Nudging with integrity: elevating conversion rates through transparency

Nudging with integrity - two web designers work at an iMac.

Pre-selections, transparent ‘manipulations’ and how they affect conversion paths

Virtually every website that exists is designed to encourage visitors to perform some kind of action, whether that be purchase a product, sign up for an account, view advertising, or simply read certain information. These goals are usually tied to revenue and, as a result, Marketers, Product Owners, or whoever is responsible for the website will have targets and KPIs around these goals. 

So, if the outcome is important, and we’re tracking our success rate, it makes sense then that we would also want to increase the overall conversion rate.

At Sitback, we often work with clients on Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) projects, and as part of our services and overall Experience Design approach, we employ Behavioural Science to understand what prompts users to convert on websites, and how we can – ethically – encourage more of these conversions.

Transparency and nudging

Two key behaviours that are important to conversion but seem to oppose each other, are transparency and nudging.

Nudging: To encourage or persuade someone to do something in a way that is gentle rather than forceful or direct. This is often done in a ‘dark’ way or one that is not made to clear to users – Bovens, Luc (2009 “The ethics of Nudge”) even stated that nudging “works best in the dark”. From nudging, it is often thought that Reactance Theory then comes into play; a negative feeling where we sense our freedom of choice to be threatened in some way.

An example of this that can be seen across several digital platforms, is setting predefined selections for users. These can often be seen as nudging or directing them down a certain pathway and therefore removing their freedom of choice. Think pre-selecting the ‘I accept marketing and promotional emails’ checkbox when submitting a form, or automatically adding a tip to your bill when you’re ordering from your table via your phone.

You can see how nudging gets a bad reputation in user experience designs. However, research by Bruns, H., et al. (2018 “Can Nudges Be Transparent and Yet Effective? Journal of Economic Psychology) has proven that, contrary to popular belief, transparent nudging actually works – when a user is being made aware of the fact that they are being nudged, this supports conversions – and therefore does not lead to behaviours seen in line with the Reactance Theory. 

The research showed that providing preselected donation amounts, referred to as ‘defaults’, actually raised donations. Furthermore, being transparent about why the default donation amount was set, didn’t lower donations. Regardless of which type of transparent message participants were shown (simply informing them that the default might affect their decision, or the more purposeful environmental reasons for the default), contributions were pretty much the same.  This means that organisations can be transparent with customers without detrimental side effects to the conversion paths; you can be honest with your customers without losing out. 

Overview of the research

498 participants were given €10 and then asked to allocate a proportion of it to environmental causes. They were split up into 5 groups, 4 with a default recommended donation of €8. The Default groups had varying messaging highlighting either the fact that they were being nudged, or why, or both. The results showed that being honest didn’t negatively impact contributions.

Default (€8)None
Default + Info“Please consider that the preselected default value might have an influence on your decision.”
Default + Purpose“Please consider that the preselected default value is meant to encourage higher contributions for the climate protection fund.”
Default + Info + Purpose“Please consider that the preselected default value might have an influence on your decision. This is meant to encourage higher contributions for the climate protection fund.”

So how can you implement these findings on your product?

If you are using nudging techniques, implement messaging on why a user is being nudged to make it 100% transparent – this will increase trust, brand equity, and might be a little surprise/delight that differentiates you from competitors (i.e., I wasn’t expecting that honest message!). In line with Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Designhonest design tends to increase levels of trust, which is likely to translate to a long-term customer. However, that process cannot start unless the experience is honest.

Consideration for banks

If you are a bank, and you are making a product or service recommendation based on information already provided by the customer, tell them why, e.g., “We have selected this home loan for you as this is the best fit for you based on what you’ve told us about yourself.” 

Or if the potential customer is new to the home loan process, you might want to guide them through the steps of speaking to one of your advisors, so you could start by asking users to identify themselves as a first-time home buyer through a “compare products” journey – and from this make service recommendations, in line with the image below. 

Comparing home loans journey: nudging towards expert service. Step 1: Provide initial prompt that puts the user in control. Step 2: Nudge with transparency.

Consideration for not-for-profits

A charity that works to support children could include messaging in the donation path such as, “Please consider that the preselected default donation value might have an influence on your decision. This is meant to encourage higher contributions for the child protection fund.”

How will I know these changes to messaging are working? 

As with any change to a conversion path, it is important to hypothesise, track and measure your data to understand what affect a change has before you make a permanent change. After all, not every change will have a positive impact on a customer journey.

First, ensure that you have the correct analytics set up to track clicks on any CTA’s or related actions. Next, set up and run an A/B test to compare the optimised text with your current messaging over a suitable period. 30 days is usually enough depending on the amount of traffic your website receives.

Lastly, review the data and confirm whether the new messaging improves click through and conversion rates, including whether the channel used has an affect (e.g. different social platforms, basic email, paid advertising, etc).

Assuming a positive result, implement the change permanently and move on to your next test.

Be open with your customers and win their trust

The intricate balance between transparency and nudging plays a crucial role in shaping online user experiences and conversion paths. When users are aware of the influence, they can effectively enhance conversion rates without triggering Reactance Theory behaviours.

For practical implementation, the key lies in making nudging techniques transparent. Embracing a transparent approach not only fosters trust and brand equity but also provides a unique differentiator in the competitive landscape.

Let us ‘nudge’ you in the right direction 😉

Need help to implement, test and measure these changes? Our Experience Design team run experiments like this for our clients every day, helping busy teams prove the effectiveness of their work while safely increasing revenue by making data-backed decisions. Get in touch today to find out how we can help you too!