Dark UX or Persuasive Design?

What is Dark UX?

As a Conversion Specialist I find dark UX interesting because it essentially puts the needs of the company before that of the customer. It is the opposite of normal UX principles as dark UX employs design to trick people into taking a decision that may not be in their best interests and sometimes without them being fully aware of what decision they have made.

Dark UX has the potential to leave a bitter taste in your mouth when you realise what has happened. Know one likes being tricked or mislead and the user experience may lead to high levels of distrust and dissatisfaction among customers.

In some cases a design breaks a web convention or norm to nudge you in the opposite direction to what you expect. Alternative choice options  are sometimes hidden below the fold or reduced in prominence so that you may fail to notice them.

Depending upon your point of view you may see this as persuasive design or dark UX. How do we judge what is a great design as opposed to a manipulative design?  Here are some interesting examples that could be perceived as great design or dark ux.

Good design or dark UX?

Amazon is seen as the gold standard in e-commerce and so it’s not generally associated with dark UX. However, I came across this interstitial page for Amazon Prime after clicking on proceed to checkout.  The primary call-to-action (CTA) is clearly “Sign up and pay now”, but what if you just want to pay without signing up to Prime?

Image of Amazon Prime interstitial after proceed to checkout

When a user clicks on the “Proceed to checkout” CTA they expect to be served the checkout and so I was surprised and slightly confused to see this page the first time I  came across it.  I almost instinctively clicked on “Sign up and pay now” without thinking, but then realised the page was trying to get me to sign up to Prime.

Image of CTAs on Amazon Prime's Interstitial page

At first sight it’s not obvious that there is an alternative CTA to “Sign up and pay now”. After a number of seconds scanning the page I found a hyperlink  positioned  to the left of the primary CTA.  It uses loss aversion to good effect as it reads  “No thanks – I don’t want Unlimited One-Day Delivery”.

Is this just persuasive design or dark UX – it’s difficult to say. I can see how thoughtful the design is, but could it result in some users signing up to Prime without meaning to? Possibly.

Ryanair were the experts:

A more clear-cut example of dark UX was the old Ryanair travel Insurance section. This stated that “If you wish to purchase travel insurance please select your country of residence”. Below the list of passengers there was a further instruction; “If you do not wish to purchase travel insurance, please select ‘Don’t insure me’ in the drop-down box.”

Image of Ryanair Insurance - country of residence
Image Source:

The “Don’t insure me” was hidden between “Denmark” and “Finland”. You also had to select this separately for each passenger because it is under country of residence. This design was heavily criticised  by various commentators and may be as a result it has since been replaced by a much more user friendly user interface.


Image of 2017 Ryanair travel insurance user interface
Image Source:

Clever design?

I recently reviewed the Littlewoods.com  registration form  and was impressed with how it has been improved since I last looked at it. The design uses a very well implemented accordion style form that initially displays three fields and then shows another field when you complete those first fields.

Image of step 1 of Littlewoods.com registration form

When I completed the form I came across the registration successful page below.  The primary CTA – “Apply Now” is prominent and a benefit of being able to spread the cost is clearly communicated. However, what if you don’t want to spread the cost and apply for an account? Similar to the Amazon example the alternative action is not immediately obvious.

Image of Littlewoods.com registration successful page

That’s because the alternative payment method is outlined in low contrast text below the discreet horizontal line. The copy reads; “or if you’d like to pay by card just continue to shop and then choose the pay by credit or debit card option when your’e in the checkout”. I’ve highlighted the copy below to confirm where it is located.

Image of Littlewoods.com registration successful page with secondary CTA highlighed

From a conversion perspective this is clearly a winner and probably generates a substantial return on investment. The alternative option is visible when you study the page, but many visitors may not notice it before they click on the primary CTA and apply to open a credit account.

It  is a very well thought out design and is certainly persuasive. What they could test though is the use of loss aversion for the alternative CTA copy. Something like – “No thanks – I don’t want the ability to spread the cost – continue shopping.” This might help offset any drop in conversion if the CTA was made more prominent.

Who decides?

The final decision on whether a design meets an organisations’s standards and is consistent with its brand values rests with senior management. Inevitably this reflects the company culture and how customer-centric the organisation is. This explains why sometimes a design may be perceived as persuasive in some organisations and dark in another.

When you are working on a new design it can be difficult to take a step back and review it objectively. That’s why usability testing and setting suitable success metrics is so important. If after implementation you see an increase in returns/cancellations or a rise in customer complaints related to the page that is probably giving you the answer.

