12 Techniques of Persuasion Psychology That Will Lift Your Conversion Rate

Why do some landing pages convert like crazy and others languish with very few click-throughs? If you’re spending money on PPC or content marketing to drive traffic to your site and not seeing great results, this question is probably on your mind a lot. Split testing only takes you so far if you’ve run out of inspiration for what to test.

Luckily, we’ve got the field of persuasion psychology to help us out. Understanding how people are wired and what makes them take action gives us an inside perspective on what our marketing needs in order to get results. Here are eleven principles drawn from the field of persuasion psychology, along with ideas on what you can test using these techniques to increase conversions and improve website rankings.

1. Mimicry

We respond more positively to those who look like us, act like us, and sound like us. Mimicry can increase rapport, liking, and positive feelings.

Although many studies have been done on mimicry, one described by Michael Lynn of Cornell University is particularly interesting. Experimenters had servers in a restaurant take two different approaches to confirming an order. One set of servers indicated that they’d heard the customer’s orders with a simple acknowledgement. The second set of servers repeated the order in the customer’s exact words back to them. Those who mimicked the exact words of the customer saw a significant increase in those who tipped, from 52% to 78%.

What to Test:

  • Before crafting new landing page copy, research how your potential customers speak. Use surveys, focus groups, product studies, market research, and one-on-one interviews to learn their jargon and how they describe their pain points and ideal solutions. Then use that language in your copy. If you’re working this into existing content, consult with a expert to avoid impacting SEO.
  • Use photos of people that look like the audience you’re targeting.

2. The Ellsberg Paradox

The Ellsberg Paradox is named after Daniel Ellsberg, a U.S. military analyst (who, incidentally, is now best known for leaking the Pentagon Papers). He started his career as a Harvard economist who studied behavior, particularly decision-making.

In a series of experiments conducted in 1961, subjects were presented with two urns. They were told that urn #1 held 100 red and black balls, but in an unknown ratio, and that urn #2 contained exactly 50 red and 50 black balls. Subjects were then instructed to choose an urn to draw from, and bet on the color that will be drawn. They were to receive $100 if their bet was correct, and $0 if the other color was drawn. Ellsberg found that the vast majority of subjects chose to draw the ball from the urn with a known ratio, rather than take a chance on the urn with an unknown ratio.

CEB and Think With Google research shows that buyers are wired to avoid risk, and will go to great lengths to avoid it, even if it means keeping a painful status quo. This research, combined with Ellsberg’s discoveries points out just what you’ll need to overcome in your landing pages—you’ve got to get potential customers to surmount their fear of the unknown.

What to Test:

  • Use detailed descriptions in your copy. Tell readers exactly what they can expect to get if they download your white paper, sign up for your e-course, etc.
  • Be specific with your button copy. Make sure viewers understand what will happen when they click a button. Will a download start? Will a click-to-call feature be activated?
  • If you’re using coupons or offers, tell visitors specifically what they’ll receive.
  • Spell out any guarantees or warranties you offer.

3. Social Influence

Social influence (also called social proof) refers to the fact that people’s emotions, opinions, and/or behaviors are affected by others. Social influence has been studied by multiple psychologists over the last 80 years, most notably Herbert C. Kelman and Robert Cialdini.

We are all wired to believe that if people we admire (or those who are similar to us) are doing/thinking something, that behavior or thought pattern is “normal,” so we should act or think that way too. We have confidence in the opinions of our peers.

What to Test:

  • Include ratings and reviews on your product pages and landing pages.
  • Feature testimonials with real names and photos.
  • Add short case studies or client stories in your landing page copy.
  • Include media mentions.
  • Feature client logos.
  • If you have a large customer base, add numbers like “Enjoyed by over [x number] of happy customers” to your pages.
  • Feature a customer showcase.
  • If you have a large number of social shares, use social share counters. (Conversely, if you don’t have a large number of shares, avoid using counters because the effect will be that people assume your content/offer isn’t good.)

4. Reciprocity

Another widely-researched principle of persuasion psychology is reciprocity. This technique has been studied in everything from pharmaceutical sales to raffle ticket sales.

We tend to feel obligated to reciprocate when we receive from others. When you offer something to someone at no cost, he or she will be more likely to comply with future requests. But note this caveat: according to psychologists, reciprocity has an expiration date. The more time that passes, the weaker the draw to reciprocate becomes, so be sure to present your request shortly after your gift.

What to Test:

  • In emails, offer something of high value before you request a call.
  • Try presenting an exclusive offer in exchange for additional information about your leads.

5. Hot-Hand Phenomenon

The hot-hand fallacy is the belief that when someone experiences a success, he or she is more likely to continue that winning streak. You’ve probably heard the adage,“Success breeds success.” And while this is sometimes true, people tend to believe that it’s always true.


Alan D. Castel investigated this belief by conducting a cross-sectional study that sampled 455 participants ranging in age from 22 to 90 years old. These participants were first told that no college or pro basketball players ever make 100% of their shots. Then they were given a questionnaire with two questions: (1) Does a basketball player have a better chance of making a shot after having just made the last two or three shots than after having missed the last two or three shots? (2) Is it important to pass the ball to someone who has just made several shots in a row? While the majority of participants exhibited the hot-hand fallacy, researchers found that responses varied by age—older individuals were more likely to believe the fallacy than younger people.

What to Test:

  • Include mentions of recent awards or press mentions.
  • Add a section featuring client wins.

6. Commitment & Consistency

We tend to stick with whatever we’ve already chosen. We want to believe we’ve made a good choice, and we’re wired to continue along whatever path we’ve decided is the correct one.

