Psychological Triggers

5 Psychological Triggers to Make People Buy from You

While the stats and analytics data involved in conversion rate optimization (CRO) clearly shows it’s a scientific and objective process, the system of turning visitors into actual buyers is also an art.

To be specific, human psychology plays a crucial role behind motivating people to trust you with their hard-earned money. There are multiple emotions that pull at us throughout the buying cycle.

Some may be affected by price, by value, or by quality. Some, on the other hand, are the re-affirming and pressuring psychological factors that will make the difference between a sale or a bounce.

This, however, doesn’t mean you should choose one approach over the other. Why should you, when you can have the best of both worlds?

I tend to spend a lot of time diving into the minds of my customers — learning what makes them tick, and understanding what motivates them.

For many growth marketers, psychology only matters when they’re trying to get insights on their customers’ behavior. But in terms of actual execution? It’s usually all stats and numbers.

And I can’t say I blame them.

Numbers are fascinating. I typically spend more time gazing at data than I do researching consumer psychology.

As mentioned earlier, CRO involves looking at numbers, percentages, and graphs.

And most marketers are drawn towards tricks that have a direct impact on the data.

In other words, most marketers prefer actionable and data-driven tactics, not strategies that involve “feelings” and “inclinations.”

Why consider psychological triggers for CRO?

It’s simple.

Human psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior. In the context of online marketing, it’s an approach that lets you understand what makes your customers tick.

And guess what conversion rate optimization is about? That’s right: customers.

To explain this point further, go back to this very basic question: Why are you bothering with CRO in the first place?

You most likely want to turn your visitors into buyers.

Of course, conversions don’t necessarily have to involve purchases. They can be a click on your site’s download button, a subscription to a newsletter, or a like or share of a content asset.

Psychology matters because it can be used to influence people to make these desirable actions.

5 Psychological Triggers that Boost Conversions

Understanding psychology helps you find ways to influence your customers’ behavior when interacting with your site. Here’s a list of the most common psychological triggers:

  • Leverage pleasure and pain
  • Use customer labels to spur action
  • Turn to the power of “loss aversion”
  • Know the 3 kinds of buyers and which category your customers fit in
  • Offer instant gratification

So, that’s about it for the explanations. Let’s get down to actual strategy.

1 — Leverage pleasure and pain

Although people have different motivations when buying products and services, at its core, all human behavior boils down to the primal desire of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Even when people do something that looks painful, they probably associate a kind of symbolic pleasure with it.

Take mountaineers for example. No matter how you look at it, trudging up a frigid mountain and hauling 50 pounds of gear is probably a painful experience. So too are triathlons and long-distance marathons. Yet, these activities are still ridiculously popular because people find them rewarding.

To use this trigger to improve conversions on your ecommerce site, you need to understand what your customers identify with pain and pleasure. What are your customers’ pain points? What solutions do you offer that can fix these sources of real or perceived pain?

customers main reason for switching providers

For example, a survey report by Accenture published on Marketing Charts shows that in January 2015, most customers cited poor customer service as their main pain point and reason for switching to another service provider.

Ask yourself if your customer service is what’s affecting your conversions.

Can it be improved? If so, how?

Your job is to understand your customers’ pain points and develop a strategy that will take them from point A (their current place) to point B (pleasure and freedom from pain—for you, a conversion).


People don’t want to be connected to a brand, they want to be connected to other people.

People want to be treated like individuals, not as customers.

By making your copy, product descriptions, headlines, promotions, and other content more personal you can create a higher level of trust by speaking directly to the customer, person to person.

Use “you” and “your” in calls to action to inspire action. Speak in first person on your blog—using “I” rather than “we”—to give readers and customers a more connected sense to you and your business.

Businesses like GoPro use this method to empower their customers and to inspire and motivate them, not only to buy their products but to use them and feed content back into the community.

gopro's personal headlines


Your design and your brand should be consistently expressed throughout your site and all other online channels. Your Twitter account, your Facebook page, your website’s graphics, your website’s aesthetics, your logo. (Read here for tips on how to do this in your social media channels.)

