Click Psychology: Understanding User Behavior

July 2024

#Click Psychology

Made you click! In this blog post, we explain how to use psychological principles to improve your click-through rate.

Psychology is more than just the practice of lying down on a couch and telling some bespectacled therapist about your childhood. For one thing, nobody really does the “laying down on the couch” thing outside of movies. For another thing, psychology is everywhere.

Whether it’s choosing Coke over Pepsi, an expensive SUV over a sensible minivan, or opting to pay extra for your phone’s protection plan, psychology has a lot to say about why and how we make the choices we do. More than that: once you know the underlying psychology involved, you can use those same principles to help nudge consumers towards the decisions you want to make.

In the digital realm, often what you’re trying to nudge people to do is click. Click on a link to your next article, click on an ad in the corner, and click “add to cart” on your latest product — while psychology can’t Obi-Wan a consumer into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do, every little bit helps.

This kind of “click psychology” blends the study of human behavior with the art of persuasion. When a user clicks on your links, they’re making decisions influenced by subconscious cues, emotional triggers, and cognitive biases they’re probably not aware of.

In this blog post, we talk about the psychology of clicks, and how you can use it to your advantage. Read on:

Table of Contents

Case Study: Insticator transformed Brit+Co’s community with a 50% increase in online engagement. read more.

Visual Design & Psychology

Everybody knows that one of the keys to having a successful website is to have a clean, visually-appealing design. But user experience (UX) isn’t just about aesthetics, it’s also about crafting intuitive interfaces that guide users effortlessly. The rules for clean design didn’t just get invented by artsy types; they’re built upon sound psychological principles. Such as:

  • Hick’s Law: This is fairly simple: increasing the number of options increases the amount of time it takes for a person to make a decision. This sometimes seems counter-intuitive, because people often profess to want more options. But like the Bruce Springsteen song, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On),” with a lot of options people tend to get “choice overload” and will spend a long time mulling things over. So, to encourage clicks, you want to jettison unnecessary options and streamline the choices presented to your audience when you can get away with it — they’ll click quicker.
  • Fitts’s Law: This is also pretty simple: this rule says that the amount of time it takes someone to move to a target (like the button you want them to click) is a combo of how far away the thing is, and how big it is. In website design, this means keeping buttons you want your users to click on close at hand — and big enough to do it quickly and easily.
  • Visual Hierarchy: The human brain is really good at sorting stuff into categories, and using a consistent visual language in your site design can leverage this to your advantage. Using elements like size, color, and position to prioritize what you want your users to focus on can be really beneficial. For example, you can use size and color to make your clickable call-to-action buttons, special prices, and key points jump out.
  • Color Psychology: The science behind this can be a little soft, and it can also vary a bit from culture to culture, but different colors can evoke different feelings and behaviors from users. Red can indicate urgency (or even emergency) while blue can be a calming color (which is probably why so many apps and tech companies use it.)

Additionally, you don’t want to give users the impression that your website is janky or untrustworthy. In your site build, focusing on your Core Web Vitals can help indicate to users that you’re a professional operation that can be trusted. Things like site stability and loading speed signal to users subconsciously that you’re the real deal. An added bonus, you’ll be better-positioned in Google’s search results.

Visual Element: a picture of a cartoon brain, with a dotted line going from it to an image of a website on a monitor.

Copy Psychology: Act Now!

A lot of sales language is already designed to play upon various quirks in human psychology. Deep down in our brains, people are basically apes with cell phones, and the same principles that kept us alive when we still lived in trees can now be used to sell us things. You’re probably familiar with a lot of them without realizing it, but providing explanations for how and why they work can help you use them more effectively.

