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Supporting image for The Psychology Behind Successful Websites – Wes McDowell
The Psychology Behind Successful Websites – Wes McDowell
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The Psychology Behind Successful Websites – Wes McDowell

As marketers, we all wish we had that magic crystal ball that could tell us exactly what out clients want. Well, there is a way we can put ourselves in our customer’s shoes by zeroing in on their emotional needs. Because the truth is, most people buy based on emotion over logic. 

Today’s guest, Wes McDowell, helps small businesses do exactly that by incorporating psychology into their websites. Find out how using certain wording can encourage a sale to go one way versus another, and how honing in on a few areas can really make all the difference.

Rich: My guest today is a website strategist, helping small business owners maximize their websites for automated client generation. He shares his ideas on his podcast, The Profitable Website, as well as through his popular YouTube channel. Today, we’re going to dive into the psychology behind success websites with Wes McDowell. Wes, welcome to the show.

Wes: Thank you so much, Rich. It’s awesome to be here.

Rich: So as I mentioned in the intro, you have both a podcast and a YouTube channel. That’s a lot of content to create. And so I’m just curious, for you what’s the purpose behind each, and are there similarities and differences in the way that you approach creating content for those two different platforms?

Wes: Yeah, so basically I started with the YouTube channel as a way to talk to my clients, basically giving them all the quick answers to all the questions they ask on a regular basis. It started branching out into tutorials and then just kind of almost like opinion pieces of why I think a website is more important than having just a piece of funnel software, that kind of thing. So that is how it all started.

Then I decided I want to scale this to people who aren’t just watching YouTube videos. So that’s why I decided, let’s make this into a podcast as well. So what I did is I had to really carefully choose which episodes of the YouTube channel are going to make for a good podcast episodes as well. Because some can translate well, they’re not super visual, they’re more ideas based. And for those ones I can actually do double duty and kind of repurpose.

 But then there’s a lot of YouTube videos that are more tutorial based, more step-by-step, you kind of got to see what I’m doing kind of thing. So for those ones, they don’t translate. And so I decided to fill in the gaps by getting in expert guests to come on, kind of like what you do. So basically, they do fulfill different objectives. One is much more, let’s talk things out long form, and one’s more down and dirty, here’s what you need to do.

Rich: All right. Now I’m glad to have you here today to talk about the psychology behind websites. Because regardless of what technologies we may bring to bear, at the end of the day, we’re still selling to people, and we have to understand what motivates them to take action. Do you find that the idea of using psychology in your digital marketing is something that you have to sell to your clients or do they already understand that?

Wes: Well, I don’t even work with clients anymore, just so you know, Rich. But what I do though, is I teach small business owners through the podcast and the channel, exactly what their websites need to do to properly sell to people. And yes, psychology is what it’s all about. I mean, marketing is psychology, psychology is marketing. So it’s something, I talk about a lot on my channel and on my podcasts. So I think it’s one of those things, the more they hear it, the more they hear me talk about it and hear the reasons why – which we’re going to get into today – that it becomes kind of that no brainer that of course we do need to tap into that psychology that’s already in play.

Rich: Absolutely. All right. So I do have a number of the techniques that you’ve brought up in the past that help with the psychology of a successful website. So I’m going to say what they are, and you kind of just give us a little bit of information or examples about how you recommend using it. And the first one we have is called ‘foot in the door’.

Wes: Yeah. So I love this one because this is like the old thing of micro-commitments. Get someone to say ‘yes’ to something small, and they’re much more likely to say yes to something bigger down the road. So it’s basically, it’s getting your foot in the door to open it up wider. So basically if you get someone to say ‘yes’ to something that’s small that doesn’t require them to give up too much, they’re going to be much more likely to say yes to that bigger thing a week from now, a month from now.

So a good example of this would be so something small to get someone to say ‘yes’ to would be to click a button to schedule a consultation. Them just clicking that button over to that page, that is a micro commitment. They’ve clicked a button, they’ve kind of done a mini hand raise saying, “yeah, I want this’. Same thing when they get to your checkout page if you’re selling a product. That is a micro-commitment, they haven’t made it all the way there, but they’re getting closer. And every time you can get them to take one of those little actions, they’ve got that buy-in already that says the momentum is already going in that direction.

