Heuristic Analysis|Digital Marketing Skills in Review

Imagine you’re an ancient, nomadic hunter/gatherer embarking on a hunting expedition in a primeval forest. You’ve been traveling for days, trying to find large game to hunt with your primitive weapons

The hunt is hard. It’s not just finding the game that in and of itself takes patience. The need to stalk and notice the minutiae of the hunt, a broken branch, a pile of scat, a less than obvious game trail takes discipline and determination. But it’s also the skills of operating a less-than-perfect hunting weapon and the need to be aware, entirely open to possibilities of danger that might overtake you.

Our brains are hardwired to make judgments within a snap. Our ancestors, faced by dangers, used these quick skills of assessing situations to calculate risks and ensure their survival. We do the same thing.

First Impressions

According to Forbes, when a person meets you for the first time, research suggests that it could take about a tenth of second before they assess qualities about you such as trustworthiness. For modern businesses, first impressions on a website are just as important as any face-to-face meeting. In this article, Pepe Laja cites research that maintains that websites are also assessed just with similar speed.

What is Heuristic Analysis?

So how do we control for this quick judgment of a website’s content and character? The answer is we design for it and the best way to do that is to systematically analyze a site and its funnel with heuristics in mind.

Heuristics are patterns that people use to solve similar problems. In websites, we can design these patterns into the folds of our site so that they signal to people that this is a site that they want to interact with, spend some time on, and even purchase something from.

Different Frameworks

There are many different frameworks that we could use to assess heuristics on a site, but an excellent one, one I recently learned in the CXL Conversion Minidegree program from expert German conversion optimizer, Andre Morys. Morys suggests using a framework that addresses seven levels of conversion. These levels are as follows:

  • Relevance
  • Trust
  • Orientation
  • Stimulance
  • Security
  • Convenience
  • Confirmation

As we will see, many of these levels are based on feelings, which is a faster way for a person to assess a situation, person, website, than rational analysis. When we’re assessing for these then, we should focus on assessing these characteristics within the first five seconds of viewing the site. We want our analysis to pick up in the same


Relevance has to do with the body language of the website. What kind of emotion is the website evoking with images, colors, and structure? What kind of words is it using to match this feeling?

To get the right emotion that we want to convey on our website, Mory’s suggests we try to put our ideas into a limbic map. A limbic map is a psychological map that divides user experience into three core motivations:

  • Dominance
  • Stimulant
  • Balance

By combining these motivations and matching these with properly researched user personas we can make what drives our customers, the same thing that drives our website, making the images, colors, and content relevant to them.


Trust is another emotion, and trust is not just conveyed by the words on the site, but also by the structure of the website overall, the colors and images it uses, and its logo.

Here it is very important to maintain a clear message match between any referring social media and CPC referrals, using similar/matching images color and language to evoke trustworthiness. Using social proof, authorities, and fulfilling what you promise on the site is also a good way to give users the feeling that they can trust your site.


Orientation has to do with the ability to direct users where they need to go on a site. What’s important? What buttons should they be clicking to learn more information or move further down the funnel? Do they have a clear call to action that gives them understanding of what’s in it for them to stay on the site?

Implied in this clear structural hierarchy of importance is that a cluttered design with many choices that disorients your user is not something that you want. User-centered design, again using user personas, knowing what users want, and selectively designing around that is a much better approach than just throwing a barrage of information at your users and hoping that something strikes them as important and interesting.


According to Morys, whereas relevance, trust, and orientation gives users a good understanding of where they are at (what site, what it’s about, what they’re going to need to do if they want to interact with the site), stimulance is the first level that answers the how.

This is where we can use clear, creative copy to persuade users focusing on implicit and explicit value. Here we can also use scarcity and urgency to bring the user closer to the goal of conversion.


Security answers questions of safety. Is it safe to buy here? In security we handle any objections users might have to buy. Here, we also reduce the friction of pricing and other risks through clear, persuasive copy.

At this stage our customers perception of risk is at its highest, so to quell that, another option is to give the offer itself less risk. If you can, Moys suggests offering a “money-back guarantee” or something similar in order to give the perception of a zero-risk purchase. Also using chat or call centers to answer any underlying concerns helps to alleviate any other anxiety.


Forms should be set up in such a way that customers find them easy to fill out. Our goal is to make a friction free purchasing experience, so the less information that we need from our customers the better.

A good example of this is Amazon. After a return customer clicks the checkout button, forms are usually auto-populated with the necessary information. Credit cards are kept on file to use again.


In the confirmation stage, the customer is looking back at the purchase experience. To prevent any doubt in their mind that they made a wise purchase, it’s important to review why the product they bought into was the best for them.

Using micro-feedback on forms, pages, and elements to encourage users along the way is always a good step. Listing reasons on why the purchase was smart for the customer on post-sales pages and email responses is also a good strategy, as many purchases are made by emotion, and then only after the purchase, are justified by rational reasons why the purchase was a good one to make.

Ending the analysis/ audit process

After analyzing a website for all of these elements, Morys suggests using a scoring system to grade them. He also suggests looking at other competitors and running the same analysis. This would certainly give us more data to work with and could help decision-makers make a decision on whether or not they should run an optimization campaign.

By systematically analyzing websites through heuristic analysis and using user personas, we can be assured that our websites are tracking with real-life (or at least, we’re getting it in the ballpark). Of course, continuous A/B testing could even make more refinements to our site, as we continue to gain user input through more quantitative and qualitative data.

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