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Dark pattern

Mar 29, 2023

What Is a Dark Pattern?

A dark pattern is a tactic used to persuade a website visitor to take an action they may not normally take or that they did not intend to take. Such actions may include purchasing products, signing up for services, or registering for an account.

Dark patterns are often disguised behind complicated designs or language that serve to deceive users and trick them into taking action. In this way, some companies use websites to influence user behavior to benefit their business outcomes.

What Are Some Examples of Dark Patterns? 

Dark patterns can catch website visitors off guard and are intentionally tricky to detect. Here are several examples of dark patterns.

  • Trick questions. This dark pattern strategy tricks users into answering a question or performing an action they may not have intended to answer or take. For example, if a user submits credit card information to pay for a one-time service, but does not notice a check box that they’re required to select if they only want the service to occur once, they may find their credit card is charged for the service multiple times. 
  • Roach motel. Named after the device used to attract roaches into an enclosed space and trap them, this dark pattern does the same thing but in a digital environment. In website design, a roach motel is used to lure users to sign up for a service or create a new account, and make it extremely difficult for them to make changes to or cancel the account once created. 
  • Ad deception. Marketers can easily disguise advertisements as regular website content, like a CTA or a social media post from a friend. Because of how hard it is to tell the difference, some platforms have required companies to state that the link is an ad.
  • ‘Confirmshaming.’ The goal of this dark pattern strategy is to make you feel bad about not taking the action the business wants you to take. For example, if a pop-up invites you to sign up for a free course using CTA language like “Sign up!”, the language used for the alternative “no'' option might say something like, “No thanks, I don’t like free things.” This leaves the user feeling guilty for not wanting to take advantage of a free resource, and might make them more likely to click on the CTA.
  • Forced continuity. Signing up for a free month of service sounds great, but in order to get the free month, you usually have to hand over your credit card information. Once that free month expires, you’ll start seeing charges add up on your credit card bill unless you cancel your subscription or membership. Some businesses bank on the fact that users will forget to cancel the service after the free trial has ended to increase their revenue numbers.
  • Hidden costs. This type of dark pattern occurs when a company only advertises the price of the individual item but conveniently omits any extra fees. When you reach the final checkout page, you’ll notice the price is much higher than originally indicated. While consumers have become more cognizant of these types of fees, businesses continue to use them to attract consumers with low prices, only to upcharge them once they’re ready to checkout. 
  • Misdirection happens when a website distracts a user and tries to coerce the user to pay attention to an offer or option that would require more risk for the user, such as automatically signing up for a higher product tier. The company may use larger, more colorful text to indicate the item the user has chosen, while the less-expensive option may be in small text or grayed out and less visible. 
  • Basket hijacking. Similar to hidden costs, basket hijacking occurs when a business tries to add items to your shopping cart without you realizing it has happened. Another strategy occurs at the end of the shopping process, when consumers may notice they were upsold to a newer version of something or a higher class of seats for travel, even though the consumer never selected this option. Businesses also might try to sneak an insurance policy into a purchase, requiring users to deselect a box (which is conveniently already selected) if they do not want to purchase the policy. 

How Do Dark Patterns Negatively Affect the Customer Experience? 

A website using any of the dark pattern methods mentioned above can seriously devalue the customer’s experience and the customer’s opinion of a brand. While these tactics might seem like an easy path to converting customers in the short run, they can leave a lasting negative impression, tarnishing a business’ reputation and long term revenue goals.

For ideas and inspiration to create a seamless customer experience to build trust with prospects, check out the content below.

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