The Color of Money (and Your Site)

  |  June 14, 2002   |  Comments

In the black and tickled pink! Color is a persuasion tool. Use it to improve your conversion rate.

What do conversion rate marketers chitchat about? Recently, Mike Sack, chief product officer of Inceptor, and I were discussing Amazon.com. We were wondering about a series of changes it's made to its "Add to Shopping Cart" buttons and how it might be affecting its conversions. Amazon has been testing the text on the button for a long time. The button used to include "(you can always remove it later)." You can still see the old version on the U.K. site.

Mike and I are used to talking about hundreds of variables that can be tested. We once spent several hours discussing all the variables buttons can have. In regard to Amazon, a site we both buy way too much from, Mike made a colorful and profound statement: "I just hope they don't change the colors. I've been buying from them for so long, all I know is I hit yellow to buy and orange to add to my Wish List."

Amazon's color scheme is neither accidental or incidental. If it changed its colors, would swarms of repeat customers become confused or lost? It could be tested, but experience tells me it's not a test with a high probability of improving conversion. If you want to understand how color impacts us, next time you get in the car take notice of how you stop at red and go on green. Color plays a big role in persuasion. We should understand its value.

Color doesn't just look nice (or not). It speaks to the subconscious; evokes meanings, feelings, and moods; and has the ability to influence buying behavior.

Here are the basics that go into planning the use of color on your Web site, landing pages, or email.

Design for Persuasion

The way you use color in persuasion design is very different from using color for a personal home page or pushing the outer edge of design avant-garde. A business online has very real constraints: credibility, legibility, navigation, meaning, download time, browser compatibility, and more. Ignore these and go wild with a cutting-edge design exercise, and you'll delight a few design aficionados but probably alienate the majority of customers and prospects.

Color isn't the core of your design. There are six basic, equally important elements that make up effective design:

  • Line

  • Shape

  • Value (lightness, darkness, shading)

  • Blank (white) space

  • Texture/pattern

  • Color
Start by Removing Color

An excellent way to see if your layout works well is to actually remove the color. More important, when you do a storyboard and prototype, don't include any color (it should be done in grayscale) until the design and layout are complete. If it looks good in black and white, you've probably got a design that can come alive with the judicious use of color. I can't begin to tell you how many times a "design" has been scraped by a client because they were shown the design with colors that struck a bad chord. Nail down the design, then add the emotionally charged element of color.

Define the Message and Mood

Start the process of color design with words: Take a piece of paper and write down adjectives that describe the ambiance of your business. Think about your style, the feeling you want to convey, the characteristics of your target audience. Pick all the words you can think of that apply. From this list select the top five -- the best of the best. These are the words that guide your imagery and selection of colors.

I once heard a mom telling her child she seemed "very pink." We associate colors with moods, qualities, and emotions. "Are you blue?" There's a vast amount of research on colors and their associations. That's where you want to go next in selecting colors. Which come to mind when you visualize your top five words? Deep greens? Rich tans? Soft blues? Urgent reds? Pick two or three, but absolutely no more than four, colors. I've seen supersites that rely on monotones. Fewer colors make a stronger statement and don't over-stimulate or tax your viewers. In the process of online persuasion, less color is often more.

Color as a Guide

Color can play other important roles. It can organize your site visually. It can draw a prospect's eye to the most important information on a page and downplay less relevant data. It can help convey the structure of your navigation. You can color-code different features or business areas. Color can highlight a special or limited-time offer. Use it intelligently and intentionally.

To sum up:

  1. Define the mood of your business.

  2. Select a limited palette of evocative colors.

  3. Make color an integral element in a strong design.

  4. Make color work for you in organizing your content.

Orange you glad I didn't spend all this time making off-colored jokes? Designing and optimizing with color should not be taken lightly, or the results could leave you in the dark.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.

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