Persuasive Colors of the Web

Too often color is an afterthought when creating a Web site. The final color palette affects customers and could cost you money. Today, a quick primer on the return on investment (ROI) of color.

Color doesn’t simply look nice. It speaks to the subconscious, evoking meanings, feelings, and moods. It persuades or discourages, influencing buying behavior. Different people actually have different physiologic responses to different colors. And 46 percent determine a site’s credibility based on the visual design’s overall appeal.

Evaluate each of your pages first in grayscale, then in black and white. Make sure the site’s design and layout holds under this manipulation. Looking at the design in full color, emotions may take over and influence how you feel about it. Color should enhance the site’s experience. But because people perceive color in different ways, it cannot define the experience.

See It in Shades of Gray
Gray is a neutral color; neither subject nor object, inner nor outer, tension nor relaxation. Gray feels as though it’s not colored, a demilitarized zone free from stimulus. Gray communicates an element of noninvolvement or concealment. It’s a color that remains uncommitted and uninvolved.

At least 10 percent of your audience has some form of vision impairment that makes it difficult to see a Web site as intended. There’s partial color blindness, in which some color perception is affected (the most common is red-green). There’s total color blindness (pretty rare). And there are those who are partially blind. Even these visitors can enjoy a grayscale design. Without grayscale, they might not be motivated to click through your site. Ten percent is a large number!

Color Only After Grayscale
After approving a grayscale design, choose a color that fits the emotion of your site. Each individual color expresses its own feeling:

  • Blue. This is the color of calmness, repose, and unity, symbolically of sky and ocean. Looking at blue relaxes the central nervous system. Blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration rate go down, allowing the body’s regenerative systems to work on healing. When folks are ill, the physiologic need for blue actually increases. Blue is physiologically associated with tranquility. It’s psychologically associated with contentment, gratification, and peacefulness.
  • Green. Beyond it’s symbolic associations with nature and growth, green is the color of elastic tension, often associated with the desire for improved conditions: the search for better health, a useful life, social reform. It expresses the will in operation, firmness, constancy, and persistence. Those who possess or wish to possess high levels of self-esteem respond strongly to it. Green is associated with many forms and degrees of control.
  • Red. Physiologically, red makes blood pressure, pulse rates, and respiration rates go up. It’s an energy-expending color. Red is associated with vitality, activity, desire, appetite, and craving. Symbolically, red is blood, conquest, masculinity, the flame of the human spirit. It’s the impulse toward active doing, sport, struggle, competition, eroticism, and enterprising productivity. Red is impact or force of will, distinct from green’s elasticity of will. The person who favors red wants his own activities to bring him intense experiences and full living.
  • Black. Black represents the absolute boundary beyond which life ceases. It expresses the idea of nothingness, extinction. Black is the “no” to white’s “yes.” White and black are the two extremes, the beginning and the end. With its strong associations of renunciation, surrender, and relinquishment, black is often seen as a negative color. But it can emphasize and enforce the characteristics of the color it surrounds.

Does It Fit Your Message?
Colors embody emotions. They must facilitate the message the site sends. Make sure the Web site’s persuasive objectives can be conveyed in grayscale and the site doesn’t rely on color alone to communicate meaning.

Color can enhance the message, but should not be the message. Know what the design should tell your visitors. Only once the message is articulated in design should color be allowed to improve the message.

Every pixel and word on your Web site should be carefully thought out. Color is too important a variable in the persuasion process to take lightly. Color your site persuasively.

Adapted from

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief persuasion officer of Future Now. Since 1998, Future Now, specializes in training and consulting on how to increase the conversion rates of Web sites, landing pages, e-mail, and marketing campaigns so that prospects make purchases, subscribe, register, make referrals or accomplish whatever goals meet the client’s business objectives. Bryan teaches at Roy H William’s Wizard Academy and is also the publisher of Future Now’s newsletter GrokDotCom. Bryan is also the co-author of The Marketer’s Common Sense Guide to E-Metrics, Persuasive Online Copywriting and the recently published research report Converting Search Engine Traffic.

Must Read

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.