What’s Your Website Personality? (And How to Use It to Overcome Buyer Resistance)

by Andrew McDermott

Last updated on September 19th, 2017

He finally had some interviews lined up.

Jose Ayala spent the last few weeks applying for jobs. His first interview was scheduled for a Monday. He was ready and on time.

He was looking to make a good first impression. And if things went well maybe he’d leave with a job.

He felt he was ready, but he forgot about one important detail.


Jose showed up to his job interview naked (he was high on meth).

Poor presentation killed his conversion rate.

Chris Johnson, the shop owner probably won’t forget him, but he’s not going to hire him either.

When we read stories like these we’re amazed. “What was he thinking?” we ask ourselves. It’s amazing because his mistake was so obvious. “Of course presentation is the most important part of a job interview!”

And presentation is the most important part of communication.

We sort people based on their appearance. Job applicants that look the part tend to do better in interviews. People who drive fancy cars or live in nice houses are viewed as rich or successful.

But do we make the same snap judgments about websites?

Dr. Gitte Lindgaard at Carleton University wanted an answer to that question. So she ran a test; she flashed Web pages on the screen for 1/20th of a second. She had participants rate the pages on various scales and she found that…

timer placeitSource: Placeit.net

Customers form first impressions about your site in as little as 50 milliseconds.

For most adults, this judgment takes place before they’ve had a chance to even think about your content. There’s no thinking involved with this first impression; it’s visual and based almost entirely on emotion.

Negative first impressions can be deal breakers. The halo effect kicks in and users begin looking for evidence to confirm that first impression.

Most of us have a 6th sense about the websites we visit. If our first impression is “Ugh, this sucks,” we’ll look for evidence to confirm our belief, ignoring any evidence that says otherwise.

Because most people assume presentation is simply about looks.

But presentation is actually a vehicle; it’s a delivery system that sends your message to customers. It’s a mix of tangible and intangible factors working together.

  1. Tangible factors are things like color, design, layout, quality, typography and visuals.
  2. Intangible factors would be things like behavior, trust, values, expectations, etc.

When these factors work together, buyer resistance decreases naturally—giving your marketing the chance it needs to convert a customer. Trouble is some businesses aren’t giving their marketing that chance.

Which leads to five common presentation mistakes.

Businesses assume presentation is all about looks too—but that assumption leads to accidental presentation and more resistance from customers. Let’s look at the problem and steps you can take to make things better.

1. A tangible / intangible conflict.

Imagine you’re sent to an author’s website where he asks you to buy his book. His website looks nice enough. But he won’t tell you his real name, where he’s located or explain why you should listen to him. He doesn’t even have a refund policy. He just wants you to buy his book.

Would you do it?

For most of us, the answer would be No.

But that’s the same mistake website owners make when there’s a conflict between the tangible and intangible factors.

Asking customers to trust you doesn’t make sense if your presentation isn’t trustworthy. If you’re not sharing pictures, personal details or your story, you’re doing it wrong. If you hide behind buzzwords and generic content, you increase customer resistance. Why? Because you’re telling customers “I’m not being completely open with you.”

Increase conversions by…

Choosing a personality word for your business. When you choose your personality word, you’re trying to give people a sense of what your business is about. This word needs to be used as a communication anchor.

Ever wonder why GEICO tries to be funny? What would happen if GEICO went all serious on you like Liberty Mutual did?


Choosing your personality word anchors your marketing. It tells you how to communicate. Choosing the right word attracts the customer you’re looking for and sets the tone for what they should expect from you.

2. Their image and their words don’t match.

An image conflict creates confusion. It raises questions. “If you say you’re _____ why do you look like _____?” The tangible and intangible presentations factors in your business should be in sync. If you’re a luxury or premium brand, your website shouldn’t look like this:

Top of the line

Because it raises a whole lot of questions. It creates holes in your credibility as a premium provider. If you’re charging premium prices, you should walk, talk and act like a premium brand. Your design should convey the intangible elements that say “My product is A+, the best.”

Even if your image is based around an idea, all the elements need to match. If you’re a luxury brand, you shouldn’t discount your prices habitually. If you’re offering guaranteed overnight delivery, my package shouldn’t be two days late. If you’re running a customer-centric business, it’s bad form to curse at your customers.

Increase conversions by…

Identifying your intangible factors. Be aware, the criteria you choose places constraints on your tangible factors. Create a list of the intangible factors you’re targeting first. Choosing the right look is easier when you know what you stand for. If you’re designing (or optimizing) a site for moms, using skulls in your design is pretty much out of the question.

3. Failing to guide customer expectations.

Expectations play a large yet subconscious role in the presentation process. Take job roles for example, bankers are expected to dress well and drive nice cars. Athletes are supposed to be ripped and artists create beautiful things.

But The Visual Arts League didn’t create a beautiful website.

Visual Arts League

Doesn’t really meet expectations does it?

Most people expect artists to understand the basic principles of design. The unspoken expectation is that you’ll create something beautiful (or at the very least, understand why it’s important).

Which brings us to your ideal customer. What sort of image are they drawn to (or expecting)? What kind of presentation do they expect from your website?

If you’re missing this info, you don’t have what you need.

You have no idea whether you should match your image to the one in their head. Maybe you need to explain why the image they’re expecting is wrong. But you can’t make the right decision if you’re not sure what they expect. Which means any image you present will be random and, most likely, wrong.

Increase conversions by…

Interviewing your ideal customer. You’re looking for all-stars, not just any customer willing to give you money. You know, the people you love to do business with. Reach out to them and ask for feedback. Here’s what you’ll want to know.

