The Complete Guide to Understand Customer Psychology

The Complete Guide to Understand Customer Psychology

Written by Neil Patel & Ritika Puri

Chapter Seven

Avoiding Points Of Friction

Up until this point in the guide (yes, in all of the hundreds of pages), we’ve talked about marketing techniques that compel people to move through the conversion funnel. But here’s the thing. There’s an equal and opposite force that is just important to your marketing. It’s called friction, and it’s one of the top reasons why your website visitors are hesitating from moving through the conversion funnel.

What is friction?

Friction is any variable, website quality, or user behavior trend that is slowing down (or entirely halting) the progression of your company’s sales cycle.

Conversion option expert Michael Aagaard explore this concept in detail in the following PDF guide:

4 years of research and hundreds of split tests have taught me a lot about conversion optimization. One of the most important lessons is that friction kills conversion. The good news is that reducing friction is one of the most effective ways of increasing conversion. The bad news is that it can be difficult to spot sources of friction if you don’t know what to look for.

The best definition of friction I’ve come across is the one MarketingExperiments offers. In their methodology, friction is defined as a psychological resistance to a given element in the sales or sign-up process (Source:

Friction has a negative impact on the decision-making process of your prospects and will tip the decision towards “No”. The less friction the prospect encounters, the more likely he or she will be to accept your offer. So the more you can reduce friction, the more you’ll be able to tip the decision back towards “Yes”.

Michael Aagard, ContentVerve

Friction can stem from the most subtle details on your website. Along these lines, Michael Aagaard walks through a case study from his own website,

One of Aagaard’s website goals is to build his list of newsletter subscribers. He ran a test with two different ‘sign-up’ form variations. The first was a simple ‘sign-up’ call to action. The second articulated the benefits of signing up for ContentVerve’s email list.

The point of friction in this case was lack of detail. In the variation, Aagaard added more detail to boost sign-ups and as able to generate a 83.75% boost in conversions.

Here are some common sources of friction and ways that your company can avoid them:

Landing Page Length

One common point of friction relates to web page length — in other words, the amount of content and information to share with your website visitors.

Friction happens when you share too much. Friction happens when you share too little. You need to find a happy medium to effectively communicate with your users.

The thing is, marketers tend to gravitate towards opposite ends of the spectrum.

Marketers seem to be divided into two groups: those who swear to long-form, and those who swear to short-form.

But the truth is that there really is no one-size-fits-all solution that works every time. It depends on what you’re offering, and what you want your potential customer to do.

In my experience, short landing pages work well with low-scrutiny offers where there is little commitment and perceived risk related to the conversion goal. Long landing pages on the other hand work well with high-scrutiny offers where there is a higher level of commitment and perceived risk related to the conversion goal.

Michael Aagard, ContentVerve

The key to finding the right balance is to continuously test your landing pages.

Consider the following case study where a longer landing page outperformed a much shorter variation. Aagaard was looking at PPC landing page of which the goal was to get prospects to sign up for a home energy audit.

The company is relatively unknown, and the offer was relatively complex.

There was a high level of commitment and perceived risk involved, which gives rise to friction in the form of anxiety and credibility issues.

Michael Aagard

In this case, the longer landing page performed best and generated the higher conversion rate. In other words, friction was at a minimum.

Here’s another case in which a short landing page boosted conversions by 13%:

DesignBoost provides online courses that teach students how to design mobile apps, landing pages, and more with photoshop. They had the goal of increasing signups.

The original homepage was very, very long:

When a landing page is too long, it can scare people away by making your offer look too complex. If a landing page is too short, it can scare people away by making your company appear (potentially) unprofessional or untrustworthy.

So how do you find the happy medium?

Qualitative research (talking to your customers, running feedback surveys, interviewing prospects, etc.) can help you uncover what people care about when deciding to do business with your company. What we’re about to say shouldn’t surprise you — it’s common sense.

Your landing pages and homepage should communicate exactly what users want to know, in the most distilled form possible.

