Does Your Website Smell?


Now that’s an odd question, right?

We all know that websites don’t smell (at least not literally).

But if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to demonstrate the importance of emotion in your copy, and what types of emotional imagery your copy needs to conjure up.

To understand why emotion matters so much when selling online, all you have to do is observe almost any shopper in a physical store. Watch what the person does and the behavior the individual has.

On arriving inside the store, a person performs a lightening fast perception check. Within split seconds (so fast no one notices), the person’s brain processes all the data it can gather. Temperature. Lighting. Odors. Sounds. Movements. Space. Colors. When you think about it, the amount of information we take in is amazing.

Onwards. It’s time to shop.

So our shopper grabs a basket and heads off, navigating people and store layouts. It’s not long before something catches her eye—a bottle of shampoo, perhaps. The bottle is a neat color, it’s nicely shaped, and it looks appealing.

She slows; she stops. Sold? Not yet. But the shopper has had her senses stirred. It’s a beginning.

Our shopper picks the bottle up. She hefts it a little, flips it over and reads the text, then snaps the top and takes a quick sniff. Ah, Island Breezes. Very nice. It makes her think of the beach and a sunny day. There’s a song she likes playing overhead. Life’s good.

Now our shopper turns to her companion, a friend or maybe a family member. “Did you smell this?” She offers over the bottle, and her friend takes a sniff. They talk over some other shampoos they’ve used lately, their hair care problems, and the benefits offered by this new brand of shampoo.

Finally, the shopper makes a decision. Sold.

It’s the moment stores yell, “Bingo!” Using sales and marketing tactics, they’ve managed to create desire and possession. They’ve conveyed to the shopper that life changes will happen – if only she brings Island Breezes home.

She wants it. It’s hers. She owns that shampoo, and she hasn’t even paid money for it yet.

Imagine that shopping experience online. There are no smells, often no sounds, nothing to touch, and no friend to talk with. All there is to create a shopping experience is a flat screen, an image or two and some copy.

This is a bit of a problem.

People try to satisfy every sense they can while shopping. They analyze visual, auditory, tactile, and emotional data and more to make a purchase decision. The more senses people use, the better it is for sales.

Your copy needs to help a person see, touch, hear, feel, and even smell—if only in the mind. You can do that, too. Adding emotional imagery is easy through the power of words.

  • Tell a story.
  • Use Language that appeals to the senses.
  • Work in fears, pain, conflict, desire and the promise of a better life.
  • Draw the shopper in and enhance the ability to imagine positive changes that will (not could, will) occur—if only the shopper clicks to buy.

No emotion? The only click that happens is the one that lets shoppers leave your site.

About the Author: For more advice that doesn’t stink from James Chartrand, check out Men with Pens. Or grab the highly-emotional Men with Pens feed.

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Reader Comments (30)

  1. says

    Not only does this speak to the need for compelling copy and images, but you’ve really made the case for why including audio and video in e-commerce content is taking off bigtime. Copy still needs to be written for these media, as well, and it still needs to get results.

  2. says

    I came to the conclusion last week that it matters far less what I am saying than how I’m saying it. People want a story. They have since before Homer.

  3. says

    Great post. Web writers really do need to consider their audiences more and figure out ways that they can appeal to readers. This post offers some valuable insights that I hadn’t thought of before, so thank you!

  4. says

    Thanks James. This is a really helpful post. It’s always good to consider the emotions of the readers. As a matter of fact, as I’m studying target markets, their decision making process is based more on emotion rather than rational choice. These simple tips could help me come up with posts that is sensitive to the reader’s needs. Again, thank you.

  5. says

    James, great advice! People make buying decisions on emotion and then validate with logic. I am guilty of doing the right things by clients and then getting lazy when it comes to doing it for myself. Thanks for the kick in the rear reminder!

  6. says

    I couldn’t agree more, James. Funny, I just wrote a blog post on multi-sensory marketing last week. We must be on the same wave length!

    Now, if we could just get the smell thing down. It’s one of the strongest senses and I often thought when I was teaching first grade, if I could just use scents to teach letters and beginning sounds. Pity the poor kid with the cold, though.

    The implications for websites are significant. Video, podcasts, even online demonstrations for the kinesthetic learner. It really is exciting.

  7. says

    Thanks for the reminder James. I’m all about emotion in my life, but as I move to the new blog format, I run the risk of dropping the emotional level a bit.

    Of course for my sales copy, I have you making sure I include the emotion…

  8. says

    Tell a story, showcase benefits, lead them to where you want them to go, sell your product without selling, a little humor may be good, consider decoy marketing, keep it concise, include the senses, show a need, solve a problem, provide easy navigation, write a great title/headline, start strong, wrap it up well . . .

    No problem 😉

    Actually, the more you do these things, the less you have to think about them and they become second nature.

  9. says

    @ John – Ya think?!

    @ Alex – You have a difficult subject that requires emotion. It’ll take practice to walk that fine 😉 line.

    @ Judy – You reminded me of song and how people can easily remember hundreds of lyrics to songs they love. See how it works?

    @ Aira – It’s funny to read on consumerism. There’s very little that seems rational at all – and yet, it all boils down to needs, doesn’t it? Just what *type* of needs is up for debate.

    @ Michael – AUGH! Multimedia!! (I know, you’re right. I know.)

    Cheers everyone, and thank you for the comments!

  10. says

    Ah ha ha, hoisted on your own multimedia petard! Very cool post, though.

    It’s all about experience. The amazing thing about writing is that you can suggest such a huge variety of experience just with some abstract marks on a page/screen.

  11. says

    Per usual, the articles on this site are SO on point. This is so true – in order to keep readers, you must connect with them on some sort of personal level!

  12. says


    This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time – I know that sounds trite… but its true. Regardless if we are reading a blog, book, magazine, etc., the brain connects with what we are reading through our senses and memory.

    This creates the emotional connections with what we read. The better the “story” the stronger the connection.

    Thanks again!

  13. says

    I used to work at an Ad Agency, and it IS all about marketing and appeal to the senses. Wow, now that makes sense in blogging too. Thanks for the insight!

  14. says

    Great post. Web writers really do need to consider their audiences more and figure out ways that they can appeal to readers. This post offers some valuable insights that I hadn’t thought of before, so thank you!

  15. says

    My answer to: Is it emotion or logic that brings people to your “storefront”.

    I have always heard that human beings are ’emotional’ creatures.

    Who was it that said that they are illogical?
    Oh yeah, Mr Spock from the original Star Trek series.

    And I think that sometimes it is more of a rationalization, rather than logic, that supports some of our behaviors.

    When writing, I like to include a piece of myself, usually a funny piece, a pun or joke, irony … in essence I write like I talk (depending on the subject, of course).

    The good thing about writing is that you can edit out the stuff that might be taken wrong and offend someone. In the end, you will not, and can not, please everyone. But you must remain true to yourself, or it will show.

    I’m sorry, I am babbling, and probably off-topic by now.

    Have a great day, everyone.

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