Creating An Emotional Response From Your Web Site

I hadn’t seen my artist friend in nearly a year, nor was I even sure he was still painting. But there I was the other day, standing with him in his art studio, chatting about the new things he wanted me to add to his web site. Suddenly he led me to one large 80″ x 64″ canvas of swirling brush strokes that is his style. “This one is for you,” he announced, “for all the help you’ve given me with the web site.”

As he, I and several others who were there stood in front of the large oil on canvas, it was clear each person was having a physical response to the painting. He named it “Nockamixon”, a place where I lived once, and had loved. Everyone shared how the painting “felt” to them. Because his art is purposely done on wall-sized canvas, the observer often feels emotionally drawn into it. They may feel a vibration around their solar plexus or enveloped by a swaying motion. Inside the raised bumps of colored oils or peeking slyly out of brush stroke or wisp of color, I could see things I loved such as dolphins, a creek where I spent time as a teenager, birds and wooded trails.

When the piece was delivered to my house, the artist and I stood together again, taking it in as the sunlight from the windows hit the colors, making them come alive and achieve an almost otherworldly vibrancy. It’s got every possible shade of blue, mixed with gold, white and purple. “Those are your colors, Kim,” he said. “This is what I see in your aura and the energy that I feel around you.” I already knew that what makes him extraordinary is his ability to see auras and his sensitivity to unseen energies around people, but I was unaware he had painted mine. What an amazing gift he had given me! Of course I would love it even more, knowing I was part of the artwork.

Emotional Marketing

One of my new assignments for his web site was to prepare for a new way of selling his work. While he was gaining a fine reputation for live performance art, where he would paint in front of an audience with music in the background, leaving gigantic murals as a result, it wasn’t like you could just take a piece of the experience home with you. His understanding of how colors and motion can feel or how we may react to them is so finely tuned that his works are featured in the long corridors of several health facilities and hospitals. His art relaxes the mind or creates hope.

To market his paintings to a broader range of people would first mean making it affordable. His lowest price for a piece is $3000. So he came up with the idea of using a much smaller canvas. No longer must someone need to find a wall large enough to hang his work. Smaller would be easier on the budget and fit into a bedroom.

Next, he is naming the pieces after places and things in our local area. Since he can pick up how a town energetically feels and can communicate that with a paintbrush, the community can purchase a slice of that for themselves. It’s sort of like how you might sit for a portrait or buy a postcard of your town; only he has unique way of doing it by what he calls his “marks” (the act of putting paint to canvas).

After listening to him explain his plans, I told him a little about how we try to do this with web sites. In our web designs, we want to select colors that will make an emotional connection with our site visitors. We have different sets of mental models to be concerned about, such as a web site for medical professionals or a site for machine parts supplies. One site I finished working with created a wonderful relaxing environment simply by its use of pastel blues and wide open white “gutters” placed between blocks of elements. Those elements contained call to action prompts with more gentle colors and touches of beveled edges rather than a harsh thick button edge. It still needed more work with the use of images, based on some research regarding babies’ faces, but for a site designed to connect nannies with families, it is quite pleasant to browse and run searches from.

What’s in it for me?

Why would I care about how some one feels when they visit a web site? What benefit is there to having any type of emotional reaction to one? For starters, there is only so much search engine optimization anyone can do to promote a web site. Conversions don’t miraculously happen because a site has a PR score of 8, no matter how much money you spent to get a link from there. Even an investment in user testing is not a magic pill for persuasive design. Those users can help you fix all the confusing and broken parts but were they motivated to recommend it? Will the site stay in their mind for more than 3 minutes? Will they want to order a product from it? Will it send out a signal to search engine algorithms because it produced something that inspired social conversation?

We come to the internet because it does something the physical world is not providing for us.

Today’s web site user experience demands meeting needs that even we, as users, aren’t always aware we even have. But just spend some time reading the exciting findings by scientists into quantum physics, the neural sciences and the nature of consciousness and you begin to understand that what motivates us to read online, buy a product, watch a video or comment on a blog post is most often going to occur when we get something in return.

The persuasive web page

So what works? What can you try now? Start with focusing on simplicity. This may mean reworking your entire information architecture but the result is a simpler, understandable navigation and ability to move about your web site.

Create “perceived self-interest.” This is what my artist friend is doing by creating pieces that feed the ego of the buyer. Of course I love my gift more now that I know the colors are of my own aura. What do you offer that interests your target customer and not yourself?

Be sure your content exudes confidence and authority. Back up your claims. Provide proof you know what you’re teaching or have the experience needed to provide the services you’re selling online. Confidence is expressed by appearances. Blinking images, moving text and ads everywhere don’t establish trust, confidence or credibility.

Humor is something we like to experience. It’s a pleasure principle. We react to hilarity. Etrade uses babies talking in adult voices. In five minutes of watching TV the other day I saw flirting, talking cows and an upset, rejected dust mop, as well as a talking lizard and glasses that saw through clothing. Web site design hasn’t done much in the way of humor, so you have lots of room to experiment.

And finally, there is empathy. Create a warm, empathic writing style. Again, your mental model is helpful in understanding where you can go with this. As a medical site, how you relate to your online patients is crucial. Lawyers have a tendency to be self-absorbed on their web sites rather than emphatic. Bloggers have the power to motivate readers by making an emotional “I can relate to what you’re experiencing” connection.

We’re not always consciously aware of how our minds and bodies are responding to web sites. With the arts, we expect to be entertained or moved. With web pages, we know that the site owner hopes we will click something. Your mission, as a web artist, is to make us want to.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Search & Usability


About The Author: is the SEO/Usability Consultant for Cre8pc. Her work combines website and software application usability testing with a working knowledge of search engine optimization.

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  • Jill Whalen

    How about taking a picture of the painting and adding it to this article and linking to the artist’s website. You’ve done a good job of getting us excited about it and invoking emotions.

    Now we want to see it!

  • maxh

    Some interesting points in here, but widely intangible to your average internet grunt.

    What i’m saying is that without evidence to back-up what you’re saying it makes it quite easy to dismiss this entire article as woo-woo and useless. (No offence but that was my first reaction)

    Giving a couple of examples of “crappy site” vs. “empathetic site that details the end-users aura and creates an emotional response” Would give this article the credibility it so desperately requires.

    Also for people who don’t know or understand what an aura is, or how certain colours, images, design features, expressions on faces etc etc etc go towards influencing a person (usually subconsciously) it gives the reader something to hang onto!

    I’m sure your work must be good, otherwise you wouldn’t be on search-engine-land but as it stands this article is lacking.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    @Jill, I debated about linking to his site because I didn’t want to look like the point of the article was to sell his work. But for those who are interested, here you go: The painting…I’ll take a pic of it and use it somewhere. I kinda wanted to hold onto it for me for a bit :)

    @average, I didn’t want the article to run on forever. I assumed that most people know what an aura is, as well as that colors leave different impressions or mean different things, like red for stop signs. The article was not written as a beginner piece. It’s about the field of captology, written in non-tech language.

    For your research and information, look into the fields of persuasive design, captology, and neuromarketing. Search on color and web design. The usability industry has many organizations and research branches that study human computer behavior.

    I can take another stab at this topic to provide you with something tangible and not whoo-woo.


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