The Principles of Persuasive Web Design

17 min readMay 8, 2023
image credit: Forbes

People tend to make snap judgments. It only takes only one tenth of a second to form a first impression of someone. Websites are no different. In about 50 milliseconds (ms) (that’s 0.05 seconds) users form an opinion about your site that determines whether they’ll stay or leave! So, how can you make the most of those precious seconds and turn your visitors into customers? The answer lies in persuasive web design.

In today’s fast-paced digital world, your website is often the first interaction potential customers have with your brand. And as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s why it’s essential to create a website that not only looks great but also persuades your visitors to take action.

With persuasive web design, you can leverage human psychology to influence your visitors’ behaviour and guide them towards your desired outcome. Persuasive web design is not just about creating a beautiful website, it’s about creating a website that influences your visitors to take action. In this article, we will dive into the principles of persuasive web design and explore how you can use them to create a website that not only looks great but also converts visitors into customers.

Tips For Creating a persuasive website

The first step in creating a persuasive website is to understand your target audience. You need to know who your audience is, what they want, and how they behave online. Understanding your target audience will help you create a website that resonates with them and encourages them to take action.

Understanding your target audience

Understanding the target audience can help determine which features should be included or excluded from the website.Choosing the right colours, images, and layout for the website can captivate and draw users in. Additionally, the language used in the website should be tailored to the target audience and their level of understanding. This can help create a more user-friendly experience.

Here are a few ways an understanding of the target audience can reflect in website design:

1. Layout and Navigation: The layout and navigation of a website should be designed in a way that is intuitive and easy to use for the target audience. . Intuitive design helps users to quickly understand how to use the website, and navigation that is easy to use ensures that users can find the information they are looking for without becoming frustrated. This is especially relevant for older audiences who may not be tech savvy.

2. Visuals and Graphics: Website visuals and graphics should be appealing and relevant to the target audience. For instance, if the website is for a children’s toy company, the graphics should be bright and colorful to appeal to children. And the language used should be simple and easy to understand.

3. Copy and Tone: Understanding the target audience shapes the website copy. The copy language, tone, and style should be tailored to the target audience. People respond differently to different tones. Formal language can come across as too authoritative and unfriendly, while informal language can make people feel more comfortable and connected. By understanding the target audience, website designers can create copy that resonates with them and makes them feel heard.

4. Functionality: Website functionality should be designed with the target audience in mind. For instance, if the target audience is primarily mobile users, the website should be designed to be mobile-friendly, with a responsive design and easy-to-use features optimized for small screens.

Overall, understanding the target audience is crucial in creating a website that resonates with and meets the needs of the intended users.

The importance of visual appeal in web design

Visual appeal is an essential element of persuasive web design. A visually appealing website captures visitors’ attention and encourages them to explore further. A poorly designed website, on the other hand, can turn visitors away before they even have a chance to see what you have to offer.

To create a visually appealing website, you need to use a consistent colour scheme, typography, and imagery. You also need to ensure that your website is easy to navigate and has a clean layout. A website that is cluttered or difficult to navigate can be overwhelming and off-putting to visitors.

Examples of visually appealing websites

image source: Andy Warhol
image credit: Garoa
image source: Spotify

First impressions matter: How to make a strong first impression

First impressions matter, especially in web design. Visitors to your website will form an opinion about your brand within seconds of landing on your site. Therefore, it is essential to make a strong first impression.

It is important to avoid overwhelming visitors with too much content and graphics on your website as it can negatively affect the first impression. A well-designed website should carefully use white space to highlight the most relevant information and guide visitors’ to the right areas. Designers often emphasise the importance of white space in achieving this goal, and it can be easily implemented to improve the website’s overall design.

The speed at which a website loads is crucial as it creates the first impression on visitors. However, with companies adding more graphics and becoming more creative with their designs, the website site speed can sometimes be affected without the site owner knowing. This means that the first few seconds of a visitor’s experience on your website are vital, as you only have limited time to make an impression. Google provides tools such as the Mobile Usability Report and Google PageSpeed Insights to check your website speed. There are plugins and tools available to maintain a fast loading speed.

Some websites use introductory videos that start playing as soon as a visitor visits the website. These videos are effective at catching a visitor’s attention as they provide a quick way to convey information. This is especially important when the site only has a few seconds to make a good first impression. A great example of an effective introductory video is provided. It is recommended that the video be about the company’s offerings and benefits for the consumer. It is important to make the first few seconds of the video engaging and entertaining to maintain interest.

