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How to Increase Your Online Sales With Psychological Triggers

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When you first start out, nobody knows who you are. Your new site is relatively bare and you might only have a few products (or services) listed. 

Getting those first few sales in the door is incredibly challenging, because you’re not (yet) internet famous (recognized by your name and face alone).

That means you’re going to need to work extra hard on making sure each website visitor who comes to your site understands the breadth of your expertise and how credible you truly are. And the quickest way to do that starts with persuasion. 

In this tutorial, we detail the art of persuasion and how to use psychological triggers to improve your online sales tactics.

Psychology of online sales
Psychology of sales triggers (graphic).

The Basics of Persuasion

We’re all salespeople. Like it or not.

Each and every single day, we get up and start making some coffee. From then on, you’re selling.

You’re persuading your wife to try that new Thai place instead of the same old Diner down the street. You’re convincing your kids to get dressed and eat quicker so you won’t get stuck in traffic.

And you’re at work, shmoozing, chatting, delivering, impressing, and anything else that will eventually help you have a smooth day that eventually translates to more income in the future.

Selling, in one form or another, is human. And the underlying ingredient is persuasion. Not in an unethical, pushy, used car salesman kinda way. But in a, ‘let’s get everyone on the same page’ way.

To persuade, and get people to see why our point of view might be the best option, we need influence. One of the most widely cited sources is Robert Cialidini’s Influence, which is an exhaustive resource on real-world ways to influence others. 

Here’s a quick look into some of the most popular persuasion strategies, so you can put them to work in your small business and increase your online sales.

1. Reciprocation

The very first principle in that book is reciprocity, a concept that loosely translates into an innate desire for people wanting to repay their debts.

For example, our ancestors used to thrive on a give-and-take model. Early communities would commonly share food and display courtesy by giving generously first (leading to a feeling of mutual respect and the need to repay that generosity).

Reciprocal concession is a more sophisticated technique used to make one option look smaller than another. A perfect example is from the psychology of pricing, called price anchoring, where you initially use a much larger price to make the smaller one (and the one you want all along) seem much smaller and more reasonable in comparison.

2. Social Proof

Being the first to do anything is scary. It’s uncharted territory, and you don’t want to lose out or risk the few precious resources and opportunities you get.

Social proof, or examples from others using third-party validation to boost credibility, helps squash these fears. Seeing how the reviews for the latest book on Amazon stack up, prior to purchasing, helps you quickly determine whether you’re going to buy, pass, or wait for additional information.

For example, if you look at Avada, one of our best-selling WordPress themes, you’ll notice social proof in the right-hand sidebar that shows off the huge number of (a) sales, (b) comments and (c) item ratings. Those impressive numbers help assure you that this is a wise investment you won’t regret.

Avada WordPress Theme social Proof
Avada WordPress theme social proof.

3. Urgency and Scarcity

$4.5 billion was spent on Black Friday last year.

It’s one of the most popular shopping days of the year (not to mention, one of the most lucrative for stores and eCommerce shops), because it creates an intense urgency in buyers.

People have 24-48 hours to get low, one-time incredible deals on everything from new televisions to children's toys right before most major holidays that just-so-happen to feature gift giving.

Another reason why it’s so popular is through employing scarcity, or limiting the available quantity of remaining items. Those deals don’t last long because there’s a limited quantity and tons of other people who want the same one as you.

So once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Whether we realize it or not, some of the biggest websites use persuasion techniques like this to get us to buy, more, faster.

Here are a few examples.

Common Persuasion Website Techniques: Examples to Emulate

Selling face-to-face is easy. People can look you in the eye, touch products physically to get a feel for them, recognize the overall store aesthetic, and immediately get a sense for whether or not they’re going to purchase.

Selling online is tough because you lose all of those critical elements. You also lose out on trust, which is important to whether someone’s going to give you their credit card details or not.

To get over this hump, persuasion techniques are commonly used across websites to assure your visitors that you know what they want, they can trust you, and they’re going to get a fair deal.

For example, testimonials are widely used to allow other credible people to do your selling for you. These are powerful because other seemingly respected people are vouching for your credibility.

Copyblogger uses them right on the homepage to help establish their authority on these topics:

CopyBlogger testimonials
CopyBlogger testimonials.

Ramit Sethi also uses third party validation right on his homepage by citing his New York Times Bestselling Book, along with major press logos for all the places he’s been featured as a recognized expert.

Ramit Sethi Third Party Validation Example
Ramit Sethi third party validation.

Most marketing-related software products include scarcity-based tactics.

For example, popular landing page software, LeadPages, uses a countdown timer to visually show people that this amazing offer is expiring.

Countdown Timer Example
Countdown timer example.

