What you should do:

 - Be sure your CTAs and other actionably elements are close to what they act on. 

 - Consider adding a little extra “white space” or blank space around the different elements on your page to ensure users can easily see different sections and elements.

Scientific Fact 7: Users like websites that follow common web design patterns.

Web design trends are always evolving, but some things stay consistent.

Common web-design patterns and how most other websites are designed set user expectations for where UI elements and content will appear.

For example, users expect to see a company logo at the top left of the website, and the navigation along the top, as top navigation has become most common in the industry. Be careful when choosing a different placement for navigation. Is the desire to stand out worth potentially confusing visitors?

You can have an edgy or original web design without confusing your visitors.  

What you should do:

- Research popular websites in your industry. What do they look like?

- Use great content and great products / services to attract people and stand out, not gimmicky design features.

- Keep page elements where people expect them, like your contact info in the footer and your logo at the top left.

Remember, these facts are meant to guide you, not act as rules you need to follow. If you want to try something different, then do it! Just be sure to test your results and make adjustments accordingly.