Harness Natural Instincts for Better Online Reactions

People gravitate toward other people, it is just how we are wired. In a podcast I recently listened to, Susan Weinchenk talked about how to use natural physiological and psychological mechanisms to drive clicks and conversions on your website. I want to reiterate that these are not intended to trick people. We are merely using what we know about our brains to more easily engage with our website visitors. This article will cover three content types, and how you can make them more engaging by harnessing our natural instincts as humans.

The basic premise is that we are drawn to human faces, and are quite adept at figuring out how the person attached to that face feels (I bet you looked at the face next to this paragraph!). I talked about this in some of my previous posts, but I want to dig into greater detail as well as provide a link to a podcast episode and some great source material.

Text and Images

We know that text is the least emotional of all forms of communication. However you can still utilize our natural gravitation to faces by adding photographs of people. Use these photos to draw attention to the primary piece of content on the page. Have that face near a "Sign Up" button that leads users to a form, or the service times and link to directions to your church. Note that if the person in the photograph looks directly toward the screen, attention will draw to the general area. If the photograph is looking in a direction, users tend to follow the subject's eyes. So place images and calls to action carefully and purposefully to increase the likelihood of your visitor noticing it.


We can easily recognize genuine emotion by tone and inflection in a person's voice. Add audio content, be it testimonials or sermons, along with a transcript and image (see previous paragraph). This new dimension will add empathy, emotion, and realism to the message. Plus it should greatly help your vision impaired users, as typically they would rely on the monotone droning of their screen reader. Plus if you put out sermons in audio format, they can be consumed as a weekly podcast; a format easily consumed while multi-tasking (driving, commuting, exercising, etc.).


This combination of audio and visual has become the biggest medium around. The explosion of broadband and high-speed cellular networks in conjunction with the latest video compression formats has allowed video to move from pipe dream to viable platform. YouTube, Vine, Vimeo, and other platforms enjoy plenty of uploading and downloading of video content. Why is this important to you? Video is the total package of emotional conveyance. You can see the subject's brows crease with worry, or eyebrows raise with wide-eyed joy. Plus you can hear their voice crack with grief, or strain with concern. Regardless of the platform or methodology, I would encourage you to use as many videos as possible for you most emotionally charged content.

Recognizing faces and their emotions is part of our natural survival instincts. We need to quickly recognize if someone is happy to see us, or ready to attack us. When we see faces on a website, we are conditioned to pay attention. If your content has people displaying genuine emotion, it will provide that much more impact. So next time your pastor wants walls of text explaining your church's beliefs; ask them to do what they do every Sunday and say it... but in front of a video camera.

Action Item: You should consider using our natural draw to human interaction on your church website. Whenever possible, utilize faces to draw your users attention to a page's most important content.As I mentioned in previous articles and podcasts on photography, try to use the actual people in your church for the pictures and videos. This will add both a dose of realism to your website, and familiarity to any new visitor to your church that recognizes that familiar face. If a photo and/or video is not possible, use audio recordings to convey extra emotion to your audience.

Note: This article was inspired by an episode of the Landing Page Optimization podcast, featuring Tim Ash and Susan Weinschenk. For more information on this subject, check out Susan's Website

Image courtesy of Milan Jurek.

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.