6 Nonverbal Hacks for Your Website So it Captures Attention and Converts – Copyblogger

Written by: Vanessa Van Edwards

Image of a mime staring at camera, mouth agape and hands open with palms facing camera

You have 0.05 seconds to make a good first impression online.

That’s only 50 milliseconds to hook someone — according to researchers at Carleton University.

Most important, this happens before a user reads any of your content. So, you have to capture their attention with your website’s nonverbal cues.

Do you have any of the following?

  • Low conversions
  • High bounce rate
  • Short average visit duration
  • Low sales
  • Slow traffic

Then you need to optimize your website’s nonverbal first impression.

I’m a human behavior hacker, and I’m going to show you how to use science to optimize your website.

Why human behavior science?

Let me be blunt:

If you don’t understand online human behavior your website will fail.

Sure, you can produce killer content — and that’s a great start. But even if your blog unveils the meaning of life while saving baby pandas from grumpy cats, it’s not enough.

You have to understand your reader’s behavior to get them to convert. This is all about making sure your website produces a killer nonverbal first impression.

Below I have laid out six scientifically proven hacks to improve your website’s visual cues.

Hack #1: Understanding eye patterns

Do you know how your readers see your website?

The Poynter Institute tracked eye behavior as users read various web pages. They found that reader’s eyes follow an F-Shaped pattern on a website. Typically they start in the upper left hand side of a web page and move across and then down, across and then down.

See how we have added headings and buttons in the F pattern on our website:

science-of-people

Why this matters: If you know where people’s eyes naturally flow, you can place your content, headlines, and buttons within the eye map.

Hack #2: Use nonverbal trust indicators

Trust is a huge part of an online first impression. But you can’t just say you’re trustworthy … you have to show it.

It’s actually fairly easy to demonstrate trust nonverbally. Here’s how:

  • Show your hands. Body language research has shown that our hands are our best trust indicators. Meaning that when people can see our hands, they feel they can trust us. When choosing photos or filming videos for your website try to show your hands as much as possible.
  • Understand facial expressions. There are seven universal facial expressions. You want to make sure that the photos and videos on your website are conveying the right message. The biggest mistake I see is when people use photos of themselves smirking — this is the universal expression for hatred or contempt, not happiness (as many people believe).

We relaunched our website to include a header image showing my hands and photos that only showed positive facial expressions. Check out the difference in the number of visits after the relaunch (The spike is the day we announced the relaunch to our users):

traffic-spike

Why this matters: Picking the right photos for your website can be incredibly stressful—but they matter! Follow the rule of hands and facial expressions to guide you.

Hack #3: Initiate action nonverbally

When a user comes to your website you want to give a positive first impression and then have them take action. How can you do this nonverbally?

One way is to use hand gestures. You can use your hands to gesture where you want people to look at or what you want them to do.

For example, this is the confirmation page people get when they sign up to our Monthly Insights.

vanessa-happy-dance

As you can see, I ask them to follow me on Twitter. The previous page had only text and converted people to Twitter about 0.6 percent if the time. When we added the image it increased to 5.4 percent.

You can also use eye gestures. You do this by using images in which the person is looking toward the action item.

For example, if I want people to keep scrolling, I put in this image — nonverbally telling them to look down.

vanessa-eyes

You can also do this to get people to watch videos or click on buttons.

Why this matters: You want people to take action on your website. You can do this by guiding people nonverbally.

Hack #4: Focus where your visitors focus

Dr. Hong Sheng at Missouri University of Science used an eye-tracking software with an infrared camera to monitor eye movements of students as they scanned certain websites. She found that there were certain features on a website that drew the most attention:

  1. Logo
  2. Main navigation menu
  3. Search box
  4. Social networking links
  5. Primary image (whatever image was at the top of the repeating header or page)
  6. Written content
  7. Website footer

Why this matters: Trying to decide where to focus your efforts? These are the areas that most help your readers decide what they think of your website.

Hack #5: Website color psychology

In another Missouri University study, students indicated that color had a large effect on how much they liked or trusted a website.

