Many people are familiar with the well-known concept of the sales funnel. Conceived over a hundred years ago, it still serves as a useful framework for understanding the decision-making process. The sales funnel is known by the acronym “AIDA” which stands for the stages that a person must pass through before buying something: attention, interest, desire and action.

Times have changed and how we sell things has certainly changed. But when someone comes to your website, the 100-year old principles still apply. Your visitors want to know “Do you have what I want?” and “Should I get it from you?” And in between, before being moved to action, they must be absolutely convinced that you have the right solution for their needs, and that you are a trustworthy company to deal with.

A hundred years ago when transactions were face-to-face, these conclusions were easier to arrive by. But online, when you have only milliseconds to make an impression on your visitors, and precious few seconds after that to move them through the AIDA stages, getting someone to say “yes” can be more of a challenge. There are some factors that are beyond your control that will influence a visitor’s willingness to move from desire to action, but understanding and planning for these provides you some ways to more effectively persuade your online customer to get to “yes”.

Environmental Factors in the Online Decision Process

Brand strength
Brands are very powerful. When a brand is firmly established as a market leader, it becomes almost impossible to dislodge that perception in the mind of the customer.

For a well-known, successful brand, the halo provided by the brand’s promise means that a person can devote much less attention to evaluating items related to the brand. The same presumption is not accorded to lesser-known or unknown competitors. Although their products or services may be objectively just as good, they require additional attention to evaluate. Because of this, they may be disqualified from consideration simply because people will not choose to spend the required time investigating them.

Time investment
When shopping for something online, many people follow a process something like this: First, they poke around in their favorite search engine, briefly visit promising sites until they focus on one or two key sources of information. Then they get educated, make a decision, and live with it. Is the process perfect? Clearly not. But with virtually endless choices to explore, the notion of comparing each and every option is unrealistic. It would take far too long. So a decision is made once the user is convinced that the solutions or products that he has found are acceptable—although maybe not the best.

Economist Herbert A. Simon coined a term for this phenomenon: satisficing. It is a combination of the words “satisfy” and “suffice.” Most people don’t want to invest additional time without a strong belief that they will find a better answer. As soon as they find a solution that is good enough, they often stop looking. The more effort they have previously invested before getting to your site, the more likely they are to just accept the best solution they have found up to that point.

Getting Your Visitor to “Yes”

Added value
By offering a number of value-added services or options that may not be available from others, you can shift your visitor’s thinking away from comparison shopping and more towards the total package that you offer.

A total solution may involve the following elements:

• The base price
• The properly configured “out the door” price
• Additional costs such as shipping or installation
• Exchange and return policies
• Ease of setup and learning curve required
• Availability status and delivery date guarantees
• Service plans and options
• Ongoing costs to operate and maintain
• Convenient company physical locations
• Performance or level-of-service guarantees

Risk reducers
Risk reducers are anything that lowers a visitor’s anxiety. They help reassure the visitor that bad things are unlikely to happen. Consider how you can change your visitor’s mindset with some of these elements:

• Guarantees – If I don’t like it, I can get my money back.
• Policies – They have a no-hassle return policy.
• Alternative transaction mechanisms – I can also complete my transaction on the phone, by mail, or in person.
• Trials and introductory offers – If I don’t like it, I can cancel before they charge my credit card.
• Safe shopping symbols – My personal information will not be stolen.
• Privacy symbols – I will not be spammed by this company, and my e-mail won’t be sold to spammers.

Validation and credibility
While reducing anxiety is an important factor in getting a visitor to take an action, don’t underestimate the importance of building credibility and trust. You may not have a well-known brand, but you can still raise your affinity level with validation and credibility indicators. Think of it this way: risk reducers make your visitors feel “less-worse,” while evidence of validation makes them feel “more-better.” Both are based on transferring goodwill from other people or companies to yours.

No one wants to be the fool who fell for a ruse and had to deal with the consequences. Validation tells people that others have previously done something similar and had a good outcome. In effect, they create social proof to back up your company’s claims.

Examples of validation include:
• Industry or media awards (editor’s choice, fastest-growing company)
• Media coverage (mentions in mainstream press, websites, or blogs)
• Inclusion in industry analyst reports
• Endorsements from individuals and associations
• Partnerships with other respected companies
• Studies and surveys (market share, customer satisfaction)
• Client lists and logos
• Case studies
• User testimonials and reviews

Take a look at the pages involved in your conversion flow and make sure you’re supporting your visitor’s progression through each of the AIDA steps. Give them a clear path and the proper support to keep them moving forward toward your conversion goal.

Tim Ash is the CEO of, a landing page optimization firm that offers consulting and conversion improvement tools. He is the chairperson of and a speaker at events worldwide. Tim is a contributing columnist at many publications and author of Landing Page Optimization.