The Neuroscience Of Search & Conversion

The one thing all of your search traffic brings with it is a human brain.

NeuroFocus uses Neuroscience to study Web surfers

Photo courtesy FastCompany

It’s easy to think that our search visitors aren’t coming with any brain at all. How can they possibly decide against what we have to offer? If they weren’t going to take action, why click on the ad?

It turns out that they do have brains, and the people at NeuroFocus know. They use neuroscience to see these brains at work with amazing brainwave measuring devices.

They’ve watched brainy humans as they surf the Web, and we can all learn something from what they see. Their findings can be found in a new report The Premium Experience: Neurological Engagement on Premium Websites.

What They See In Brainwaves

When you’ve studied a whole bunch of brainwaves, you apparently start to see patterns – at least these folks do.

There are three responses that they can recognize when test subjects visit a webpage. When deciding what to put on our landing pages, it may be helpful to consider how well our pages will deliver these responses.


They can detect sustained focus and shifts in focus when people are looking at a site.

When we design landing pages, we seek to sustain our visitors’ focus and avoid page elements that cause it to shift. This is why we remove things like site navigation, images that move, and make the most important parts of the page the most visible.

Emotional Engagement

This is the intensity of a persons emotional response. These folks apparently can tell if the response is positive (“approach motivation”) or negative (“avoidance motivation”).

This is something that good copywriters can accomplish with headlines and text. It is also why we try to avoid stock photography, as it generally offers little emotional juice.

Memory Retention

Detects when visitors find something that is personally relevant. It is “activated automatically for experiences that are personally meaningful and provide an opportunity for learning.”

It is important that your landing pages carry on the message that made the searcher click on your ad or organic listing. This response bears out the importance of teaching the visitor something along the way.

Sizing Up Sites

The NeuroFocus people wanted to know how these three response metrics – Attention, Emotional Engagement, and Memory Retention – changed when people visited different kinds of sites.

They chose three sites: The New York Times home page, the generic (non-personalized) Yahoo! home page, and the test subjects’ Facebook news feed.

NOTE: Facebook was a cosponsor of the study.

The Relationship Between Attention & Emotional Engagement

All three sites garnered high attention scores. However, their emotional engagement scores were significantly lower. The study authors point out that in general, there is an inverse relationship between attention and emotional engagement.

This is interesting.

All of the pages required a significant amount of attention due to the number of choices and items on the page – including ads. The amount of energy it takes to process all of this detracts from the emotional engagement.

This reinforces a truism of landing pages: if you want to engage a visitor emotionally, keep it simple and help them digest your page visually.

The Facebook page had the highest level of emotional engagement of the three.

The Relationship Between Relevance & Memory Retention

Of the three sites, the generic, non-personalized Yahoo! home page scored lowest on the memory retention scale. The study concludes that Facebook and the New York Times score high for different reasons.

The Facebook page scores high on memory retention because of the personal significance of the content. The  New York Times page, on the other hand, scores well because of the new information it offers and opportunities for learning.

In other words, brains find relevance in personal content as well as new, informative content.

This may not be a great surprise, but it’s reassuring to hear it directly from some real brains.

Priming Visitors

The NeuroFocus people also wanted to know how these sites primed visitors, making different messages resonate with them. They exposed test subjects to three “messaging words” before and after viewing the sites and measured how much these words resonated with their brains.


This would indicate a predisposition toward socially-oriented messages.


Did the site make visitors more likely to resonate with the word “FOR-ME?” This would indicate the visitor is open to messages that are personalized.


This would indicate a predisposition toward informational messages.

Messaging Influences of Web Sites. Source: NeuroFocus

It is probably no surprise that Facebook visitors resonated more with the connecting message after viewing the site, but had the smallest response increase to advice. The New York Times had the smallest increase in visitors’ response to connecting. Yahoo! showed an average increase in all three areas.

They were all seen as “For-Me” sites by the test subjects.

The study goes on to expand these metrics for men vs. women. It also compares online advertising to TV-based commercials. I’ll let you explore these on your own.

Lessons Learned

You don’t have to study neuroscience to understand some important relationships between our search ads and the sites to which they lead.

1. Our ads will prime our visitors for a certain kind of message on our landing pages. Ads that ask visitors to “join” might do well to include social proof on their landing pages, for example. Ads that offer something educational for the searcher should avoid talking about the product or company on the landing page, and keep it to For-Me benefits.

2. If we want our message to have an emotional impact on the visitor, we should keep things simple. This may be why home pages perform so poorly as landing pages. It takes too much attention to process these pages to gain an emotional connection.

3. Relevance is the key to memory retention. If we are remarketing to those who abandon, we want our ads and landing pages to have personal relevance or opportunities to learn something new.

NeuroFocus: The Premium Experience: Neurological Engagement on Premium Websites

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

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

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