Leo Wildrich at the Buffer Blog has an amazing post on the science of color and what each color represents for branding. Here are some top colors and what subconscious messages they send to users:

  • Blue: loyalty, stability, tranquility
  • Yellow: happiness, optimism, youth
  • Green: healing, success, hope
  • Black: power, mystery, professionalism
  • White: purity, cleanliness, innocence
  • Red: passion, sexuality, intensity
  • Purple: royalty, spirituality, luxury
  • Orange: energy, fun, warmth

Why this matters: Your nonverbal brand needs to match your mission. Using colors is an easy way to showcase what you are all about.

Hack #6: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Embrace white space.

Stick to the basics.

Keep it simple.

A Harvard study found that the more complex a website, the less appealing the website is to visitors.

Here is an example of a website with high complexity (and therefore is not very appealing):

worlds-worst-website

This is the aptly named World’s Worst Website.

And here is a website with a low complexity score (so it is therefore highly appealing), the also-aptly named Simple.

better-banking

Google Research also found that users like “prototypical websites,” or websites that fit into a user’s expectations of the category. For example, ecommerce websites shouldn’t look too different from other ecommerce websites, blogs shouldn’t be organized too different from other blogs, et cetera.

Why this matters: Less is more.

Content isn’t everything

If you don’t make a good first impression, people are less likely to read your content.

Remember, your written content actually has very little to do with your first impression. Nonverbal cues are far more important than your words during those 0.05 seconds when visitors are developing their initial feeling about your site.

And if you don’t build trust and make it intuitive for visitors to navigate your site, they most likely will not sign up, purchase, or come back. Because nonverbal cues are critical to the success of your calls to action.

So keep on creating useful content, but don’t forget to pay attention to (and optimize) the nonverbal signals your website is quietly communicating … because your visitors hear them loud and clear.

Which of these six hacks are you most excited to implement right away?

Are there others you’ve used to achieve better nonverbal communication on your site?

Tweet me or join the discussion on Google-Plus.

Flickr Creative Commons image via Len Radin

About the Author: Vanessa Van Edwards is an author and behavioral investigator. She runs ScienceofPeople.com, a human behavior research lab. Get more from Vanessa on Twitter.

 

An $18 Million Lesson in Handling Credit Report Errors – NYTimes.com

Your Money

 

 

Steve Dykes for The New York Times

Julie Miller’s credit score topped 800, until Equifax mixed up her credit file. A jury gave her $18.4 million in damages.

 

 

 

 

Even after sending more than 13 letters to Equifax over the course of two years, Julie Miller could not get the big credit bureau to remove a host of errors that it inserted into her credit report.

Some paperwork associated with Julie Miller’s ordeal. She wrote to Equifax more than 13 times.

 

 

That indifference should surprise no one who has ever tried to deal with any of the three big credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. “You feel trapped, like you are in a box,” said Ms. Miller, a 57-year-old nurse who works in a dermatologist’s office. “You have no control over this, and you can’t call them up and say, ‘You’re fired.’ ”

So she tried suing. That worked.

A jury in Federal District Court in Portland, Ore., last week awarded her a whopping $18.4 million in punitive damages, which, according to consumer lawyers, is the largest individual case on record.

If you think this has taught Equifax and the other credit reporting companies a lesson, you are a lot more optimistic than close observers of the industry. They say that despite the huge judgment, little is going to change for the millions of Americans who discover errors in their credit reports.

The credit bureaus are willing to tolerate these errors — and settle with consumers out of court — as a cost of doing business, according to credit experts and lawyers who work on these cases.

“Their business model is to keep doing the same thing over and over again,” said Justin Baxter, the lead lawyer on Ms. Miller’s case. “They can buy off a number of consumers with small dollar amounts and get rid of the vast majority of cases. To Equifax, that’s the cost of doing business.”

