[Originally published June 24th, 2008 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]
A new report entitled Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us was written up recently in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Commissioned by Basex, it details how information overload, particularly task interruptions, costs the Enterprise $650 billion a year in lost productivity.
That’s a very large price to pay for having everything at our fingertips, all the time, in any format.
Our decision-making processes can’t always keep up with our choices. The same challenge applies to website design and content. The Web is a fantastic place to shop, research, and be entertained, but sometimes when I’m online, I notice physical fatigue when I’m trying to figure out where to go next!
When I’m evaluating a vendor’s Services page, should I:
- Sign up for their newsletter?
- Read about the awards they’ve won?
- Look at a list of clients?
- Read the CEO’s blog?
When I’m shopping for a health supplement, should I:
- Read about related products?
- Read about their latest “green” program?
- View my empty shopping cart?
- Become an affiliate?
Even though we come to a website with the best intentions, we’re by nature drawn to the shiny distractions that marketers and designers put along our path. We go down rabbit holes in websites and sometimes by the time we find our way back to the trail, we’ve lost our momentum . . . or maybe we’ve been interrupted and have to go back to work 😉
So I’m wondering: How much money is lost each year because we overload our potential customers with information on our web pages? How many visitors are driven away by cluttered designs, too many messages, too many offers, and too many choices?
Here’s the problem: Marketers naturally want to use messaging, offers, promotions and more to persuade web visitors. But in their efforts, they often contribute to information overload, which is proven to hamper the decision-making process. Also, companies tend to add more content to their websites over time and rarely retire content that’s outdated or irrelevant.
The solution: Most web pages should have only one primary goal. If there are alternate options, offers, or next steps, that’s fine. But don’t interrupt the task at hand, and don’t overload your visitors with distractions.
The one exception I can think of is the homepage, which should, at a minimum, a) communicate Unique Value Proposition, and b) route visitors.
Should you remove these secondary goals and choices? Maybe, but sometimes making them less prominent is enough to move the needle. It comes down to a business decision whether your “Sizzlin’ Hot Summer Giveaway” promotion is worth distracting a certain percentage of visitors from their primary goal.
What if you don’t know the goal of all of your site’s pages? You could start with rediscovering who your customers really are, or some analysis of your website’s “data dump,” or you could hypothesize and run some tests. Sometimes the purpose of a page is simply to present options. That’s fine, but don’t distract visitors from understanding their options and making a decision.
So let’s get practical here:
- Category page primary goal = route visitors to sub-category or product page
- Product page primary goal = persuade visitors to purchase
- In the News page primary goal = build brand credibility
- Shopping cart page primary goal = get the cash!
- General content page primary goal = build persuasive momentum
Although it seems hard at first, it’s actually pretty easy to find a single, primary goal for most pages on your site. Then you have the harder task of deciding how to do away with unnecessary distractions, get rid of design clutter, and allow visitors freedom without information overload.
Sometimes having a new pair of eyes look at your site can really speed this process up.
If you’re overloading customers with info, you’re not alone. Many world-class, million-dollar sites are guilty of information overload, and even the best online marketers need to work on it constantly.
Best of luck. To avoid information overload, let’s focus on answering three essential questions of site Optimization:
- Who is your visitor?
- What action do you want them to take?
- What will persuade them to take that action?