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Persuasive design is something that has been around for many many years, not least in the way high street stores and supermarkets lay out their stores to encourage and entice customers to buy as they arrive and walk around.

In the online world, PET (persuasion, emotion, trust) is an approach that was pioneered by Human Factors International, and alongside usability and user experience, designing with persuasion in mind is an extremely powerful approach to positively impact on conversion rates.

In my experience, one site which has persuasion rooted in its design, content and layout is Booking.com.  

In this article I provide a breakdown of some of the key persuasive elements that booking.com deliver.

Persuasive Elements

I have chosen just one of the key interaction pages, the search results page, to demonstrate a wide range of persuasive elements that are presented to visitors to help them both decide on which hotel to book and encourage/persuade them to book with Booking.com.

Booking.com search results page

I could have split them out in to persuasive, emotional and trust-related elements, but as most of them relate to a combination of persuasion and emotion it made sense to just list them out.

The prominent hotel star rating with thumbs up

Booking.com persuasive element

As with most hotel and holiday websites the importance of the star rating plays an important role in helping visitors decide which hotel they will consider.

Not only has booking.com placed the star ratings in one of the most prominent places possible, but it has also provided the additional seal of approval for some hotels with the Preferred Hotel Programme.

Visitors wondering what this thumb means can hover over the icon and be presented with very persuasive copy which underlines the quality and experience this hotel provides.

In addition the thumbs up is also a positive visual clue which re-enforces a sense of ‘making the right decision’ for some visitors.

Short but enticing introduction to each hotel

Booking.com persuasive element

Underneath each hotel is a short introduction which aims to quickly sell the key benefits of the hotel to the visitor, whether this is the location, features, quality, distance to the nearest tube etc

A short summary of how other customers have rated the hotel

Booking.com persuasive element

In some respects, even more important to visitors that the official star rating of the hotel is how other people have rated the hotel.

Rather than just relying on the score out of 10, booking.com frames this score more intuitively by including a word or two to describe the score ie. Good, 7.7, Pleasant, 6.9, Superb, 9.0.

Framing refers to using words or paragraphs of text which help visitor relate to the information being presented. In this case, customers can consider what type of hotel they want based on their requirements and expectations.

The number of reviews each hotel has received

Booking.com persuasive element

In addition to the score out of 10 and the short summary of customer reviews, booking.com also makes it clear how many reviews have been left for each hotel.

Although booking.com isn’t expecting that visitors will want to read hundreds of reviews, the combination of both a very positive score and a large number of reviews certainly delivers very powerful (and persuasive) social proof of some of the hotels.

When this hotel was last booked

Booking.com persuasive element

Following on from the theme of social proof, booking.com provide a dynamic status update for when a booking was last made.

The cynical amongst us could question whether this is just manual information provided to try and promote how popular the hotels are, but booking.com allows you to hover over the small icon to find out specific details of when a booking was last made and which type of room was booked.

By not providing all this information up-front it caters for both types of visitor, those that trust what is being said on face value and those that are intrigued to find out more of the details of what they are being told.

It also adds a sense of urgency. If rooms are being booked right now, then the customer may feel the need to hurry up and book their room while it is still available. 

How many people are looking at this hotel

Booking.com persuasive element

Further insight into what is going on right now, and a more persuasive factor, is the dynamic status of how many people are looking each hotel currently.

When combined with some of the other key messages being presented (detailed further down this post) such as ‘Last room!’ and ‘Last chance! Only 1 room left’ by making visitors aware of how many other people are currently looking at this hotel can and will create a sense of urgency to ‘not miss out’.

I must say I really like this combination of persuasive elements, and I’m sure sub-consciously many visitors end up making a quicker decision to book a hotel room for the fear of missing out.

How many hotels founds, then how many available

Booking.com persuasive element

Although this is more of a subtle scarcity message, by making it clear both how many hotels have been found for your search along with how many are actually available, this provides visitors with more evidence both of how popular and busy hotels are for when they are looking to book, along with the smaller number of hotels that are still available.

Combined with the other messages around availability it underlines the fact that this website is providing live updates.

