Spend any great length of time on LinkedIn, and it won’t be long before you’ll see someone rehash this quote:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou, American poet and civil rights activist.

You could say it’s becoming a meme. And it should, as it carries a ton of useful truth about how emotion impacts our decision-making.

SPOILERS: If you read this content carefully, you’ll learn how you can reduce website bounce rate by designing a website journey that fits with your customers’ mental models.

Mental Models

What are they?

In the simplest way possible, Mental models are an internal representation of an external reality.

In other words, they’re the thoughts and understanding we have about how things in our environment work.

mental models

Jakob’s Law and Mental Models

Jakob’s law provides a brilliant rule of thumb for designing customer experiences that fit nicely with the mental models of the audiences we want to engage with.

Jakob’s law says that…

Users will transfer expectations they have built around one familiar product to another that appears similar.”

Laws of UX: Jakob’s Law

In other words, we have a habit of developing mental models about the things we most interact with in our environment, and we develop an expectation for similar things to work in the a similar way.

If those expectations aren’t met, we feel confused, frustrated and uninspired to continue the customer journey.

Putting Mental Models into Context: How Would You Feel if Your Phone Turned Against You?

Imagine how you’d feel if one day you woke up and your phone’s functions had changed radically. Imagine you couldn’t even figure out how to turn the thing on.

At best, you’d feel pretty upset. At worst, your entire day would be utterly ruined and you’d likely write off your laptop in an explosive fit of apoplectic rage, much to the horror of innocent bystanders. Nobody needs that.

You’d forget all those blissful days when your phone worked as expected, and you’d remember the horror of that one time when your phone failed to behave according to your mental model of how it should work.

How Breaking Jakob’s Law
Could Be Causing a Higher Bounce Rate

Remember when Blackberry phones were popular?

At first, with businesspeople and then, weirdly with teenagers. Some of us swore by the tiny button-fest. Back then, we had flip-phones, chocolate-bar shaped phones and Nokias so small you’d lose them in your pocket.

Then, along came the iPhone with its now iconic design and touch screen. Suddenly, the party was over; most phones today follow more or less the same design.


Because Apple nailed it. They designed a phone so good, it became central to how we think phones should look, feel and work—the iPhone became our mental model.

When it comes to your website visitors, it’s possible something very similar is happening.

A useful way of thinking about it is to realise that…

Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”

Laws of UX: Jakob’s Law

To put this in context, it’s not hard to see why e-commerce, flight-booking, insurance and other similar sites often use the same structure and visitor journey as their competitors.

Being different isn't always good

The Lesson of Jakob’s Law

There’s an eye-opening lesson to be learned from this; if your website visitors have built up mental models of typical website journeys for your industry, it makes sense to align with customersexperience youre offering with those intuitions.

Failing to do so will lead to friction, alienation, frustration, and a higher bounce rate.

How Can You Use Jakob’s Law to Design a Customer Journey that fits Prospects’ Mental Models?

The first thing to say is, don’t get yourself in a panic—there are tons of reasons for a high bounce rate. Just because you’ve read this, doesn’t mean you’re definitely on the wrong side of Jakob’s law.

Do a Thorough Competitor Analysis

Do a little research. Get a feel for your industry and look for design patterns among the big players. Some industries will have specific website designs and customer journeys that are the same across all the brands in that industry. If you’re out of synch, you might be paying the price.

It’s worth paying for tools like Alexa’s Competitive Analysis that lets you research competitor website stats. Find which sites have the highest traffic and lowest bounce rate and discover how they lay out their website user journeys—there will be specific things they’re doing that retain and convert more traffic.

The Key Questions to Ask:

You won’t know what needs fixing until you’ve diagnosed the issues with a thorough website audit. When we perform website audits for clients, we’re effectively answering questions like:

  • What does your client base look like?
  • What are the patterns in customers who already buy from you?
  • Is there an industry design standard prospects are used to?
  • What are the key questions website visitors need answers to?
  • Where are visitors used to finding answers to those questions?

Find the answers, and you’ll discover hidden weak points in the customer journey that can be systematically tackled to make sure traffic retention and conversion start to trend upward.

Ultimately, it’s not about designing websites that we like as website owners. It’s about designing to your specific customers’ expectations. And that means doing your homework.

If you think your proposition, messaging and website customer journey could better-match your customers’ mental models and you need a guiding hand, get in touch. We’re pretty good at doing other business’ homework.

Thanks for reading.

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