A few weeks ago I presented at Etailcore’s European Summit, where I was honored to be asked to speak about digital psychology and cognitive heuristics. Despite the fascinating topic of my presentation (he says soooo… modestly), the question I got asked the most was completely unrelated to my speaking material.

The question, and variations of it, was “Why has your business card got a blue line running down the edge?”

Squint a little, and you can just about make out the blue band around the edge of our business cards

Squint a little, and you can just about make out the blue band around the edge of our business cards


Why indeed? 

Well believe it or not, there was actually quite some thought that went into that little blue band.

You see, there’s some digital psychology folklore that came into existence a few years ago based on a specific use of a shade of blue. Back in 2009, Google were putting the finishing touches to their adsense and Gmail ad formats, and were trying to decide what shade of blue to make the links (previous experiments has proven that blue was the most effective colour for encouraging customers to click on a link).

Rather than leave it to chance, it was decided to test 41 different shades of blue (yes, you read that right, 41!), to identify which one was the most effective.  Now, you might laugh at this, or call it overkill, but a recent update to this legend, courtesy of Google’s Dan Cobbley, seems to have validated their almost OTT (OCD?)  approach to A/B testing.  In a recent article in the Guardian, Dan states:

And we saw which shades of blue people liked the most, demonstrated by how much they clicked on them. As a result we learned that a slightly purpler shade of blue was more conducive to clicking than a slightly greener shade of blue, and gee whizz, we made a decision.

“But the implications of that for us, given the scale of our business, was that we made an extra $200m a year in ad revenue.

Yes, that’s right.  An extra $200m.  A year!

Now, we can’t all have Google’s economies of scale, and it’s highly unlikely that a colour change to your website will result in such a large surge in revenues, but the article does highlight just how important colour can be as a persuasion device.

Colour psychology however is a field that’s very poorly understood.  While some general rules may hold true for the majority, such as the colour red reducing analytical thinking and increasing recklessness, or blue providing reassurance, the reality is that colour association is often personal, or cultural, and what works in one demographic, may not work in another.

How do we therefore, as digital psychologists, work around these subjective interpretations?

– Contrast is golden.  Often, the colour in isolation is less important than the colour in context.  Calls to action (CTA) need to stand out clearly, and colour contrast is an effective medium for achieving this.

– If in doubt, use a free tool.  Adobe colour allows you to experiment with different colour rules, such as analogous, monochromatic, or compound colour schemes, to test your theories without visually assaulting your users.

– Test, test, test. What works in the UK market for instance, may fail abysmally in the APAC market, so make sure you test your colour variants across all geo-demographics to ensure your site is optimised across borders and cultures.

Alas, with our GUkU business cards, we’re not in a position to A/B test 41 shades of blue to see which is the most effective at converting business – it just wouldn’t make financial sense (and attribution modelling would be an absolute nightmare!).  But the joy of digital is that you can run experiments on a tool such as Visual Web Optimiser, and all it takes is a little time, and a little know how, to bring about positive results that yield real financial benefits.

Want to know more about using colour psychology to generate increased revenue for your business?  Drop us a line using the form above and we’ll get in touch.