This hotel is likely to sell out soon

Booking.com persuasive element

Looking to heighten the sense of urgency, for some hotels booking.com adds in the words "This hotel is likely to sell out soon".

Although there can be some interpretation of this compared to wording which says "Last chance! Only 1 room left", coupled with other elements on the page this wording will again be persuading some visitors to make a quicker decision than they would have done, again for the fear of missing out.

‘ Last room!’ message next to the individual room type

Booking.com persuasive element

This key message aimed at prompting the visitor to make a quick decision to book before the room is taken is positioned next to other key wording which visitors will be looking at, the type of room.

This ensures that most visitors will see this message compared to if it was positioned somewhere that visitors are less likely to look at.

‘Last chance! Only 1 room left’ message under availability

Booking.com persuasive element

Scarcity of availability is something that booking.com clearly feel is a fundamental factor in encouraging and persuading visitors to make a decision and book on their website.

In addition to the Last room message next to the room types they also repeat this message in the column displaying room availability.

‘Just booked’ icon next to individual room types

Booking.com persuasive element

Booking.com takes the general message around when the last booking was for each hotel by also indicating when one of the actual room types was just booked.

Once again this demonstrates the fact that there is constant activity going on as well as providing another snippet of social proof for that specific room type

Save xx% next to the individual room type

Booking.com persuasive element

Booking.com recognises that some visitors will relate to % savings more than £ savings, and with this in mind next to each room type, when there is a large % saving to be made they display this.

You will see that they don’t provide this figure if it’s a small number though.

Was and now price

Booking.com persuasive element

It appears that almost all hotels and rooms have a saving, and in some case some very big savings. As expected, next to each price is the original price crossed out, which allows visitors to very easily compare the was and now price, and in their own mind determine how much value this represents.

Constantly visible sort options

Booking.com persuasive element

In my experience Booking.com is one of the few websites that constantly show the sort options that are available to the visitor.

The benefit of this approach, particularly in this persuasive design, is that visitors can immediately understand what options they have to put them in control of the search results, rather than relying on them to understand (which, based on past experience on other websites, may just be simple sort options like price hi-low and rating hi-low).

FREE cancellation message

Booking.com persuasive element

As detailed, booking.com aims to encourage and persuade visitors to make a decision to book quite quickly, but for many visitors they may not feel comfortable by being pressured in to making a decision.

With this in mind one of the ways that Booking.com caters for these visitors is by promoting that some rooms have free cancellation. In addition this messaging will appear to regular travellers, particularly business people, who often have to change plans for particular reasons.

Summary

Although we haven’t worked with Booking.com directly, I am aware that continual multivariate testing plays an integral part in how they deliver such a persuasive user experience, and for the last few years I have featured the site in the e-commerce usability & best practice training course I deliver for Econsultancy.

In this post I haven’t even touched on a wide variety of other hugely important elements of the user experience which ensure visitors have an intuitive and satisfying visit, particularly in areas such as search, navigation and value proposition, but that’s for another day!

So, what other sites provide a persuasive experience?

I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on which other sites provide a persuasive experience, and what are you doing on your website to gently nudge visitors to do what you want them to through the power of persuasion, emotion and trust?

Paul Rouke

Published 18 October, 2011 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

35 more posts from this author

Comments (33)

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Stephen

Pity the whole site is such an unusable mess!

almost 5 years ago

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Depesh

An interesting read. My only question would be around the usability of their results page... be interesting to see what a visual heatmap showed up. For all the good aspects of persuasive design, there's a lot to take in for a user. If they're indeed MVT'ing I'm guessing they've proved this design is optimal though sometimes less is more when considering the key steps of the journey and cognitive load you're applying to the user at each stage - no matter how persuasive the journey.

For a look at the other side of persuasion take a look at lingscars.com

The first few times I saw it, it was with a user experience hat on and I baulked at the whole experience and used this as an example of very bad user design. We laughed and joked at what a visual or click heatmap would look like and questioned whether they actually generate sales. They do. £Millions in fact.

Using it as a potential customer, I actually filtered out the noise and found the persuasive elements really good. Now I wouldn't say this is the easiest site to use or the best in breed for this market, however I found the information comprehensive and easy to understand.