Answer the question of what your customers care most about, and distill your answer into the most simple and straightforward possible forms. Customers who want more in-depth details will read through your company’s knowledge center, FAQs, case studies, and other in-depth marketing materials. What’s most important is that your landing pages, homepage, and site navigation make it easy to find this information (not that the information is jam-packed into one page that nobody can read).

To sum up this section, here is a great write-up from Meghan Lockwood from the HubSpot Blog. As she eloquently puts it:

Think fast! How much information can you get someone to agree to give you in six seconds?

That's right: You have roughly six seconds from the time a reader visits your site until they decide whether or not to click the back button. While this statistic is most commonly quoted for website optimization, you can also use this rule of thumb to gauge the attention span of people who are deciding to fill out your forms.

So if you have a limited time to grab a visitor’s attention, you want every part of your site doing its job. And to help you do just that, you also need to eliminate any friction on your landing pages. Friction is any element of your website that is confusing, distracting, or causes stress for visitors, which can make them leave your page and, thus, abandon your form. Examples of friction-causing elements include dissonant colors, too much text, distracting website navigation menus, overwhelming the landing page with additional calls-to-action, and … landing page forms with too many fields.

Meghan Lockwood, HubSpot Blog

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is what happens when your landing pages, marketing messages, and ads don’t make sense.

Remember that the heart of online marketing is how disparate, moving parts come together. In an ideal world, everything — images, copy, themes, long-form content, product descriptions — would flow harmoniously, but here’s the thing.

It’s really, really challenging to communicate with an audience. Any any given time, we’re wearing our marketing hats. There is always a possibility for disconnect between what you intend to say and how your audience will interpret it. Chris Goward of WiderFunnel poses a very realistic example:

What if we were to create a conversion funnel experience that exactly mimicked the ‘best practices’ of another company and was a proven top performer for them, but had a very different tone than your company’s? The visitor would have to battle cognitive dissonance all the way through the conversion funnel.

Chris Goward, WiderFunnel

Here’s what Goward is saying:

If you’re a marketer and you’re thinking of copying a competitor’s marketing (winning) marketing strategy, you might actually lose. Why? Because there are subtle details about your brand that distinguish it from other companies (that might even be doing the exact same thing).

Your brand’s personality, tone, and style might be different. Your customer base’s values might also be different.

Cognitive fluency is the opposite of cognitive dissonance.

Here is what Peep Laja (one of the world’s most influential conversion optimization experts) says about it:

Cognitive fluency is the human tendency to prefer things that are familiar and easy to understand.

For marketers this means that the easier to understand your offer is, the more likely people are to buy it.

Psychologists have determined, for example, that shares in companies with easy-to-pronounce names do indeed significantly outperform those with hard-to-pronounce names. Coincidence? Nope.

Why people prefer unlimited plans

Understanding and comparing different cell phone plans is a pain and takes too much time. Who wants to spend minutes comparing monthly minutes and text-message limits? So what do people do? They go with the unlimited plan. It’s often not the best value, but it’s easy to understand.

Cell phone companies make the most money from unlimited plans, and they have an extra incentive to make other plans confusing. Plans with a fixed amount of minutes charge high fees for going over your allotted minutes ­— it’s designed to cause you enough pain that you will switch to a plan with a higher regular fee.

Suggestion: make your offer and pricing as easy to understand as possible.

Previous positive experiences matter

Cognitive fluency also explains why you stick with brand and service providers you have used before, why you often order the same thing from the menu — it’s easy. You’ve tried it, it worked, and you don’t want to spend a bunch of time researching alternatives and risking a bad purchase.

As a marketer, this means it’s super important to get that first purchase from a customer. Make your first offer packed with value and as easy as possible to buy. Once they have their first positive buying experience, it’s much easier to get repeat purchases.

Peep Laja

Cognitive fluency is as simple as making your website easy to read. The fact is that audience eyeballs are all created differently. Your 20-year-old marketing intern’s eyesight might be perfect, but your 72-year-old first-time buyer? Not so much. If people are havingtrouble reading or processing information, they’re less likely to buy. Peep Laja elaborates:

When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about.