In the end the customer has the final say. If users feel they have been tricked or mislead by how a website is designed they are likely to either complain or switch to a competitor if and when they have the opportunity. Provided customers have a choice to go elsewhere  there will always be pressure to remove unsatisfactory design  practices.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.


Hotjar Analytics Review

Hotjar Behavioural Analytics:

If you want to improve your website conversion rate it’s essential that you understand the behaviour and motivations of your visitors. If like me you run a start-up and have a very limited budget you might think you can’t afford behavioural analytics and customer feedback tools to evaluate how well your website is performing.

Indeed, when I worked for a large online gaming company we spent tens of thousands of pounds a month on the behavioural analytics tool ClickTale. However, before the ClickTale contract was due for renewal I came across a new behavioural analytics and customer feedback solution called Hotjar.  By switching to Hotjar I saved the company over £100,000 a year. Further, if your website has less than 2,000 page views a day you can get Hotjar for free.

What is Hotjar?

Hotjar is a combined behavioural analytics and customer feedback tool. It offers most of the features you would expect from a behavioural analytics solution including browser recordings of users navigating your site, mouse movement/clicks heat maps and form analytics.

However, unlike most such tools Hotjar also offers customer feedback tools including on-site feedback polls, online surveys and research recruitment. It also has a very simple and intuitive user interface. It’s a very easy tool to start using and does not require hours of training to get the most out of it.

Image of Hotjar dashboard

The above dashboard  allows you easily navigate to all the features that Hotjar offers and there is a clear on-boarding process to get you stared.

How easy is it to add Hotjar to my site?

Hotjar works by adding a JavaScript snippet of code to your site just before the head close tag. It needs to be on every page where you wish to record visitors or gather feedback. It normally only takes a few seconds to add the code to your site. For WordPress sites I use the plugin Insert headers and footers.

Adding code to the header can be problematic for some click and drop website builders like Wix.com. The platform does not allow you to add JavaScript to the page header and this means you can’t install Hotjar on such sites until they address this issue.


The basic free plan is available for sites with up to 2,000 page views a day.  For start-ups with up to 10,000 page views a day you can get Hotjar for just €29 a month. However, for more established businesses there are a range of more comprehensive plans outlined below.

Image of Hotjar business pricing plans

Each plan offers the following suite of features:

Browser recordings:

Browser recordings are like an undirected usability test. The feature allows you to record and replay a visitor’s session so that you can view what they see in their browser as they navigate around your site. These recordings are a fantastic way to observe how your customers move around and navigate on your site.

Image of Hotjar browser recording

They can help you identify where usability problems exist as they show clicks, scrolls and movements.  You can also tag individual recordings giving you the ability to categorise them according to an observed behaviour or characteristic (e.g. added to basket or struggled with CAPTCHA).

Heat maps:

Click, scroll and mouse movement heat maps can be created in Hotjar by simply entering the page URL and specifying the limit of page views you wish to capture.

Image of Hotjar movement heat map

Heat maps give you a clear indication of where user attention is focused on your page and will show you how far down the page visitors are scrolling. Hotjar allows you to generate heat maps for desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

Conversion funnels:

The funnel feature of Hotjar allows you set up and monitor visitor completion rates for a user journey of up to six steps. If you have a transactional site this can be especially useful feature as it allows you to track users through the purchase process and identify the biggest drop off points in your funnel.

Image Hotjar conversion funnel graph

Form analytics:

If you have any kind of form, whether it is registration form or check out process, this feature allows you to track visitors as they proceed through the journey and identify when or if they drop out.

Image of Hotjar form analytics graph

For example, if you have a registration form for your site you may find that a username question causes a lot of drop offs and prevents visitors from signing up. This might be because many of the obvious usernames have already been taken.

The analytics from this feature include:

  • Conversion rate of the form
  • Seconds to fill out a field
  • Total form sessions
  • Field drop off chart
  • Failed and successful form submissions



This is such a great feature of Hotjar as it allows you to engage with visitors and ask a few simple questions about the user experience whilst they are on your site. The first time I used a poll I asked visitors to the homepage of gaming website “What is missing on this page?” We got lots of mobile visitors saying that they couldn’t see the login box or that they were unable to login.

On checking the homepage with a mobile device we discovered the login box had been hidden by Marcoms for mobile users as they wanted them to encourage them to download the app. Unfortunately these users were existing customers who already had the app and needed to login to their accounts to verify their details. Because we got the feedback from the poll we were able to rectify the problem immediately.

The feature allows you to target specific pages with your poll or give visitors on any page of your site the opportunity to participate in the poll. Apart from short text answers you can also use:

  • Long text answer
  • Radio buttons
  • Checkboxes
  • Net promoter score

Image of setting up poll in Hotjar

When setting up questions you can also specify where respondents should go next dependent upon their answer to a question. This ensures that respondents are only asked questions that are relevant to them.