Yes the site design could be improved a number of notches but if you're simply judging on persuasion, and for something different, I'd certainly say its got a lot to offer.

almost 5 years ago

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Icmyhotel

Some detailed and interesting analysis. However, there is one small point I would like to take you up on. That being the "FREE cancellation message".

There is a sales theory in telesales which I cant see as being any different to persuasive website design. That being, don't mention the fact that you can "cancel your policy free at any time in the next 30 days" unless the customer specifically asks about it.

There is conclusive proofs that mentioning cancellations mean you will get more cancellations.

almost 5 years ago

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Chiro

Agoda is better

almost 5 years ago

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Simon White

Pity how it all gets a bit much sometimes, as they make some stuff appear on page with fade-ins and the like. It detracts from the clean, simple booking process they were once famous for.

Perhaps they're onto something though - perhaps the site does indeed convert better with all that persuasion. The road to that kind of hard selling is paved with risks for clutter and unnecessary information though.

almost 5 years ago

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Martin Soler - wihphotel.com

An excellent analysis. And despite the "pity" that the site isn't clean and empty, I look at the design modifications and they are carefully done bit by bit and removed if they don't work. In terms of designing for conversions I admire their work. And the fact is they're selling A LOT so there's no denying it - they're doing something right.
Just like Amazon is also a mess in design it works well.

almost 5 years ago

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Innes

I think there are a lot of websites which could learn a great deal from this website. This is a friendly, uncomplicated design which also has with it a subtle and friendly colour scheme. Its business-like yet easy to look at and understand.

almost 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Stephen - thanks for your conscise comment! Have you any particular favourite areas where the site is a mess out of interest?

@Chiro - thanks for the mention of Agoda. I hadn't seen that site before, but on first impressions they too appear to place a significant emphasis on persuasive design. In fact when you look through the list of elements I have identified from Booking.com you can find examples of most of them on this site.

@Simon - you make a very good point around the fact that by having all these different persuasive elements they do in fact deliver a more complex/cluttered design than if you stripped out the various elements, particularly the different pieces of coloured text. One thing which my article doesn't talk about is the impact and importance of brand awareness and credibility on users desire and willingness to persevere with what could be a less 'usable' website. I would certainly put Booking.com in this bracket, along with the likes of Amazon which I refer to in my comment to Martin below.

@Martin - thanks for your feedback. You have touched on an excellent example of a big brand site that doesn't necessarilly have the most clean and usable site design, yet they are of course doing plenty right when it comes to their commercial performance (and persuasive design). Although its over 2 years old my article 'Amazon relying on brand credibility rather than good usability' talks about this in more detail - http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/3777-amazon-relying-on-brand-credibility-instead-of-good-usability

almost 5 years ago

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Christopher Lock

It would be interesting to look at all aspects of persuasion design on this site that are in conflict with more fundamental 'can do!' usability aspects. Are all the persuasion tools necessary?..do they introduce too much clutter as some of the other commentators suggest?

almost 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Christopher - thanks for your comment. From what I understand and as I mentioned in the article, booking.com are, like many big retail brands, continual testing.

Although on the surface you can easilly argue that their site is more cluttered and less usable than it perhaps should be, for their audience and the significant role they play in the travel industry, it is clear that their packed but persuasive page designs are working for them. So in answer to your question 'are all the persuasion tools necessarry?' the simple answer is 'they must have proven to be through testing'.

Through your work at Human Factors do you have any examples of more usable but still highly persuasive site designs out of interest?

almost 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Depesh - thanks for your comments and observations about Lingscars.com. I know on this very site the usability versus commercial performance of this site has been debated with a passion and what I would say is this - Ling's website is one of the most unique on the internet and although it goes against many usability principles, there is no denying that the sense of personality and sheer amount of persuasive elements will be playing a key role in generating the type of sales that Ling talks about.

almost 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Icmyhotel - thankyou for your insights in to telesales and how promoting free cancellation leads to more cancellations.

