What is ‘Bias’ And How to Apply it to Web Optimization

AB TastyBlogUser PsychologyWhat is ‘Bias’ And How to Apply it to Web Optimization

According to Psychology Today, a bias is a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone.

To illustrate, let’s say you’re traveling to India for the first time. So far, thanks to popular culture, your limited knowledge tells you it’s a land of snake charmers. But when you step foot into the country every prejudice you held on to shatters in one go. In other words, your experience helps you overcome your bias that hadn’t a grain of truth in it.

bias definition india example
A 19th-century engraving by Alfred Edmund Brehm of Indian snake-charmers. Source

From this example, you’ll agree that our mind can be tricked into believing otherwise. It’s exactly what even marketers do to clinch massive marketing wins. Why? Because they’re aware that biases affect people’s perception of their website and company. As a result, whether it’s getting people to sign-up for a webinar, download an e-book or buy a product, they look to a special type of bias called a ‘cognitive bias’ to form strategies and get the conversion meter ticking.

That said, it’s equally important to know why and how people experience cognitive biases. Let’s learn about them in the next section.

System 1 and System 2

Daniel Kahneman in his seminal work, Thinking, Fast and Slow, elaborates on the two agents of our brains, System 1 and System 2, which respectively are responsible for fast and slow thinking. But what’s this got to do with cognitive biases? Quite a bit, as it turns out. So stay with me.

Kahneman says that System 1 is lazy, intuitive, emotional, involuntary and takes mental shortcuts, also known as heuristics, to solve problems. At its core is associative memory that is always on alert and makes continuous interpretation of whatever’s happening around us. On the surface the process seems effortless, but often is a result of ‘prolonged practice’ and exposure.

On the other hand, System 2 is the meditation zone of our brain. It’s slower, controlled, orderly and engages in tasks that demand focus and attention. Also, it continuously evaluates incoming suggestion such as impressions, feelings, intentions and intuitions from System 1. If it approves them then impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs.

In Kahneman’s own words:

The division of labor between System 1 and System 2 is highly efficient: it minimizes effort and optimizes performance

So what makes us experience cognitive biases? It’s when we rely too much on bias-rich System 1 in a situation that requires intense thinking and complex reasoning.

Examples of Biases Used for Website Optimization

Halo Effect

First impressions matter. At least that’s what the Halo Effect confirms. Apparently, we attach great importance to one single trait or feature of a person or a thing and let it influence our overall impression of the same. Marketers consistently use the Halo Effect to their advantage and you can too. Here’s how.

Take Advantage of Celeb Social Proof

Celebs have a massive fan following and if they endorse you, you gain more exposure. You become more trusted because people know their idol won’t brandish flags of brands they don’t trust. What’s more, they want to look like them! Capitalizing on this bias, L’Oréal, a French personal care company, works with celebs on a regular basis.

Choose Good Lookin’ Faces

This is a classic strategy marketers use because it creates the attractiveness halo effect. Goes without saying why it works exceptionally well for the beauty and wellness industries!

chanel halo effect

Design for Visual Appeal + Create On-Point Brand Message

From the moment people land on your website, they judge your brand. And this is precisely the reason why shoddy websites don’t convert. They seem untrustworthy. If you think your website needs a makeover, go for it. Work on it’s appeal and craft a powerful brand message. The latter is equally important because you want to come across as a brand that has its act together!

If you go through Weight Watchers’ website you’ll understand what I mean. There’s one overarching message that binds the page together. Can you see what it is?

weight watchers bias example

In addition, keep only those features that facilitate a smooth user journey and experience. If not, your potential customer may bounce off because no one likes a bump in their journey.

Loss Aversion

This cognitive bias makes losing something seem painful. It sends shock waves to our brain and urges us to avoid loss at any cost. This explains why Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales bring huge revenue for brands. Learn how you can use it below.