This allows you to design longer questionnaires to email to your customers for more in-depth feedback. It’s a great way of engaging with your email list on a regular basis to gather their views on a variety of topics.

At the gaming company we surveyed new customers to find out what had most appealed to them about the site to see if our value proposition was aligned with customer perceptions. We also asked them if they played on any competitor sites to understand who we were competing against.

Image of Hotjar surveys feature

You have the same selection of question types to choose from as you have with the polls feature.

Incoming – in beta:

Hotjar recently added a new feature in beta – called incoming.  This is a “Feedback” tab that you can place on either a specific page or your whole site to allow visitors to rate the user experience.

Image of Hotar incoming quesiton

I’ve only just stared using this feature and so it’s too early to say how it has been received. However, I think it’s great to show you encourage and value visitor feedback as this can improve the perception of your site as a whole.


If you want to conduct usability testing Hotjar has a recruiter feature which allows you to collect profiling information and contact details in exchange for an offer of a gift to incentivise the process.  You can then arrange to conduct a usability test by sharing screens using Skype or another web meeting solution.

Image of Hotjar recruiters

This is a great feature of Hotjar as it’s important to keep in touch with your users and regularly review your website user experience. This is especially relevant when you re-design an area of your site or add new functionality and you want to understand how well visitors use the new pages or feature.

Areas for improvement:

For many small to medium sized businesses Hotjar offers an amazing solution for little or no cost. However, it does have its limitations and there are areas for improvement.

The free plan does limit you to just three heat maps and 1,000 page views per heat map.  If you up-grade to the Plus plan this rises to 2,000 page views and the Business plan gives you up to 10,000 page views.

Unlike more expensive solutions Hotjar does not allow you to filter your heat maps according to visitor type (i.e. new or returning visitors).  This can be very useful as the behaviour of new and returning visitors often reflects different user goals.

As Hotjar is a relatively new tool they have concentrated on improving functionality rather than integrating with related solutions. This does mean that Hotjar does not integrate with many testing, web analytics or CRM solutions. Some integrations are available, notably with Hubspot, but most are not available at present and this is a major drawback for any site conducting online experiments.

The conversion funnel also lacks a level of sophistication. For many sites users can’t be expected to follow a simple sequential funnel and so the ability to create multiple route alternatives would be a benefit.

However, Hotjar do have a full product roadmap to further enhance and improve the functionality of the solution. If they can also integrate fully with complementary tools this will be a big improvement.


For many organisations Hotjar is an ideal behavioural analytics and customer feedback tool. For start-ups like my business Hotjar offers exceptional value for money. I can’t afford a significant subscription and my traffic levels don’t justify it.

Hotjar meets an important need for online businesses. If you are setting up an online business then Hotjar is a no brainer and even if your site is established it is still extremely good value for money.

Related post:

Behavioural analytics – 15 free and paid visual analytics solutions to boost conversions

Customer feedbackHow to use online Voice of Customer tools to boost conversions.


Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

5 Ways of Using Word Clouds to Enhance Digital Marketing

Word Clouds For Digital Marketing:

Word clouds are a great creative tool that many of us love to play around with. They generate an image composed of words from content that has been submitted in the tool. The size of individual words in the word cloud indicates its frequency or importance.

However, word clouds are also very useful tools for content creation, brand evaluation, competitor analysis, SEO keyword targeting and customer insight.

1. Marketing Content:

Finding images that are suitable for your blog or social media posts can be time consuming and problematic as many images are protected by copyright and have permissions which restrict usage. However, we know from research that blog posts with images have much higher engagement levels and are more likely to be shared. So, to save time and money copy and paste your new blog post into a word cloud to create a free and unique image for your new content.

2. Evaluate Your Value Proposition:

Word clouds are also useful to evaluate how well your value proposition messages are embedded in your content.  Check how well your brand messages are being communicated by plugging in your website address or social media URL.

Image of word cloud for Conversion-Uplift.co.uk homepage
Word cloud of Conversion-uplift.co.uk using jasondavies.com


World cloud tools like Tagxedo allow you to input your Twitter and social media feeds. This can highlight the value of the content you are sharing and allow you to identify the themes that are occurring most often. Do these correspond with how you want to be perceived by your social media followers?

Analyse your LinkedIn profile in a word cloud generator to ensure your profile communicates a professional tone and is using the best words to promote your expertise.

If you have a Yelp page, use a word cloud to assess how your customers describe your service.