In my online experience an interesting comparison to this is how retailers used to be against promoting their customer service telephone number during the checkout process 'because we don't want to encourage online customers to end up calling up, as this defeats the object of us having a website where they can buy online'.

The reality for retailers is that by providing prominent contact details during checkout, providing that the checkout process is extremely usable and doesn't present barriers to the visitor, having the phone number visible simply acts as an assurance to the customer that the retailer is being transparent with how to contact them - if you have a question or issue with your online order. It therefore doesn't result in more customers calling, it simply provides a safety net for the small amount of customers who would like to speak to customer services (and don't have to go searching the website for contact details and end up abandoning!).

Bringing this back to booking hotels online, I expect that this free cancellation message simply acts as an assurance/insurance measure which will be applicable to certain types of traveller, namely business travelers as I explained in the post. For most other vistors, simply seeing this message will act as another positive reason to book, even though it isn't a feature they will end up using.

Thanks again for raising a very valid and interesting point though, much appreciated.

almost 5 years ago

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Stephen

Paul

The site is visually horrifying. The first thing I do on that page is hit the back button

I will agree with the individual CRO improvements increasing their ROI, however it looks like they are proceeding down a evolutionary path that takes them away from a much greater ROI

When we say that a site is doing OK and therefore it must be doing the right thing, I think we make a fundamental mistake - the most evil graph in the world is the one trending slightly upwards. Everyone thinks its a sign of a good thing, and fails to ask whether it is under-performing, and should actually be much higher

To paraphrase Ford: Its like they are making a better horse when they should be making a better car

Stephen

almost 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

Always beware of the local maximum problem. You think, from testing, that certain elements are all performing better.

However, you ignore the strong and weak 'magnetic' interactions these have with other elements, pages and parts of the overall 'experience'.

What some testing does is focus on limited KPIs like CTR or conversions - but without lifetime value, return rate, cancellations or other post web variables. So what you get is something focused on the short, sharp, gain - and not the overall picture.

Even if you just take some good sampled post booking survey data, you should be able to get detailed information on 'how it was' for people. Using surveys like this, to measure the 'elements' of the process and how they are rated by users, will give you valuable feedback on other things being changed by testing.

I've found that a lot of other things move when you test - emotions, contact behaviour, customer sat scores, ratings and the quality of conversions you make. It's impossible to track everything but the more I include, the more I find.

For example, you may find that your checkout time increases after testing but that since customers feel more assured, your conversion rate rises. Sometimes you look at the wrong data so it's important to measure the impacts of UX changes, product enhancements or any a/b/mvt testing - as one thing - a way of finding out what happens when you change stuff.

almost 5 years ago

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Jim Layton

This business is 5 years old and I read recently that half of all hotels booked in Europe are booked on this site. I think we can assume they get it, whatever it is. Great article.

almost 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Stephen - thanks for your very straight to the point follow up comments! From booking.com's persective they should sure be thankful that most of their visitors don't have your reaction to their search results page!

I take from your remarks that you feel a site such as booking.com should be aiming to be much more progressive and maybe even innovative in how they deliver their user experience. I must say I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the design and user experience that Amazon deliver (desktop version compared to the new Ipad app in particular). My article I linked to in an earlier comment explores the importance of brand credibility for Amazon to assist in conversions.

To clarify I wasn't suggesting that booking.com are doing everything right when it comes to the user experience and user interfaces, but for their target audience and the triggers which encourage visitors to book with them, their combination and prominence of persuasive elements on their search results is excellent in my experience.

almost 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Craig - thanks very much for your very considered insights and recommendations. I would say that the continuous and comprehensive, online/offline testing approach, methods and ideals that you describe are what retailers should strive for - but for many, many businesses (in my experience) there is quite a long way to go to reach this level.

One example on the lines of what you are referring to about spending longer in checkout is regards the number of steps a checkout process is, and the gneralisation that it should be as minimum as possible.

The reality is that if steps in the checkout are clearly signposted with a progress indicator, plus each step isn't overwhelming for visitors, then having as many as 5 steps in the process won't necessarily harm conversions - see ASOS as a great example of this. During test sessions I always see end users more than happy to move through a multi-step process if they know where they are going and that they are making clear progress to their goal.

