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Getting Users to Click

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By studying how users make purchase decisions and learning how they can be persuaded, you can gain a powerful perspective on how to design sites that users can't resist. This article will reveal to you not only how to get users to click, but also how to get them to click on what you want them to select.
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Clicking is a decision. Every click requires your users to scan your page, move their mouse, and make a decision to click something. Every click is a little step of faith and a commitment to move forward.

By studying how users make purchase decisions and learning how they can be persuaded, you can gain a powerful perspective on how to design sites that users can't resist. This article will reveal to you not only how to get users to click, but also how to get them to click on what you want them to select.

The Consumer-Decision Cycle

Each purchasing decision is actually the culmination of a number of small—perhaps unnoticed—choices. You've made a lot of decisions to get to this very point. First you recognized that you needed a book on how to design more effective web sites. Then, maybe, you drove to your nearest bookstore, headed over to the Internet section, and started scanning the book covers for something to catch your eye. You probably picked up a few books, flipped through a few pages in each, and then finally decided on purchasing the book that you're reading right now. This is the consumer-decision cycle, and it's the cycle that all your users will go through in order to transact with you.

The consumer decision cycle can be described in five different phases:

Satisfied

For users who are satisfied, life is beautiful—they have no needs, and they perceive that they have no problems. In an online context, these users are surfing the Net just for the sake of doing so. There isn't much you can do for these users except try to help them recognize needs they aren't aware of. In other words, show them something to interest them.

Recognizing a Need

In the second stage of the cycle, users have acknowledged that they do have a need. The problem, however, is that the vast majority of users (79 percent, according to a study conducted by Robert L. Jolles in his book Customer Centered Selling, Simon & Schuster, 2000) tend to be stuck in this stage and choose not to do anything about it.

Remember that annual checkup you just can't seem to get around to scheduling? Chances are, you're stuck in the "recognizing a need" stage and need something to push you into actually making the appointment. Your users, too, need help in getting unstuck so that they will take action. In other words, motivate them.

Searching for Information

The next step in the decision cycle is the search for information. In this stage, users look for information that will help them formulate the evaluation criteria for their decision (for example, "What features should I look for in a digital camera?"). Information gathering generally takes one of two forms:

  1. Internal search.

    In an internal search, users rely on their preexisting knowledge to make a purchase decision. In other words, they don't seek to gain any additional information on top of what they already know.

    This search is used for frequently purchased items such as toothpaste. In these cases, you will likely purchase the brand you bought last time (or have been buying for the past 50 times) provided you haven't had any recent, negative experiences with it. Internal searches are also used for low-cost items because the ramifications for picking a wrong product or service are low.

    On the Internet, catering to internal-search products and services means providing an easy way for users to locate and identify what they want to purchase.

  2. External search. An external search involves users conducting their own research through consulting friends and families, reading third-party informational sources (consumer guide magazines and web sites), or reviewing information directly from the product or service provider.

    Users do an external search when they aren't confident about their own knowledge within a particular situation. In these situations, you can help users become aware of needs they haven't even realized yet. These searches are also used when the risk of making a wrong purchase decision is high (for example, when buying a house).

    For this type of search, your web site needs to educate your users on how to decide between their options and meet their goals.

Evaluating Options

In the evaluating stage, users whittle down their choices to a few options. At this stage, there are two sides of the coin:

  1. Identifying suitable solutions.

  2. Identifying trustworthy providers of those solutions.

It's at this point that users evaluate both the objective attributes (such as specifications and cost) and the subjective attributes (such as brand loyalty and how the product makes consumers feel). As users evaluate their possible choices, both logic and emotion play a role in making the final decision.

Deciding to Purchase

It's in the "deciding to purchase" stage that the magic happens—your users click that submit button. At this point, your users have decided that they want to do business with you (congratulations!), and now it's important for your site to focus on giving these users the confidence to follow through with their decision. After a user has made the decision to transact, the emphasis should be on streamlining the remaining steps. At the end of this stage, your users should be satisfied (provided you delivered as promised), and the cycle starts all over again.

By understanding the decision cycle, you can recognize what type of information, tools, and support you need to provide to users on your site. The goal is always to lead users from their current stage to the next stage until it results in a transaction. The momentum that propels users forward is persuasion.

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