Ms. Miller made every effort to fix her report, exactly as consumers are advised to do. She initiated the company’s dispute process about seven times, and in most instances, Equifax would spit back a form letter saying it needed more proof of her identity. So she sent her pay stub and her phone bill. When that didn’t work, she sent her pay stub and her driver’s license. And when that failed, she sent her W-2 form and an insurance bill — at least three times.

But nothing ever changed: Ms. Miller, a model financial citizen who once had the credit score to prove it, had become mixed up with another, much less creditworthy Julie Miller. After she was denied a line of credit from KeyBank, she discovered 38 collection accounts on her credit report, none of which belonged to her, along with an inaccurate Social Security number and birth date. Her financial life was no longer her own.

Mixed files, as they are known in the credit industry, most frequently involve people who share common names with individuals who have similar Social Security numbers, birth dates or addresses. These errors are notorious for being among the most difficult to fix, credit experts said, and require human intervention to untangle the mess. But given the huge number of disputes, the process to address them is largely automated. And that is the excuse the industry advances to consumers who get stuck in its web.

The bureaus often outsource thousands of disputes daily to workers overseas. Those workers, often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases, are largely told to translate the problem into a two- or three-digit code that defines the gist of the problem (account not his/hers, for instance) and feed it into a computer.

But that process won’t untangle a mixed credit report. The reason files become mixed to begin with can be traced back to the computer formula the bureaus use to match credit data to a specific person’s credit report. It allows credit data, say a late payment on a credit card, to be inserted into a person’s file even if the identifying information isn’t an exact match. In other words, the system might add a late payment to the credit report of someone like Julie Miller even if the Social Security number is off by two digits or a birth date is off by two years, but enough of the other identifying information matches. That’s roughly what happened to Ms. Miller.

Partial matches aren’t always wrong, of course. Solid estimates on the number of mixed files are hard to find, though a 2004 study from the Federal Trade Commission said that partial matches occurred in about 1 to 2 percent of credit files, citing data from the bureaus. That might not sound like much, but when you consider that there are 200 million individuals with credit files at each of the big three bureaus, that translates to two million to four million consumers.

Other estimates put the number of actual mixed files at less than 0.2 percent to nearly 5 percent. The F.T.C.’s report said that mixed files were not always harmful to consumers because most credit account information was positive.

 

To that I say: Consumers with mixed files are supposed to take comfort in the fact that their credit report doppelgängers, on the whole, are likely to pay their bills?

There is a reason the bureaus operate this way. They would rather err on the side of including too much information in your credit report than leave information out, according to consumer lawyers and advocates. They also need to account for typos and small errors that can cause the credit agencies to leave out information — both good and bad credit behavior. Financial services firms are paying the bureaus to receive the most complete financial profile possible, even that means sacrificing a bit of accuracy. (The F.T.C.’s report said that lenders might actually prefer to see all potentially derogatory information about a potential borrower, even if it can’t all be matched with certainty.)

“The bureaus would rather accept the possibility of some mixed-file risk rather than the possibility that a debtor who owes a debt gets away with it,” said Leonard Bennett, a consumer lawyer in Newport News, Va., who said he has about 20 active mixed-file cases in any given month.

The dispute process is supposed to catch the people who fall through the cracks. But as people like Ms. Miller can attest, it doesn’t always work. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, the law that governs the big bureaus, requires the agencies to provide a reasonable investigation. Ms. Miller’s lawyer said their litigation revealed that there was no investigation at all. (It’s worth noting that Ms. Miller had problematic credit reports at the other two bureaus, but those agencies resolved the matter.)

“They testified that they get something like 10,000 disputes a day, so they don’t have the time to look at each one,” Mr. Baxter said. “Whether it is because the person has too many disputes to process or they choose not to, that is where the system falls apart.”

What else could she have possibly done? I asked the credit bureaus. Equifax declined to comment, and would only say that it was “very disappointed in the jury verdict” and was exploring its options, including an appeal. The other two agencies didn’t offer much guidance either, though TransUnion pointed out that the credit reporting industry resolved 70 percent of consumer disputes within 14 days.