Out of interest in your experience do you feel that many businesses have such a comprehensive testing approach as yourselves at Belron?

over 4 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Jim - thanks for your industry insights and glad you enjoyed the article. Based on these numbers Booking.com are certainly doing very well for themselves!

As I mentioned in my earlier comments this site appears to be a great example of potentially compromising on the general aethetics of the user interface by adding more persuausive content/clutter, but in their particular sector, right now they are delivering what visitors want/need to ensure a much larger percentage of them book their hotel on this website that one of the many others they could reach with a couple of mouse clicks.

One thing I would put money on though is that they won't stand still.

over 4 years ago

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Jacob

@Depesh - Yes, a Click Heatmap would be very interesting to look at! These guys actually use Clicktale (they're on Clicktale's customer list), so they have access to this information already.

If nothing else, this shows that what us designers might call a "bad design" can actually do much better in the real world.

over 4 years ago

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Stepanie Floyd

I am not sure how anyone would say that is unusable. After flipping around to all of the other sites over the years, this is the only site I use when booking a room. I love this site!

over 4 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Jacob - thanks for joining in the conversation. When you say these guys are you referring to Booking.com or Lingscars.com?

You also make a great point about how what designers may call a bad design or in fact un-usable may in fact perform better than expected in the real world.

@Stephanie - thanks also for joining the conversation, or should I say debate about whether Booking.com is a usable website! It sounds like you're a fan of their website, like many many other consumers.

over 4 years ago

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elliott

some good ideas here. id be interested to know of any other sites you think do persuasion well?

over 4 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Elliot - one very current example is Groupon. They have persuasion at the heart of their proposition and user interface design (across web, mobile and app).

Key areas of persuasion they delivery include the tone of voice and copy used, countdown clocks, social proof, value (savings/discounts), framing - not to mention clear calls to action, simple checkout (especially once logged in) and lots of mainstream press to establish/underline credibility in the marketplace.

There are many more sites that do persuasion well but they will have to wait for another post!

over 4 years ago

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Alex G

Budgetplaces.com

over 4 years ago

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Robert

Nice article. Very helpful.
For the first time i inderstand now what the thumbsup meant.
I thought it was just something that had to do with the stars.
For me, it wasnt unclear that it meant that the hotel joined this program.
Maybe a little thing to improve!

over 4 years ago

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Chris

Worth nothing that Agoda.com is part of Priceline - owners of Booking.com, amongst other sites.

over 4 years ago

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Leah

I *despise* Booking.com! How infuriating that there are no phone numbers! They should be immediately obvious! My time is valuable! I'll never use a site that puts its users through such frustration!

over 4 years ago

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Grimm

Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely believe this amazing site needs a lot more attention.
I'll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the advice!

about 4 years ago

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Thomass

For me Booking.com looks persuading and simple. One of the minuses of Booking.com system in some countries for me is their reservation process - they calls it "secure", and its good & convenient word, but in reality its absolutely insecure - give a credit card details of the guests to hotel staff without a serious checking - who're they are. I living on Phangan now and know some resorts, who charging 100% to the guests without any prior note. And of course there are some cases much more worth...

almost 4 years ago

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Jaxon Teresa, personal at personal

The Costs are not as Tremendous as Marketed. Before booking it all looks inexpensive, however as you proceed to payment directly it goes upward. The pricing would not keep on the similar as taxes and other charges are added, which might be the similar or more than the cost of booking on site; and that's a key worry. You may try theholidayhotels.com
They’re great.

over 2 years ago

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Colton Joseph, Director of Marketing & Design at 80634

I find the website booking.com quite cluttered to be honest. I really am unsure why this website was chosen for this article. There are thousands of better examples...

about 2 years ago

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Dennis de Koning, Manager DG at webpower

g

7 months ago

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gerry evans, owner at guest house

Booking.com randomly allows hotels & guest houses to show a star rating on their advert on their website. However the reality is that many of these establishments have NO STARS at all!

Before booking check on Visit England’s official site to see if the star rating is real, or FAKE

Don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself. You will be surprised just how many show false star ratings!

3 months ago

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