Persuasive design is something that has been around for many many years, not least in the way high street stores and supermarkets lay out their stores to encourage and entice customers to buy as they arrive and walk around.
In the online world, PET (persuasion, emotion, trust) is an approach that was pioneered by Human Factors International, and alongside usability and user experience, designing with persuasion in mind is an extremely powerful approach to positively impact on conversion rates.
In my experience, one site which has persuasion rooted in its design, content and layout is Booking.com.
In this article I provide a breakdown of some of the key persuasive elements that booking.com deliver.
I have chosen just one of the key interaction pages, the search results page, to demonstrate a wide range of persuasive elements that are presented to visitors to help them both decide on which hotel to book and encourage/persuade them to book with Booking.com.
I could have split them out in to persuasive, emotional and trust-related elements, but as most of them relate to a combination of persuasion and emotion it made sense to just list them out.
The prominent hotel star rating with thumbs up
As with most hotel and holiday websites the importance of the star rating plays an important role in helping visitors decide which hotel they will consider.
Not only has booking.com placed the star ratings in one of the most prominent places possible, but it has also provided the additional seal of approval for some hotels with the Preferred Hotel Programme.
Visitors wondering what this thumb means can hover over the icon and be presented with very persuasive copy which underlines the quality and experience this hotel provides.
In addition the thumbs up is also a positive visual clue which re-enforces a sense of ‘making the right decision’ for some visitors.
Short but enticing introduction to each hotel
Underneath each hotel is a short introduction which aims to quickly sell the key benefits of the hotel to the visitor, whether this is the location, features, quality, distance to the nearest tube etc
A short summary of how other customers have rated the hotel
In some respects, even more important to visitors that the official star rating of the hotel is how other people have rated the hotel.
Rather than just relying on the score out of 10, booking.com frames this score more intuitively by including a word or two to describe the score ie. Good, 7.7, Pleasant, 6.9, Superb, 9.0.
Framing refers to using words or paragraphs of text which help visitor relate to the information being presented. In this case, customers can consider what type of hotel they want based on their requirements and expectations.
The number of reviews each hotel has received
In addition to the score out of 10 and the short summary of customer reviews, booking.com also makes it clear how many reviews have been left for each hotel.
Although booking.com isn’t expecting that visitors will want to read hundreds of reviews, the combination of both a very positive score and a large number of reviews certainly delivers very powerful (and persuasive) social proof of some of the hotels.
When this hotel was last booked
Following on from the theme of social proof, booking.com provide a dynamic status update for when a booking was last made.
The cynical amongst us could question whether this is just manual information provided to try and promote how popular the hotels are, but booking.com allows you to hover over the small icon to find out specific details of when a booking was last made and which type of room was booked.
By not providing all this information up-front it caters for both types of visitor, those that trust what is being said on face value and those that are intrigued to find out more of the details of what they are being told.
It also adds a sense of urgency. If rooms are being booked right now, then the customer may feel the need to hurry up and book their room while it is still available.
How many people are looking at this hotel
Further insight into what is going on right now, and a more persuasive factor, is the dynamic status of how many people are looking each hotel currently.
When combined with some of the other key messages being presented (detailed further down this post) such as ‘Last room!’ and ‘Last chance! Only 1 room left’ by making visitors aware of how many other people are currently looking at this hotel can and will create a sense of urgency to ‘not miss out’.
I must say I really like this combination of persuasive elements, and I’m sure sub-consciously many visitors end up making a quicker decision to book a hotel room for the fear of missing out.
How many hotels founds, then how many available
Although this is more of a subtle scarcity message, by making it clear both how many hotels have been found for your search along with how many are actually available, this provides visitors with more evidence both of how popular and busy hotels are for when they are looking to book, along with the smaller number of hotels that are still available.
Combined with the other messages around availability it underlines the fact that this website is providing live updates.
This hotel is likely to sell out soon
Looking to heighten the sense of urgency, for some hotels booking.com adds in the words "This hotel is likely to sell out soon".
Although there can be some interpretation of this compared to wording which says "Last chance! Only 1 room left", coupled with other elements on the page this wording will again be persuading some visitors to make a quicker decision than they would have done, again for the fear of missing out.
‘ Last room!’ message next to the individual room type
This key message aimed at prompting the visitor to make a quick decision to book before the room is taken is positioned next to other key wording which visitors will be looking at, the type of room.
This ensures that most visitors will see this message compared to if it was positioned somewhere that visitors are less likely to look at.
‘Last chance! Only 1 room left’ message under availability
Scarcity of availability is something that booking.com clearly feel is a fundamental factor in encouraging and persuading visitors to make a decision and book on their website.
In addition to the Last room message next to the room types they also repeat this message in the column displaying room availability.
‘Just booked’ icon next to individual room types
Booking.com takes the general message around when the last booking was for each hotel by also indicating when one of the actual room types was just booked.
Once again this demonstrates the fact that there is constant activity going on as well as providing another snippet of social proof for that specific room type
Save xx% next to the individual room type
Booking.com recognises that some visitors will relate to % savings more than £ savings, and with this in mind next to each room type, when there is a large % saving to be made they display this.
You will see that they don’t provide this figure if it’s a small number though.
Was and now price
It appears that almost all hotels and rooms have a saving, and in some case some very big savings. As expected, next to each price is the original price crossed out, which allows visitors to very easily compare the was and now price, and in their own mind determine how much value this represents.
Constantly visible sort options
In my experience Booking.com is one of the few websites that constantly show the sort options that are available to the visitor.
The benefit of this approach, particularly in this persuasive design, is that visitors can immediately understand what options they have to put them in control of the search results, rather than relying on them to understand (which, based on past experience on other websites, may just be simple sort options like price hi-low and rating hi-low).
FREE cancellation message
As detailed, booking.com aims to encourage and persuade visitors to make a decision to book quite quickly, but for many visitors they may not feel comfortable by being pressured in to making a decision.
With this in mind one of the ways that Booking.com caters for these visitors is by promoting that some rooms have free cancellation. In addition this messaging will appear to regular travellers, particularly business people, who often have to change plans for particular reasons.
Although we haven’t worked with Booking.com directly, I am aware that continual multivariate testing plays an integral part in how they deliver such a persuasive user experience, and for the last few years I have featured the site in the e-commerce usability & best practice training course I deliver for Econsultancy.
In this post I haven’t even touched on a wide variety of other hugely important elements of the user experience which ensure visitors have an intuitive and satisfying visit, particularly in areas such as search, navigation and value proposition, but that’s for another day!
So, what other sites provide a persuasive experience?
I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on which other sites provide a persuasive experience, and what are you doing on your website to gently nudge visitors to do what you want them to through the power of persuasion, emotion and trust?