So one interesting way I like to use this would be, let’s say you’ve got a lead magnet on your website. All you’re really asking for is them to give you their email address in exchange for it. Fine, so they do that. Then what if on your thank you/ confirmation page, rather than just saying ‘thank you, it’s on its way now’, since they’ve opted in for that little thing, now you’re going to hit them up for the bigger thing. Which is, “Hey, if you need any more help with this, I’d love to talk with you, I’d love to offer you a free consultation.” Then they can click that and they’re more likely at that point to say ‘yes’ because they’re in that habit, that pattern of saying “yes, absolutely”.

Rich: And if you’ve read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, they talk a lot about the importance of people wanting to be consistent. So if they’ve raised their hand to say, “Yes, I need help with coaching”, or “Yes, I need help improving my yard”, whatever it may be, then they’re already saying here’s who I am. So asking another follow-up question allows them to be consistent or requires them to be consistent. And this is an old sales technique.

And I guess this is an important point to say. You can use these tips to be manipulative in a bad way, or you can use these in a good way to help people help themselves. So obviously we’re hoping that everybody listening in today is actually a good person will only use these for good.

Wes: Yeah, we’re all on the good side here. If you’re going to use this for evil, just tune out now. But yeah, the thing about human psychology is it’s extremely predictable, right? We all like to think that we’re kind of these delicate, individual flowers. And we are to some degree. But you know, human nature is fairly predictable and pretty documented, so that’s why a lot of these things work more often than they don’t.

Rich: Absolutely. So ‘truth effect’, what’s that all about?

Wes: Basically, this is that tendency we all have as people to believe information to be correct the more and more we hear it. So this is one that definitely can fall into the bad side of things, you know, fake news and whatnot.

But basically the way this works is, the more someone hears something, the more they will internalize it and feel like it is in fact true. So what you need to do in order to use this on your website is basically just figure out what is that really important messaging that your customers need to know, understand, or believe before they’re going to want to consider buying from you or working with you. So once you know what that is, once you to know what that kind of statement is that people need to internalize, it’s your job then to repeat it around your website. Not in a way that feels super repetitive.

And people are very, when I used to work with clients and we’d come up with the copy, they would always say like, ”This feels repetitive. This feels like we’re saying the same thing over and over again.” And I would have to tell them, yeah, because you’re going through this with a fine-tooth comb as the business owner. You’ve got to realize the average person going to your website, they’re massively checked out of the process. What we need to always do is basically hit them over the head with the messaging that we want them to know, because they are skimming, they’re looking, their eyes are glazing over the entire page. So if something’s really important, it needs to be repeated, different places in different ways.

Rich: This is why we have talking points when we’re talking about politicians. Because they’re just repeating that memorable phrase over and over and over again, until it actually sticks.

Wes: Till it becomes “fact”. Right. So, but come up with different ways of doing it, don’t just say it in the same way. Hit it up, you know, say it in headlines, say it in body text. Here’s where it gets really good, find customer testimonials that say the same thing, too. Don’t make them up of course, but if you have a testimonial that talks about that bullet point that you really want to hit home, make sure you’re including that and featuring it.

Rich: And I think we’ll be getting to some of that in just a bit. The third thing you mentioned is ‘fear of missing out’ or FOMO. How can we possibly use FOMO on our website?

Wes: There are so many ways to do that. So this isn’t one we hear a lot anymore, this is like super popular five years ago as a phrase like a t-shirt, but it still applies. People do everything in their power to avoid losing something. In fact, we’re much more motivated by that fear of loss or that fear of missing out than we are motivated by getting something really good, as messed up as that sounds. So what you need to do on your website then is really paint that picture of what it is they’re missing if they don’t take action with you.

So it’s kind of like that bringing up the pain point and agitating it a little bit. So really all it is it’s a copy tweak in most cases. So instead of saying, ‘save money’, you might say ‘stop wasting money’. It’s really as easy as that in most cases.

