When designing or optimizing a website, it’s easy to get so mired down with all the details of layout, navigation, imagery, and content that you overlook one of the most powerful persuasive tools: color.
Colors have a surprisingly measurable effect on how people perceive businesses and their products and services. Colors can elicit particular moods, influence how well people can process the information they see on the page, and increase or decrease the odds of purchase. If you’ve simply designed your website to match your logo colors, here are some black-and-white facts that just might make you want to color outside the lines.
The Power of Color
Optimizing conversions on a website requires a good understanding of the principles of persuasion, coupled with a keen awareness that a majority of human decision-making occurs at a subconscious level. Color is one of the tools that marketers can leverage to tap into the subconscious minds of visitors. In fact, there is a branch of behavioral psychology that studies how color affects human behavior, and marketers have long been interested in trying to understand how they can leverage this research to sway consumer preferences and actions.
The science of understanding how people react to color is pretty complicated, largely because it is influenced by all sorts of things like culture, gender, psychological factors, and context. But here in the United States, there are a handful of color principles that are believed to evoke certain emotions in many people:
- Yellows reflect optimism, warmth, and happiness. Interestingly, it is also used to convey warning messages and may increase anxiety levels.
- Orange communicates friendliness and is considered a “fun” color. It stimulates confidence and also suggests urgency.
- Red conveys excitement and boldness, which may explain why it is commonly used to advertise sales.
- Purples show creativity, sophistication, and wisdom.
- Blue conveys trust and dependability, with some researchers adding peace, tranquility, and loyalty to the list. It’s not surprising, then, that much of corporate America has incorporated blue into their branding.
- Green is peaceful and is a symbol of growth and nature. It makes people think of the outdoors and has come to evoke an eco-friendly quality.
- Black indicates value, luxury, and power. It is commonly used for high-value or exclusive products.
If your company targets a multi-national audience, be sure you understand the nuances of color in different regions. In China, for example, white is worn for funerals, so the color is unlikely to have the same impact as it would on an American audience who associates the color with weddings and purity. Gender also plays an important role in color preference, further underscoring the need to understand your audience before selecting your website colors. Women seem to have a preference for primary colors and tints and a dislike for earthy tones. Men are purported to shun purple, orange, brown, and tints of any color. Both genders favor blue.
How Colors Affect Behavior and Buying Habits
According to the Impact of Color on Marketing study, 62 to 90 percent of snap judgments about products are made based on color alone. Similarly, color impacts the emotions visitors will feel when the visit your site, how they process the information about your products or services, and how drawn they feel toward conversion.
In 2013, researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a study looking specifically at the colors red and blue and their impact on consumers’ willingness to pay. They found that a consumer in an auction or similar situation in which product scarcity played a role was more willing to pay after being exposed to a red website background rather than blue. In contrast, in situations where the product is readily available, a red background decreased the consumer’s willingness to pay as compared to blue. The researchers concluded that because red induces aggression, it prompted consumers to make higher bid jumps in auctions. But in retail or fixed-price settings, purchase likelihood was higher when buyers were exposed to a blue background.
Other research shows that shoppers on a budget gravitate toward blues and greens, impulse shoppers respond to orange and black, and traditional shoppers favor blue and red. And in brick-and-mortar environments, it is said that warm colors will attract people into a store whereas blue colors will encourage more contemplation and higher sales.
In 2002, researchers Biers and Richards studied the impact of dominant color on buyers’ perceptions of promoted items. They found that backgrounds with cold hues such as blue reduced the risk of purchase postponement, especially among regular Internet users. And in 2004, a study conducted by researchers Hall and Hanna concluded that e-commerce websites should use chromatic colors (colors with a dominant hue such as blue or green) due to the higher aesthetic appreciation score, which correlated to higher intents of purchase. On the other hand, their research indicated that websites promoting knowledge transfer should display black text on white backgrounds and achromatic colors with maximum contrast.
Using Colors Appropriately to Improve Conversions
Capturing visitor’s attention is critical for conversion. The Von Restorff Effect has shown items that stand out are more likely to be remembered than the items that blend into the background. To accomplish this, choose a color or your button that is high contrast and not used elsewhere on your site.
Generally speaking, it’s best to use bright primary and secondary colors for your call to action (CTA). Test after test has shown that colors like red, green, orange, and yellow typically convert best, but only when not used prominently elsewhere on the site. Not surprisingly, darker colors like black, shades of gray, brown, or even dark purple have lower conversion rates. However, if you have a primary and a secondary call to action, you might choose one of these darker colors for your secondary call to action to draw more attention toward the brightly colored primary CTA.
Also remember that some of the best converting colors are ones you might not personally like, for example orange and yellow. Amazon uses yellow for their “Add to Cart” button and gray for their secondary conversion buttons.
While your Web designers and branding specialists may be primarily concerned with color aesthetics, conversion is not about what “looks good.”
Finally, avoid color overload. Too many colors will create confusion and paralyze visitors. When everything is designed to stand out, nothing stands out. Your selection of colors has to include the right balance of white and achromatic colors with appropriately placed chromatic hues. Keep in mind that contrast is important, and that your main conversion steps should literally jump off the page with a bright color that contrasts against the rest of your page content.
Tips for Selecting Your Site’s Optimum Colors
Selecting the best colors for your website requires a careful study of your audience, your competitive environment, and the “personality” of your company or industry. Research has found that how well your color scheme matches visitors’ expectations has as much to do with their reaction as the colors themselves. In other words, if you’re selling life insurance and your website is pink or yellow, visitors might not respond in a manner that is consistent with the color psychology of those colors because they seem inappropriate for the site’s content. Additionally,
- Think about the types of colors that will fit well with the personality and mood your company wants to reflect. Do you want to look upscale? Friendly? Cheap?
- Consider how well particular colors fit with your audience’s expectation for your product or service. Don’t get so creative that you shock or surprise your visitors with your choice of colors.
- Know your audience (gender, geographic location, and other traits) and what colors would be most likely to appeal to them, based on the research of color psychologists.
- Select a combination of chromatic and achromatic colors, and if you have enough traffic, be sure to test all color hypotheses to find what works best for your site and your audience.
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