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The Psychology of Lead Conversion: Why CTAs and Landing Pages Work

December 16, 2014

By Amber Kemmis

Although psychology has been an integral part of marketing for many years, in recent years we have seen it become an even bigger component as more and more consumers turn to the Internet for information. In its most basic definition, psychology is the science of behavior and the mind.  As online marketing develops and grows out of consumer demand, so does psychology and an understanding of how consumers think and behave as they use the Internet for purchasing decisions.

How does psychology work in the process of lead conversion? First, let’s gain a better understanding of lead conversion in online marketing, specifically inbound marketing.  As you may know, call-to-actions (CTAs) and landing pages are an integral part of lead conversion and inbound marketing.

Here are some psychological explanations as to how they work:

  1. Persuasion: Persuasion has long been studied in psychology.  After much research, the conclusion is that there literally is an “art of persuasion.”  Context, timing and relevance are extremely important in persuading a person to do what you want.  On your website and in online marketing campaigns, CTAs must effectively persuade a visitor to click. How do they do that?  It starts by ensuring that the content offer is relevant to your buyer persona, the CTA and landing page align and clearly explain the value of the offer and that they are presented at the right time (Smart CTAs help deliver the right message at the right time on your website. Learn more about them here.)

  2. Motivating with Emotion (A.K.A. Cognitive Dissonance): As marketers, we already know that it is important to appeal to the pain points of your buyer.  What you may not know is why this is so important and powerful. According to cognitive dissonance theory, people are motivated by emotions or attitudes, specifically those that cause discord or disrupt harmony within the mind, because they simply want to have cognitive consistency or in simple terms, peace of mind.  This is why it is extremely important to present pain points in CTAs and landing pages and explain to the reader how your offer can help them avoid cognitive dissonance.  

  3. Rule of Reciprocity: You know the saying, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  The truth is people inherently feel compelled to give back when someone does something nice for them. When you present a really valuable offer on a landing page like an e-book, the visitor will give you a bit of their contact information because of the rule of reciprocity. However, it is important to keep in mind that research on this rule shows that people typically give back something of equal value.  Thus, your landing page forms with 10 questions may deter visitors from submitting because they don’t feel they owe you that much.

Using Psychology to Improve CTAs & Landing Pages

Many of the principles of psychology can help to explain why CTAs and landing pages work, but they can also help you to increase lead conversions.. Below are some principles of psychology that will help optimize your conversion paths and grow leads.

Sense of Urgency

One way you can convince prospects to act on your ad is to create a sense of urgency in CTAs and landing pages. In other words, convince them as to why they should do something now rather than later.  You can do this by simply adding urgent words like “download now” or “act fast.”  In addition, you can also create a sense of urgency by using limited time offers or offering limited quantities (this is actual known as the principle of scarcity, but people tend to act with a sense of urgency when quantities are limited).


In 1963, Stanley Milgram conducted a study that not only was groundbreaking in psychology research but was also shocking to all mankind. The study asked participants to administer an electrical shock to another participant in the study each time he or she answered a question incorrectly. With each wrong answer, the voltage of the shock would increase. Of course, it is not legal nor safe to administer an actual electrical shock, so the participant receiving the shock is acting and merely faking a reaction. Meanwhile, the participant administering the shock is encouraged by a researcher to continue administering voltages despite the screams and agony they are hearing. The kicker here, though, is that in this study and in many follow up studies the participants keep administering the shocks because the researcher tells them to keep going. Despite knowing that they are torchering another person, they keep going because they are being obedient to an authority figure.

What does this have to do with CTAs and landing pages? Authority is powerful, which is why it is important for prospects to see that you are an authority of the subject matter.  If you ask Joe to download your e-book, he is much more likely to do it when he knows you are an authority figure.  

Reward or Reinforcement

You’ve likely heard of Pavlov’s dogs, Skinner’s box or Thorndike’s cats. These are all classical studies of behaviorism, which lead psychologists to gain a better understanding of operant conditioner.  Basically, operant conditioning is the use of reinforcement presented after a desired response, which will ultimately help to shape a behavior.  There are several discoveries that have been found which make operant conditioning more effective. With landing pages, the most relevant is timing.

After a lead submits a form on your website, how long does it take for them to receive the offer?  It should be immediately. With the use of thank you page that delivers the offer immediately, you can increase future conversions through operant conditioning and also try to move the lead further down the funnel by presenting a secondary offer.

Mere Exposure Effect

The mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to favor something simply because they have familiarity with it.  Interestingly, the mere exposure effect even works when people aren’t consciously aware of the exposure. For example, if a person is shown several images of a dog in a row with quick 1 second flashes of a soda(nothing fast enough to register consciously), they will favor that particular kind of soda when asked for preferences among other brands.

For lead conversion, the mere exposure effect is something you can use to your advantage in lead nurturing.  After leads convert, you should have lead nurturing in place to move the lead down the funnel and provide them with mere exposure.  If your lead nurturing follows best practices, leads will become more familiar with you and be more likely to choose you when it comes time to buy.

Social Proof

The Internet is swarming with ads and offers so people often get overwhelmed by the decisions they must make. When this happens, people rely on social influence from others they trust.  Thus, it is important to use this psychological principle in a couple different ways on landing pages:

  1. Show visitors who else already converted: On your landing page copy, you can include information on how many other people downloaded the offer or show endorsements from a few people who’ve already found it valuable.

  2. Social media sharing buttons: On your landing page and thank you page, include social media buttons that allow the lead to share with friends.

There are many more ways that psychology can help improve CTAs and landing pages. Share your knowledge and tips in the comments!


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Topics: Inbound Marketing, Landing Pages, Social Media Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimization