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Dark Patterns VS Conversion Optimization

Dark Patterns VS Conversion Optimization

This March California was the first state that officially prohibited using some conversion optimization techniques, known as “dark patterns”. Washington state senators introduced a similar bill earlier in 2021. Does it mean that conversion optimization going to be illegal soon? Do hotels need to do any adjustments to conversion tools?

First, what are the dark patterns?

“Dark Patterns” is a term suggested by Harry Brignull, a user experience designer and consultant. Since 2010 Brignull is working towards raising public awareness of deceptive digital practices. On his website, there is an explanation about the most commonly used types of dark patterns.

In short, dark patterns are tricks that websites and applications use to make users doing something that they didn’t want to (book, subscribe, download, etc).

At the same time, “book & subscribe” are the most common conversion goals that hotel owners expected users to do. Conversion Optimization encouraging people to book, subscribe and download. So where is the line?

PATRONES OSCUROS example (crossed price)
Ejemplo 1 de patrón oscuro: los precios se tachan para mostrar el ahorro que reciben los invitados. Aun así no hay un beneficio real para el visitante, el precio tachado no es el precio anterior antes del descuento, sino un número aleatorio matemático. El sitio web crea una percepción de mejores tarifas sin ofrecer ningún descuento.

Why are dark patterns are banned, and conversion optimization is not?

First, the usage of dark patterns makes users felt cheated.

Second, dark patterns are always in favor of the website owner. Users don’t benefit from these deceptive tools. 

Third, dark patterns are intentionally misleading users.

Conversion Optimization is used to facilitate the website experience and make it easy for customers to achieve the desired goals – book the room or subscribe to a newsletter.

How dark patterns and conversion optimization are similar?

Both use knowledge of behavioral psychology. Similar techniques can be used for bad (“evil” designs, dark patterns) and good. For example, users are usually don’t read full terms and conditions, just scan the page briefly and make the assumptions. Websites with dark patterns use this knowledge to hide some important information on the not-readable terms and conditions page. Conversion optimizers, on the other hand, will reorganize the page so it gives all necessary information without losing its readability. To increase conversion hotels don’t hide cancellation policy, but highlight favorable policy for the clients. 

Social Proof or FOMO (fear of missing out) are powerful mechanisms to motivate users for certain actions. It is used by dishonest web pages, but as well for purposes on CRO without intention to trick visitors. Sharing real reviews is a conversion optimization tool and it brings value to the guest. But it is not ok to send so-called “friends spam” when the website uses your contact list and sends invitations to your connections with actions on your behalf (“You friend John recommended this hotel”).

PATRONES OSCUROS
Ejemplo 2 de patrón oscuro: anuncios del sitio web para mostrar las propiedades sugeridas al visitante, según las preferencias del invitado (también te puede gustar). En cualquier caso, las sugerencias son publicitarias (los hoteles pagan para ser incluidos).

Price Comparisonwidgets – good or bad?

Price comparison prevention, making it difficult to compare prices for different options, alongside hidden costs, is a commonly used dark pattern.

Rate Comparison, on the opposite, allows guests to compare the prices without checking plenty of the websites (OTAs). Showing full price, comparing it with competitors, not forcing “extras” is the way to improve user experience and get more direct bookings.

Why hotels should not use dark patterns?

PATRONES OSCUROS example 4
Ejemplo 3 de patrón oscuro: el sitio web proporciona información confusa: hay 3 fechas diferentes hasta las cuales el invitado puede cancelar gratis (8, 9 u 11 de mayo). El sitio web tiene aviso de “No pagues hoy” para aumentar la conversión, pero en la página siguiente, se pedirán los datos de la tarjeta de crédito.

Does it make sense, to avoiding techniques that can increase your direct sales?

Actually, it is. Dark patterns and deception kill guest trust. In hospitality, quality level and satisfaction are extremely important. Customer loyalty can’t build on cheating, but it is crucial for long-halt business success.

Good CRO practices help to increase conversion and, at the same time, do not break the trust by misleading the guests.

On the other side, 123compare.me collects prices independently. We check the prices ourselves and we can guarantee that the prices we collected are real.

Last, but not least, some metasearches, including Google Hotel, uses “pay per click” prioritization models. It means hotels who pay more are displayed higher in the ranking. This ranking is definitely not in the booker’s best interests.

PATRONES OSCUROS example: CONFIRMSHAMING
Ejemplo de patrón oscuro 4: Confishaming. El sitio web recomienda añadir un seguro (esto es correcto) pero la opción de rechazar el seguro ha sido redactada de manera que avergüenza o asusta al usuario (sugiriendo que hay un riesgo)

Ethics of Dark Patterns and Conversion Optimization

To sum up, like many other inventions, conversion optimization and usage of behavioral psychology are not good, or bad. Persuasive designs became evil when they solely serve the purpose of the website owner and trick users. Having an easy and understandable website, clear CTAs, social proof elements, UX/UI friendly designs website that benefits potential guests, so there is no reason not to optimize your website for better conversion.