How websites create emotion

Oct 5, 2017

How do some websites keep us coming back? The digital team that cracks this is the one that knows how to play on our instincts and emotions. In other words, we are being manipulated. So what are these sneaky tricks?


People have a tendency to be biased towards what they know. That's why new products use familiar, trusted patterns. That's not to say you can't innovate. When the iPhone was released it was a brand new idea; a phone that was completely touch screen and with never seen before features such as swiping and pinch and expand gestures.

Despite this innovation, it still used familiar patters such as virtual keypads.

TIP: For a website, make it easy for your or your product to be understood.

Relative value

How do we know the value of something if that item is without context? It's difficult as people are hard wired to compare so giving them a starting point as a reference will make it easier. The tried and tested method is a pricing table and when given one, people feel more comfortable in making decisions. It may be the wrong decision, but a reference table at least gives the people the feeling of being in control.

TIP: Comparison tables can be as simple as making it clear how the same product differs if a bronze, silver or gold level is chosen. If this is presented well it will guide people to the high end product more often.

The bandwagon

If they are doing it then it must be good and I want to try it too. Well ,at least that's the theory but it's a good theory which has been proven right. Fear of missing out (FOMO) can be a big trigger in guiding behaviour and if an offering is new, ways to suggest that there is a bigger community of people enjoying the product can help pull in more consumers.

TIP: Highlighting the connectivity of those using the product is one way of creating a FOMO.


People will tend to obey authority figures even when it goes against instinct or desire. This was demonstrated in an experiment by Stanley Milgram (The Milgram Experiment) who sought to explain how some of the horrors of World War 2 could have happened. Although there is controversy over his conclusions, it is still seen as one of the classic studies to demonstrate subservience to authority.

TIP: Authority comes from various sources but we need to become an authority in our work space in order to build trust. You will become believable. Testimonials can help although these can be faked. The long term view is to just excel at what you do and build a reputation.


We all judge things by appearance. In a psychological study that I performed, perceptions of someone's good qualities were enhanced by factors such as attractiveness. The same thing happens when faced with a website.

TIP: Beautiful and consistent design will extend a visitor's opinions of the product or service being offered. Sad but true.


People have a drive to succeed and to do something better than their peers, or even against themselves. People want to be rewarded. Fitbit and other wearable tech companies do this in the form of leaderboards. But note, that people like to compete but do not like to be completely out of their depth so ensure that metrics cover a range of experience or ability so that everyone can excel in some way. Also make sure that the boards are calculated over a short period so that the person who is top one week can't continue being top without putting in the effort.

A number of multiplayer games have leaderboards but do not refresh it, killing any desire for newcomers to even try.

TIP: Give people achievable goals and make it social. This will increase engagement and help to ensure sustainability and continued satisfaction.

Completion effect

Emptying our inbox and task tray gives us a good feeling. Unfinished tasks can linger and don't give the satisfaction even when many other are tasks have been completed that closure gives us. LinkedIn does a good job of providing notifications of profile completeness and plays on a users' desire to finish things.

TIP: Get people who start something a reason or desire to finish it. Make entry barriers low and steps to complete not too overwhelming, or in the spirit of Agile, each step taken translates to something being finished and comes with instant benefits.


A sense of identity and the ability to customise gives users strong connection with it.

TIP: Give the user the ability to customise their experience or make it more personal.


Questionable one this; people don't like to feel as though they owe something and if given something, feel as though something must be given in return. This may work in a close relationship or physical setting but from behind the keyboard? I'm not so sure. Anyway, the theory is that if you give something for free such as a trial then the recipient will feel a certain obligation to give back.

TIP: Give before you get something back. Get visitors or potential customers hooked in so that they feel a sense of obligation. At the very least, a trial gives someone the chance to see how good your service or product is.

Surprise and guilt

A little bit like a Skinner Box, unexpected events can make user satisfaction greater and more exciting. Surprise can be addictive and if given just enough, it will keep people coming back for more. A good example of this is a gambling machine / game.

TIP:If there is an event such as a birthday or Christmas, surprise your users with a little gift or a note. It will keep people coming back.


Shall we talk?

Lets have a conversation

If you would like to know more about how I've helped to transform some the world's biggest and well known businesses, across diverse industries in the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Hong Kong, then please drop me a line. Let's have a chat and I'll buy the coffee!

Multiple screens showing responsive web developement next to a hot drink for a meeting

Turn your idea into digital reality

Many of my clients requiring web design have been small or start up businesses and need a lot of guidance. I love these kind of projects as I feel I can be a part of a new and exciting business from the very beginning!

What can I call you?
Enter your email address
It would be nice to tell us why you are contacting us!
To prevent spam mail, enter the sum of the spam captcha