CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 12 Review

Kristina Shands
11 min readJun 14, 2021


Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

This week is supposed to be my last week but I still have 3 classes to complete before I go in for the certification quiz. That’s a lot to fit in this week but I’ll make it happen and be back for a bonus Week 13 review.

Here is a list of the classes this article will cover:

Psychology of Persuasive Design
Developing & Testing an Emotional Content Strategy
Psychological backfiring

Before we dive into some of my biggest takeaways, I want to remind you that you can read my previous reviews by clicking the links below.

CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 1 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 2 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 3 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 4 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 5 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 6 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 7 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 8 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 9 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 10 Review
CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 11 Review

And if you are interested in checking out this training program for yourself (I highly recommend it), then visit the CXL Institute.


Psychology of Persuasive Design

People trust what they see more than what they hear.

Can we persuade someone to take action without using any words?

Most of our decisions are not deliberate. We make decisions in an instant and without effort.

“Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking”. — Malcolm Gladwell

Yet we need to persuade people to decide.

When we have to rationalize our decision, we make a different decision. We have to know what goes on in their brain.

5 principles of persuasive design:

  1. Clarity above all
  2. Visual appeal
  3. Strong visual hierarchy
  4. Conserve attention at all costs
  5. One action per screen, when they’re ready

Principle #1: Clarity above all

Our brain is a questioning organ. When we see something for the first time, we have to know what it is. When we land on an opt-in page, we question what to do so if that isn’t answered in an instant, we move on.

Your design and copy must be specific.

  • What is this site about?
  • What can I do here?
  • Is it what I am looking for?
  • Why should I do it?

Our brain processes visuals 50 times faster than copy.

Principle #2: Visual appeal

Draw them in, push them down. First impressions are 94% design related.

First impressions matter.

  • Positive first impressions lead to higher satisfaction.
  • First impressions can last for years.
  • Visual appeal more important than usability for user perception

Google did a study that gound the two factors that make a good website:

  1. Simple site.
  2. Familiar layout

Designers should regard not only visual complexity but also the factor prototy[ocality very carefully when designing a website. Negative product expectations lead to lower satisfaction.

Principle 3: Strong visual hierarchy

The biggest part of your website is the most important part of your website.

We need to make things that are important bigger (not just in size but also color and placement).

Visual hierarchy is also about white space. Make the bed the main thing.

Principle #4: — Conserve attention at all costs

Top part of the screen is viewed more.

Left side of the screen also gets more action.

Use larger-than-life photography.

Using humans that are looking you in the eye and smiling. Not stock photos. No closed photos (hands on hips). Women tend to do better.

How to kill attention? Wall of text. They will leave.

  • No paragraph longer than 3–4 lines.
  • After every 2 paragraphs, need a subheadline
  • Most people scan the website — only reading headline and subheadline

Break the pattern. Mix it up. Our brain is constantly trying to recognize a pattern and once it does, it ignores it.

Help people choose something.

  • Too many choices and they won’t decide. Whatever sticks out, gets picked.
  • Use filters to narrow down the choice.
  • Product badges that have meaning.

Principle #5: One action per screen, when they are ready

We tend to ask for action too soon. We won’t take action until we know something is useful to us.

Don’t have the CTA button too soon. Give them time to get to know what is in it for them.

Developing & Testing an Emotional Content Strategy

I have a new crush and her name is Talia Wolf. I loved everything about this class.

Most of our decision-making is emotional-based. We want to feel good about ourselves, be a part of a community, feel safe, …

It’s not about the product, it’s about the feeling you get when using that product. We are buying an emotional value. We are buying a better version of ourselves.

This is the essence of marketing. It’s not about the coffee you’re drinking. It’s not about the shoes you are wearing. It’s about HOW YOU FEEL while you’re wearing those shoes.

Emotional Targeting for Mobile

Responsive design kills conversion.

Nowadays, most of the traffic is on mobile — not desktop.

The reason we are not converting on mobile is that we act differently on mobile.

Our behavior is different. We’re multitasking. We’re on the go. And we’re not really too secure and don’t feel too safe converting on mobile.

This is why you have to create a specific user journey and landing pages for mobile behavior because people on mobile need a different user journey.

You only have two to three seconds to convert.

Everyone knows the normal stuff, the regular things that everyone tells us, right?

Have one call to action, reduce the loading time. But you only have two seconds to convince someone. So this is where you have to start using emotional triggers.

Emotional Competitor Analysis

So how do you do it?

Talia Wolf’s 4 step process:

  1. Emotional competitor analysis
  2. Emotional SWOT
  3. Emotional Content Strategy
  4. Testing

Step #1: Emotional Competitor Analysis

Focus on the emotional side of things.

  1. Understand where the market is emotionally
  2. Understand where we fit in

Do we need to be like our competitors or do we need to be different? That’s what we learn in emotional SWOT.

Step #2: Emotional SWOT Test

Instead of focusing on analyzing prices, specs, and technical features, Talia’s emotional SWOT identifies a competitor’s emotional appeals and draws insights about the overall industry. I

The Emotional SWOT is there to help us understand how our customer feels about us and how they feel about the industry.


So, for example, if you’re Apple and you’re selling computers, the SWOT’s going to tell us how our customers feel about Apple itself, but also, how they feel about the computer industry.

All of this is from the emotional side, so instead of analyzing the features and the pricing of your competitors and yourself, with the Emotional SWOT, we’re going to be talking about ourselves and the industry.

Step #3: Emotional Content Strategy

Once you’ve thoroughly analyzed the industry’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, it’s time to develop a responsive emotional content strategy.

We take the weaknesses, we take the threats, and we see what are the biggest issues that people have, and how can we address them within our emotional content.