Everything should be visually cohesive.

Think of this in terms of a physical store. If nothing aligned with a central brand, you wouldn’t have as much trust in each individual product. However if you go into an IKEA, and you understand exactly what you’re getting with IKEA products, you have more trust in buying the products because you know what to expect.

Ikea bedroom style content

This kind of cohesiveness will increase conversions immediately, but even more importantly, it will breed long-term brand trust that will keep your customers coming back for more.

Social proof

Using testimonials, social following, and other social proof signals will give customers the assurance that your product or service is well respected, widely used, or well known, which will ease anxiety and, therefore, help with conversions.

There are multiple ways to do this, and each one should be thought about and tested to your unique use-case.

For example, Slack has used a video on their homepage showing social proof for their productivity tool.

slack's social proof video

This is a way to not just show the effectiveness of the tool through features and uses, but through a real example.

Zirtual has a similar focus with their homepage, showing rather than telling with a real-world testimonial from a successful customer.

zirtual social proof

2 — Use customer labels to spur action

Labels are powerful influencers of human behavior. In the context of marketing, when you give users a label, it’s almost as if you’re influencing their subconscious to take certain actions.

embrace the power of labels

In the example above by HubSpot, some of the people labeled as ‘politically active’ in a research group actually became active voters.

You can leverage this same effect by writing copy that labels your potential customers in a positive manner. Saying they are “special,” part of a “select group” or that they’re making the “smart choice” by choosing your product or service can actually influence them to make a desirable action.

3 — Turn to the power of “loss aversion”

Here’s the funny thing about how our minds work. While it’s true that winning gives us a sort of natural high, the desire to win is nothing compared to the desire not to lose.

Basically, most people would rather not lose something than to win something at all.

It’s called loss aversion, defined as:

“In prospect theory, loss aversion refers to the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are as much as twice as psychologically powerful as gains. Loss aversion was first convincingly demonstrated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.”

The image below gives a visual explanation on loss aversion.

loss aversion

Let’s say for instance I give you the decision to choose services:

  • The first will give you super fast internet speeds
  • The second will ensure you don’t lose your internet connection at all

While the first option sounds great, the second product is perhaps safer to most people. Loss aversion also explains why people tend to avoid taking unnecessary risks, even if it means preserving a less than desirable status quo.

This psychological phenomenon can also be used when creating marketing messages.

Instead of saying that your product or services gives something your customers don’t have, frame your message by saying your product or service will prevent them from losing something they already have.

An example of this style of copy can be found in the image below.


Create Urgency

Urgency is the harder, less straight-forward factor to implement—though, by far, the most effective.

Adding urgency to your sales timeline can dramatically increase desire for your product and set a powerful anchor in your customer’s psyche. It changes people’s thinking from “whether to buy from you or your competitor” to “whether to buy your product now or miss out altogether.”

Typically if it’s something they want, they will be far more likely to convert quickly. This comes down to a few simple principles:


Is the product on a strict timeline? Is there only a limited amount of hours left to buy? Is there a potential benefit to buying now as opposed to later, per a discount or shipping option?

These sort of time-focused principles can dramatically increase the urgency of your offer without having to set up any other limitations around your product. There’s a reason infomercials used the “if you call in the next 30 seconds” line. Because it works psychologically.

Conversion Rate Experts proved this as a very effective method by simply adding a clock to category pages on a Florist’s e-commerce site, with a countdown for same-day delivery.


By creating a limit in supply, you can drastically increase the level of demand on a product, which increases the potential of quick conversions. If the test runs well, you can always add to the supply later. You can also charge a premium with a limited supply.

As Shopify show’s in this great example from ModMom, a sense of urgency can be put on a temporary product to ramp up engagement, and in some cases, even create media buzz.

conversion rate increase with scarcity

4 — Know the 3 kinds of buyers and which category your customers fit in

A research paper on consumer behavior by Scott Rick, Cynthia Cryder and George Loewenstein entitled “Tightwads and Spendthrifts” shows there are essentially 3 types of buyers.