Norbert Schwarz, a leading fluency researcher, and his former student Hyunjin Song have found that when people read about an exercise regimen or a recipe in a less legible font, they tend to rate the exercise regimen more difficult and the recipe more complicated than if they read about them in a clearer font.

The same goes for products and purchases. Nathan Novemsky and his colleagues did a study on this called Preference Fluency in Choice. They manipulated the fluency of a product by listing its features in either an easy or hard to read font. Easy to read fonts doubled the number of people willing to purchase the product.

Peep Laja

The Subconscious

Consumers are driven by their instincts. As much as we like to believe that we’re rational and driven by conscious thoughts, the truth is that we’re driven by our emotional brains. We don’t even realize it sometimes.

Friction happens for reasons that we can’t fully capture or explain — for highly emotional reasons.

Here is a story that Peep Laja shares about emotions and logic:

McCombs marketing professor Raj Raghunathan and Ph.D. student Szu-Chi Huang point to their research study that shows comparative features are important, but mostly as justification after a buyer makes a decision based on emotional response.

The story of two chickens

From McCombs Today:
Research participants were showed two photos. One was a nice looking, plump chicken. The other was a chicken that looked thin and sickly. Participants were told that the plump chicken was a natural chicken, and the thin chicken was genetically engineered.

Image source

The researchers informed half of the participants that natural chickens were healthy but less tasty, and genetically engineered chickens were tasty, but less healthy. The other half were told the opposite.

Overwhelmingly, both halves of participants preferred the nice plump chicken, but their reasoning was different. The first group claimed it was because they valued health above taste, and the second group said it was because taste was more important.

Neither group seemed to justify their choice based on how they felt about the chicken’s looks. They felt compelled to justify their emotional choices with non-emotional reasons, to the point that the two groups found completely opposite ways to justify the same decision.

Emotions rule in all areas

The scientists replicated the results in other areas as well — in marketing, politics, religion and life in general.

“This process seems to be happening somewhat unconsciously, people are not really aware they’re coming up with these justifications. What is even more interesting is that people who claim that emotions are not that important, who consider themselves to be really rational, are actually more prone to fall into this trap”.

What does this mean for marketers? Ragunathan suggests the earlier you make the emotional connection the better, because once consumers have decided they like a particular option, the more difficult it is for them to backpedal.

Rational thinking will only justify their emotional choice.

Peep Laja

To effectively reach your audience, logic just isn’t enough. You need to force an emotional bond by appealing to your audience’s intuition, instincts, and senses.

That’s why so many organizations invest so much time (and money) on aesthetics and crafting an experience of delight.

Marketing strategist Victoria Young wrote a great blog post for Clarity that explains this topic in detail:

Delight strikes a chord with our humanity. It’s memorable, emotional, and powerful in building long-term relationships with your customers that directly impact ROI.

The problem is, few brands get it right. They take shortcuts or neglect delightful experiences altogether. Here are the steps you need to take to cultivate a truly meaningful brand experience.

Victoria Young, Clarity

But when you get it right, delight is the single-most important variable for eliminating friction. Delight is about taking the minutiae (as well as different parts of your marketing strategy) and connecting them to your company’s bigger picture.

Delight is most effective when connected to all touch points in your business strategy. The best places to integrate delight are: product, customer service, mission, and entertainment.

Victoria Young, Clarity

Here are the four steps that Victoria recommends for building delight for your brand:

  • 1. Understand your customers’ pain points
    Brands are most successful when they add value to their stakeholders’ lives. Learn as much as you can about your target customer. Think like an anthropologist, and listen more than you talk.

  • 2. Define your brand
    What does your company care about? Where do your customers’ values overlap with yours?

  • 3. Ideastorm
    This is the fun part. Take what you’ve learned from step 1 and what you’ve planned from step 2 — and brainstorm marketing initiatives that will help you build the strongest possible connection with your customers and prospects. Think of tactics that build trust, inspire happiness, and are foundational for crafting an emotional rapport.

