Cognitive Biases: The Little-Known Mental Errors Affecting Your Conversion Rate

Cognitive Biases


You probably just took a mental shortcut without even realizing it. You saw this post shared by a source you trust and you figured since that source is pretty authoritative and successful (I mean, look at all those Twitter followers, right?), that these words would be worth a read.

This time, your brain was right — this post will be valuable because you’ll learn that your brain isn’t always right. However, the mental shortcut you just used doesn’t work every time. And when it doesn’t, it compels you to exercise poor judgment — which can have disastrous effects on the conversion rates of your digital marketing campaigns.

What is a Cognitive Bias?

A cognitive bias is a thought pattern, like the shortcut you took just now, that’s intended to help you make a better decision but that ends up backfiring. It’s a systematic error in mental processing.

If you learn to recognize these little-known thought patterns, you can not only make better decisions yourself, but you can also use them to help your prospects decide to choose you.

How to Use Cognitive Biases In Your Marketing

In 1976, researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky conducted research that shed light on a whole bunch of these patterns and how they affect our daily lives. Here’s some of what they found, combined with ways to use cognitive biases for better marketing.

Showcase your authority to boost people’s trust in your brand

Let’s start with the shortcut you may have used to get here. “Authority bias” describes people’s tendency to put more trust in figures they’ve deemed authoritative. All the Twitter followers your favorite account has, the frequency with which their content gets shared, and maybe even their title of “Chief Executive Officer” indicates to you that person or business is authoritative and credible.

So, when you saw her Tweet out this post, you thought, “Hey, if (so and so) finds this post valuable, then it’s probably valuable. Because I know she’s smart and appreciates only high-quality content.” Then, you clicked through to read what you assumed was high-quality content based on who it came from.

Use this bias to your advantage by showcasing authoritative titles (like “Dr.” or “CMO”), clothes (like lab coats or expensive suits), and trappings (like shelves full of books, or high-end jewelry). These communicate your success to prospects.

If you have expensive suits, you must be paid well enough to afford them. The same goes for high-end jewelry. And if your title is “CMO” and your office is surrounded by shelves filled with thick books, you must be smart and well-read. All these add up to the appearance of authority and credibility, even if that appearance is false (just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean you’re a good one, and just because you’re standing in front of shelves filled with books doesn’t mean you’ve read them).

This works for companies as well as individuals (with the exception of clothing, obviously). Instead of “CMO,” a title could be “Fortune 500 Company,” and trappings could be a modern office in the middle of a well-known building area of town, like the Empire State in Manhattan, for example. Or they could be industry awards you’ve won, displayed prominently on your landing page. Here’s an example from Metric Theory:

cognitive bias marketing

Showcase Who Values Your Product

The other night I ate dinner with my uncle who was visiting from out of town. “I’ve never had tacos like the ones I got at this little food truck down the street from our hotel,” he said. “Apparently we drove by it multiple times when it was closed during the night, but didn’t notice it until daytime when I saw a giant line forming outside. And that’s when I knew the food had to be good.”

He waited in line for 30 minutes because he figured if other people were willing to wait in a long line to get tacos from this truck, then the food must be good. This is called “the bandwagon effect.”

When we see that an offer has been claimed by lots of people, or that other people can’t stop saying great things about it, it signals to us that offer is valuable. If it wasn’t, why would so many people have spent their time or money on it? Why would they continue to rave about it?

Use this effect to increase the perceived value of your offer with the help of social proof, like testimonials or counters on your landing page. Here’s an example from a graphic design agency, Fell Swoop:

cognitive bias marketing

Maintain objectivity at all times

Before you do any conversion rate optimization on a web page, you should have a reason to do so. If for example, A/B testing data shows your landing page is being abandoned immediately, then it might have to do with a lack of message match between your ad and page, or a weak headline. Or maybe it’s that your navigation menu is providing an easy escape route for prospects. Any of these is a plausible cause.

What’s less probable is that your featured image is scaring visitors off, or that your landing page colors need to be adjusted to better please the eye. But sometimes, those charged with improving the page will read the data the way they want to.

A videographer might say “Well the fact visitors are fleeing probably has to do with the lack of video on this page. We should add an explainer video above the fold.”

Presented with the same data, a copywriter might say, “No, nobody wants to sit and watch a video. The problem is probably the result of an issue with the headline,” while a designer may disagree with both: “It’s neither of those things. We need to change the colors of the page to make the content easier to read.”

This is called “confirmation bias” — the tendency to interpret evidence in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs. It’s the reason some people get their news solely from one-sided outlets. It’s why some remain fortressed in a bubble surrounded by people with no differing points of view.

And it could also be why your page isn’t performing any better, even after you made the change — added the video, adjusted the copy, or altered the colors — that you or your team thought was the reason visitors were abandoning it so quickly.

To keep this cognitive bias from busting your conversion rates, do your best to remain objective, and get more than one opinion about your data or your page but be mindful of who you’re getting it from. Nobody is immune to confirmation bias.

Give Your Prospects Everything They Need To Make A Decision

People are highly protective of their time and money — and rightfully so. They only have a limited amount.

So, when they’re on your sales landing page, evaluating your offer, they’re going to look for everything they need to make an informed decision about whether your product or service will be worth its cost. A few general questions they’ll ask:

  • Why is this solution better than others like it?
  • Is this a trustworthy company?
  • Have other people claimed this project?
  • Does this product or service actually work?
  • Will I have the support I need if I ever run into trouble with this product or service?
  • Is this webpage secure?
  • Can I get a refund if I don’t like the product or service?

If your page can’t answer these questions, and others specific to your business, they won’t risk converting. The reason is the “ambiguity effect,” which states that people are drawn to options they’re confident will produce a favorable outcome.

To combat this cognitive bias, make sure your visitors have the answer to every question they’ll ask about your product or service. If you have an FAQ, this is the perfect place to use it. Some landing page designers actually include it in their design, like LinkedIn:

cognitive bias linkedin landing page

But you don’t have to. Instead, you can use it as a design aid. To answer the question “Why is this solution better than others like it,” you can include copy that touts your unique selling proposition. To answer “Does this product actually work,” you can include testimonials from people who brag about your product on your behalf.

The company that can overcome the “ambiguity effect” by providing comprehensive landing page content will leave no conversions on the table. If your prospects know everything they need to make a decision about your product or service, they can choose to either convert or not convert.

Even if they don’t, you’ll know it wasn’t because they couldn’t find your return policy, or didn’t know if your site was secure.

Use Cognitive Biases For Good Marketing

Now that you know a few tips to creating a landing page your prospects’ minds will agree with, it’s important you use them for good!

Using psychology to trick your prospects into converting is unethical. The ultimate persuader is trust, and losing it means more than just losing conversions. It means souring your reputation as a brand, and that’s something nearly impossible to recover from.

Strengthen your brand with psychology and links customizable to your business when you sign up for Rebrandly here.

Guest Author: Ted Vrountas

cognitive bias marketing TedTed Vrountas is a content writer at Instapage who hates most marketing content. As a human among marketers, his goal is to write words people actually want to read.



Further Reading: 

This Article is About:

  • Cognitive Biases
  • Cognitive Bias in Marketing
  • Landing Page Optimization




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