The other thing you can do, is you can focus on scarcity if it really exists. So let’s say you’re a salon owner and you have any the booking system on your site. If you can set it up to show people – this is kind of taking a page out of Amazon’s playbook – when they tell you, “only four left of this item”. If you can say as they’re scheduling the consultation, “there’s only four left today”, that’s all you need to say that’s going to trigger something in their mind to think they better act quick or it’s going to go away.

Rich: Absolutely. And having tried to get some home repairs done of late and hearing the amount of time that you might have to wait until you actually can get an appointment, I see this at work every single day. So this is very effective, and people will jump on the bandwagon as quickly as they possibly can just to get what you have, because they don’t want to lose the chance of getting that.

Wes: Yeah. And I’ll say too, don’t do the skeezy thing of having that fake countdown timer or the “only one left”, and then you come back a week from now and it’s still one left. Only do it if you can control the software in a way where it’s actually true.

Rich: So let’s talk about the ‘mirror effect’.

Wes: Yeah, so this one’s interesting. It really basically highlights our belief in our, you know, we basically always want to see ourselves in whatever we’re looking at. So it’s why we want to make our clients and our customers, the hero on our website rather than us as the business. But basically people tend to respond better to people they feel something in common with as well. So this can mean something like they’ll respond better to you if they feel like you are a future version of them.

A good example of this is Amy Porterfield. So on her website, I always point out her ‘about us’ page to people because I think it’s really well done. Because it positions Amy as, I used to be just like you, here was what I was going through, here’s the solution I found, and here’s where I am now. And guess what? I can teach you how to get there, too.

So she’s basically mirroring the people right back to them. It’s really why it’s really important to know who your customer is, so you can really speak to them in a way that matters.

Rich: All right. Talk to me about the ‘bandwagon effect’.

Wes: Okay. So this is like, remember when your mom would say, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?” So you would if you believe in the bandwagon effect. So it’s basically saying that human beings are very social creatures and they like to be part of a group, so we’ll change our opinions and make decisions based on whether or not we see other people doing the same thing.

When’s the last time you went out just on the main street of your town with a loved one, and you’re deciding where to go for dinner. You’ll see the crowded place that looks pretty appealing – and you can’t get in by the way – but then you see the place with no one in there that doesn’t really feel good. Right? You don’t really want to go in there because people have voted and said, we like that place, not this place. So that’s basically the bandwagon effect. So if we’re deciding between multiple options, we’re going to pick the one that we think looks like the most popular choice.

So the way you would use this in real life would be, you could use simple statements in your copy. Things like ‘join hundreds of happy clients who are already dot, dot, dot’. That just through copy shows your popularity.

What you could do, too, is have a lot of testimonials. That’s another way of showing that other people have already enjoyed your service. There’s actually a paid plugin that I use, I’m sure you’ve heard of it, called Proof. You’ve probably seen this in action. So basically how you use it, it’s a little pop-up that comes up when you go to a website. I have it on my webinar opt-in page. What it does is it captures the information. Usually just kind of the city someone’s in sometimes their first name. So whenever anyone else goes to that page they’re going to see, you know, Rich from Maine just signed up for the webinar. And then, you know, Caroline from North Carolina signed up for the webinar five minutes ago. So it basically, it’s that full restaurant effect virtually.

Rich: Absolutely. And we see this all the time. I mean, whenever we talk about the Agents of Change Conference, we’ll often say, you know we’ll use testimonials from previous years, and then we’ll also say join 400 of your fellow marketing professionals. And so immediately there’s that sense of like, well it’s a combination, it’s both social proof and bandwagon, as well as FOMO. I don’t want to be one of the people who doesn’t get it. So it’s a little, you know, you can use a lot of these tools together and get a really increased reaction from them.

Wes: Oh yeah. They work really well together. All of them, for sure.

Rich: One I was less familiar with, what is the ‘identifiable victim’?

Wes: Okay. So this one is a little bit of the opposite of what we just talked about. What we talked about was how people want to see big numbers of people. But the flip side of this is, people tend to empathize more with a specific individual as opposed to that large herd group.

So instead of talking about the overall successes of all your clients in general, you still want to do that because that shows the numbers. But what you also want to do is tell individual stories of people that they can identify with. These could be case studies told by you about a client, or they could be testimonials that are written directly by them. I love video for these. If you can get someone on video talking about their story, particularly if you know that this specific person is a really close avatar for your ideal customer. So don’t get an outlier person, get someone who is as close as possible, have them tell their story. People are going to identify with a person more than a herd.

