When it comes to marketing, people often focus on big-picture elements like copy, SEO, branding, social media, email marketing, and PPC advertising. But there’s a tremendous amount of value in leaning in and perfecting the finer details. One of these details is color. More specifically, you must embrace the concept of color psychology and how the human brain perceives different shades of light.
The perception of color is something that human beings have studied intently for many centuries.
Ancient Greek philosophers would argue over whether colors were made of black, white, and red light, or whether it was simply some sort of celestial light that shone down from the heavens.
Sir Isaac Newton spent many hours experimenting with prisms and ultimately theorized the three primary colors from which other colors are made (blue, red, and yellow).
And as we’ve come to know more about human biology and anatomy, researchers and scientists have spent a great deal of energy studying how the human brain perceives color.
According to WIRED:
Each color represents a specific part of the electromagnetic spectrum, though humans can only see the slice of this spectrum known as ‘visible light.’ Of the wavelengths visible to humans, red ones are longer, while blues and violets are shorter. Photons of light stimulate photoreceptors in the eye, which transform that information into electrical signals that are sent to the retina, which processes those signals and sends them along to the brain’s visual cortex.
Those are the mechanics of how the eye sees light waves and interacts with them. But how someone sees light and how they perceive color are two very different ideas.
Every human has a unique preference for certain colors and may even see the same colors differently, but we do know that colors evoke visceral responses.
There are massive bodies of research that show color and light have the ability to impact mood, heart rate, blood pressure, alertness, focus, sensitivity, impulsivity, sexual arousal, sleep, and even financial decision making.
For example, we know that exposure to light early in the morning – particularly blue or green light – initiates a release of cortisol in the brain. This stimulates our minds and bodies and causes us to wake. It also inhibits the release of melatonin (which induces sleepiness). While at night, the lack of sunlight (blue light) leads to an increase in the production and release of melatonin, which signals to the body that it’s time to sleep.
Color is a powerful force. And while it can be leveraged in a variety of situations, it’s especially powerful in the hands of an ethical marketer, entrepreneur, or business owner.
Color psychology is basically a field of study dedicated to analyzing and understanding how different colors influence human behavior. And when studied in the context of marketing, it explains how various colors impact the way people perceive brands and their products.
Here are some different ways color makes an impact:
Color goes beyond preference. While every person has their own affinity for particular shades, there are biological attachments to each color that have a much bigger impact than personal taste.
In branding, color can make or break a company’s perception. You’ll see color used in almost every area of a business, including logo, storefront, uniforms, websites, social profiles, advertisements, product packaging, etc. By using the same consistent color theme, you can establish a sense of continuity.
Colors can be masculine or feminine, serious or playful, affordable or luxurious, classic or modern, mature or youthful, subdued or noisy…the list goes on.
When choosing colors for your brand, you’ll generally select two to three colors (though it’s possible to have one or even four). These colors should be selected to align with your brand personality and target customer. One color will act as a base color – this is your primary color choice – and then the other one or two colors will be accent colors. They should complement the base color and give you flexibility in your designs and SEO.
The combination of colors you use in your marketing is known as a color scheme – and there are a few different kinds:
These are just some of the principles you should know when selecting and refining your color scheme. We’ll go into more detail on specific colors and the meaning behind them in the following section on the psychology of common colors. But for now, just know that it’s important to be cognizant of how colors fit together.
Color choice can have a significant impact on SEO as well. While Google and other search engines don’t technically have a line of code in their algorithms that address color, they do respond to the indirect results of color choice.
What do we mean by that? Well, consider that certain colors have the ability to impact conversion rates.
In a famous study conducted by Performable, two different call-to-action buttons were tested. While they both read “Get Started Now!”, one button was green and the other was red. They ran the test over multiple days and got more than 2,000 visits to the page. Half were served a green button and the other half were given a red button.
The result was that 21 percent more people clicked on the red button than they did on the green button. And considering that every other element on the page was the same, this indicates that color has the ability to influence clicks, conversions, and other similar activities.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to quickly change all of your CTAs to red, but it does indicate the importance of color choice. And because metrics like bounce rates, conversions, and average time on page impact search rankings, it can be said that color plays a role in SEO.
Color plays a significant role in how visitors experience an individual web page or larger website.
If the colors are loud and splashy, it might grab their attention. However, it’ll elevate their blood pressure and cause most people to close out the window as quickly as possible.
If the colors are boring – like black and white – it might be easy on the eyes, but there’s nothing to convince someone to stick around and find out what the website offers.
Colors impact user experience along a spectrum. You want the colors to be engaging and crisp enough to draw people in, but not so flashy that they push people away.
A good color scheme will have a positive impact on user experience and keep people coming back for more.
We’ve spent the bulk of this article discussing theoretical examples of why color matters, how to choose a color scheme, and the ways it can impact branding, SEO, and user experience. But you’re probably wondering how you can pick the right colors for the right outcomes.
In this section, we’ll explore the 10 most common colors and the emotions and psychology that are attached to them. This should allow you to strategically select certain colors and optimize your website, online brand, and digital presence.
As you can see, every color provokes a different set of responses. Some are obvious and intuitive, while others are more subconscious and under-the-radar. If you need to bookmark the post and refer back to this section in the future, feel free to do so.
The key with color psychology (or really any website element, for that matter) is to implement based on best practices, drive traffic to the desired pages, test, and iterate.
Simple A/B tests can be very effective if you’re stuck between which colors to choose for a homepage background, CTA button, headline, or graphic. Here’s how you conduct an A/B test:
It’s important to note that things change over time. What works now may not work in five years. It’s a good idea to constantly test different elements and iterate whenever the data tells you to.
A website is a living and breathing organism that evolves over time and reacts to external stimuli. One of these external stimulants is a force of nature known as Google.
As Google goes, so will your website and online marketing strategy. And it’s important that you evolve with the times to account for new and emerging best practices. This includes high-quality content marketing and organic link building that drives authority to your site and enhances your search rankings.
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