How the False Consensus Effect influences the way people design sites

By Roman Berezhnoi April 7, 2022 677 views

How the False Consensus Effect influences the way people design sites

You are not the user. Every day F5 Studio project managers say that to web designers, clients, and themselves. Why? Because they know about the false consensus effect.

Unfortunately, we, web designers, marketers, business owners, managers, and SEOs assume that people who will use our sites are like us. This is why many business sites are ineffective. These sites have bad SEO performance and can’t turn visitors into customers.

But always there is a solution: you should know more about the false consensus effect.

What is the False-Consensus Effect?

In psychology, the false consensus effect, also known as consensus bias, is a pervasive cognitive bias that causes people to “see their own behavioral choices and judgments as relatively common and appropriate to existing circumstances”. In other words, people tend to assume that others share their beliefs and will behave similarly in a given context. On the other hand, people who are very different from them would make different choices.

The false-consensus effect was first defined in 1977 by Ross, Greene, and House. They showed that people tend to overestimate how many people share their choices, values, and judgments and perceive alternate responses as rare and deviant.

Ross and his colleagues ran experiments in which participants had to estimate what percentage of people would make one of two choices. The researchers discovered that participants expected that the majority of people would make the same choice that they made. And that those opting for the alternative would have different personal characteristics than those opting for their choice.

In real life, web designers and business owners tend to assume that their customers will prefer the same site navigation that they are going to use for the site. Only someone very different from these people, living in a completely different part of the country, from a different socioeconomic class, with different education, could have the other web design style.

These assumptions are natural. The human mind makes inferences based on one or a few examples. Generalizing based on the examples available is called the availability bias and is a type of cognitive bias. 

But it is not good for business sites. You are not the user of your site. People can not share their beliefs.

Factors that influence the False Consensus Effect

There are three main reasons why false consensus occurs:

  • Our family and friends are more likely to be similar to us and share many of the same beliefs and behaviors.
  • Believing that other people think and act the same way we do can benefit our self-esteem. 
  • We are the most familiar with our own beliefs. This is why we are more likely to notice when other people share similar attitudes.

The false consensus effect can be stronger in certain situations. If we consider something really important or feel confident in our point of view, the degree of false consensus tends to be stronger. We’re most likely to assume more people agree with us.

If you are a fan of using a dark theme template for your site, for example, you will probably be more likely to overestimate the number of people who also like dark website design.

The effect is also stronger in instances when we are very sure that our beliefs, opinions, or ideas are the correct ones.

If you are absolutely 100% convinced that you should use the Buy button on the top of the site page to improve your conversion rate, you are more likely to believe that most of your site visitors will click this button.

We are more likely to experience the false consensus effect in cases where situational factors play a major role. You think that your competitor’s site is terrible because the visual effects are so poor. It is just an HTML site. Since you assume that everyone else visiting this site is sharing the same experience and forming the same opinions, you might mistakenly believe that all the other visitors will also share your belief that the site is terrible. In fact, this “terrible” site can outrank your “professional” site, drive more visitors and convert them into customers.

Test, test, and test

Much in the same way, we, web designers, business owners, and marketers assume that people who will use sites are like us. We have just one example of someone using the site: it’s us. And maybe our colleagues whose we can ask about that. And we make generalizations based on that example. So only someone stupid or very different from us could actually fail to figure it out.

But it is wrong. It’s deeply weaved into our nature to believe that others are like us. It is the False Consensus Effect.

Much of web design work involves looking at a few users and one design and then making inferences to other similar but not quite-the-same situations. Or applying heuristics and the knowledge that we’ve acquired to new paradigms.

So what’s the web designer, business owner, or marketer being to do to avoid wrong ideas?

First, learn about this bias.

Second, test your ideas with real users (not your colleagues, family, or friends). It’s important to understand that these inferences can be biased. You should know who your website visitors are and how they respond to these designs by watching them use them. Often what works in one situation may not work in others, and vice versa.

Third, use marketing tools or frameworks to test and visualize ideas. At F5 Studio, our UX designers and marketers use the Value Proposition Canvas to link customers’ needs and pains with solutions.

You should avoid making assumptions. Do not look for validation, you should investigate and test.

Focus on content

You must admit that quality UI/UX design costs a lot of money. Most business sites, when you break them down to their layout and basic building blocks, are just the same as a theme but with different images. 

In fact, many businesses do not need “a custom web design”. Most businesses need ROI first, not a web design award. You can use a simple theme or buy the theme on the marketplace to use that like thousands of other business owners. You can order a website design for $1000

This is why many businesses would do better with a simple theme and paying an agency for branding and content creation (your marketing messages). These two things can make any theme more custom than the so-called “from-scratch web design.” Because branding and content can add real value to your site. You can learn more about why SEO copywriting is important. Testing copy is easier than testing web design. Also, it is simpler and cheapest to change website content than redesign your site. If you have a tight budget, it’d be better to focus on branding and content and use a simple website design.

Anyway, it doesn’t mean that you can ignore the UI/UX design of your site. A professional web designer can use unexpected creative web design style, amazing UI elements, and effective UX design to create an attractive site and improve conversion rate.


The false consensus effect influences the way people design sites. Marketers, web designers, and experienced business owners should avoid making this mistake. You are not the user.

Now you know about the False Consensus Effect. Also, you should test your web design before deciding on any further steps to be taken. If you have a tight budget, you should use a simple web design and focus on the brand identity and content of your website. Professional web agencies have to help you to make the right decision for your business.

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