‍The Six Commandments of a Persuasive Website Part 1

How to design a more persuasive website

For your website to convert well, it needs to be designed to be persuasive, let us explain.

Any website whether it be eCommerce or service-business has a goal or a series of goals that it's built around. A straightforward example on an eCommerce website is for a user to view a product and check out. For a lead generation website, a standard goal would be a contact form submission.

The outcomes of these two goals are different. In the case of the eCommerce website we are asking a customer to make a purchase and in the case of the service business we're asking for an email address. While each has a different outcome, both require the user to be persuaded to do something—hand over money or hand over their details.

We all like to think when we make a decision, we have analysed all the available information and have made an informed decision. However, there are biases and mental shortcuts (heuristics) that our brains make on behalf of us to make the decision-making process less mentally taxing. It's these shortcuts and biases that for over 60 years Persuasion Science researchers have investigated to understand what makes people say yes to things they're asked to do, this is what is known as the Science of Persuasion.

One of the most famous researchers in this field is Dr Robert Cialdini who identified Six Universal Principles that guide human behaviour, precisely what makes us more likely to say yes when asked.

Dr Cialdini's Six Universal Principles of Persuasion are:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Scarcity
  3. Authority
  4. Consistency
  5. Liking
  6. Social Proof (Consensus)

We've taken these Cialdini's principles and created Six Commandments of a Persuasive Website. Over three articles we are going to take a look at the science behind each law then apply it online through real-world examples and practical advice for implementing the principle into your website.

Persuasion and Ethics
This series has been written to show you how to design a more persuasive website in an ethical context. It assumes that your product or service is of value, ethical to your customers, and the information you present to your customers is always honest and accurate. While using these principles in an unethical manner may yield results, they won't be sustainable for the business as customers have a bad experience with your brand will not return.

Commandment I: A persuasive website gives before it asks for anything in return.

Also known as the Principle of Reciprocity, Commandment One acknowledges the human desire to want to return or reciprocate actions to the people or businesses who do them for us. Whether we realise it or not we dislike feeling indebted to others. If you want something, you need to give something first.

The Principle of Reciprocity is why Content marketing is effective. Companies give away content such as articles, ebooks, or higher value offers like free events or consultations. By consuming the content customers are more likely to comply with future requests.

For example, a company regularly publishes a series of free high-value whitepapers then promotes a webinar to discuss the topics of the whitepapers. Those who have read the white papers are more likely to enrol in the webinar than those who have not read the white papers.

Free trials are another example of reciprocity. Almost all Software as a Service (SaaS) companies offer a free trial period to users. From business products like Salesforce to entertainment services like Spotify, there are hundreds of examples. A free trial works by offering users a free, no obligation trial of the software for a set period such as 14 days, 30 days, or in Spotify's current case 60 days.

How to use Commandment One

Offer something
The first thing to do is to offer something of value before you ask customers to take action—no explanation needed.  

Plan your ask
You need to know what you will ask of your users in reciprocity once they have taken you up on your free offer. Knowing what you'd like in return means you can scale your offer accordingly.

In addition to knowing what to offer, planning your ask includes appropriately promoting your ask. Always include a Call to Action to your ask at the end of your content, consultation, or trial. However, make it comfortable for people to say yes or no.

Make your offer relative to your ask
If you'd like to ask for a big commitment like attending a two-day conference, you're going to need to offer more value than a company who is only asking for a sign up to your mailing list. Compare the value of your offer to the user to the size of your ask. If you are asking for a significant commitment from your user, you may need to make multiple offers.

Examples of Commandment One

Xero is just one of many companies which give potential customers the benefits of its software for 30 days before asking for anything other than personal details.

Hosting company Flywheel knows its target market of designers rather than developers need education about hosting before they are ready to sign up. They give away a long list of high-value eBooks about hosting, Wordpress and websites to upskill their audience. Commandment Two: A persuasive website knows the rarer something is, the more valuable it's perceived to be.

Commandment II: A persuasive website knows the rarer something is, the more valuable it's perceived to be.

Cialdini's research explored how supply and demand influences people to make decisions. He found that people are attracted to things that are exclusive and hard to get. Explained by Cialdini's Principle of Scarcity, websites that understand Commandment Two understand customers associate rarity with quality. Products and services that are difficult to obtain due to time constraints, stock availability or custom-made are usually perceived to be more valuable than those which are readily available.

How to use Commandment Two

Limited stock
Show your customers how many items are available for example, 'Only two remaining'. Within an eCommerce store, it can be persuasive to show the sizes that have sold out. Highlighting a specific size is "sold out" suggests to the customer their size may also sell out soon.