Rich: Right. Absolutely. And this is what a lot of nonprofits and charities will do, as I’m sure you’re aware, when they talk about the cleft lip in third world countries. They don’t talk about the thousands of children that suffer from this, they show one child. And because when you see that one child, you can really feel what they’re going through. So this is a powerful effect. Like you said, we identify. We may be swayed by the herd, but we also identify with the singular person.

Wes: Yeah. And I like to use these two together to really great effect, by basically having a testimonial section where you’ve got a really great feature testimonial. A video, if you have one of one person that’s very featured and it tells that compelling narrative. But then underneath that, you just have like a ton of shorter reviews, just numbers. So you hit them with the individual story and then underneath that, now they start to see, Oh, and there’s a ton more too. So it works really well together.

Rich: I think the next one we’re going to talk about is one of my favorites, ‘analysis paralysis’.

Wes: Oh yeah. So I’m not going to tell you the jam story again, because we’ve heard it all a million times. It’s fun. Everyone goes through this, but basically when it comes down to it, when you give people too many options it sounds like a good thing. But their brains just actually shut down and they don’t want to make any choice at all.

So this comes up a lot when you’re giving, I see this a lot in my students in my paid program, where basically they show me their website and they’ve got 10 packages people can choose between. And I would say that’s too many because when people need to pick between something many different options, they tend to put off that decision because it’s not an easy one to make. That’s why one of the best things you can do, if you have a lot of offerings, I always say the first thing, the first best thing you can do is if you can pare that down to three options, like three packages, that’s kind of the gold standard; the good, better, best model.

And if you’re going to do that, I always recommend having the table system, where it basically shows you with a series of check marks and X’s, what each package gets you. Because if they can’t easily compare them one against each other, again, it becomes the kind of thing where we don’t know what to choose. And we tell ourselves, we’ll get back to this later, but guess who never gets back to it later?

Rich: And the one thing that I’ve seen in that three table approach that I really like, because I know that I’ve fallen victim to it as well, is that one is promoted over the other two. So often at the top, they’ll say ‘best value’ or ‘our most popular plan’. And that happened to me when I was looking at Base Camp for the first time and they have three different tiers. And so you can self-identify, but the one in the middle is bigger than the rest of them. And it says something like ‘our most popular plan’, probably because people are like, Oh, then I’ll just go with that one. But if you do have different choices, even if you’ve limited them, sometimes making a recommendation around one of them can even make it easier for people to make a decision. And that’s the goal here is to make it as easy as possible to move forward.

Wes: Yeah. And I even like basically having a little section under each one of them saying who this is good for, right. Package one is great for solopreneurs, package two for small businesses with less than five people, and then package three, five employees and more. Something like that.

Rich: Absolutely, it’s perfect. All right. The last one we’re going to talk about today is ‘anchoring’. What’s anchoring all about?

Wes: Okay. So this is really an interesting one. People never think about this, but basically it has a lot to do with pricing. So whatever information we hear first, basically sets the standard that we’re going to compare all other options to. It’s why I always tell people that any service business out there, you want to mention your pricing on your website. And I always hear the pushback, “No one in my industry talks about price on their website.” I say, then you want to be the one who does, because then you set the price that everyone else is going to be judged against. It’s pure psychology at work here. So basically if we hear a higher price first, that price is the benchmark, right? And every other price you hear after that, either sounds like a good deal or a bad deal in comparison.

So my good example here is, if it’s a wedding venue, if they first bring up their most expensive option and that’s let’s say $10,000, that sounds expensive, and people might get sticker shock by that. But then if they pull out and say, “Oh, well, we’ve got this one. It’s only $4,000.” $4,000 is still a lot of money, but suddenly it sounds a whole lot cheaper. Right? Because we’ve already heard $10,000. So this is why I like to, and this gets a little gray, I mean it’s a little manipulative, but I think it’s still okay when you’re setting your prices and you’re coming up with your packages, what I always like to see is the package that you want to steer people to. The one in the middle is the one that you mentioned has the popular banner on it. Then having a lower introduction price version of it. Then I want you to seriously consider having a really big price, ultimate premium version next to it, knowing you’re not going to sell very many of them. But that’ll be there for the people who want that really big premium product or service. And what that does is that makes sure your price that you actually want to sell for feels so much more affordable.

