Persuasive Web Design, Part 7: Match Existing Knowledge | Cardinal Path Blog
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Persuasive Web Design, Part 7: Match Existing Knowledge

Before you can even begin to persuade visitors, you first have to make them trust you. Without trust, visitors won’t even enter into a conversation.

There are a number of ways in which you can increase the perceived trustworthiness of your website. Some are pretty obvious, like:

  • Look like an ongoing concern: present extensive and current content
  • Look like you’re not hiding: list a phone number and physical address
  • Ensure the level of design polish is appropriate for your industry (i.e. a plumbing site doesn’t need to look as refined and perfect as a jewelers’ site)

Some “trust markers”, however, are not so obvious. One of the most interesting and important, in my opinion, is to “match existing knowledge”. It works like this:

  • We trust what we already believe to be true
  • We look for sources that confirm our beliefs
  • If a site matches our beliefs, we trust it more and will stick around

This principle applies universally, but it is especially powerful in niche markets where your products — and by extension your customers — depart somewhat from the “mainstream”. Take for example this text from BambooRods.ca, a maker of split cane fly rods:

“Why Bamboo?”

“If you just stopped in and already know about bamboo fly rods, what I’m about to say you already know but for those that are attempting to understand the mystery of cane read on…

“First you must answer the question of why you fish. If you fish like I, approaching each pool and run, studying the currents, determining the best cast and lie, presently the fly to where your logic and experience suggests a trout may lurk, bamboo is for you. If you have the time to glance around seeing the marsh marigolds, the hills and wildlife, feeling the breeze, taking the time to just sit on the bank and access your part in the grand scheme of things, bamboo is for you.

“But if you transpose your everyday world into how you fish, casting quickly and rushing off to the next place, measuring each day by how many miles of trout stream you’ve covered, miles driven or other fishermen seen, perhaps bamboo is not for you.

“Bamboo fly rods are about cadence – the cadence of life itself. Each cast is slower and deliberate, forcing you to slow down and become one with the setting around you. But if your temperament is running and gunning, bamboo isn’t for you.

“Some years ago, I was asked to build a bamboo fly rod for a young fellow who just hungered after the next/greatest rod. While I could have built the rod, I told him that he was about 20 years too soon. He had to learn to slow down, become part of the world around him when he fished and then and only then would he appreciate what the bamboo rod was all about. So if today, you think that it’s time that your fishing becomes less of a aerobic exercise and more of a contemplative union with nature, bamboo is for you. After all, it is a natural material, one with nature.”

Another great example is Rivendell Bicycle Works, a site that sells “old school” lugged steel bicycles and accessories:
“The only bikes we love, and therefore the only ones we make and sell, are lugged steel. Steel is the best material for frames because it’s strong, tough, safe, repairable, and less likely to need repair. It endures hardships such as accidents and nicks and gouges that kill lesser frames, and although it’s not unbreakable, it’s less likely to break, and is more easily repaired, than is a frame of any other material.

“Steel frames tend to have slender tubes, which are not only aesthetically pleasing in the same way that a fly rod or a 1910 airplane is, but also are more practical when it comes to fitting tires between them. Because steel is more rigid by volume than are other materials, the tubes don’t have to be as fat. And skinny tubes look better and fit tires better.

“The best way to join steel tubes is with lugs. Any other way is a compromise, a concession to price, expediency, or skill. It makes sense to add material to the outside of stressed frame joints, and that’s what a lug does. A weld concentrates the stress. A fillet (as in a fillet-brazed frame) acts luglike, and is preferable to a tig-weld, but we prefer lugs for their interesting and beautiful looks. There is beauty of a sort in a tig-weld or a fillet, but there’s just not a lot to look at. Yes, a bike is a tool, but tools can be beautiful and functional, and the best ones are both.”

Upon reading passages like this, those of us who appreciate lugged steel bikes will barely be able to contain ourselves from jumping up and screaming, “Yes! Finally someone who gets it!” And the more we look around the site, the more we trust it, as the owner eloquently argues more points we believe to be true. (That modern bikes are over-specialized with a misplaced emphasis on racing, that most bike frames are too small, that spandex is silly and wool is best, that indexed shifting is unnecessary…)

The above sites are great examples of “matching existing knowledge”. The site owners are clearly passionate about what they do. They have expressed their opinions beautifully. And for those who have a preference for split cane fly rods or lugged steel bicycles, passages like these make us want to engage with the site further.

So know your target audience and how they feel about your products. Better still if you are your target audience: your messaging will sound much more authentic, like the above examples. And your visitors will be ready to be persuaded.

There are, of course, many other markers of trustworthiness. I’ll discuss some of these in future posts.

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