Francesco Busolini // portfolio

Persuasion on Websites - UX

Realized: November 2011

Category: User Experience

Persuasion on Websites - User Experience

Category: User Experience Realized: November 2011

This essay, co-written with my colleague Giovanni Lesa, deals with the topic of persuasion. Through the application of the concepts of persuasion and its six basic principles embodied from the social psychology, we highlighted some positive and negative examples of persuasion in the context of websites.

We took advantage of the principles of social psychology to explain how certain persuasive mechanisms work, and why they work best when they work in a certain way. The ultimate purpose of the essay is to outline some guidelines for the realization of persuasive designs, which can increase the degree of effectiveness of the contents of a website.

For the complete version of the essay visit Persuasion on Websites (PDF). I'm sorry that the essay has been written only in Italian. I apologize for that. I suggest taking a look anyway, because many examples are presented with images. Anyway you can find the complete list of the guidelines derived from the essay at the bottom of this page.

Persuasion and its six principles

The persuasion is not the art of getting someone to do something they don't want to do, but it is the process by which we try to influence and change behaviours and attitudes of a person in order to get him to take a behaviour that is beneficial to us and for him. If we wanted to give a general definition of Persuasion, as well as stated by Perloff (2003), we could say that persuasion is:

"A process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviour regarding an issue through the transmission of a message in an atmosphere of free choice."

Particular emphasis is placed on the fact that the communicator is trying to convince other people to change their behaviour in an atmosphere of free choice, and so fundamental that there is no coercion but is the same person who decided to change his behaviour. A similar argument can be done in the case of deception: a person who alters his behaviour because of a scam will not be persuaded but it will have been simply cheated. In case you are not borne out these two essential elements could not be more talk of persuasion.

Persuasion has been studied in psychology to explain the rules of social influence. You can define six basic principles of persuasion: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, scarcity.


The credibility is a perceived quality in a message and indicates how much we can trust the message itself. This concept goes hand-to-hand with persuasion (there is no persuasion without credibility): a high credibility strongly amplifies the ability of the persuasive message. The concept of credibility isn't only related to the content, but also to the credibility of the source. Two essential dimensions characterize the credibility: perceived competence and perceived reliability.

The term perceived reliability refers to the perception of goodness and morality of the source. To give some examples, a source perceived as fair and objective is considered reliable, as well as sources that speak against his own interests. Also perceived similarity with the source and trust toward it, allow gaining the same effect.

The perceived competence on the other hand is another lever to gain credibility. A person who owns a professional title, or has professional equipment, or dress professional clothing, increase his perceived competence.


In this essay we have tried to provide not only interesting and valuable examples of how persuasion can be exploited in order to increase the effectiveness of Web content submitted to the users. We have also provided practical examples of these principles and some of the possible applications. Before presenting a brief summary of the guidelines we have highlighted in this report, we can make some final remarks.

First of all, even if the principles of persuasion are conceptually distinct, communication can be made much more effective if we use more principles at the same time, always respecting the harmony between them.

Second, even if people use these mental shortcuts when making decisions, this does not mean that they are conscious of using them. This notwithstanding, even if the action of the persuasive principles is not consciously recognized, there are data that indicate that people are nonetheless affected.

From our discussion we can extrapolate some general guidelines to help you get the concepts of psychology persuasive in making a website in order to create a product that is more effective in communicating their own content and making it possible to achieve their business goals. The guidelines are presented grouped according to the principle of persuasion that exploit, but if in some cases exploit different principles have been incorporated into one of these to avoid repetitions.

Guidelines for Scarcity

  • Highlight the limited availability of a service/product persuades the user to better exploit/buy it.
  • Highlight the lack of availability of services/products on the market similar increases our persuasive power.
  • Highlight the features that make our service/product unique increases our persuasive power.
  • Make frequent promotions on products, with short-term maturities, it is a great persuasive lever to push the user to enter transactions until can take advantage of promotions.
  • Emphasize the limited availability of time in which you can adhere to the proposals offered on the site prompts the user to adhere more easily.
  • Put users in a sort of competition between them, it increases the desire of getting your product/service.
  • The messages expressed in a negative way, they point out that what you can lose, are more persuasive messages expressed in a positive form, which points out what you could earn.

