How your cognitive biases can affect your own marketing & website optimization

cognitive biases and website optimization

As businesspeople, we care to connect with our customers and audience. We want to communicate to the world the value we are creating.

However, we suck at it.

We suck at connecting at a deeper level with our audience with our messaging, we become boring, we become generic, thus struggling with our sales and goals.

Today, inspired by the CXL CRO Minidegree I am attending, as well as an awesome book I am reading, I’m going to talk about a key reason why we suck at understanding our audience:

Our cognitive biases.

Cognitive biases are “systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment” (wikipedia). In much simpler terms, they are “tendencies to think in certain ways, that usually lead us in wrong conclusions”.

Now, before we proceed to the list of important biases, we need to do one thing: To acknowledge them. 

You see, each one of you has a “bias blind spot”. You don’t see your own biases. You think all other people have them, you can instantly call them out the moment you sense them, but you are unable to see them in yourselves.

Go no further than an average political argument. That is the reason why nobody seems to be able to come to a consensus about anything regarding two opposing ideologies. Because both parties are by definition biased as well as bias-blind.

The same happens when you are trying to optimize aspects of your business (eg. your website). You won’t do a good job unless you’re aware of your own biases.

False-Consensus Bias

You tend to overestimate the degree to which people agree with you. You think the world is like you.

  • “I will not send 3 emails per week to my leads! That is spamming! Everybody will unsubscribe”
  • “Come on! Everybody loves pages with very short copy”
  • Nobody will read a 2000-word article”

You see, you lived your whole life with your own opinions and experiences. This is the only thing you know in a way. So it is easy to project your own views onto others.

Sorry, but chances are that very few people will actually be like you. So you have to account for that when you are creating a product / website / any piece of content. As a business person / marketer, you are creating things for others to “consume”. Not for yourself! So, why treat it like that?

The Curse of Knowledge

You can’t un-know what you know

You are an expert in your business. You know your website inside and out. You are looking at it for 4 hours every day after all.

That’s good in a sense. But in another, you can never get in your customers shoes, completely. 

You don’t know how it is for someone to enter your website for the first time. For that reason, getting feedback from various people is vital for an optimised website. How?

  1. Studying website analytics
  2. Qualitative research on user behavior 
  3. User testing with people from your target group

Confirmation Bias

People tend to believe things that confirm their beliefs.

I have touched this a bit in a previous article, when I showed that people take emotional purchase decisions, and they use logic only to justify their choices.

In the same manner, this could happen to you when you are testing things in your website: 

  1. You form a hypothesis
  2. You try to prove your hypothesis by selecting data that fits your own narrative

That way, your 1st hypothesis will always be true, as you can always find pieces of data that do the trick, and ignore others that don’t. And you know that’s not the case.

Check yourself: do you really want your hypothesis to win? Are you emotionally invested in an idea?


Anchoring is the tendency of people to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. 

We all fall for it whenever we are shopping in a discounted price, or we are trying to choose between various pricing options. We see the “big” price first, we get “anchored” and then the smaller price seems like a bargain.

That could happen when you are optimizing a website as well. 

A designer tells you that the layout of your copy needs work. So, you think: “We have to put the form on the right!”, “We have to make the headline bigger!” “We have to use a blue color that demonstrates trust!”

It must be the design after all…


If you weren’t anchored on the “design” narrative, you’d be open enough to discover that you had a product-market fit problem after all. Or a problem in the actual copy.

Congruence Bias

The congruence bias is the tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, instead of testing possible alternative hypotheses.

You have a page, where you ask people to submit a form with their information. However nobody does so and you’re trying to figure out why.

“Of course” you say, “The copy of the page is crap”.

So you change it. And it still doesn’t convert.

So you change it again. And again. And again. 

In the end it converts 3% better than the initial version.

If it weren’t for your congruence bias though you’d have tested an alternative hypothesis: That the form was not visible because it was at the bottom of the page.

Placing the form above the fold, would have increased conversions by 20% instead.

Testing multiple alternative hypotheses goes a long way…

Recency Bias

We trust recent data over older.

Is a recent study better than an old study? According to logic, no, time is not even a factor.

According to you, yes. And that’s because of your recency bias.

The next time you rush to read that “new” study or article, have that in mind.

Obviously there are way more biases that can come into place and mess up with your good(?) judgement. The important thing is that now at least you know that they exist and so, you can do something to work around themIf you are interested in this topic (I am interested too much lately) I suggest you go in the wikipedia page of cognitive biases to find out more about them.

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