  • 4. Track everything
    A common (note: huge) marketing myth is that branding isn’t measurable. Case in point from Victoria’s breakdown below:

  • More repeat customers:
    What data can you use to measure repeat customers? Site visits, e-mail open rates, and purchases made are all great indicators.
  • More word-of-mouth recommendations:
    Shares through social media (ReTweets on Twitter, likes on Facebook, shares on Facebook, repins on Pinterest, etc), number of times your links are copy/pasted into e-mails, e-mail forward rates, and amount of general buzz are useful metrics. Many free tools, such as SocialMention or Klout are great to start off with.
  • Increase in dollar share per customer:
    Using sales data directly linked to customer accounts, you can identify how much each customer is spending. The more delight you, as a brand, can create for your customers, the more likely they are to spend more and spend more frequently, which leads to my next point…
  • Increased lifetime values of customers:
    As we get into the impact of delight on long term brand value, the importance of cultivating relationships with customers becomes crystal clear in evaluating their lifetime worth. From gradual increases in average amount spent by each customer to their rate of return to your company and products, you can see the value you are creating for your company over time.
  • Increased market share:
    More loyal customers who spend more ultimately will help you gain market share over your competitors, another key strategic factor to consider. Measuring market share can be done through observing total revenues, site visitors, engagement of users, and social media popularity.


Why should customers trust your company? What makes your brand different from all the shady businesses after the world that have — time and time again -—scammed their customers, been exposed to cyber vulnerabilities, and simply not respected their customers.

At any given time, consumers are thinking:

“Why should I waste my time?”

And honestly, they’re right. It’s the brand’s burden of responsibility to communicate trust signals to their audiences. There are a few solutions available to help your brand prove establish its reputation and customer value.

Customer Reviews & Testimonials

The dark corners of the Internet are looking to eat consumers alive — and that goes for the not-so-shady corners too.

One way to ease your consumers’ fears is to pave a path with the footsteps of those who have been there before.

Customer reviews and testimonials add credibility to your assertion that what you’re selling is legit. Here’s why:

Today’s consumer is totally self-directed. By the time they arrive at your website, they’re already in the mindset of wanting to buy. By the time they actually reach out to a sales rep or complete a lead gen form, they’re already ready to buy.

FigLeaves, a popular women’s clothing retailer, added product reviews to their website. This change made customers 35% more likely to complete a purchase., as another example, brings together teams of rockstar consultants. When searching for a marketing expert, for instance, how can advice seekers determine who to call?

Reviews from previous callers.

Anyone (who is selling anything) needs to build up a stellar and verifiable reputation to justify the prices that they’re charging customers.

Do your best to personalize testimonials and reviews, directly from the sources. Present a clear and compelling framework for why your company will save your customer time and money. Make sure to summarize the high-level overview, but also dig deep into the detail (like the following examples):

Short form:

Longer form:

And here is another example from KISSmetrics:

Short form:

Longer form:

And here is an example from QuickSprout:

Short form:

Longer form:

One word of caution: your testimonials need to be thoughtful and readily communicate answers to the questions that your customers are asking.

WikiJob, a career information site, provides the perfect inspiration for this point. The company had three testimonials on their homepage. The problem is that these testimonials had too much wrong with them.

The testimonials weren’t attributed to any specific customers, so nobody could see that they were testimonials. They were just random quotes on the homepage. WikiJob did have testimonials, but they were at the bottom of the page. WikiJob decided to A/B test and move the testimonials to the top of the page.

After making the testimonials look more like testimonials, WikiJob was able to boost conversions by 34%.

Here is what the landing page looked like before:

And here is the variation for the A/B test:

If you’re interested in learning more about this case study, here is a Q&A that WikiJob did with Visual Website Optimizer.