Ms. Miller, however, had to endure repeated phone calls from debt collectors, who threatened to sue. She couldn’t co-sign a credit line for her son who was in his freshman year of college, and she said she put off refinancing her mortgage. It also meant that she couldn’t co-sign a car loan for her disabled brother. And plans to build a workshop on their property, which required a loan, would have to wait.

The jury’s giant award to Ms. Miller is generous and goes a long way toward compensating her for those lost opportunities. But lawyers say the initial awards are often reduced after being reviewed by the trial judge. An out-of-court settlement for the typical mixed-file case might be $50,000 to $250,000, depending on the case, while settlements for other errors may be far less.

Will Ms. Miller’s award have any lasting effect on the industry? Mr. Bennett, the consumer lawyer, is one of the optimists. “This case will change the calculus,” he said. “If they have to pay $2.5 million every time one of these folks gets to court, they might have to reconsider their procedures.”

It’s more likely, though, that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which began overseeing the large credit bureaus last September, will have more impact. It has broad authority to perform on-site examinations, check records and examine how disputes are handled. Consumer advocates have long suggested that the credit agencies tighten up the way they match up data with consumers reports and strengthen the dispute process.

“Big punitive penalties may help force the bureaus to upgrade their 20th-century algorithms and incompetent dispute reinvestigation processes,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “But C.F.P.B.’s authority to supervise the big credit bureaus is one of the most significant powers Congress gave it.”

Nearly every expert I spoke with conceded that Ms. Miller had few options. “She had two choices, and they both stunk,” said John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who has served as an expert witness on more than 140 credit-related lawsuits. “She could live with it, or she could hire an attorney.”

 

Default Mode: How Ocwen Skirts California’s Mortgage Laws

Capital and Main  | by  David Dayen
Posted: Updated:

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The following story was reported by Capital and Main and published here in collaboration with The Huffington Post.

Lost documents. Incomplete and confusing information. Mysterious fees. Payments received but not applied. Homeowners waiting for a loan modification and suddenly placed in foreclosure. A nightmare of uncertainty, frustration and fear.

These incidents, described to me by numerous homeowners, mortgage counselors and defense lawyers, were supposed to be a thing of the past in California. After revelations of fraud and abuse throughout the mortgage business, including tens of billions of dollars in corporate penalties, state Attorney General Kamala Harris pushed through the 2012 California Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR), designed to standardize conduct by mortgage servicers – those companies that manage day-to-day operations on mortgages by collecting monthly payments and making decisions when homeowners go into default and seek help.

Yet one company allegedly committed all these HBOR violations: Ocwen, the nation’s fourth-largest mortgage servicer. According to the complaints, Ocwen (“New Co.” spelled backwards) either skirts around the edges of California law or simply ignores it, causing headaches for homeowners – and potentially illegal foreclosures. (Ocwen did not respond to a request for comment for this article, but in the past, it has pointed to its track record of assisting homeowners to avoid foreclosure.)

“Ocwen is one of the worst servicers in the state,” says Kevin Stein, Associate Director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit advocate for low-income communities.

Ocwen may not even be aware of the rules of the road. One lawyer, who requested anonymity because his client is currently negotiating with Ocwen on a mortgage, described a conversation with one of the company’s specialized home retention consultants. The lawyer asked the Ocwen representative about the servicer’s HBOR compliance efforts and the representative replied that she had never heard of the statute, had no training for it and knew of no process established to conform to it.

“Ocwen doesn’t give a hoot about the Homeowner Bill of Rights,” the lawyer told me. “They ignore the statute. It’s cheaper for them to ignore than to implement.”

Ocwen’s suspected flaunting of the law could be traced to its aggressive growth strategy. Until the past few years, the largest mortgage servicers were divisions of major banks, such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. After being sanctioned for their own misconduct, these banks were forced to adhere to new servicing standards that increased their costs, as well as new, higher capital requirements associated with servicing that came from the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. As a result, banks commenced a fire sale, selling off trillions of dollars in servicing rights to non-bank firms like Ocwen. These non-bank servicers don’t own the loans, only the rights to service them, in exchange for a percentage of the monthly payments.

