Years ago, I used to find it difficult to get support to do usability studies on the websites I used to run. Today, thanks to the hard work of countless Web managers, usability is a familiar concept in the boardroom and user research is becoming more of a demand from the top. We want our website to be usable! managers say. Things are good.
Except they aren’t. While usability is concerned with removing obstacles in the user’s path to task completion, an easy to use site is not guaranteed to perform to the best of its potential. In fact, it is almost guaranteed not to.
The problem with raw usability is that it allows the customer to do what they want very quickly and easily. But is doesn’t necessarily help them do what you want them to do. When looking at the commercial performance of a website, the difference between what they want -say buy a product- and what you want -say buy the product on their first visit, also buy a couple of accessories and give you consent to market to them at a later date- may make or break your business.
This is where persuasion comes in. At its core, persuasion is about increasing the commercial performance of your business by generating trust in your website. A persuasive site is not a pushy salesman interrupting your every move with strident banners for offers you’re not interested in now. It’s much more like an attentive helper, anticipating your doubts and anxieties and presenting you with the information you need to dispel those as you move through the store, while pointing out how additional purchases may complement the one you have already decided you need.
This all sounds very Amazon-like, and indeed Amazon does an excellent job at persuasion, but you don’t need complex technology and a ton of user data to build a persuasive site. You don’t need any technology at all, in fact. What you need is a process, a clear understanding of the economics of your business and a great understanding of your customers -segmented by need, motivation, attitude, etc.
There are great treaties on persuasion architecture -a structured way to build a persuasive site that provides guaranteed results. Bryan Eisenberg’s Call to Action and Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?: Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing are some of the best. There are plenty of resources online as well. I have found Beyond Usability: Designing Web Sites for Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust to be a great primer, combining a good introduction with enough detail to get the ball rolling while you wait for Amazon to deliver your books.
The battle for usability in the boardroom is almost won. Let the battle for Persuasion begin!