Persuasive design principles and website user behavior

Motivation, ability, and triggers influence users’ website behavior, according to this research paper by Stanford researcher BJ Fogg. This is important if you’re targeting specific behavioral action (e.g., filling out a lead form). Before a user takes a desired action, she must be sufficiently motivated to perform the desired action, have the ability to do so, and be appropriately triggered to take action.

Fogg’s model is fairly easy to digest. For example, let’s say you want to drive more listing appointments (the target behavior), there is a trade-off between motivation and ability. In this scenario, a user’s motivation is somewhat variable (either they are interested in the property or not). Thus, as website designer you should concentrate on the “ability” side of the equation: do you make it a simple fill-in-your-email-address form, or do you make users fill out more detailed information prior to submitting their request? On this issue, Fogg concludes:

The implication for designers is clear: Increasing motivation is not always the solution. Often increasing ability (making the behavior simpler) is the path for increasing behavior performance.

Contemplating appropriate triggers is where it gets really interesting for website designers. According to Fogg, without an appropriate trigger, targeted behavior will not occur even if motivation and ability is high. There are three elements of a successful trigger: the trigger must be noticed, the trigger is associated with the targeted behavior, and the trigger occurs WHEN we are both motivated and able to perform the targeted behavior. Fogg argues that timing is THE critical element and is often missing:

In fact, this element is so important the ancient Greeks had a name for it: kairos – the opportune moment to persuade. As I see it, the opportune moment for behavior performance is any time motivation and ability put people above the behavior activation threshold.

Poorly-timed triggers (e.g., pop-ups) generally do not drive a user to take a targeted action and can even cause a negative emotion. Thus, Fogg argues that proper triggers will align with collaborative CRM concepts (which I earlier discussed), functioning mostly as “signals” or “facilitators”. I encourage you to read Fogg’s research paper (all 7 pages) as he further details the discreet elements under motivation, ability, and triggers that influence website behavior.

Photo credit: ell brown (off to Italy)

5 thoughts on “Persuasive design principles and website user behavior”

  1. Thanks for the article. This week I had been pondering how to increase conversion rates, hopefully this gives me a bit of an insight as to how and when to best place my ‘triggers’.

  2. Wow, that’s an excellent study. I’m so fascinated with the psychology behind web design/marketing – I really enjoyed the link – thank you. I realize I’ve been “imitating techniques that work without understanding why those techniques work”. It’s time I go back through our site and re-analyze our triggers/motivation/ability.

  3. Great read – guess I need to take a step back and re-think a few things for a couple of the sites I have. There is really an art to all of this and suppose I should work on getting my hands a bit more practiced. Thanks for your insight!

  4. I’ve been in the interactive marketing field a long time and I’ve developed and applied the “user behavior” approach with great success to more than just website design. I would urge readers to think a bit about how they would apply such principles to all things interactive – email marketing, application development, online advertising, etc, etc. People are humans first and consumers second.

    ~ Tony

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