  • What their expectations are as new customers. What do they expect from their ideal provider? What does that provider look like? How do they present themselves?
  • What they actually experienced as a new customer. Was their experience anything like their expectation?
  • How they feel about it. If you were what they expected, how did they feel about it? If you weren’t, why did they stick around?

Remember, you need to know whether your business should match their expectations or not. If their expectations are wrong, you’ll need to know how to educate them. Use your presentation and content to train your customers. Use your interview to guide the way you present your business.

4. Neglecting the tangible for the intangible (and vice versa).

When it comes to presentation, it’s common for websites to be top heavy. This usually happens in one of two ways.

Beauty without benefit: The beautiful website that’s heavy on the tangibles—beautiful design, clear font, lots of visual appeal.

Beautiful useless website

Websites like these are heavy on the visuals; there’s no real clarity about where you (the visitor) are, what you’re supposed to do or why you should do it. Websites like these increase customer resistance or reduce interest.

Ethos without excitement: These websites are all about the ideal. They talk about what they believe, they behave the way they’re supposed to. They say and do the right things. But they look like this:

The Drudge Report

There’s nothing in their tangible presentation that draws you in. Their passion comes through in the intangible areas, but that passion isn’t really visible. As a result, sites like these have a tough time attracting new people.

Increase conversions by…

Defining your personality word. Imagine your personality word is “open.” How do you define it? How do you embody that? What does open behavior look like?

Define the tangible and intangible aspects of your personality word. Define tangible elements like color, font, layout, and design. Clarify intangible elements like behavior, values and expectations. Build your website and marketing around your word.

5. Presenting for the customer you have instead of the customer you want.

Your presentation broadcasts what you want. Everything about how you present your business qualifies or disqualifies you in the eyes of your website visitors. Standing for this excludes that. If you’re all about openness but your customer values privacy, you may not be a good fit.

Website owners often make the mistake of going after the customers they can get, instead of the ones they want. If you’re a struggling business and you’re thinking about survival, this makes sense.

But this makes presentation a nightmare. Using words and designs that scream “affordable” won’t attract clients who value prestige or results more than price. Pitching luxury products to bargain shoppers increases resistance, making conversion all but impossible.

Increase conversions by…

Defining the attributes of your ideal customer. What’s their income like? How do they think? What’s their budget for similar items? What are the demographics and psychographics? Where do they hang out?

When you know them well, you’ll know what they want. Use those attributes to speak to your ideal customer. Rework your presentation, content and marketing around them. Conversion is so much easier when you know what your ideal customer wants.

Some ugly websites are pretty successful. Why do I need this?

Sites like Craigslist and dating site, Plenty of Fish, are often used as examples that “ugly is best.” But this misses the point completely. Presentation isn’t just about looks, it’s about tangible and intangible elements working together.

One reason these sites are so successful is because of customer expectations. Customers are okay with an ugly classifieds site. What about luxury, designer or beauty products? Would ugly work there?

Poor presentation increases customer resistance.

Making a good first impression is tough when you’re naked. Poor presentation isn’t always as obvious but it still kills conversions. Cut these mistakes out of your presentation and you’ll decrease customer resistance. Good first impression guaranteed.

How about you? Have you run into any of these presentation mistakes? Were any of these mistakes surprising?

Read other CrazyEgg posts by Andrew McDermott



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Andrew McDermott

Andrew McDermott is the co-founder of HooktoWin.com. He helps companies fix website & marketing failure. Get free downloads, tips, tools and resources to help you make more money from your website, (no opt-in required).


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  1. Andrew McDermott says:
    October 8, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Thanks for the compliment Doug. Glad I was able to help.

    Kathryn’s advice is A+. Case Studies are definitely where I’d start if I were you. It’s generally tough to get details on how designs perform. Research is the next best thing though. Here are a few studies I’ve used in the past to sell design.

    1. Affect as a Mediator between Web-Store Design and Consumers’ Attitudes toward the Store.

    2. Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!

    3. It’s a pleasure buying here: The effects of Web Store Design on Consumers Emotions and Attitudes.

    4.The Four Dimensional Impact of Color on Shopper’s Emotions.

    Hope that helps. 🙂

  2. Doug Klein says:
    October 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    This is a well thought-out article. I get into the disagreement all the time, though, and what I’d really like are some psychological statistics or usability analyses that quantify in real terms the value of these points. For once, I’d like to say that great design defined as X results in X more visits, X more pageviews, X longer time on site, X amount of trust, X greater sales, X greater repeat sales, etc, etc. Any idea where those of us trying hard to convince clients they need better design can get some backup? Thanks!

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      October 8, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      Hi Doug. The numbers you seek will be different for every business. But you’re smart to try to quantify the value you offer. The first thought that pops into my mind is case studies from previous clients. Has your work significantly helped any of them? And could you ask them to share the data so you could create some compelling case studies?

  3. Diana Altobelli says:
    September 16, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I think we do make the same judgments about what someone wears to an interview or the car they drive in comparison to a website design. You would think that if you were passionate about your business and cared what people thought of you then you would have a great looking website. Trying to impress the soon to be loyal customer or stimulate current ones into buying more.

    • Andrew McDermott says:
      September 16, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Diana, you’re right. We do make the same snap judgments about websites.

      And I agree, people want to be impressed. That’s the problem though. It’s tough for some people to put “appeal” into something they can quantify.

  4. Andrew McDermott says:
    September 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    You’re welcome Amy! Glad I was able to help.

  5. Amy Hagerup says:
    September 15, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Thanks, Andrew. These are well-taken points. I have never heard the idea of choosing a personality word for my blog/business. I am going to think on that today. Thanks again, Amy

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