CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree — Week 2 Review

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Another week of learning more than my brain can handle, with so much that I want to share because it is practice information you can begin using right now to improve your copy and conversion.

Before we begin, though, I want to talk about something that was in the news this week. It is about the dangers of the work we do when it is used to trick and manipulate users.

The techniques taught to improve user experience can also be used to overwhelm users. Colors being used to instill confidence and trust can also be used to excite viewers. Copy meant to inform can mislead readers.

The responsibility we have as copywriters and marketers is vast.

What got me thinking about ethics and the dangers of knowing too much about neuromarketing in this article in the New York Times: How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations (link).

This isn’t meant to be political, but to show how the lessons I am learning inside the CXL Digital Psychology and Persuasian Minidegree can be used to cause real harm.

Here are some examples of call-to-action buttons used in fundraising campaigns that tricked donors out of thousands of additional dollars.

This first one is pretty typical, although forcing someone to opt-out is icky and illegal in most countries.

This next one is what was being sent at the very end of the campaign when they were being wildly outraised and outspent by the Biden campaign. Notice how much copy there is and how the part that says they are agreeing to a weekly recurring donation is in smaller font at the very end. We know most people don’t read long paragraphs, especially when it is all bold, and especially on this eye-exhausting yellow background. The second money grab is even more dangerous. Not only are they agreeing to making the same donation each week, they are agreeing to donating an additional $100 at a later date.

So, if someone was looking to donate $200 on 8/1/2020, they would end up sending almost $3000 to the Trump campaign — all because they didn’t carefully read AND UNCHECK the two boxes in tiny confusing font at the bottom of the donation page.

That makes me want to master this topic even more, so I can teach others how to use this knowledge for good and speak out against harmful tactics like those used above.

Now, on to this week’s lessons.

It was a busy week for me so I only made it through Course 2: Attention Basics, Course 3: Decision Making and Emotions, and Course 4: Learning & Memory.

Again, all of this is part of the CXL Institute’s Digital Psychology and Persuasion Minidegree program.

Read my review of Week 1 here.

Here are my biggest takeaways from this week’s lessons.

Failing to grab attention is your fault, not the users’ lack of interest.

This shook me a bit. If a prospect doesn’t read my sales page, it isn’t necessarily their lack of interest. I didn’t do my job of hooking them in, keeping them engaged through the page and persuading them to take a specific action. I feel like, as copywriters, we put so much on the reader to do the heavy lifting instead of really working to understand what they need to know, believe, and do to make a decision.

The less time we have to make our judgments, the more likely we are to go with our gut, even over fact,

Impressions are made in a fraction of a second — especially online. We really get one chance to connect with our ideal customers. But just because we look good on one platform, that trust can be broken on another platform.

For example, if our ideal client sees us as being a grounded mentor who actively works to create a safe space for transformation and then they read a comment on Instagram that completely contradicts that feeling, what are they going to believe? Emotions always trump fact.

A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. It’s the primary reason a prospect should buy from you.

A value proposition is a clear statement that offers three things:

Relevancy — Explain how your product solves customers’ problems or improves their situation.

Quantified value — Deliver specific benefits.

Differentiation — Tell the ideal customer why they should buy from you and not from the competition.

Your value proposition has to be the first thing visitors see on your homepage, but it should also be visible at all major entry points to the site.

Ultimately, it can improve your customer lifetime value and it needs to be in the language of the customer.

This is so important and something I know is missing in my own business.

Two important laws to remember:

Hick’s Law: With every additional choice increases the time required to take a decision.

Paradox of Choice: The more choices you give, the easier it is to choose nothing.

This will definitely be something I use to clean up sales pages. Not just with payment options, but also for currency since I have a client that offers pricing in British pounds and US dollars, for three price levels. Talk about confusing.

Not sure what to do with this but it feels important: The size of a button should be proportional to its expected frequency of use.

Research suggests that first impressions are more powerful than actual facts and are formed within a matter of .05 seconds.

Websites with low visual complexity and high prototypicality were perceived as highly appealing. Your site’s design should be simple and familiar.

Your value proposition should be above the fold on a homepage.

You should use compelling imagery and graphics

  • All images and graphics should complement the nature of your product.
  • When using images of people, they should be smiling.
  • Don’t go overboard. The goal is for visitors to see what’s essential and nothing more.
  • Go for professional pictures. Low-quality image scream “don’t trust me”.

People want to buy from people, preferably people like themselves.

  • Use simple, common language
  • Avoid cheesy stock photos
  • Use photos of realistic-looking people

Cognitive load is the amount of mental energy that is required to process something, in this case, your website.

As a copywriter, I need to find ways to lighten the cognitive load for readers.

Here’s how:

  • Use short, simple sentences and paragraphs (3–4 lines maximum). No more than 80 characters per line.
  • Use clear subheadings and/or content blocks with different background colors or images.
  • Use sans serif, 14–16px font in a high contrast color. Aim for a 24px space between two lines of text.
  • Use familiar words and phrases, limit jargon and industry speak, limit complex words (the average American reads at a 7–8th grade level).

There are three common reading patterns:

  1. F-Pattern
  2. Layer Cake Pattern
  3. Spotted Pattern

So, how can I implement this knowledge for my clients?

  • Make the text more scannable (think about how the headlines and subheaders tell a story)
  • Position the most important text along the F-line breaking the text into convenient paragraphs.
  • Each line starts with the catchy word.

Decision Making and Emotions

As adults, we make about 35,000 decisions per day, adding up to about 1 million decisions a month!!

The ability to identify and understand the decisions users make on your site is a potent tool.

Here is a great list of questions we should look to answer when writing copy and designing pages:

  • What decisions do you want your users to make?
  • How can you make each decision easier for them?
  • Where are you asking them to make decisions?
  • Should you minimize the number of decisions made on your site?
  • Where are your “high-friction” decisions?
  • How do the decisions made on your website compare to the competition?
  • Which decisions, when presented, can help to build loyalty?
  • Could you be inadvertently forcing them to waste their mental energy on decisions that don’t even matter?

There are four chief mental processes that influence decisions.

  1. Cognitive Biases
  2. Memories
  3. Reason
  4. Emotions

We touched on this in last week’s blog, but we each run with two brains.

System 1 — Our subconscious which is always on and processes emotions. It is fully automated and fully associative.

System 2 — Our conscious handles rational processes, is aware and logical, and is capable of projecting ourselves into the future. It isn’t always activated and needs focus, so the less information, the better.

Your system 2 is constantly making up reasons for your behavior. Our consciousness is our comfortness.

So much information packed in these courses. I find myself wanting to change everything at once, put everything into practice, and declare myself the best at all things. But seriously, this is so intense that I need to focus on immediate wins, areas I want to dive into more deeply, and information that is nice to know but I don’t need to remember.

Thanks for reading. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you want more, check out the blog on

Until next week,





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

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Kristina Shands

Kristina Shands

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

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