Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, email techniques, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability,  and consumer psychology.

Persuasive Architecture: How to Get Your Visitors to Take Action

Take architecture.  Nothing new here; you guys have been building stuff and talking about the related philosophies for millennia.  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that those of us messing around on the Internet would find a way to co-opt such a handy metaphor. 

We have.  The concept of “Information Architecture,” a field of study and practice that is central to your online efforts, has been with us for quite a while. 

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But I’d like to get you thinking about a different and much more powerful metaphor, “Persuasive Architecture,” that marries all the bits and pieces to the Big Picture.  All you have to do is catch the bouquet!

Lots of things come to mind when I think of “architecture”:  design, intention, function, beauty, structure, movement.  I think of how a museum is very different to a fast food joint is very different to a house.  Architecture as a discipline is a merger of science and art, joining the breadth of engineering and aesthetics with human use.1

The best constructions out there do more than just arrange space so you can figure out where you can go; they are built to help you go where you need to go – as that is understood both by you and the architect – in a way that appeals and delights.

Let’s take a walk down History Lane.  About a hundred years ago, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote:

A building should contain as few rooms as will meet the condition which give it rise and under which we live, and which the architect should strive continually to simplify; the ensemble of the rooms should then be carefully considered that comfort and utility may go hand in hand with beauty.2

It’s a cool article, especially if you replace “Web site” for “building,” “Web page” for “room,” “call to action” for “door,” think of “nature” as “functionality” and “materials” as the inherent character of the medium.   You get the idea.

Look also at the development of Landscape Architecture, particularly through folks like Frederick Law Olmsted (best known for his role in shaping Central Park in New York):3

Olmsted applied these principles of separation and subordination more consistently than any other landscape architect of his era. Subordination was accomplished in his parks where carefully constructed walks and paths would flow through landscape with gentle grades and easy curves, thus requiring the viewer's minimal attention to the process of movement. At the same time, many of the structures that Olmsted incorporated into his parks merge with their surroundings. Separation is accomplished in his park systems by designing large parks that were meant for  the enjoyment of the scenery. Smaller recreational areas for other activities and where "park ways" handle the movement of pedestrians and vehicular traffic offset these large parks.4

Even more explicitly, the purpose of this form of architecture was to create space that shaped and guided the “user’s” experience.  Intention was integral to the design – when you stepped over here, you were supposed to see this; when you moved further down that path, you were presented with a secretive opening you simply couldn’t resist investigating.   Fascinating stuff!

To get visitors to take action online, you practice Architecture:  construction as the result of a conscious act; the creation of a unifying or coherent form or structure.

Information Architecture is definitely a piece of the puzzle, even if folks have often used the term in a vague sort of way.  The best definition I’ve found comes from Louis Rosenfeld:

Information architecture involves the design of organization and navigation systems to help people find and manage information more successfully.5

Information Architecture is all about helping folks find the information they are looking for.  It’s about how you optimize your site’s search engine so visitors can find products, how you categorize your supplemental navigation in ways that make sense to your visitors and reflect how they might look for your stuff.  It’s the rudiments of the Qualifying part of the sales process.  Actually, brilliant Information Architecture is like a top-notch reference librarian.

But you don’t only want to help people find your stuff and make it easy for them to interact with your site (the usability part of the puzzle), you want them to take action.  You want them to buy, or subscribe, or qualify themselves as a lead.  So you need to do more than allow them to act; you have to persuade them!

And that’s where Persuasive Architecture comes in.  It’s the aesthetically appealing and functional structure you create to marry the organization of the buying and selling processes with the organization of information.  It’s the only way your Web site is actively going to influence, the only way you will pull (never push!) your visitors along the paths they need to walk to accomplish their goals – and yours.

The dudes here at Future Now really like the building associations; me, I have a fondness for green stuff.  Either way, we’re very excited about this unifying framework of Persuasive Architecture.  So stay tuned … we’ve only just begun! Check out Bryan Eisenberg's article this on applying Persuasive Architecture.

1 With appreciation to Tom Grimes, one cosmic-thinking dude!
2 “In the Cause of Architecture.”  Frank Lloyd Wright.  Architectural Record .  March, 1908.  Reprinted in Frank Lloyd Wright, Collected Writings.  vol 1.  pp 87-88.
3 Also Andrew Jackson Downing, Calvert Vaux, Ebenezer Howard
5“Information Architecture Revealed!”  John S. Rhodes.

