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Fixing leaky websites: the five essentials to a behaviourally effective site

Technology & Data

Fixing leaky websites: the five essentials to a behaviourally effective site


In my recent post ‘Most websites are leaking money,’ I covered two of the key reasons most websites are failing to convert visitors: they don’t establish confidence and they don’t communicate value. As a result, websites are leaking money. A strange thing is happening though – marketers are getting used to conversion rates of less than 5% and we’re comforting ourselves that that is just how it is.

Well, imagine you owned a corner shop and only five out of every 100 people bought something – you’d not only be desperate for answers, you’d be out of a job. So it’s time to shake off our complacency when it comes to our websites and do something to fix the leaks.

Here are the final three essentials for increasing your website sales and sign-ups using techniques from behavioural science:

Creating a pathway

For your visitor there must be a sensible, stepped progression from one task to the next and from one page to the next. Unfortunately most websites leak because they do too much too early. Remember that websites are like dating – you’ll get much further if you listen rather than talk about yourself incessantly.

When your customer first lands on your site it should be all about them – their problem, their payoff, their confidence. Hold off on bombarding your visitor with multiple requests to do something – sign up, call now, buy this, contact us, read our history, connect with us because you risk sounding like a dozen drill sergeants screaming at a new recruit.

Two key behavioural principles will improve your website’s ability to lead a visitor through to purchase.

  • Completion: Once started we are more likely to follow through which is why shopping cart abandonment of over 30% is so terrifying – it’s against our nature. Design for small yeses and build toward the sale, and
  • paradox of choice: We desire choice but get easily overwhelmed by it, which means you can actually increase your likelihood of a sale (or sign up) by limiting the choices you require of your visitor.


Who’s doing it well? Mailchimp does a great job in helping its users not only navigate how to construct an email campaign but moving them to a paid upgrade and Anymeeting feeds people through sign up and use of their web conferencing tools before encouraging upgrade to a paid service.

Asking for action

When the time is right you need to ask your visitor to do something. Most websites leak in three ways. The calls to action (CTA) are either absent, unclear or you have too many.

When asking for action there are three key behavioural principles to use:

  • Loss aversion: Your visitor will carry anxiety about clicking any call to action. Your job is to overcome that by letting them know what happens when they do,
  • short-term bias: Instant gratification is very powerful so ‘instant access’ or ‘download now’ will be appealing, and
  • default bias: Visitors tend to take the path of least resistance so try defaulting selections to those options that are most mutually beneficial.


Who is doing it well? To see a great pathway and CTA visit the website of author Michael Port. You’ll be left in no doubt about what the desired action is. Local innovation gurus at Inventium do a really good job with clear CTAs that help the visitor know exactly what happens when they click.

The effort:reward equation 

The final of five essentials to a behaviourally effective website underpins all the others: the effort:reward equation.

The effort:reward equation is my way of boiling behaviour down to two elements:

  • Effort: What you are asking your visitor to expend: time, money, thinking, energy? and
  • reward: What does your visitor gets in return: financial benefit, emotional payoff, convenience, status?


When effort is greater or equal to reward, your visitor will not proceed.

When reward exceeds effort, they will take action.

But don’t fall into the trap that most marketers do and concentrate on maximising the perceived reward. You are actually better off reducing effort because that not only increases your visitor’s ability to take action, but makes the reward look even more valuable. Eliminate dead-end pages, pages with too many CTAs, too many conflicting CTAs and repetitious data entry.

Key behavioural principles to apply in managing effort and reward:

  • Depletion effect: The more decisions we make in a day the more fatigued we become and we tend to defer to default options. On your site, the more decisions you require of your visitor the more important it will be to have easy and defaulted options because otherwise you risk them shutting off, and
  • Paradox of choice: Eliminate extraneous CTAs and decisions because confused visitors will flee rather than persevere.


Who is doing it well? Google is the poster child when it comes to reducing effort. What can be simpler than one search box? The reward is pretty strong too, instantly gratifying the visitor with a screen full of search results. WordPress make setting up and managing a blog simple, including allowing the visitor to switch designs for their blog live and without fear of losing content.

Five essentials to get it done

That wraps up the five essentials to a behaviourally effective website. By following the process of establishing confidence, communicating value, creating a pathway, asking for action and managing the effort:reward equation you will maximise your potential to turn visitors into customers. Your website can and should be generating more business for you, and now you have the framework for getting it done.


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Bri Williams

Bri Williams, a specialist in buying behaviour, helps businesses increase sales and marketing conversion through behavioural science. Follow Bri @peoplepatterns or visit peoplepatterns.com.au

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