Image credit : sennep

The website of Sennep, above, has a visually appealing design with a combination of several solid colours that change as you scroll down. It also has CSS animation effects that grab visitors’ attention and encourage them to explore the site further.

People browse websites differently due to mobile devices and social media platforms that use infinite scrolling. This means that visitors to your website are more likely to immediately scroll, instead of focusing solely on what’s above the fold. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your entire webpage is engaging and well-designed, with elements such as images, testimonials, case studies, special offers, and quality content placed strategically throughout the page to encourage visitors to explore further.

Optimise your website for mobile devices as much as desktops as first impressions work the same way on both. To make a good first impression on mobile users, it is important to ensure your website has a responsive design. This will enable you to make a good first impression on mobile users.

To improve your website’s design, it’s recommended to use a heat map tool for research beforehand. This will allow you to analyse where your visitors are focused on the page. You will determine what content is effective and whether position plays a role. By utilizing this tool, you can quickly obtain results and continuously monitor your testing for ongoing improvements.

To engage visitors on your landing pages, it’s important to feature content that has a hook and keeps them interested. This can be achieved through promotions or special deals, but it’s important to avoid sounding too sales-focused. Ideal content encourages visitors to explore your website further, and it’s often eye-catching content that catches their attention rather than a direct sales pitch. While it may seem like a simple concept, many companies struggle with selecting the right content.

The role of colour in persuasive web design

Colour psychology refers to how colours affect human behaviour and emotions. It is important in persuasive web design as certain colours can influence the perception of a brand. This can improve conversions, and create a certain mood or atmosphere for the user. The right choice of colours can grab the consumer’s attention and trigger the right emotions for sales.

For example, blue is often associated with trust and security, while red is associated with excitement and urgency.

Studies have shown that up to 62- 90% of purchasing decisions are based on colour. Designers can use colour psychology to play on cultural references to suggest trust, urgency, or mystery to the target audience. The choice of colours in prominent areas such as images, pop-ups, borders, headlines, background hues, primary web banners or hero graphics, and buttons, especially calls to action, can impact user behaviour and influence conversions. Brightness, contrast, and readability are also important factors to consider when designing a website. Colour psychology should be used carefully, as it is about persuasion, not coercion or manipulation.

The choice of colours in prominent areas of the website such as images, pop-ups, borders, headlines, background hues, primary web banners or hero graphics, and buttons can impact the website’s accessibility and usability. The use of the right colours can give a website personality and improve conversion rates.

Here’s an example of a website that used colour strategically.

image credit: Coca cola

The colours used on a website can create a certain mood or impression that affects the site’s bounce rate. If the colours give off the wrong impression, such as appearing unprofessional or untrustworthy, users may quickly leave the site. On the other hand, choosing the right colours can convey trustworthiness and an understanding of the site’s niche. To create effective colour schemes and palettes, designers can use colour scheme tools and remember colour psychology. It’s also important to consider cultural differences in colour associations, as what may be positive in one culture could be negative in another. Taking into account audience preferences and cultural backgrounds can help designers choose the most appropriate colour combinations.

Creating effective calls-to-action

Calls-to-action (CTAs) are an essential element of persuasive web design. CTAs encourage visitors to take action, such as making a purchase, filling out a form, or signing up for a newsletter. To create effective CTAs, you should ensure that they are clear, concise, and visually appealing.

Here are examples of websites with effective calls-to-action:

CTA: Join Free for a Month

image credit: Netflix

CTA: Get the Disney Bundle

image credit: Hulu

CTA: Sign up for free

image credit: Dropbox

CTA : I’m in

image credit: Glossier

CTA: Sign Up And Save

Image credit; Heyday

You should also place your CTAs strategically on your website. For example, you can place a CTA at the end of a blog post to encourage visitors to read more content or place a CTA on your homepage to encourage visitors to explore your products or services.

