You’ve seen them everywhere on the web and in your apps: . They may be pretty obvious (like arrows pointing at specific page elements) or quite subtle (like someone’s soft gaze directed at a call-to-action [CTA] button).

Wherever you’ve seen them, one thing’s clear — they make the user experience () on your user interface better and easier, while helping websites achieve specific page goals like signups, social shares, and purchases. In short, they’re here to help with conversions, too.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just slapping a “Look here” sign next to a CTA that you really want your site visitors to click. There’s a lot of behavioral psychology going on underneath the simplest visual cues, which we’re going to look at in greater detail.

Why visual cues are so powerful

Why are human beings seemingly hardwired to respond to visual cues? Is it part of our evolutionary psychology? Do we need obvious cues because we’re otherwise just too inobservant? The truth is likely a mix of both.

According to an appropriately named scientific study titled “Eye gaze cannot be ignored (but neither can arrows),” published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology:

“Gaze and arrows were presented before the target as uninformative distractors irrelevant for the task. The results showed similar patterns for gaze and arrows — namely, an interference effect when the distractors were incongruent with the upcoming target location. This suggests that the orienting of attention mediated by gaze and arrows can be considered as strongly automatic.”

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