Psychologically Optimized WebsitesThink for a moment! Why is that we stick to some websites while flee others within seconds? Simply put, bad websites fail to enthrall us. They get on our nerves and usually fail to interest us.

After about two decades of the Internet’s existence, it’s now evident that there is something more to websites than what our naïve eyes can see. And it’s not merely what Claudia Springer calls “the pleasure of the interface.” It’s more than just colors, text or graphics. It’s about their psychological appeal, where they appeal to our senses. Broadly put, good and successful websites are all about psychological optimization!

When a website is psychologically optimized it impacts human cognition. And, once human cognition is impacted, it can virtually attract limitless users, not to mention higher ROI, improved interaction & retention, and returning visitors, as added benefits. But, how can be websites optimized psychologically? Surely, it’s not a cakewalk and calls for a well-conceived communication strategy.

A large part of psychological optimization relates to how well we understand the cultural context. Research studies clearly indicate that individuals are affected from their own cultural leanings in the knowledge attainment and sensory perception process. Websites, therefore need to be filtered through their cultural lens in order to enhance their functional and aesthetic perceptibility, quality, and success.

For example, if the target group for a website is North Americans, the selection of website elements should be based on appropriate American cultural markers so as to appeal to American users. Designers can gather these cultural aspects by reviewing and researching the digital media and also through first-hand interviews of select group of users.

Now, what are the other elements of the communication strategy that you will need to address in order to influence your visitors? While human psychology is a vast subject and has countless perspectives, I will, to begin with, deal with some of the most pertinent ways through which you can realize a psychologically powerful website:

  • Identify Persuasion Triggers: A website can be psychologically optimized by incorporating persuasion triggers. These are used intentionally by web designers to influence the behavior of users. These can be in the form of graphic elements that compel users to click on them. Alternately, persuasion triggers can also be interesting pieces of texts/information that compel users to access them.
  • Place Visual Anchors: These can help in holding users on a webpage for a long time or make them visit the site again and again. Visual anchors can be graphical or creative designs of the text that can be placed in websites in the form of an image, a graphic element, an animation etc. Visual anchors convey more meaning than what is possible through words. For example, insurance companies usually devise visual anchors around family themes to motivate users to understand the importance of insurance for family members.
  • Address Color Psychology: Find out colors that will best appeal to your users. Your selection of colors can be based on how they are culturally perceived? For example, text in color red is not used in China unless there is a very personal message to be conveyed. On the contrary, Sri Lankans perceive red text as warning sign. Similarly, an American bank using its website to promote its services for French clients will try to avoid the use of color green, which some French may associate with criminality. Alternatively, the same bank may use color green to attract Middle-east clients since green carries a positive connotation for them.  So, it is important to use colors keeping in view cultural context.
  • Devise the Information Flow: Some websites contains humungous information and so it is important to segregate it into different layers. Instead of compressing all information in the homepage, try separating them into parts so that the user can flow from one to another section of information with ease. The central idea is to unfold the website to the user like a book or a movie, so that the interest is sustained. Your information flow strategy can consist of plans for placing images, diagrams, pictures, hyperlinks and other textual and graphic elements so that they are coherent and meaningful.

Develop Psychologically Optimized Websites

Poorly-conceived website design


Psychologically Optimized Websites

Well-conceived website design


  • Implement User-friendly Features: Websites should be designed to be user-friendly – in terms of simple and easy-to-use navigational links and interface.  If the elements are not friendly, users might lose interest and move on to something else. User-friendliness ensures that expectations of users are mapped to what is present on websites. User-friendly features are culture- and context-sensitive. Let’s say, what is “user friendly” for one culture may be not for another. So, usability of a website must be defined in terms of cultural context. In addition, user-friendly features will depend on target audiences on various aspects, such as their age, gender, trends, region, country, language, etc.  For example, 10-point or bigger font is recommended for most users while a minimum of 12 to 14-point is recommended for individuals over 65.
  • Use White Space: Pages cluttered with text and visuals overwhelm visitors and make them uncomfortable. This in turn, reduces their interest and ability to comprehend the subject. On the other hand, white spaces separate design elements on a webpage and give it a pleasing look. However, too much vacant space requires extra time for users to scan the page. So, white spaces should be used smartly to create a balanced and harmonious layout.

A psychologically powerful website is like exotic food, laid out in the most compelling form and style. Remember, once you have laid out a psychologically well-conceived website the benefits that will accrue to you are immeasurable, delightful, and far-fetched – which will be evident from the way users flock back.