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Hot Off the kidding!

We just finished the printing. You can now order your own copy of our just released book Persuasive Online Copywriting from Amazon.

We have rescheduled the final Wizards of Web in 2002 to December 3-5. Also, please let us know if you want to be included on our advanced notice list for events.

Don't miss this upcoming Webinar: How to Increase Your Web Sales Without Increasing Your Marketing Budget on October 9th at 1pm.

Bryan Eisenberg
CIO, Future Now, Inc.

You or Me: Theory versus Practice

Recently, I read an article1 that made one of my eyeballs start twitching. 

This was the gist:  people do business with people, so you want your site to convey and build trust by revealing a lot more about the people behind your business.  You meet this need, in part, by putting pictures of your employees on the site, displaying the scanned signature of the Head Honcho somewhere, having your About Us sections include personal tid-bits about your principals and staff, and offering Employee of the Month and Staff News features. 

In short, you should beef up your “Me-Me” quotient.  Folks want this, and they look for it when they come to your site.

My reaction?  I thought you’d never ask! 

Remember, I think in terms of principles, not hard-and-fast rules.  There may, in fact, be a business for which this me-stuff is the perfect strategy.  It’s just not most businesses.  And it probably isn’t yours.  It’s a nice theory, and maybe it would be a nicer world if we valued “Who” a bit more, but my experience suggests it’s not up there on the majority of your visitors’ Top Ten lists.

So how often are visitors really interested in the folks behind the scenes?  Do they really rank that information as central to helping them solve their task-oriented missions?  Do they go looking for it in droves – or at least in numbers that might convince me there’s a deep-seated, unmet need out there?

I looked at our Web logs for the past year.  Five percent of our visitors clicked through to the About Us page.  Five percent clicked through to our Bios page.  Now, we’re a consulting company.  We’re selling US, our services, our way of thinking about Conversion Rate Marketing.   Folks are going to be working with us pretty closely … you’d think who we are, as depicted on our Web site, might matter.  It doesn’t seem to.

But we’re a smaller operation than many.  So I rang up my totally cool buddy, Ethan Giffan, who works with online recruiting.  Jobs!  Very people oriented!

“Hey, dude.  You get lots and lots of traffic on your Web site.  How many of those folks click through to your About Us Web page?”

I hear Ethan shuffling some papers and then his reply, “Five percent.”

“Really?”  I’m actually surprised.  “Us too.   That’s interesting.  So how many people click through to learn about the recruiters … the divisions that might actually hire them?”

Ethan doesn’t even pause.  “One point four three percent.”

“Right,” I scratch my head.  “So what about those four communities you have, full of lots of resources, lots more targeted information.  What sort of traffic do they get?”

“All the communities together get eight percent of our traffic.”

Folks who go to Ethan seem to be more interested in jobs than who’s in Ethan’s company.  And the ones who come to us seem more interested in their bottom lines.  Over ninety percent of them are Desperately Not Seeking Susan! 

This makes sense if you consider their primary motivation is, after all, WIIFM.  

Remember those personality types?  Your Expressive visitors (the ones who are most relationship-oriented) might find some value in learning personal details about the people in your business, but they are going to be far better persuaded to make a purchase by customer testimonials.  Amiables are less likely to be interested in your personnel parade – they are more activity focused.  Your Assertives will ignore it as extraneous noise.  And your Analyticals?  Well, they’re the tough crowd when it comes to touchy-feely things, because they will find it little more than posturing fluff.  Truth is, depending on how you use this stuff, it can actually damage your credibility with Analyticals!

You best demonstrate your commitment to your customers and inspire confidence and trust by always being relevant.  Your customers are going to find “you”-oriented information much more relevant and persuasive than “me”-oriented information. We’ve found time and again that when companies focus on the customer rather than showcasing themselves, conversion rates go up

Am I saying “Do away with it all”?  Nah, not me.  Five percent is still five percent.   We’ll be hanging on to our About Us and Bios pages.  However, we do plan on giving Employee of the Month a miss.

P.S.  I’d love to know your figures for traffic to pages that feature company-related, about-us type people information.  Shoot me an e!

P.P.S.  I’d caution against displaying any official signature on your Web site.  You never know to what uses it could be put!

 1 “Back to Me:  Why You Should Talk About Yourself.”  Claudia Temple.  MarketingProfs.


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GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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