Large sites like Amazon and Expedia are also, unsurprisingly, masters at using influence to drive additional sales.

For example, when you search for a hotel in any city on Expedia, you’ll see an image that looks something like this:

Expedia search results with multiple triggers
Expedia search results, with multiple triggers.

On just one screen, you’re seeing multiple uses of influence at play.

  • ‘Daily Deal’ offer in green at top with countdown timer to create urgency.
  • Hotels that feature scarcity with red notifications showing you how many people just booked this same hotel and how many rooms each property might have left at that price.
  • Green ‘risk reversals’ like the Free Cancellation on the Hard Rock Hotel that let you know you’ll be able to get your money back if anything happens.
  • And a little yellow notification bar in the lower right that further drives down these points, highlighting how many other people are shopping these same exact hotels right now (so you better move quick before the prices go up!)

The persuasion masters like Expedia use multiple influence techniques to gain maximum effect.

However, while these are common website features or design elements, there’s one huge area of opportunity to increase the amount of influence you might be able to use to persuade website visitors.

Your text.

How Persuasion Influences Copywriting

The best website content isn’t hastily thrown together prior to launching a site, or ghostwritten by someone overseas.

It’s strategically crafted to persuade, educate, and sell your point of view (if nothing else).

Copywriting, previously reserved for those old direct mail catalogs you used to throw away, comes back in a big way on the website pages you read, blog posts you find, emails you receive, and even social media posts you come across.

And most of those, all start with the headline.

1. Headlines

Famous ad man David Ogilvy once said (decades ago) that “five times as many people read your headline” (as opposed to the rest of the page’s content).

Today, that’s undoubtedly true, as it’s also the first thing that gets picked up by other news outlets, gets shared on social media, and makes it’s way into your email subject line.

The best headlines focus on the same primal motivations that move us on a daily basis. For example, you can simplify a chaotic world with a ‘zen’ style headline; one that promises step-by-step instructions or a cheat sheet to follow, such as: 

5 Simple Touches that Deliver a Warm Welcome to New Email Subscribers

You can also help customers avoid the pain of loss by showing them ways to protect themselves from external threats, or fix those internal mistakes you might not know you’re already making.

After your headline, the next critical piece is your ‘body copy’ or the actual message and text.

But not the content specifically. Instead, the framework you’re using to organize and communicate it.

2. PAS Formula: Problem Agitate, Solution

When people first start blogging, they rush off 300-odd words as quickly as possible to get some content online.

They hit Publish, eagerly awaiting the results, and… nothing.

One of the problems centers on how your content (and blog posts in this case) are structured from the beginning.

Rushing straight into the punch line of a joke would surely make it fall flat, as there’s no context being set beforehand.

The same thing happens with your blog posts for example, when you rush straight into the solution without setting up the problem.

Instead, follow this simple three-step sequence for all content (website pages, blog posts, emails, etc.) you write:

  • Problem: Start first by identifying the common problem that your customers are dealing with. This sets the background and context for the rest of the piece.
  • Agitate: Now that you’ve identified the main problem in someone’s life, agitate it by discussing common symptoms, examples or scenarios that each visitor or reader can immediately relate to.
  • Solution: Only after you’ve built the proper tension through discussing the problems and symptoms, can you go into how to solve it. The best part is that you don’t even have to mention your products or services by name. If you do it right, the result or conclusion should be obvious.

3. Calls to Action

The words we use have different connotations.

That’s an important realization when we’re talking about static words on a page, because people can’t see all of the other physical, nonverbal communication happening.

For example, the word ‘submit’ actually comes from ‘submission’, which makes people a little squeamish. The word ‘subscribe’ indicates a long-term payment, which again makes people jumpy.

Both words, while used all over the place, have negative connotations that can decrease the amount of people who click on them.

A better approach is to focus on helping people understand what they’re going to get. Like, for example, using the word ‘get’. This, along with other action-oriented language and verbs can make all the difference by amplifying the benefits and results someone’s going to get as a result of clicking where you want them.

There are more brilliant CTA examples listed here. (See that?!)

Better Persuasion Online

Despite how it sounds, we’re all salespeople.

Using persuasion, and selling our point of view, happens multiple times every day in our personal and professional lives.

Online, persuasion and influence-building techniques can help you create trust, assuring people that you know what you’re talking about and you’re worth doing business with.

Common website features like countdown timers emphasize urgency, while bold press logos adds a touch of credibility, and the right landing page design or website template can make all the difference. 

The words you use online also matter, either adding to your influence by hitting on important copywriting principles, or failing to resonate with people.

At the end of the day, you’re not trying to be pushy or use bait-and-switch tactics. You’re trying to help people. And more influence helps make that possible.  

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