Here are more tips for creating website calls-to-action

  1. Using compelling action words or trigger words can encourage users to take specific actions on a website. These trigger words, such as “Start,” “Get,” “Contact,” “Read,” “Request,” “Demo,” and “Free,” have been shown to increase button conversion rates. It is important to focus the Call To Action on the desired action, while avoiding overuse of trigger words that do not fit the context. Therefore, it is advisable to experiment with using these trigger words to begin with.
  2. Using words that convey instant gratification and urgency can encourage users to act. Words such as “Now”, “Today”, “Instantly” and “In seconds” can help convey the message that users will immediately benefit from taking action. Additionally, time-oriented words such as “Only 2 left in stock”, “Stay ahead of your competition” and “Do not miss out on this opportunity” can create a sense of urgency and encourage users to take action quickly to avoid missing out on the benefits offered. It’s important to use these words strategically and avoid overusing them to ensure maximum impact.
  3. Your website should show your customers the value they will gain by clicking a button. Customers are motivated to take action when they know what benefits they will receive. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the problems and goals of your customers. You must communicate how your solution can solve their problems and improve their lives. It’s essential to differentiate between features and benefits because customers want benefits, not just features. Therefore, make sure to communicate the benefits of your product or service to your customers to motivate them to take action.
  4. It’s crucial to ensure that users know what to expect when they take an action on a website. Uncertainty can lead to a poor user experience and even cause users to abandon the site altogether. This is true even for seemingly small actions, such as clicking a button to create an account. For example, if a user has a discount code but is unsure when to apply it, they may become frustrated and leave the site. To prevent this, provide clear instructions and information about what will happen next. For example, a note indicating when and where to apply a discount code. This will create a smoother user experience and prevent confusion.
  5. Consider placing your Call To Action in prominent spots on your website so that users can easily find it and act. The most attractive spot is in the above-the-fold section, the area visible without scrolling. Another good location is within the header area of a website, where a sticky Call To Action button could stay in view as users scroll down. On mobile devices with limited screen estate, it’s important to choose a strategic location for the Call To Action. This is to ensure users can still find and use it easily. A sticky Call To Action button can also be helpful on mobile devices.
  6. It is important to prioritise and focus on one main Call To Action instead of catering to everyone. Trying to please all potential customers may lose them all. Therefore, it is recommended to identify and prioritise the primary target audience or buying stage that has the most business impact. While a secondary Call To Action can still be included to address other audiences or buying stages, the main focus should be on the Call To Action that brings the most success.

How to use visual hierarchy in your web design

A strong visual hierarchy is essential in persuasive web design. A visual hierarchy refers to the arrangement of elements on a webpage to guide visitors’ attention. By creating a strong visual hierarchy, you can draw visitors’ attention to the most important elements on your website, such as your CTAs.

To create a strong visual hierarchy, you should use contrast, size, and positioning to guide visitors’ attention. You should also ensure that your website has a clean and organised layout that is easy to navigate.

Consider reading patterns

Most cultures read words top to bottom and left to right. Of course, there are exceptions but if you’re reading this now, it’s a safe bet that you probably didn’t start at the bottom. Reading visual information works in a similar, yet slightly different way. Thanks to eye tracking studies we know that people tend to scan visual information in a Z-pattern, which means that the eyes move from top left to top right, then down to the bottom left, and finally to the bottom right. This Z-pattern helps us absorb all important information quickly and efficiently.

Below are the two main ways we process visual information

Image credit: Hubspot

F Patterns: This is most common in text-heavy designs. This pattern helps guide the user’s eyes along the natural curve of the letter F and helps them quickly find the most important information on the page. It is also a great way to emphasise the hierarchy of information, as the most important information is placed at the beginning and end of the F-shape.

Z pattern: Viewers scan down the left-hand side of the page for short headlines or subheads to quickly scan right. Z patterns. Less dense designs follow a ‘Z’ shape. Viewers start at the top left and move horizontally across to the top right. Then cast their eyes downward on a backward diagonal slope to the lower-left corner, and finally across to the right-hand corner. This Z-shaped pattern is designed to draw the viewer’s attention to the most important elements of the design, such as the headline, logo, or call-to-action. By following this pattern, viewers will be more likely to notice and engage with these elements, making it a useful tool for designers.

Size: Making an object larger in size and scale is an effective way to make it more visually prominent and draw attention to it. This principle can be used to highlight important information or imagery in a design. Conversely, reducing the size of less important design elements can make them less visible and lower their importance in the visual hierarchy. However, it’s important to maintain balance and moderation in design and avoid overwhelming the viewer with an excessively large focal point or compromising usability with secondary information that is too small.

image credit: Erin Lancaster

Colour is a powerful tool in design to attract attention to important information or images. However, using too many colours can diminish the intended impact and disrupt the visual hierarchy. Instead, strategic use of colour and contrast can guide the viewer’s gaze, such as using temperature to mix warm and cool colours for high contrast. On a website, this can be done to highlight important elements like CTAs. To create the strongest visual impact, use colour sparingly and purposefully.

