OK , yes, the headline is designed to be attention-grabbing. It’s one of the many strategies designed to make us ‘click’. A good headline can engage and entice your audience to read and share your content-that’s online persuasion principles for you. Don’t take my word for it- read the results from Buzz Sumo’s recent research, where they analysed 100 million article headlines to come up with some pretty amazing insights and identify the most effective ones.

But is it just ‘clickbait’?

Only if the resulting content fails to live up to the headline.


This article covers a book I recently read and was compelled to write about, as I believe it is a must-have definitive guide on the art and science of online persuasion principles.  After reading the book ( which I thoroughly recommend) , I think you’ll find that it will live up to the headline.

The book is called Webs of Influence- The Psychology of Online Persuasion, by Nathalie Nahai. Nathalie is a highly regarded web psychologist , international speaker and consultant.  She draws from the worlds of behavioural economics, neuroscience and psychology to give you insights and effective techniques that will lead to online success.

It is based around three fundamental persuasion principles you must be able to fulfil to succeed as a business online:

  1. Know Who You’re Targeting
  2. Communicate Persuasively
  3. Sell Wth Integrity.

I personally am a firm believer in the power of 3 in business and communications, so knowing that the book is divided into three parts, framed the thinking, structure and intended outcome perfectly for me!

The persuasion principles also resonate culturally with the way we work here at  VISU.AL through our strategy, creative and outreach services ( Identify your audience and personas, create the right content and experiences to engage your audience, make sure you connect with all of your audience)

You’ll find plenty of meaningful insights and research from which the persuasion principles are drawn , real-world examples of how they can be applied, and ‘Make This Work For You’ sections to help you implement them in  your business- answering  the ‘so what?’ that leaves many readers ‘hanging’ in so many other books that provide insight , but without context.

At the beginning of each section, there is an infographic double page , providing visual summary and insight- again a bit tick from me as it helps to frame the read ahead and is always a great way to refresh the memory when you revisit any section.

visual agency blog nathalie nahai persuasion

Part 1 includes the following chapters:

  • Introduction
  • The psychology of decision making
  • Who are you targeting?
  • Cultural quirks
  • Individual differences

It is about understanding the universal , cultural and individual factors that influence your audience’s decision- making processes. This section references  Hofstede’s ‘6 Dimensions’, Kahnemans ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, Fiske, Costa and McCrae’s Big Five personality tests, to help you tackle questions like “How do you identify and connect with your customers, nurture your relationships and understand the psychology behind what makes them click”?

online persuaion principles , visualagency, visu.al

Dutch psychologist Professor Hofstede identified six key psychological dimensions which appear to be hundreds, possibly even thousands of years old . Each of these six dimensions are explored in turn and , again, answering the ‘so what?’ , identifies how you can use them to improve the performance marketing within your customers different contexts.

Part 1 covers the psychology of decision making, buyer personas , psychographics, and personality traits. It also makes extensive use of global rankings for personality facets on a per country basis,  recommending  designing solutions in ways that make each insight work for you. This will enable you to take a general view or look at defining an approach in a very granular fashion , per country or per individual

One observation I found to both profound and relevant is that, with the technological advances that have been made across various research methods in recent years , we’ve reached the stage at which a computer’s assessment of your personality ( based on your digital footprint) can yield more accurate and valid results than many of the judgments made by your friends , family or spouse .

We’ve now crossed a threshold and entered a world in which our personalities can be predicted automatically, without the need for other humans to interpret the data for us- that’s a defining moment!

Coupled with the fact that consumers are increasingly expecting a personalised experience, this goes a long way to explaining why so many businesses are working with agencies or cognitive computing platforms  to look at personality-based profiling to design and serve up more relevant , engaging and meaningful content

If you want your business to succeed online, you need to develop a culture -specific , evidence based set of guidelines, to form the foundation of your design and marketing strategy. This will empower you to improve a desirable brand image and user experience for all of your customers, wherever they may be.


communicate persuasively online persuasion visualagency nathalie nahai visu.al

Part 2 includes the following chapters:

  • Basic principles
  • Optimising your web site
  • Selecting the right images
  • The psychology of colour
  • Social media and customer service
  • Designing persuasive videos


online persuasion principles, visualagencyblog, visu.al

This section gives you ‘insight, know- how and know-when’ to use language, copy and creative to communicate persuasively with your target audience .