In the mid-1960s, psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser studied this phenomenon. A researcher, posing as a volunteer worker, went door-to-door asking homeowners if they would allow a sign to be placed in their front yards. The researcher then showed the homeowners a photograph of what the sign would look like: a massive billboard with amateurish lettering that read, “DRIVE CAREFULLY.” Only 17% agreed to this request. The researcher then approached a different group of similar homeowners. First, the researcher requested a small, 3-inch sign to be displayed that read, “Be a safe driver,” and almost all the homeowners agreed to display the sign. Two weeks later, the researcher returned to this group and asked the homeowners to put up the massive, amateurish sign, and 76% said “yes.”

If you can get a small “yes” from your potential clients, it’s much easier to get them to agree to a larger request later on.

What to Test:

  • Try a simple button opt-in that requires visitors simply to click a button saying they want your offer before being taken to the form they need to fill.
  • Use a pre-launch page with a CTA asking people to agree to a popular statement (such as “I want to increase my leads! Notify me when [product] becomes available!”

7. Anchoring

Anchoring (also called focalism) is the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the piece of information presented first when making a decision. Once the anchor is set, there’s a bias toward that value.

For example, when you’re shopping for a car and you see that the MSRP is $41,465, you’ll feel good if you negotiate a price of $39,000. If you had first learned that the average selling price of that car was $39,000, you wouldn’t feel so great, even though you paid the same amount.

The most common use of anchoring is pricing—if you have three “sizes” of service packages, present the most expensive first. But there are other uses as well.

What to Test:

  • List your highest price first.
  • Focus your copy on the benefit you want your customer to measure you and your competitors by.

8. The Liking Principle

The Liking Principle is one of six principles of influence studied by Robert Cialdini, professor at Arizona State University. Cialdini wrote about this principle in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini’s research proved that we are more likely to comply with requests made by people we like. This seems like common sense, but it’s a powerful phenomenon that you can take advantage of.

What to Test:

  • Try including friendly photos of your team members on your website and landing pages.
  • In emails (both cold emails and marketing emails), include a photo in your signature.
  • Use a conversational style in your copy.

9. Sensory Words

Our brains are wired to respond to sensory images—we notice them and remember them.

In 2006, researchers in Spain reported in NeuroImage that when subjects’ brains were being scanned while reading words with strong odor associations, the fMRI showed their primary olfactory cortex lighting up. When they read neutral words, that region of the brain stayed dark.

Another study, published last year in The Journal of General Psychology, illustrates the influence of mental imagery on memory. In this study, researchers told one group of participants to use mental pictures to remember a list of words and told another group just to remember the words. Those who were told to create mental pictures for the words were better able to remember them.

Using words that involve the senses enables your prospects to truly “get a sense” of how your product or service can help them, and they’re better able to remember what you’ve communicated. Involving the senses will also help you stand out from competitors—because few marketers actually write copy using sensory words (because it can be challenging).

What to Test:

  • Incorporate similes into your copy. A simile compares two different things, saying that one is “like” the other or shares the same characteristic “as” the other. Using a simile, you can give your audience a concrete way to think about an abstract concept. For example, instead of simply saying that you offer quick turnaround times, you could say “Our turnaround times are like Nolan Ryan’s pitch. You won’t be waiting around for us.”
  • Use metaphors in your copy. A metaphor compares two different things directly—it states that something is something else. The effect is the same as a simile, but it’s another important tool to have in your communication toolbox. An example of a metaphor: “You are a pine tree in an evergreen forest.” You could just say, “You don’t stand out among your competitors,” but it doesn’t communicate as powerfully.
  • Include imagery in your copy. Consider words that will help readers see, feel, hear, what you are talking about.

10. The Authority Bias

The Authority Bias is the tendency to ascribe greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure and to be more influenced by that opinion.

One of the main reasons this bias holds is because we are socialized from a very young age to respect authority. Stanley Milgram (of the famous, shocking Milgram prison experiment) was one of the first to research this bias.

What to Test:

  • Reference source material for stats and facts you quote.
  • Include quotes from subject matter experts.

11. The IKEA Effect

The IKEA Effect (named after the furniture manufacturer/retailer) was first described by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, Daniel Mochon of Tulane University, and Dan Ariely of Duke University in 2011. Their three experiments showed that self-assembly impacts the evaluation of a product by its consumers. They concluded that when people build something themselves, they value the end product more than if they had someone else build it for them.

What to Test:

  • Try allowing visitors to select content downloads by industry, company size, or some other factor that pertains to them.
  • For eCommerce offerings, allow potential customers to “build” a custom product before placing it in their cart.

12. Scarcity Heuristic

The Scarcity Heuristic has been researched by many psychologists. One of the most interesting studies was written about by C.R. Snyder in the Basic and Applied Social Psychology Journal.

Subjects were presented with two help-wanted ads, one of which implied numerous job vacancies, while the other implied very few. The study found that subjects who saw the ad suggesting limited positions available viewed the company as being a better one to work for than those who saw the ad suggesting there were many job positions available. Not only this, but subjects also believed that the ad implying limited vacancies translated to higher wages!

In the Western world, particularly with our emphasis on the individual and personal customization, we are drawn to things we believe are in limited supply. We assume that if something is rare then it’s of higher quality.

What to Test:

  • If you’re promoting a webinar or live training, try adding “Limited seats available” or even “[x number] seats available.”
  • If you sell memberships, try only opening to new members a few times per year, and use a countdown timer on the page during the “closed” months.
  • Offer special pricing that goes up the longer prospects wait to buy.
  • Offer one-of-a-kind specials for niche groups within your target audience

Cognitive biases give marketers endless ways to prompt behaviors they want potential customers to make. Some of these biases are hardwired and some are socially programmed, but all are strong forces that are difficult for humans to overcome—meaning potential customers will be powerless against your wiles!