There is a formula to create habit forming websites. When implemented correctly, it can soar-up user engagement better than mainstream digital marketing strategies. Otherwise known as the Hook Model, developed by Stanford professor Nir Eyal, it provides businesses “a secret recipe” to build a website that leverages the power of habit. In this four-step guide, let us explore how to design websites that are meant to keep our users coming back for more.
Step 1: Create a strong trigger
Setting triggers is the first step in building habit forming websites. Triggers are sensory stimuli that cue users to take action. There are various forms of triggers according to Nir Eryal. For instance, there are external triggers such as paid, earned and internal triggers that relate with users’ positive and negative emotions. Designers can put triggers in their designs to help develop sustained behavioral change. For example, external triggers, such as a Facebook post, a Google advertisement, or a Tweet, will help get users’ attention, driving them to explore the site. As such, build a website that incorporates capabilities such as sharing to social media possible.
Another thing that designers can do to leverage the power of habit is to build good customer relationships. PayPal did this during the 1990s, when they encourage new customers to use the service and eventually make them realize the product’s tremendous value. One way designers can replicate such benefit is to incorporate user satisfaction surveys at the end of every transaction or purchase. This will enable measurement not only of product or service satisfaction, but also how likely customers are going to continue their engagement with the website. Relationship triggers such as this promote viral hyper growth, guaranteed to increase user engagement.
Step 2: Set-up simple actions that either solves pain or bring pleasure
Once the website trigger is set, the next step is to have users take action. However, having users to take specific steps that will drive conversion is easier said than done. Approximately 50 percent of visitors would use a website’s navigation menu to orient themselves of what the site has to offer. However, if the site’s content and layout causes confusion, 38 percent of them would most likely leave. The key here is to build a website with navigation patterns that are so simple, they require little thought processing. According to Hooked: How to Build Habit forming products, “the more effort, either physical or mental – required to perform desired action, the less likely it is to occur”.
The key here is to build a website that will leverage the power of habit. Designs should entice enough motivation for users to take a specific action, by offering them a promise that could either (1) eliminate pain or (2) provide pleasure. A good example of this is Axe – a male grooming product line owned by Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever. Axe’s website anchors on the motivation that by using their body sprays, an instant attraction with the opposite sex can be achieved, almost like magic. By leveraging on a sexual motivation, its target market, mainly characterized by a young male demographic, would be enticed to take a specific action, that is to purchase.
Step 3: Provide rewards that will keep users come back for more
Once the momentum of motivation and action is set, customers must be a given a reward for their actions. According to Stanford professor of neuroscience Brian Knutson, what drives people to constantly do the same thing over and over, is not really the reward itself but the need to alleviate cravings of acquiring such rewards.
As such, in designing habit forming websites, Nir Eryal recommended to leverage various forms of rewards that will hold the user’s attention. One approach is by giving rewards that will drive social acceptance (also known as the Rewards of the Tribe). Quora did this perfectly through its reputation and rating system where community members can “upvote” or “downvote” a particular post, thereby creating a social reinforcement. The user’s reputation also increases, as he or she participates in more discussions and answers questions posted by community members. However, in order to sustain this form of engagement to leverage the power of habit, it is important to build a website that leverages on finite variability – or the ability to keep users wanting by increase unpredictability. As Nir Eyal said:
Infinite variability are the experiences, which maintain user interest by sustaining variability with use. For example, games played to completion offer finite variability while those played with other people have higher degrees of infinite variability, because the players themselves alter the game-play throughout. World of Warcraft, the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game, still captured the attention of more than 10 million active users eight years after its first release. While FarmVille is played mostly in solitude, World of Warcraft is played with teams and it is the hard-to-predict behavior of other people that keeps the game interesting.
Step 4: Make customers invest time and effort
The last step to build a website that will leverage the power of habit is making users invest. According to Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, people always put more value on the things that they have invested in. LinkedIn did this perfectly by having users invest in the form of data. Professionals invest time and information to the site by providing their professional background, experiences, and even interests. LinkedIn in exchange, gives rewards in form of job matches, relevant content and even a sense of progress by displaying profile strength, thereby creating a habit of consistently using the website.
The Hook Model is designed to guide designers to build habit forming websites. Keeping these four steps in mind, together with other web design best practices, will guarantee an increase in user engagement in no time.