Limited time
Apply time restrictions to all offers and sales including in your marketing and on your website. A sale will appear more exclusive if it is only available for a limited time. A countdown timer can further enhance a sense of urgency reminding the user of the exact hours a deal is available.

Limited access
Offer exclusive access to VIP customers or customers from a specific segment. For example, pre-sale may only be open to email subscribers or past customers. The feeling of exclusivity makes these people feel privileged that they have access. As a result, they're more likely to make use of this exclusive access and buy something.

Example of Commandment Two

Booking.com is a best in class example of the Commandment Two. The site amalgamates massive amounts of data to show the limited availability of a user's search results. Making it feel like if they act now, they will have secured a great deal!

Further enhancing the effect, Booking.com's search results include the accommodation options users have missed. Showing the user options they can no longer access, makes them experience the consequences of not booking now.

Commandment III: A persuasive website uses cues to establish itself as the authority.

We trust experts. The women and men in literal and figurative white coats. Where our brains perceive someone or something to be of authority we believe the source. Commandment Three is all about identifying where and how your website and business can communicate its position as an authority. Your customers will look to three types of cues:

  1. Titles
    We tend to trust the expertise of practitioners who carry Dr., Prof. ahead of their names, as we do the title of Lawyer or CEO.
  2. Clothes
    From uniforms to style cues like corporate attire can all signal authority.
  3. Trappings
    Indirect cues that suggest positions or roles with society examples include the badges of a Police Officer, size or location of a manager's office, the airline and class we fly.

How to use Commandment Three

A 24/7 customer touchpoint, your website should always communicate your company's expertise and authority in solving your customers' problems. Here are some examples of their customers' perceptions of their authority online:

About Page

  • High-quality photography of your premises (consider clothing and trapping cues)
  • Key team headshots with short bios (consider the attire they're wearing)
  • Date of establishment
  • Awards, recognition and achievements


  • Industry awards or recognition, sometimes just showing the logo is enough
  • Key achievements such as the number of companies you have helped or the calibre of your clientele
  • Badges of professional memberships or board memberships

Photography and imagery such as illustrations
Photography and imagery are akin to Clothes and Trappings. Customers will look to the quality and aesthetic of your visuals to decide if you're an authority. Pixelated, inconsistent images suggest you are not; while high quality, well-lit photos suggest otherwise.

The same can applies to the design of your site. Your site's user interface (UI), and user experience (UX) send a signal about how trustworthy and authoritative your business is.

Examples of Commandment Three

Hello Alfred
Personal concierge company Hello Alfred makes personal help services like groceries and dry cleaning available to more people. They do this by connecting sending their service of Alfreds (strangers) into the homes of their customers. Trust is integral to the service.

Hello Alfred's website demonstrates their authority in the industry by showing stats on how many people they have helped. They also personify their team with imagery where each Alfred is well-dressed and appears welcoming.

For social enterprise Thankyou, customers need to trust that the company makes the difference it says it does. Thankyou uses statistics to signal authority and an 'As featured in' logo carousel to show the publications and companies that have recognised Thankyou.  

Dermalogica is a skin care brand which uses the Principle of Authority to position its brand. The brand's name through to its white clinical aesthetic, are both examples of trappings that suggest the brand is a scientifically proven and a trusted brand.    


Whether it be eCommerce or a Lead Generation site your website needs to persuade your users to take an action. Since we cannot sustainably process every conceivable piece of information required to make a decision, we use shortcuts to make decisions. It's these shortcuts that make up Dr Cialdini's six universal Principles of Persuasion.

This first article discusses how websites can be more effective at gaining conversions by applying the laws of:

  • Reciprocity
  • Scarcity
  • Authority

From these Principles of Persuasion, we have created the Six Commandments of a Persuasive Website. The first three Commandments are:

  1. A persuasive website gives before it asks for anything in return.
  2. A persuasive website knows the rarer something is, the more valuable it's perceived to be.
  3. A persuasive website uses cues to establish itself as the authority.

These Commandments of a Persuasive Website are useful and can help your business get more from your website, but only when used in an ethical manner. Sustaining or ideally growing ROI from your websites takes both an ethical business model (i.e. you offer your customers a product or service of value) and website that is designed to be persuasive. It is unsustainable to use Dr Cialdini's principles in an unethical manner, as the tactics will lose effectiveness and customers who experience dissonance between the expected outcomes and the real outcomes will not return.

In Part Two of this series, we share the final three commandments which are based on the laws of:

  • Consistency
  • Liking
  • Social Proof (Consensus)

Stay tuned for the next instalment!