Unraveling “biased thinking” to help increase website conversions

Understanding the customer’s psychology is an essential part of conversion optimization. We would say that it is as important as the optimization techniques themselves.

Knowing how the customer thinks and what factors influence their decision-making ability is a crucial part of any marketing strategy.

The human mind is capable of making rational decisions based on logical thinking but that is seldom the case. We make decisions that are driven by irrational thinking caused by cognitive biases and emotions. To explain it simply, a cognitive biases change the manner in which we think and causes us to make irrational, illogical decisions about people, things, or situations.

In such a scenario where the thinking patterns of customers are erratic and irrational, the question that arises here is: How are marketers supposed to persuade customers to take action when they are driven by cognitive biases?

Understanding Cognitive Bias:

Cognitive bias is defined as the error in thinking that affects the judgment or decision of an individual. According to Wikipedia, it is the tendency to think in certain ways that often results in a systematic deviation from rational decision making. On most occasions, we ourselves are unaware of how our cognitive biases impact our decisions.

These biases affect everyone, including me and you. They affect how we analyze information, how we think, and how we buy. If you disagree with this statement, then you are under the influence of the bias blind spot. A bias that makes you view yourself as less biased than other people!

Another example of a cognitive bias is a confirmation bias. This is when you look for evidence that supports what you already believe. Even if the evidence is stacked against our beliefs, we will tend to interpret it in a manner that supports our viewpoint.

There are numerous types of cognitive biases that include behavioral, social, and memory biases. When it comes to conversion rate optimization, behavioral biases have the greatest impact on the customer’s buying decisions.

Let us now take a look at some of the most common cognitive biases and how you can use them to impact your conversion rates significantly:

1. Von Restorff Effect:

According to the Von Restorff Effect, we remember things that stand out from its surroundings. What this suggests is that an item that sticks out in a particular setting is more likely to be remembered than the rest.

This bias can be particularly useful on one element in your website — the call to action (CTA) button. When designing your website, you need to focus on making your CTA prominent.

Emphasize on the color and style of your CTA button so that visitors know exactly where to click to get what you’re offering.

Here is an example of poor design of the CTA:

There is no obvious CTA button here, there is no emphasis laid on important elementson the page. This is poor implementation of the Vonn Restorff Effect since there is no particular thing on the page that a visitor would remember.

Another common mistake that is made here is to have too many CTAs! If you have two or more CTAs on your website, then you should distinguish them (by using different colors and different text size for instance) so that the visitor knows where to click.

Here is an example from Khalid Saleh at Invespcro of how competing CTAs can be bad for the conversion rate:

On the contrary, here is an example of good design of the CTA button by HubSpot based on the Vonn Restorff Effect. Notice how the CTA has a different color than the background.

The call-to-action has a contrasting color, it is well-designed and has been deliberately been distinguished from all other elements on the page. The visitors can easily identify the CTA and this automatically improves the chances of conversion.

Another good way to use the Vonn Restorff effect is to use visual images to make a message stand out, as Accenture does here:

2. Anchoring:

Anchoring, also known as focalism, is defined as the tendency of an individual to rely too much on the one particular trait or piece of information when making decisions. In most cases, this is the first piece of information (known as the ‘anchor’) offered to an individual on a particular subject.

This cognitive bias plays a key role on the pricing page for your website. When listing prices, you should keep the following aspects in mind:

  • If your visitor has already encountered your competitor’s service price at a rate of $30 per month (which has now become their anchor), they will be less likely to purchase the same service at a higher rate. This means that if you are offering the service for $35 per month, the visitor will be less likely to accept your package.
  • If a visitor already has a bad impression of your brand due to past experience or word of mouth, they are much less likely to buy from you in the future as well.

Now, how can you use anchoring for better conversion rates? The first thing that you need to do is to change the way you list down prices on your landing page. Start off with the least expensive plan to make the customers believe that you are offering great value for money.

It is also good practice to highlight your most popularly sold package so that the visitors know what other customers opted for.

Here is a good example of how the pricing plan should be laid out for high conversion rates:

3. Bandwagon Effect:

The bandwagon effect is defined as the tendency of people to do something primarily because the majority is doing it, regardless of the individual’s own beliefs. This cognitive bias is related to herd mentality and group thinking which affects an individual’s thought process depending on what ‘others think’.

If a visitor comes to your website thinking that everyone else is using your product, they are much more likely to use your product or service as well. This is the influence of the bandwagon effect on your customers. That is why creating social proof and illustrating scarcity is an effective marketing strategy.

What you need to do is to recognize and identify a niche community within your target audience. Within the community itself, identify the influencers that lead the thoughts in the community. Once done, you need to begin seeding your product to these influencers which will, in turn, create a group mentality within that niche community through the bandwagon effect.

For this purpose, you can make use of testimonials on your website, call to actions, checkout pages, and start building up social proof in the form of quantitative measure (such as “2 Million Satisfied Customers”).

Here is an example of how Salesforce Desk makes use of its customers to promote themselves:

The renowned accounting software, Xero, makes use of both quantitative measure and customer testimonials to good effect:

Another excellent way of promoting your services is by adding the experience and story of your business’ brand ambassadors to your website.

Adoramapix, a photo printing service, makes use of this and attracts photographers to its page by sharing the story of their brand ambassadors (who are also photographers) on their landing page. The mutual factor of photography between the brand ambassadors and photographers (potential clients for Adoramapix) compels them to use the service through the bandwagon effect.


A cognitive bias can influence how a person thinks and acts. There are a number of cognitive biases but the ones that we have described above are some of the most common to the conversion rate optimization industry. Now, that you understand the concept of cognitive biases, you can understand why people are influenced by contextual factors when making a purchase decision.

In short, all individuals (including me and you) are affected by cognitive biases and this causes us to think less rationally and more emotionally. Understanding the various cognitive biases is important since you can use it to your advantage in your website design, call to actions, and marketing strategies.


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