Ocwen calls itself a “specialty servicer,” with a particular focus on subprime mortgages, loans that often come to them already in trouble. Managing delinquent loans is a “high-touch” business, demanding lots of personnel to work with homeowners to negotiate affordable payments or foreclosure proceedings. Yet Ocwen has claimed to its investors that it can service these loans at 70 percent lower costs than the rest of the industry, raising red flags from regulators.

“I don’t think you can handle subprime mortgages by being efficient, with better computers,” says Benjamin Lawsky, head of New York’s Department of Financial Services. “You’re going to have a lot of people looking for help, and they’re not just a number, they’re real people with real problems who need help in real time, right now.”

What Ocwen calls efficiency has already led to significant misconduct. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and 49 states, including California, fined Ocwen $2.1 billion last December for “violating consumer financial laws at every stage of the mortgage servicing process.” Many of the stories from California homeowners mirror the charges in the CFPB settlement – overcharging homeowners, misplacing documents, illegal denials of loan modifications and more. And Ocwen also violates HBOR, the controlling state law for mortgage servicing.

Janice Spraggins of NID Housing Counseling Agency says that Ocwen failed to honor prior agreements that her clients secured with their old mortgage servicers. This is consistent with a recent report from CFPB citing numerous problems with mortgage servicing transfers, including lost documents, unapplied payments and homeowners who, having already started down the road to fixing their problems, have had to start all over again.

“The homeowner goes to the back of the line,” Spraggins says. “For whatever reason they’re not on the same page [as Ocwen].”

Other homeowners complain about how Ocwen satisfies the state requirement for a “single point of contact” — the one individual who is aware of their unique situation and who they can consult for timely updates on the status of their loan. Ocwen designates a “relationship manager” to handle these cases.

But homeowners say they get no specific email or phone number for their relationship manager; they must call the main customer service line, schedule an appointment and wait to hear back. The relationship manager, Ocwen clients allege, doesn’t always call at the designated appointment time, meaning the homeowner must go through the process all over again, dealing with customer service reps who frequently give out contradictory or misleading information.

“It doesn’t appear to be in compliance,” says Lauren Carden of Legal Services of Northern California, when describing Ocwen’s procedures. “They give you a single point of contact, but if you can never reach them, effectively you don’t have one.” Carden cited one client who tried for four months to reach their relationship manager, and only got the person on the phone once.

Saleta Darnell, a Los Angeles County child-support officer who lives in South Los Angeles, criticized Ocwen for adding charges to her loan, which the company took over from GMAC.

“I had a $1,389 monthly payment. When it got to Ocwen, the payment went up to $1,469,” Darnell says, adding that Ocwen had increased the total loan balance by $60,000 without explanation. Darnell immediately requested a loan modification. After several weeks of waiting, Ocwen notified Darnell by mail that she didn’t qualify for anything but an “in-house” modification. The in-house mod lowered the balance to the original amount, but with a significantly higher monthly payment of $2,316, more than half Darnell’s take-home pay.

LaRue Carnes, a Sacramento homemaker, needed a loan modification after her husband lost his job nearly two years ago. OneWest Bank transferred her loan to Ocwen last August. She had trouble getting her relationship manager on the phone, and had to deal with customer service representatives, often located overseas with limited English proficiency, who, Carnes says, never told her the same information twice.

“Dealing with the people answering the Ocwen line has been some of the most frustrating conversations of my life,” Carnes says.

Carnes says Ocwen lost the financial documents she submitted for her loan modification application on four separate occasions, which would violate state HBOR prescriptions for timely responses. Meanwhile, in the months of waiting, the family’s arrears ballooned from $11,000 to $54,000. And Ocwen would not post the payments Carnes did send in on time until as late as the 18th of the month, triggering additional hits to the couple’s credit report.

“How can you not process a check within your own system?” Carnes wondered. “I don’t understand how a company can do business like that.”