Now there are over 223 different emotional triggers you can use within your landing pages, and most companies need a combination of a few. Don’t just choose one.

We need to ask ourselves, “How do we want our customers to feel?”

Now that we’ve understood what our emotional content strategy is. Well, we want to make people feel unique and exclusive, and we also want them to feel that our solution is smart and simple.

Step #4: Testing

After you’ve conducted a thorough competitor analysis, SWOT test, and developed a clear content, strategy, and there is one thing left: testing. In this lesson Talia will cover which metrics to consider while testing, and explain how to analyze them:


We have an idea of what our competitor’s emotional triggers are and we have an idea of our emotional triggers. Now, what do we do?

We test.

Once we start testing these hypotheses, once we start getting the results, we’re actually going to understand what kind of emotional triggers worked this time and what didn’t.

Now, it’s constant testing.

One test isn’t going to tell you the exact science of what emotions your customers want to feel, but it’s going to get you there.

You’re going to gain a lot more knowledge about your customers and understand what else you need to test.

Psychological Backfiring: What No One Tells You About Neuromarketing

Psychological tips and tricks are scattered all over the internet: color psychology, system one and two, emotional persuasion, and so on. You can read about them on KISSmetrics, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc., Help Scout, HubSpot… you name it. We cover plenty of these topics ourselves.

Why? Well, because many psychological triggers do, in fact, work.

But there’s another side to using psychology online that almost no one is talking about: backfiring.

Psychology isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Psychological theories and techniques cannot be blindly applied to all scenarios with success, despite how loudly some self-proclaimed experts are shouting about them.

Before you apply yet another psychological trigger to your site, do yourself a favor and understand the risks that come with the rewards. Better yet, understand how you can minimize those risks.

What Is Backfiring and Why Does It Matter?

Backfiring occurs when a psychological principle is poorly applied and the exact opposite of the intended behavior is triggered.

Example: You want to implement social proof on your site to increase conversions. You decide to use your very best testimonials. However, when you add this social proof to your page, conversions decrease. As it turns out, the photos of your promoters looked like stock photos, and the testimonials were unbelievably positive (think statements like, “my entire life has taken on new meaning!”). Users thought the social proof was entirely fabricated. By learning more about social proof, you might’ve experienced increased conversions instead.

Examining different types of backfiring brings a healthy dose of reality to those using psychology for conversions.

Without knowledge of backfiring, you’re only partially aware of the effects psychology can have on your site.

The Intention-Outcome Matrix

Every psychological implementation falls within one of four categories on the intention-outcome matrix. Two are positive (target behavior and unexpected benefits) while two are negative (dark patterns and backfiring)…

Image source

In optimization, we focus almost exclusively on only the positive outcomes. However all four outcomes can occur whether we’re able to recognize them or not, so it’s important to be aware of them.

Here’s what you need to know about each category…

1. Target Behavior

This is the positive outcome you’re hoping for. For example, after implementing regular nicotine screenings, there is a reduction in nicotine

Example: You implement regular nicotine screenings among young adults with the goal of reduced nicotine dependency, and it works.

2. Unexpected Benefits

Any positive outcome that was not intentionally sought. A “happy coincidence” or “positive side-effect”. For example, regular nicotine screenings encourage young adults to go to the gym more often (i.e. lead a healthier lifestyle).

Example: Regular nicotine screenings encourage young adults to go to the gym more often (i.e. lead a healthier lifestyle).

3. Backfiring

Includes a variety of negative outcomes, including: the reverse of the target behavior and side effects of the target behavior.

Example: Regular nicotine screenings lead to young adults competing to see who can smoke more cigarettes.

4. Dark Patterns

Any outcome that benefits the experimenter at the expense of the audience. This is unethical manipulation, which is discussed at length in our article, Online Manipulation: All The Ways You’re Currently Being Deceived.

Example: You know regular nicotine screenings won’t effectively decrease nicotine dependency but receive a commission for sending young adults to the lab where they receive the screenings.

How to Reduce the Risk of Backfiring

It’s impossible to completely remove the risk of backfiring because you can’t possibly predict how everyone within your target audience will interpret every element of your site. You have to learn to live with it.

What you can do, however, is identify and reduce the risk of backfiring by following these four simple steps.

1. Be aware of what can go wrong.

For best results, take a risk management approach when creating sites and running tests. With your specific test in mind, consider what could backfire. Audit your site or test for each of the 12 backfires. Start with the high likelihood quadrants. Make a list of threats and keep them in mind as you design your tests.

2. Test your psychology.

Don’t implement psychological tactics blindly. You’re an optimizer… test it! It’s not just about testing to find what works to increase conversions. It’s about removing what’s not working, too. That’s not always immediately obvious.

3. Consider the long-term impact.

If you do successfully modify behavior of your audience, how will that impact similar groups?

Consider the people just outside your target audience. If you change the behavior of your target audience, that might influence the way adjacent audiences behave.

4. Understand the complexity of backfires

There isn’t always a “right vs. wrong” when it comes to backfiring. Just because it backfires with some people does not mean you should remove or change it. Only remove or change it when you find that it backfires holistically.

Here’s how you should handle backfires going forward…

  1. Audit your site for psychological backfires.
  2. Before launching a test, audit it for the risk of psychological backfires. Do what you can to reduce those risks.
  3. Launch an A/B test, limiting the risk of widespread backfires.
  4. Determine whether the treatment increased conversions or not.
  5. Using qualitative research, look for evidence of backfires.
  6. Record all of the backfires and refer to them before running future tests.
  7. If you still have control of the backfire(s) and it’s causing an overall negative outcome, remove it.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back for one final review next week after (hopefully) passing the certification quiz.



Kristina Shands

Launch strategist and copywriter for spiritual entrepreneurs on a mission to heal the world.