3. SEO Keyword Audit:

Word clouds are a great SEO tool as they instantly indicate which words are most prominent in your marketing content and how Google or other search engines are likely to assess your content.

4. Competitor Research:

Just as you can evaluate your own marketing content and keywords using a word cloud, you can also use the same approach to undertake some competitor research.  Plug in your competitor’s URL into a word cloud to identify the keywords they are targeting and how consistent their value proposition is communicated.

Image of word cloud of sitetuners.com
Wordcloud of www.sitetuners.com using Tagcrowd.com

5. Analysing Customer Feedback:

Customer feedback is not just collected through online polls and surveys. Customer conversations are also a great source of feedback, whether via telephone calls, live chat, product reviews or emails. You will probably be surprised at the number of sources potentially available to you and the volume of feedback.

Don’t let the volume of feedback put you off as word clouds are an excellent means for processing verbatim customer conversations to obtain quick and clear insights. Such conversations can be a great source of insights for developing hypothesis for A/B and multivariate tests.

However, before proceeding with using a word cloud to analyse customer conversations it is wise to do some preparatory work to clean up your transcripts or survey responses. Otherwise you may find that duplicate feedback or similar meaning terms reduce the effectiveness of your word cloud at communicating key insights.

Duplicate Responses:

It’s not uncommon for some visitors to answer a survey or leave feedback multiple times. Unless this is dealt with a single customer can skew your analysis, especially if they have repeated the same comments on multiple occasions.

This is often easy to spot if the respondent has to leave an email address or another unique identifier. Once you have identified the culprits go through and review their feedback and delete all but the first response. It’s better to be consistent with your method as otherwise you will be bringing in subjective bias into the analysis.

Combining Terms:

I once launched a poll on a homepage on a mobile responsive website by asking the open-ended question; “What is missing on this page?” We received lots of comments from mobile visitors about being unable to login, sign in or see the login box. All of these responses obviously related to the same issue and so it was sensible to combine the terms. This can easily be done by using the “Replace” function in a spreadsheet.

It’s also worth looking out for plurals and replacing such terms with the singular version of the word.  Acronyms can also be problematic if some respondents use the full phrase and so search for such inconsistencies to replace acronyms where necessary.

Weighting Results:

When presenting word clouds you sometimes want to give more weight to certain terms because of what you know about their impact on your business. For instance you may want to give more prominence to feedback on your most popular webpages or blogs in your word cloud.

Word cloud tool Wordle allows you to change the weighting of certain words by making adjustments in the advanced mode. For example you could weight words according page views to reflect the popularity of a page or blog they relate to. However, make sure you make this clear when you present your word cloud as otherwise this can create a misleading impression of the feedback received.


Word clouds are flexible and free tools that can save you time and money. Before you splash out money on buying competitor analysis, SEO keyword audits or text analytics tools try out word clouds first.

Below are nine of the best free word cloud solutions available.

The 9 Best Free Word Cloud Tools:

My recommended word cloud is Wordclouds.com as this is an easy to use but flexible tool with some great advanced settings. Visually it also looks superior to most other tools.

Image of word cloud generated by Wordclouds.com
Word cloud from blog post using Wordclouds.com


  1. ABCya!:A word cloud for kids that may be relevant if your website is of interest to children. Type or paste text into the box below and press the arrow button to view the word cloud generated.
  2. Jason Davies: A great tool if you want to generate a word cloud from a blog or website.
  3. Tagcrowd: Allows you to set specific criteria for your cloud such as language, maximum number of words and minimum frequency.  Allows you to create a word cloud from a webpage URL, Twitter ID and other social media feeds.
  4. Tagxedo: Create word clouds from a URL, Twitter ID, Del.icio.us ID, news, search, RSS feed, uploading text or enter it yourself.
  5. WordArt (Formerly Tagul):  A word cloud generator with advanced features including words inside words, rich font choices, roll-over effects, custom shapes, colours and fonts and export in vector formats.
  6. Tricklar: This site claims to use high quality media sources from around the world to generate word clouds. I found it difficult to find words or phrases that it would generate a word cloud for and so maybe only useful for popular subjects.
  7. Wordclouds.com: This is a free word cloud generator which can be used with most browsers. On the homepage got o “File” and upload a document or PDF, paste text (by File dropdown), input a URL or amend the word list (dropdown). In the word list you can even add links to individual words by entering the URL after the word.
  8. WorditOut: Advanced filters allows you to filter the text to display or remove words and change their importance. Select your own layout by choosing your own colours, fonts, and sizes or let WorditOut find a random look for you.
  9. Wordle: A simple word cloud generator which allows you to set the weights of words.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.