It starts by looking at the process of persuasion, and how the process allows us to influence and be influenced by human attitudes, beliefs, motivations, intentions and behaviours , all with the objective of working towards a mutually beneficial outcome.

By identifying two main persuasion processes, systematic ( appealing to logic and reason) and heuristic ( cognitive rule of thumb) and referencing the fascinating insights from Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, insight is provided around how most persuasion tactics rely on heuristics to influence our decision-making.

In both cases, trust is paramount. It is the single most important ingredient for the development and maintenance of happy , well-functioning relationships , trust ( or lack thereof) can be the make or break of a successful partnership, say between co-founders of a business, or between a brand and its customers .

The section also covers Homophily (love of the same)  , fluency ( ease of processing cognitive, perceptual and conceptual messaging), citing great examples and recommendations for your business to be more effective and memorable in encouraging people to buy. Homophily is important- we respond most positively to those we perceive as credible, likeable  and similar to ourselves.

Be fluent and fluid . When it comes to persuasive messages, its those we find easiest to process ( high in cognitive fluency) that tend to be the most effective. Whatever the content , if you can present information in a way that is visually clear , phonologically simple ( linguistically fluent ) and semantically primed ( conceptually fluent ) , it is likely to be perceived as more trustworthy than its less fluent counterparts.

Nathalie then looks at how to optimise your website, covering everything from demographics, psychographics and goals, to aesthetics , cultural differences, gender differences, motion, information architecture, user experience, ads, calls to action, risk, trust and privacy.

When looking at persuasive design, the success of a website will often boil down to two things:

  • Who is using your website ( demographics and psychographics)
  • Why they are using it ( their goals)

Since we process images more quickly than text, if you can load these with emotional meaning, your message will hit home faster .

If you can design your message and communications  to match your customers psychography, ( their unique values, motivations and needs) , it is likely to engage them more deeply.


online persuasion nathalie nahau visualagency visu.al

Part 3 includes the following chapters:

  • Influence: An introduction
  • Online persuasion principles
  • Increase your sales
  • Pricing and value
  • The behaviour chain

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”


If you really want to see online result, you have to understand the psychology of direct, automatic influence.   Nathalie addresses this comprehensively and articulately , drawing upon prominent experts in the areas of social media, behavioural economics and psychology.

She covers online persuasion principles to facilitate ( rather than coerce ) your customers towards a mutually beneficial outcome.This includes cognitive shortcuts, reciprocity, consistency, social proof and conformity, liking, authority, authority and scarcity.


online persuasion principles, nathalie nahai, visuallagency, visu.al

To increase your sales, Nathalie looks at the subjects and techniques of authenticity, product reviews, anchoring, decoys, gamification and customer service.

On the subject of pricing and value, Nathalie touches on loss aversion, referencing some seminal research carried out in the 70’s by behavioural economists Kahneman and Tversky.  Highlighting the fact we place a higher value on objects we already own, relative to objects we do not, has some fascinating implications for our purchasing behaviour.

Nathalie then covers ‘The Behaviour Chain’, a three-phase strategy that can be used to achieve particular goals or target behaviours. The purpose of the behaviour chain is to guide customers through a sequence level of steps towards a final outcome , which, once achieved , completes the behaviour chain. For the chain to be successful , it must be designed to provide a compelling, well defined customer journey that people will want to complete.  The ‘Make This Work For You’ section enables you to put this strategy into play. The end result being to attract customers online.

online persuasion principle, visualagencyblog, visu.al


Trust + Value+ Likeability = Conversions


A lot of us reading the book will have, over the course of our careers,  taken some of the points for granted, to the point where they are often overlooked or disregarded, or even dismissed outright. Do so at your peril! As Nathalie mentions in her closing note-  “No matter how we progress, humans will always exploit technology to meet our deepest needs and desires. Whomever understands these needs and the drivers behind them will hold the key to influence”.

This is an excellent book that digital marketers, UX specialists, web designers, content strategists, departmental heads and business leaders should all keep close to them at all times , as a constant refresher into understanding what motivates your audience and drives their behaviour. Especially if , like myself, you have a limited background in psychology, Nathalie makes the psychological research available, and more importantly , understandable by applying it to your real world scenarios ( am a big fan of anyone who always answers the ‘so what?!’).

Leverage the content, the studies and online persuasion principles and put them into action to improve your online success.


You can buy Nathalie Nahai’s book Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion on Amazon







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