Create a sense of urgency

Introduce FOMO (fear of missing out) because no one cares about JOMO (joy of missing out) so much. According to Strategy Online, 60% of millennials make impulsive purchases because they don’t want to experience regret and the pain of missing a good deal later. Clearly, you should take advantage of this cognitive bias by doing the following:

Show stock levels/something is in high demand

That’s because when there’s a fear of items going scarce, it’s perceived value automatically increases!

travel social proof example
Urgency triggered on Booking.com with a combination of messages

Show how many others are buying/looking or have bought or booked

The competitive spirit will motivate them to buy/book quickly rather than lose to strangers! Airbnb uses this classic trick to get people to book listed property.

In a similar vein, we helped NYX Professional Makeup, one of our clients, use the ‘views’ and ‘purchased’ strategy which bumped up the click-through rate on ‘buy’ by 43%, and also doubled the transaction rate. There was a significant reduction in bounce rates as well.

NYX Professional make up social proof messaging
Second Variation of Social Proof Messaging

Lure with a limited time offer

Deals become more appealing and people decide quickly and convert. How about you provide free shipping on a limited time offer, as 90% of online shoppers consider it an incentive?!

Bias definition example amazon
Time ticker and stock left, both create FOMO among Amazon shoppers.

Add social proof

Because at the end of the day, reviews and testimonials show that other people already love your product and that the visitor must jump on the bandwagon, too!

Sephora social proof example
Reviews and ‘love’ works as social proof on Sephora

Display numbers as they are a tangible social proof, too. Piktochart does a good job at letting numbers thrill their prospects.

social proof in numbers

Use pop-ups to highlight exclusive offers

Nothing triggers FOMO like an exclusive offer. It makes people think they’re privileged and so jump at the opportunity to get additional benefits.

email sign up
Being the first one and a part of an exclusive member tactic used by The Limited Email team.

Confirmation Bias

As human beings we interpret information and situations in a way that confirms our pre-existing ideas and beliefs. We deliberately stay away from anything contradictory as it results in cognitive dissonance. Since this bias is so strong, marketers use this knowledge to comfort their customers throughout the sales process. Learn how some brands ace it.

Make available their trusted payment method

payment method example
Purchase made easy with Paypal, a popular payment method displayed on Alpine Trek website

People don’t want to make decisions that make them feel foolish. So give them the liberty to feed their bias by displaying their preferred mode of payment. Since they’ve used it before, seeing it only confirms they’re onto doing something right.

Send order confirmation messages

Confirmation emails have the highest average open rates at 70%. So make it a rule of thumb to send them and eliminate any doubt in your customer’s mind. Let them rejoice in the fact that they were right in choosing you. Not doing this could trigger post-purchase dissonance. Ajio keeps that in mind and makes sure every detail, including personalized messages and order information is stacked.

cognitive dissonance email example

Reinforce your brand image and promises

If you claim to be a luxury brand, then BE one. If you promise full refunds in under two hours, then DO it! That’s because when you do what people believe to be true, you win their loyalty a thousand times over by matching their expectations!

Jewelry showcase designer, Papazian, for example, lives up to the brand name with a slick website and even slicker visuals and photographs.


Make ‘em feel good

No one likes to think they’re careless, impulsive shoppers. Take that cue and please your customers by saying the words they want to hear. This Undiz campaign was inspired by the need to compliment users and as a direct result saw a lift in transaction and total revenue of 5% and 8% respectively.

AB Tasty undiz slide
Undiz increases revenue, simply by adding a few complimentary lines on the basket page: ‘We love it!’, ‘That’s gorgeous!’, ‘Love at first site…’


Cognitive biases are complex and difficult to overcome. This is why it’s rather important to think beyond pricing strategy. Of course, your customer does care about where they’re putting their money, but they’re also driven by other unpinnable, internal motivations in purchase decisions.

To appeal to these expectations and desires, you must use persuasive tactics. They serve people’s biases and automatically place you in a winning position.

Ready to roll the dice then?

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