Rand Fishkin of Moz visited Portland tonight to deliver an interesting talk: “The Nudge Is Mightier Than The Sword.” Rand’s presentation borrows from the behavioral economics theories of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, a book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and employs “choice architecture,” a concept holding that you can affect outcomes through the manner in which you present a choice to a decision-maker.

Consider the use of a default, where the default option will lead to a more socially desirable outcome, as an example of structuring choices. In the United States, about one–third of citizens have signed organ donor cards. Compare this to Austria, where 99 percent of people are potential organ donors. Why the difference? Americans must explicitly consent to become organ donors (by signing forms, for example) while Austrians must opt out if they do not want to be organ donors.

Understanding a little bit about human default behavior and how to structure choices can lead to useful insight for digital marketers. And using a wise, gentle nudge can get a whole lot more results than a bludgeon. Rand gave twelve principles to consider; here are the first six:

1. Employ social proof. Box didn’t highlight that they had 140,000 customers; they said they had 92% (specific numbers work better than vague ones) of Fortune 500 companies (known, respected, emulated) as customers. And we all know those guys are smart cookies, yes?

Social proof

2. Play the Name Game. Inspirational naming converts better. GetSatisfaction changed from a conventional naming schema (e.g. bronze, silver, gold, platinum) to something people could identify with. Most identified as being past the “start” or “grow” stages, and conversions rose.

The Name Game

3. Anchor your audience. Surrounding the number you want people to choose with higher numbers makes it look like a more conservative choice. The order of the pricing matters: Note how Grasshopper put the sliding prices starting with the highest and going down rather than the more conventional build, helping give the second price additional context to make it look more reasonable.

Anchor your audience

4. Limit choice. Rand’s examples included fewer pricing tiers and fewer calls to action, but the one that rally hit home was the social media example. He railed against having scads of social icons all over the page, citing a page that pushed them at the beginning and end of articles, in call-outs throughout, and with every comment. (At my house, we call this “being nibbled to death by ducks.”)

Limit choices

5. Serve up specific behavioral data. Quick…which ad do you think works better?

Use specific behavioral data

37.2 percent of guests re-use their towels when presented with the first sign. 49.3 percent do when presented with the second. That’s a 32.5 percent raise. Specific numbers convert more.

6. Make it easy. And test, test, test. Rand contrasted two ads the Obama campaign used. The left seems easier; it gets all the information in one pass. The second, which presented simpler fields but required four passes by the user, converted more. Kyle Rush of the Obama Digital team said “By turning the long donation form into 4 smaller steps we increased the conversion rate by more than 5%. … We optimized just about everything from web pages to emails. Overall we executed about 500 a/b tests on our web pages in a 20 month period which, increased donation conversions by 49% and sign up conversions by 161%.”

Make it easy

There are obvious lessons here for those of us using forms (keep ‘em short, use progressive profiling) and doing nurturing (make each step about one thing, and make it simple).

Rand’s presentation has six more tips, about the value of familiarity, how to make reciprocation work, how powerful brand recognition is (yes, you must do brand-building), how to make your programs work for people’s egos, how to structure defaults, and more. Read the rest of “The Nudge Is Mightier Than The Sword,” on SlideShare.