Guidelines for Authority

  • If we are experts in our field is important to highlight our credentials (i.e. titles acquired and awards received) in order to be perceived as legitimate authorities.
  • The positive references, citations or mentions are tools that allow us to increase our credibility and authority, especially if references are provided by companies or by recognized and famous experts.
  • Highlight the important collaborations with companies or experts, it allows us to increase our authority.
  • The professional look of the site and a great tool that a web designer can use to increase the level of perceived authority.

Guidelines for Social Proof

  • Highlight the behaviours of people with similar characteristics to our users, pushing the users to act accordingly to them.
  • Recommend products on the basis of the choices made by other users similar to our clients and a strong persuasive element.
  • Allowing our users to comment, vote or review our products allows you to persuade more customers to buy those with good ratings.
  • Highlight how many users have already made a particular transaction, or have already benefited from our service and a good element of persuasion to convince the other members to do the same.
  • You must avoid using the principle of social proof to emphasize undesirable behaviours.

Guidelines for Simpaty

  • A site with a pleasant and attractive appearance persuades you to read its contents.
  • Share interests, passions and experiences with their users will increase the degree of involvement and sympathy of the website.
  • Offering praises to users that perform difficult tasks, greet users when they log in, thank them when they send us an email, compliment them when they perform a purchase or provide a review of our product are all tools that allow you to gain the sympathy of the users.
  • Praising allows users to get their condescension and promotes good disposition towards the content and subsequent requests.
  • Do not make too many compliments, compliments or inappropriate, to prevent the user perceives them as complimentary and excessive acts to persuade: the risk to get a "boomerang effect".
  • Making sure that users feel helped in carrying out their tasks increases the sympathy towards the website.
  • Provide collaboration and suggestions to the user increases the sympathy and accordingly the persuasion.
  • Give importance to usability allows the website to make the user's life easier, this fact has a positive effect on sympathy.

Guidelines for Reciprocity

  • Being polite and well behaved towards our users creates in them a positive affect and also creates a sense of "kindness due" to us.
  • Make concessions, the kindness, and the pleasures, or do giveaways or gifts to our members, it puts us in a very persuasive towards them.
  • Provide nice error pages helps to win the esteem of users.
  • Praising allows users to get their condescension and promotes good disposition towards the content and subsequent requests.
  • Provide the services/products free of charge for a certain period, after which it will need to purchase or recording, allows you to persuade users to use our services/products.
  • Provide tutorials, technical content and innovative products and a way to make giveaways and gifts to our users and allows us to achieve a greater persuasive power to be used to tempt users to reciprocate.
  • Take an objective and neutral position with respect to the services/products that we offer, it makes the users feel that we're on their side to help them choose the service most suitable for them, and is a great persuasive element.

Guidelines for Commitment and Consistency

  • Suggest new services/products that are new versions of the products already purchased by the customer leverages its coherence to obtain from him the execution of a transaction.

Other Guidelines

  • Guidelines on reducing or simplifying. Simplify as much as possible to the user's actions and an excellent mode to persuade the user to perform any action on a website. Then arrange the interaction in a way that is "already all set" by default. Present the user with a well-known interface and an incentive to its active participation on the website.
  • Guidelines on the principle of the tunnel. Leverage internal procedures to the site where the user must perform a set of predetermined steps, taking advantage of the screens that he will have to necessarily visit. Advice the proposals that for the user may be more suitable at that precise moment.
  • Guidelines on customizing. Give the user the ability to contribute to the construction of the product by the choice of the combinations he wants. A product built with his own hands, is without a doubt the most attractive: the user will be then persuaded to purchase more.