Rich: Absolutely. And I think too, if you’re feeling like that might be manipulative, what I would say is it’s not just about putting the highest price in there. Create a package that is so insanely valuable that anybody would be smart to choose it, even though it might be outside the price range for most of your ideal customers. So it’s not like you’re just throwing something up there just for sticker shock and anchoring. It’s more about because I did that right from the beginning when I first started. I had three prices for my websites. And I’m embarrassed to say how low they were, because even our highest priced one back in 1999 is still a fraction of what our lowest price is right now. But yeah, I had these and I knew I was never going to sell the biggest one until one day I did. Somebody who’s like, well, I want to be the best in my industry so I’m going to choose your biggest package. And I was like, “Oh my.” And then that’s when you say, I need a bigger package, I need to move everything up.

So I absolutely agree. It’s crazy how much anchoring can impact the way we look at everything. So great idea as well. A question though, because I know that a lot of people don’t like to put pricing on their website. And I’m going to raise my hand and say it, too. And because from in my business, designing websites, developing digital marketing programs and campaigns, the correct answer is, it depends. How much does a house cost? Well, it depends. Do you want how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, where do you want to live in the country? That sort of thing. So do you have any suggestions when a product or service that a company is going to put on their website really does depend?

Wes: Oh, yeah. So in fact that’s most of the time. Especially when we’re talking about services. So what I’m not necessarily talking about is hard prices. We can do ‘starting at’ prices. We can do ‘ballpark ranges’. Because here’s the thing, within your business you have a range. There’s probably a price point that you’d never go above, and there’s probably a price point you won’t touch below. So if you can kind of chop those into three different segments and say, these are our three rough ballpark ranges, and here’s what you can roughly expect to get from each. These are not hardcore prices, right. But they’re a good guide. Because most people when they’re coming to your website, they’re looking for some kind of pricing information. And if you can at least narrow it down to a range, even if it’s a pretty big range, let’s say you say on your website we don’t do anything less than $20,000. Okay, well that answers my question. I was looking to spend $5,000, right? I can’t do it. So you’re weeding people out, which is a good thing. And if I’m looking to spend $30,000, if that’s what the dollar amount I had in my mind, suddenly I’m thinking, all right, flyte is the one for me.

Rich: Yeah. You could do something like, you know, and I’ve seen things like this, our typical client spends $10,000. Or it might say some of our clients spend $10,000 a month with us, but a bulk of our clients spend more in the $5,000 a month range. So that does the same thing where it’s like you can get away with $5,000, I was only planning on spending $3,000, but now $5,000 seems like an absolute steal.

Wes: Because he normally does websites for $10,000. But I’m getting it for $5,000.

Rich: Exactly. I get the expertise of somebody who would be willing to charge $10,000, but he’s going to give it to me at half price. So that’s exactly how it works. But yeah, absolutely. It makes a lot of sense.

Wes: It’s psychology. None of it makes sense, it’s just how we’re wired.

Rich: Because we don’t actually make a whole lot of sense ourselves. This has been really interesting, I love talking about psychology. I’m glad you came on today, Wes. If people want to learn more about you, more about your courses, where can we send them?

Wes: Yeah, so you can go to wesmcdowell.com. But if you’re listening to this podcast, that tells me you probably like podcasts, so I’ve got one. It’s called The Profitable Website, and you can find that on Apple and Spotify and all the usual places.

Rich: Awesome. And we’ll have links to that as well as your YouTube channel in the show notes. Wes, I want to thank you today for coming by and talking about psychology. I really appreciate your time and expertise.

Wes: Thanks so much, Rich. This has been awesome.

Show Notes:

Wes McDowell loves helping business owners create websites that clarify your unique message, while also finding more of your perfect clients, and driving profits through the roof. You can find out more about what he does at his website, and find more great advice and actionable tips at his podcast and YouTube channel.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.