Image credit: 99U

Colour temperature can be an effective strategy in web design to direct viewers’ attention to specific elements such as CTAs.

image credit; Hubspot

In the example above, the middle CTA is highlighted with strategically placed colours to stand out and attract the user’s attention. In contrast, the other CTAs are less prominent in comparison.

White space : White space, which refers to the unoccupied or empty space in a design, can be used to create emphasis and draw attention to important elements. Some designers may feel the urge to fill every inch of space with different elements, but this can actually detract from the overall impact of the design. By incorporating white space into a website’s design, visitors are more likely to be engaged and focused on the key elements.

image credit: Apple

Apple is an example of a brand that uses white space effectively to create a simple, yet elegant user interface that reinforces their brand identity.

Proximity and repetition are effective techniques to create unity among different elements in a design. When elements are placed close to each other, it indicates they are related. For example, when icons are grouped together, users can understand their purpose. If you’re unsure about how to group elements, you can conduct UX research techniques like card sorting to group them based on your audience’s expectations.

The importance of user experience (UX) in web design

User experience (UX) is an essential element of web design. UX refers to the overall experience visitors have when they visit your website. A website with a poor UX can frustrate visitors and cause them to leave your site.

According to a survey conducted by HubSpot, 76% of users say that the most important factor in website design is that they can easily find what they want. Google found that 53% of mobile users abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Another study by Google found that when a website is difficult to use on a mobile device, 61% of users are likely to leave and go to a competitor’s site.

To create a website with a good UX, you should ensure that your website is easy to navigate, loads quickly, and is accessible on different devices. You should also ensure that your website is optimised for search engines to ensure that visitors can find your site.

Examples of persuasive web design in action

There are many examples of persuasive web design in action, here are some of our favourite ones:

  1. Khan Academy is a popular online learning platform that provides free educational resources for learners worldwide. Its website features a CTA button that reads “Learners, start here.” This button encourages visitors to take advantage of using the platform’s resources by clicking the button. The use of the word “learners” instead of “first-time users” or “guests” creates a more personalised and welcoming feel. The phrase “start here” is a traditional example of a call to action, but the combination of “learners” makes it a more effective CTA.

2. Basecamp, a project management software platform, has a minimalist design that aims to simplify project managers’ lives. The website CTA is effective because it uses less intimidating language. “Give Basecamp a try” instead of “Start Free Trial Now,” emphasises the risk-free nature of the free trial. Basecamp avoids an aggressive pitch with a potentially confrontational CTA, which is a smart approach that encourages more users to click the button.

image credit: Basecamp

3. Heyday, a skincare brand that focuses on personalised education and minimalist design, uses a persuasive CTA on its website. The CTA button, “sign up and save,” is accompanied by images of models with glowing skin, and a humorous hyperlink for those who prefer to pay full price. This approach is effective because it combines beautiful aesthetics, a discount offer, and humor to encourage visitors to sign up for their newsletter. Heyday’s minimalist and no-frills approach to skincare is loved by those who want an aesthetician without the fuss and upselling.

image credit: Heyday

4. Miro is a collaboration platform that enables teams to work together seamlessly regardless of their location, work format, or tools. Its digital whiteboard experience is similar to physical whiteboards. The CTA used is “Start with a whiteboard,” which is a clear indication that the platform is designed to provide a whiteboard-like experience for users. The real selling point, however, is mentioned right below the CTA. Visitors can learn that they can use 3 boards and have unlimited teammates for free, forever.

image credit: Miro

By studying these examples, you can learn how to apply persuasive design principles to your own website.

Final thoughts

Persuasive web design is essential for any business that wants to convert visitors into customers. By understanding your target audience, obeying the laws of design and knowing which ones to break and how, you can create a website that resonates with visitors and encourages them to take action.

Remember, your website is often the first interaction visitors have with your brand. By creating a persuasive website, you can make a lasting impression and turn visitors into loyal customers.

So, what are you waiting for? Start today or we can help you apply these principles of persuasive web design to your own website today and see the results for yourself. Schedule a discovery call with Atarodo.

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