3 type of buyers

Who are these people, and what characterizes them?

  • Spendthrifts – Spendthrifts account for only 15 percent of the population, but they’re an ideal target audience for a good reason: they have no second thoughts about parting with their money.

Spendthrifts feel little to none of the pain others experience when buying something. And it’s not because they’re materialistic or impulsive buyers. It has more to do with their circumstances and reasons for feeling pain during the purchase process. Simply put, they don’t feel pain before the purchase. If they do feel any pain, it’s usually after the purchase.

  • Tightwads – In contrast, tightwads, who make up 24 percent of the population, have a strong aversion to spending money. To them, money is precious, something better saved for a rainy day than spent frivolously.

Spending hurts for them. They are likely to experience buyer’s remorse not just after the purchase, but also before and even during the purchase process.

The reasons for this pain often vary between different tightwads, and sometimes, they make little to no sense to observers. While convincing them to convert is hard, it’s not impossible. We’ll get to that in a bit.

  • Average Spenders — Average spenders make up the majority (61 percent) of the population. Average spenders respond well to persuasive marketing messages, and will be more than happy to part with their money after making an informed purchase decision.

Average spenders are open to the idea of buying. They’re not quite there yet like spendthrifts, but their mind isn’t closed completely like tightwads either. And so, it’s a good idea to focus your CRO efforts on this group of buyers.

The point of knowing all this is to understand that different types of people need different approaches in order to convert into buyers.

If your audience is composed of tightwads, your marketing messages have to be focused on hard data, cost savings, and loss aversion. If you can convince a tightwad that your service or product will save them money, you should be on the right track.

5 — Offer instant gratification

Our minds are hardwired to crave instant gratification. In other words, we want pleasure, and we want it now.

In fact, instant gratification is such a compelling force that when used in your marketing copy effectively, it can convert visitors right away.

No one likes to wait. If you can frame your copy and tell potential customers how quickly they can enjoy the benefits of your product and service, many of them will be happy to give you their money.

When creating your copy, try to integrate the following keywords:

  • Fast
  • Now
  • Instant
  • Immediate
  • Less than 24 hours

Below is an example of a message that leverages our desire for instant gratification.

pick up today


Exclusivity is one of those rare cases where you can ramp up demand and social proof in the same instance, as Mailbox did with their initial waiting list when launching their first iOS app.

mailbox using exclusivity

This list does two main things:

  1. It shows that there is a limit of supply, increasing excitement to finally get through the queue.
  2. It shows a massive amount of social proof with 780,000 people all waiting in line to use the app.

With this kind of a waiting list, Mailbox was able to gain media attention from almost every tech media publication on the web—and add to that list in the process.

This kind of attention would never have been made had Mailbox not intentionally limited the supply on their app, amongst the other notable things they were doing to re-shape the UX of email.

Always test everything

Every business, every site, every app has its own unique use-case and market.

Never just assume that, because something worked for one company, it would work for yours. Test everything.

Set up conversion tracking software to A/B test the different variances of your homepage and then go with the winning variant. If you change without testing, you could do more harm than good.

Don’t let that happen, track, plan, test, and progress.


Bottom line? Don’t underestimate the power of human psychology and its ability to help you understand how people think when they’re on your ecommerce site.

If anything, understanding human psychology gives you a way to apply all your hard data gleaned from your customer habits and behavior.

If you don’t know how your customers think and what their motivations are when they’re on your site, you won’t know what tactics to use to reach out to them.

And that is where human psychology steps in. Take the time to study the theories and ideas behind the functions of the human psyche, which will help you think critically and creatively about CRO.

How has knowledge about human psychology helped to improve your online marketing efforts?

The Author
Cristian Simion
Cristian is the SEO Manager at RankingBuddy, where he manages a talented team of SEO and Social Media specialists who help our agency partners grow their businesses using the power of the Internet.

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