One reason is that Ocwen has a captive audience. Homeowners have no say in who services their loan. They get passed around from one company to the next, with the servicer having enormous power to tack on fees, deny loan modifications or pursue foreclosure. Homeowners experiencing difficulties must still work with Ocwen to keep their homes, creating pressure against speaking out. One lawyer had an Ocwen representative respond to a threat of a lawsuit for HBOR violations by asking, “Does your client want a modification or not?”

The homeowner who requested anonymity because of an ongoing negotiation submitted a completed loan modification application to Ocwen, only to find a notice of default taped to his front door. A completed loan application is supposed to freeze the foreclosure process while the servicer decides on eligibility, preventing a practice called “dual tracking,” perhaps the most serious HBOR violation. The homeowner, in this case, said he never received a letter required by California law, confirming receipt of the initial application, and was not assigned a single point of contact for months. In December, while waiting for an answer on a second application, the homeowner received notice of the pending sale of his property at auction. This led to the phone call, where an Ocwen representative claimed to never have heard of HBOR.

Attorney General Harris has urged homeowners to file any HBOR complaints with her office. That information goes to the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force and a state-appointed monitor for foreclosure-related matters, who spots trends and works with servicers on compliance. This can help at the margins but homeowner advocates are seeking stronger measures.

“There have been good reports about the monitor resolving problems on individual cases,” says Kevin Stein of the California Reinvestment Coalition. “But we would love to see the Attorney General more involved.”

In addition, under HBOR homeowners have a “private right of action” to hire legal counsel and sue Ocwen over violations. However, a California State Bar ruling stipulates that lawyers cannot collect fees for their services in loan modification-related cases prior to their completion. While this protects homeowners from foreclosure rescue scams, where lawyers would take money up front and skip town, it has significantly damaged HBOR enforcement. Though the HBOR statute includes provisions for attorney fees, the Bar ruled that HBOR suits are related to loan modifications, meaning that lawyers must for a period of time litigate for free against legal teams working for deep-pocketed servicers.

“I’m aware of many lawyers who have said, I can’t do this,” says one lawyer. “What appears to have been a good idea is now about as dangerous [for Ocwen] as wading into a pond and getting bitten by a guppy.”

The CFPB continues to investigate violations of its federal mortgage servicing laws. And Lawsky, the New York banking regulator, stopped a deal to transfer $39 billion in mortgages from Wells Fargo to Ocwen, citing concerns about Ocwen’s capacity and its relationships with subsidiaries that profit off Ocwen foreclosures, raising the possibility of conflicts of interest. Ocwen executive chairman William Erbey said on an earnings call that this has frozen all servicing transfer deals, stunting the company’s growth. Erbey runs four separate subsidiary corporations, including Altisource, which buys foreclosed properties to turn them into rentals. Critics argue that this gives Ocwen incentive to push homes into foreclosure, so Altisource can profit from them. But without new mortgage servicing rights to purchase, Erbey’s grand scheme will falter. In fact, Ocwen’s first-quarter earnings fell below expectations and the stock has sunk as regulatory scrutiny has increased.

But this doesn’t comfort those homeowners stuck with Ocwen, who have labored for years to get clarity on whether they can keep their homes. Some of these homeowners may yet get the modification they need – one Ocwen client I’ve spoken to is about to start a trial payment plan and another is negotiating terms. Still, the struggle exacts a real toll, both in financial terms with late fees and increased arrears, but also on an emotional level. Waking up day after day without knowing if you’ll have to pack up all your possessions and leave your home creates feelings of humiliation and shame that can’t be measured in dollars.

“We need to start repairing our credit, our good name,” says LaRue Carnes.

Meanwhile, homeowner advocates grumble that Ocwen executives, and their counterparts at other servicers, do not share such worries, because violating the law makes more financial sense to them than following it.

“All the power resides in the servicer,” says the anonymous lawyer. “Plainly they don’t care.”

(David Dayen is a contributing writer to Salon who also writes for The New Republic, The American Prospect, Politico, The Guardian and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.)

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