  • Scarcity: AKA, “Act Now! Supplies are running out!” This was a common sales tactic in the olden days of TV infomercials, and they’re still heavily in-use online. Users often talk themselves out of something by suggesting they’ll do it later, whether that’s reading your content or buying your products. If you plant the seed of doubt that maybe there won’t be a later, they’ll be more likely to act now rather than risk missing out.
  • FOMO: standing for “Fear Of Missing Out,” this is really just a new phrase for an old phenomenon: loss aversion. People are more primed to avoid negative outcomes than they are to chase positive ones, so emphasizing the downsides of not reading your content, or not buying your product, makes them feel like doing what you want is “playing it safe.”
  • Urgency: There’s a reason sales have expiration dates, and it’s not just that stores can’t afford to sell their products that cheaply forever. Like the above categories, implying that a deal is only good for a limited time, or that consequences are imminent, is often the nudge users need to click the button you want them to click.
  • Social Proof: This is kind of nice, actually: people are social animals, and they’re more likely to go along with something if other people agree with them. Incorporating “social proof” in the form of testimonials and customer reviews can help build more credibility with your audience.
  • Reciprocity: This is another nice one, actually: if you give someone something, they want to give you something back. So if you give users free access, free gifts, or special discounts, they’re more likely to feel obligated to buy something from you.
  • Sunk Cost: Once people have committed enough time or effort to something, they’re more likely to see it through — otherwise, all that time and effort will have “been wasted.” This is why gradually ramping up to things like filling out a survey, watching a longer video, or signing up for a newsletter can increase sales. They’ve already done X, and Y, so why not Z?
  • Anchoring: This one is a double-edged sword. Anchoring is the tendency to lock in on the first price you hear for something. If you first bought a flat-screen TV in 2005, you might have paid $2000 for a 55-inch TV. In 2024, a TV that size can be had for $300, which may always feel like a bargain even if that particular manufacturer is overcharging. This is why infomercials will emphasize that their product is “A one hundred dollar value” before following up that it’s on sale for $19.99. The dangerous flip-side of this, though, is that if customers get anchored to paying a certain price — like $5 for a footlong Subway sandwich — they may balk at paying $6 for a six-inch sandwich a decade later.
  • Gamification: humans love games because they trigger the reward circuits in our brain, literally releasing happy chemicals when we do well. Including features that make a game out of your website, allowing users to earn points or rewards or achievements, can make them hang out longer and click more often.

These aren’t the only psychological principles you can use in your copy, but these will all help you drive clicks in the direction you want.

Headlines and Phrasing

There’s an entire article all by itself about the ways article headlines entice users into clicking and reading your content. But we’ll keep it short for now, with a quick subset of principles you can use to make your headlines more appealing to users:

  • Emotional Appeals: If you can provoke a strong emotional response from your readers — like curiosity, excitement, anger, and more — you can drive more clicks. The thing about feelings is, they aren’t boring, and you can use that to drive traffic.
  • Numbers and Lists: It’s a cliche at this point that clickbait headlines use a lot of numbers, “Top 10,” “5 Ways to X,” etc. This is because it appeals to readers by promising them structured information that will be quick and easy to digest. It’s the opposite of intimidating, giving readers expectations and then meeting them.
  • Question-Based Headlines: Questions often appeal to the loss aversion in us, by asking questions like “Are you overpaying for X?” or “Is this dangerous chemical in your house?” It makes people feel like knowing the answer is important for their comfort or safety.

Really effective headlines have the secret, added bonus of also optimizing your headline for search engines. Including relevant keywords and ensuring the headline matches the content can improve your positioning in search engine results and also boost your metrics. It’s a win-win.

Practical Examples

Consumer psychology is all over the websites and apps we use every day, even if they often remain somewhat invisible. Let’s peel back the curtain on some of the more-prominent ones:

  • Amazon: Amazon does a lot of things that subtly encourage users down their pipeline, but one of the most obvious ones is the user-generated content: product reviews and ratings. This “social proof” lets customers feel safer about their purchases, even if the opinions are coming from strangers. They’ll also utilize urgency by letting you know you can get your product by tomorrow if you order by 5 pm, letting people know there’s a rapidly-closing window on speedy delivery.
  • Hotel and booking websites often utilize “scarcity” as a lever for purchases, informing users that certain hotels have “Only 2 Rooms Left” or similar language. This makes users feel like they have to click right now if they’re not going to be left out in the cold.
  • IKEA: IKEA actually prompted the creation of a new psychological term, “The IKEA effect,” which refers to how customers tend to over-value an item they put together themselves because they consider their own efforts part of the value of the product. Additionally, inside IKEA showrooms, they’ll often position very expensive furniture and accessories next to more-affordable alternatives, which end up looking even more affordable due to anchoring.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, click psychology isn’t the Force, but if you’re trying to drive traffic, engagement, or business on your website, you want every tool at your disposal to encourage the conversions you’re after. Hopefully this (non-exhaustive) list helps you increase your own effectiveness.

If you’re a publisher looking to turbocharge your audience engagement, Insticator has what you need. For years, we’ve been pioneering audience-engagement solutions that improve site metrics, promote clicks, and gather valuable first-party data for the cookieless future. You can get started today by reaching out to our team. Once you do, you’ll see that Insticator is a leading solution in the ever-shifting world of adtech.

Written by
Sean Kelly, Senior Content Writer

Sean Kelly is a Senior Content Specialist, St. Louis-based engagement expert with 20 years of experience in content writing, and 8 years in adtech.

komalchand gaidhane

Written by

komalchand gaidhane