Why did you think that the variations you created had better chances to beat the original? What were you actually testing in this test?
A previous test displayed the same testimonials further down the page and had no discernable impact on conversion. However, it’s commonly thought that social proof can help in the sales process, so we wanted to leave nothing to chance and test it.

What results did you get? Were you surprised by the results?
Testimonials increased sales by 34%. The testimonials we used are very ‘sober’ (compared with the overly enthusiastic ones you so often see in marketing literature). The test results were surprising. Although such increases of sales can be quite normal in split testing, I did not think that testimonials would make such a difference (and indeed put off testing them, thinking they were irrelevant). The increase in revenue was very substantial.

Any lessons which can be derived from your test?
Social proof is important, and it is important to test everything. I may try putting some small pictures next to each testimonial to see if this improves things. Editor's note: do that! Our previous split tests show that human pictures can potentially double conversion rates.

Safety Seals

If you’ve been following the news, you’re probably well aware that data privacy is a major consumer priority. Cyber security breaches happen far too often — making consumers hesitant to share their personal data and credit card information online. The risks are far too high and outweigh the decision to buy a $10 product on your e-commerce site.

Trust and safety seals can help your brand explain to consumers that you’re serious about privacy. — a furniture, gifts, and accessories retailer — published a ‘trust and safety seal’ case study with Internet Retailer in 2011.

The test compared shoppers who saw the BuySafe Inc.seal on the site against a control group that was not shown that the seal. Clicking on the seal shows thatBuySafe guarantees the delivery of purchases up to $500, offers up to $10,000 of protection if a consumer’s identity is stolen via the site and ensures that if the retailer drops the price of the item BuySafe will pay the difference up to $100. The guarantees are valid for 30 days.

Zak Stambor, Managing Editor at Internet Retailer

This A/B test was able to boost OrientalFurniture’s conversion rate by 7.6% — visitors who saw the trust and safety seal were more likely to make a purchase than those who did not.

Safety, trust, and accreditation seals can be placed in various parts throughout your website -- on landing pages, near your website footer, and on company about pages. Make sure, however that they’re placed strategically and ready-to-see when your customers checkout. Maximize the impact of these placements.

Here is another example from ModCloth, a boutique-like women’s clothing retailer, that explains that all transactions are secure:

Here is an example from Sole Society, a women’s shoe retailer that explains that all purchases come with a flexible, generous, and free return policy.

Final Thoughts: Always Be Testing

We’ve just about approached the very last section of this chapter and have covered almost every consumer psychology related concept in this guide.

As we conclude — especially as we’re talking about friction — we’d like to emphasize that you should always be running A/B tests to challenge your assumptions. The truth is that you’ll never know where your points of friction are unless you’re constantly researching your customers’ pain points. Even Google Analytics can be misleading. For instance, you might see that users are spending 5-10 minutes on your website — “yay, that’s high user engagement”.

Actually, no. It could also be the case that your customers are thoroughly confused. A/B tests will help you extrapolate patterns, pinpoint friction, and alleviate pain points that are causing blockages in your conversion funnel.

Qualitative research is the next step — by talking to your customers, you’ll see why certain patterns exist and understand how you can alleviate them. You can also make more educated guesses about future design, copywriting, and UX experiences.

Trust the data — it’s smarter than you.

Key Takeaways

  • In addition to moving people through your company’s conversion funnel, you need to remove barriers that are stopping them from progressing — these barriers are called friction.
  • Friction stems from confusion and frustration. It’s easier to x-out of a window and go visit a competitor than to take the time to truly understand what a company is telling you.
  • The best way to eliminate friction is to keep things simple — don’t overload your customers with information, and answer their questions directly. Create knowledge centers and FAQs to connect information-hungry audiences with more information when they need it.
  • Build trust through testimonials, trust seals, and customer reviews. Be specific about where the information is coming from. Be honest and as transparent as possible. Place this information strategically so that customers are greeted with the information at key decision-making moments.
  • Always be testing and challenging your assumptions. A/B testing and qualitative research should be ongoing processes for your business. Trust your data to inform future learnings.

Four ways to share