Street Cred: The Importance of Social Proof in Web Design

Business.com / Marketing Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

It’s incredibly important that you make the most out of your own website and capture attention and positively influence users.

With so many competitor websites popping up in every industry, it’s incredibly important that you make the most out of your own website.

This means using each and every page to capture attention and positively influence users.

And while there are many strategies for doing this, the more effective ones are tied to social proof.

Related Article: Friends In High Places: 8 Ways to Convince and Convert with Social Proof

The Psychology of Social Proof

“If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?”

How many times did your parents or teachers ask you a question like this when you were growing up? Of course you wouldn’t jump, but there’s value behind this question.

When your peers do something, you’re more likely to do the same. It’s the “everybody’s doing it” mentality. People tend to do what others are doing. It’s why fashions go in and out of style, movies gain popularity, and fans will sit in a sports stadium when it’s 10 degrees just to watch two teams carry a ball. When other people are doing, buying, or saying something, we naturally want to do the same.

Psychologists have a name for this conformity. They call it herd behavior or the bandwagon effect. In marketing, we refer to it as social proof.  “The goal is to increase conversions by giving evidence that you are accepted by others,” writes Andy Crestodina, the strategic director for a Chicago-based web design company. “Visitors, influencers, subscribers, and buyers all trust you. This kind of ‘informational social influence’ is a simple and powerful way to improve the initial value judgment of your landing pages, your site and your company.”

Social proof is evident in many different aspects of business – both online and offline. Bars and clubs frequently limit entry, not because of fire codes or space limitations, but because they want to give people passing by the illusion that the venue is more popular than it really is. As a result, they’ll be inclined to think more highly of the club.

You also see social proof in television sitcoms when the producers include a recorded track of laughter. This elevates the comedic nature of the show and encourages viewers to laugh along with others. After all, it’s much easier to laugh when others are doing the same.

5 Things You Need to Know

While social proof is leveraged in many different aspects of business, it’s maximized when used in web design. The reason is that there’s so much flexibility and opportunity to incorporate different social elements. Let’s take a look at a few of the things you really need to know, along with some examples of what social proof looks like in practice. 

1. Purchase Patterns Say a Lot

When it comes to business customers, purchase patterns hold a lot of weight. In other words, if your business is looking for someone to manage your payroll, you’re much more inclined to work with a payroll solution that has 15 customers that are similar to your business than a solution that only has one customer in your industry. Whether it’s true or not, you automatically assume that more customers means a better product.

As a business, the best thing you can do is proudly display your customers and past purchase patterns so that target customers trust you more. As an example of what this looks like in practice, check out Magic Logix’s homepage. About halfway down their page, they include logos from 30 of their top clients. When compared to a competitor that doesn’t even mention their client base, this is a pretty persuasive technique.

2. Social Proof is Better with Pictures

Testimonials are by far one of the most popular and effective social proof strategies; however, a lot of companies sell themselves short by only including a written blurb or quote. If you really want to maximize the efficacy of testimonials, make sure you’re using pictures as well. According to research, pictures are found to increase trust, even when the photos are “nonsensical.”

There are a lot of good examples of how pictures maximize the value of testimonials, but HubSpot is one of the best. They are continuously updating their web pages with customer testimonials and headshots. It’s one of their more effective social proof strategies.

Related Article: Telling Your Brand Story: How to Engage the Masses

3. People are Influenced by Similar People

As you probably already know, people are influenced by similar people. In other words, you’re more likely to try a restaurant because your best friend gave it a rave review than if a total stranger who appears to be much different than you tells you to try the place. We intrinsically assume that the opinions of people with similar backgrounds, tastes, and needs are more relevant to us.

In psychology, this concept is known as implicit egotism. As far as web design goes, the best way to leverage this is by really honing in on who your target buyer is. Instead of saying generic things like, “Works great” or “You’ll love it,” you should try to identify your buyer’s specific needs.

For example, let’s say you’re a web design firm and your target clients are small business owners that sell sporting goods. The following copy is ineffective: “We offer web design services that are better than the competition.” In terms of social proof, it would be much more effective to say, “We specialize in web design services for local sporting goods companies that are looking to increase their footprint.” This simple tweak can make a big difference.

4. Experts and Celebrities Hold Weight

Experts, celebrities, and influencers hold a lot of weight when it comes to product reviews and endorsements. Using the previous example of a sporting goods company, a customer is going to be more influenced by an endorsement from Michael Jordan than they are from “Joe Schmo.” In their minds, Michael Jordan knows what he’s talking about. Joe Schmo is just a handsome guy from down the street.

Take the popular apparel company Ugg as an example of what this looks like in practice. Despite having no expertise in fashion or design, NFL quarterback Tom Brady is a valuable endorser for the brand. The reason is that people automatically assume a person of his status – with lots of money – makes smart and fashionable purchase decisions.

5. Badges and Awards Enhance Reputation

Similar to incorporating client links into a webpage, badges and awards naturally enhance a company’s reputation when included in web design. This is why many experts include logos of TV networks, blogs, websites, and periodicals that they’ve been featured in. It shows people that highly reputable sources are interested in what they do.

You can find an example of this by checking out entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s website. He has a section that says, “Gary has been featured in…” and then shows logos for The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, and more.

Related Article: Confidential to the C-Suite: It’s Not Too Late to Develop Social Media Fluency

Social Proof: The Key to Effective Web Design

When it comes to web design, you can’t forget about social proof. There are unique ways to implement social proof in almost every page of your website. Keep these five things in mind and be on the lookout for new inspirations. While it’s gaining steam, this is still one of the most under discussed aspects of web design.

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