Cat pictures and GIFs make the web go round. That much is obvious to anyone who has used the web at all in the last couple of decades. But cats aren’t just great content. They’re great companions for those of us too busy to take care of dogs.

They’re smart little fluffy things, though. Over the millennia, cats have learned exactly how to manipulate us into giving them what they want…most of the time. Indeed, they’ve learned many ways to make us want to give them the things they demand. There’s a really strong case for the idea that all cat owners just have really bad Stockholm Syndrome.

From cats, we can learn to form relationships with people with whom we may not have much in common

Now I’m not advocating Stockholm Syndrome as the key to your site’s success. Being as demanding or sneaky as some cats are would backfire horribly. I’m suggesting that there are things we can learn from the ways that cats dig their little foot-knives into our hearts. From cats, we can learn to form relationships with people with whom we may not have much in common.

1. Give and Take

The first thing that any smart cat learns is that you don’t get your nightly tuna snack for free. The deal with my fiancée’s cat is that he has to be back inside by 10PM. As he is now an indoor cat, he meets this demand easily enough. My cat has (mostly) realized that she pays for her tuna in cuddles, nose boops, and by hopping into my lap while purring and demanding affection—she understands her side of the deal.

You gotta deliver quality (metaphorical) cuddles to earn loyalty

Now, you might not have the chance to cuddle with your site’s users and shed fur on them. You just need to understand that when a user comes to your site, you’ve just entered into a deal. So long as your site provides them with what they need and/or want, they’ll stick around and give you their attention, and perhaps their money. Tricking users is a short-term solution. You gotta deliver quality (metaphorical) cuddles to earn loyalty.

2. Make Your Needs Known

Cats don’t meow at each other. They meow at us, because apparently, it’s the only thing we understand. And even then, it’s hard to tell one meow from another, so I end up checking their food, water, litter boxes, and anything else that might be wrong before I realize that the little brat wants to go outside, but he isn’t allowed.

If you need action or input from your users, you need to make this painfully, sometimes ear-splittingly clear. Unlike cats, you can actually tell your users exactly what action or input you need. This is why buttons have to look like buttons, links have to look supremely clickable, and don’t even get me started on forms.

3. Move on From Your Mistakes

You ever see a cat screw up while rolling around and fall off the bed or couch? It’s amazing. Watching these graceful little creatures completely fumble a jump is one of life’s great pleasures. Cats are skilled in moving past their mistakes. After an initial expression of mild shock, a cat will promptly right itself and get back to doing cat things. Cats don’t sit there on the floor pretending they meant to do that. They get up and solve the problem, then pretend they meant to do that.

Cats are skilled in moving past their mistakes

In design, as in life, you can’t cling to your mistakes, whether your security was hacked, you spent too long on a UI idea that was never going to work, or you just made a typo in the CSS. You have to get back on your feet, then set things aright, or start over. And you have to do this as quickly as possible, so as to not lose momentum. The caveat is that we don’t get to pretend it never happened. Improvement requires admitting your mistakes, and apologizing to anyone they might have adversely affected.

4. Delight Your Users by Being Yourself

One of the joys of living with cats—one never truly owns a cat—is watching them do cat things. When they roll over and sleep with their bellies to the sun, you can’t help but smile. When they dose in a pose so regal, you’re reminded of a Sphinx, that’s just adorable. When they play fight, hunt, chase red dots, or inhale their tuna like addicts, they are just being themselves. And we love it.

Projecting a false personality to your users will always backfire eventually. If you are into cheesy humor, write cheesy copy. If your company maintains a highly formal environment, make your site formal. Take the best of yourself (or your company), and invest it into the site itself. If nothing else, your users will appreciate the honesty. In a best case scenario, they’ll grow attached.

5. Take Care of Your Users

When a cat brings you a dead animal, or worse, one that’s not quite dead yet, they’re just looking out for your well-being. They never see you go hunting, and assume that you must be terrible at it, opposable thumbs and tuna cans notwithstanding. So they’ve gone hunting for you, and they really want to teach you how. It’s messy, but well-intentioned.

first and foremost that users are people before they are customers

Show your new users around the site, if it has any complex functionality. Take care of their personal info, do your best to avoid leaks. Give them the best customer service you can. Remember first and foremost that users are people before they are customers. Demonstrate loyalty to the people who use your site, and they’ll be loyal to you. Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you.

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