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Web Secrets from 1925: Prioritizing for the Attention Economy

The July edition of my Effective Website column is online at the Multichannel Merchant site. The topic is your site and the Attention Economy. Here are excerpts in outline form -- compactness intended to earn and keep your valuable attention!

  • AIDA. In the 1925 edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology, E.K Strong described the process of Attention, Interest, Desire, Action – AIDA -- as key to successfully courting consumers, or as we might put it, turning browsers into buyers. Attention is the first prerequisite to conversion. Capture your prospect’s Attention with an offer strong enough to gain his Interest, and he may then Desire your product enough to take Action.
  • Attention scarcity. More than 2 decades before the launch of the web, the computer scientist Hebert Simon pointed out that the rapid growth of information causes scarcity of attention. This scarcity increases the value of this attention.
  • Attention is earned, not owed. Rule #1 of the Attention Economy: if I want to communicate with you (or market to you) I need to capture your attention and earn the right to keep it. Putting first things first and leveraging prominence and prioritization can help your site win a few points in the competition for online attention.
  • Info proliferation. The proliferation of blogs, RSS feeds, pod casts, and other hallmarks of Web 2.0 –increases the competition for attention exponentially. In three years the number of blogs increased 100-fold, doubling every 6 months!
  • Never be boring. How can your site cut through the clutter and not just add to it? Well for one thing, your message can’t be boring. It needs to be relevant.
  • Focus on basics. For many online retailers, mastering the fundamentals is where the most valuable ground can be gained.
  • Front-loading. When we work with clients to improve their site strategy and design, we emphasize prioritization and front-loading. These are active processes that hone your message and help you design your site to lead with what’s most important.
  • “First things first” is a mantra that benefits your site at the strategic level and at the tactical, too.
  • USP. Start at 10,000 feet. How well does your site articulate your Unique Selling Proposition, the reasons to buy from you and not your competitors? Can you state your USP’s case in 250 words? How about 3 sentences? A 7 word tagline? If you can’t nail this down, your site’s messaging and design will likely reflect this lack of focus.
  • Think element placement. Drop down to page design. The next time you’re about to create a new page, before you move a single pixel, think first things first. List each element competing for placement on the page. Each should correspond to an action your user can take, like buying something, signing up, or simply drilling down.
  • Kill clutter. As always, clutter is the enemy, and a prime culprit on cluttered pages is copy that’s not optimized for the web. Online, people read less and scan more. Here again, to earn attention put first things first. Write in journalism’s inverted pyramid style: most important ideas first.
  • Users before spiders. Putting first things first is key to getting attention from search spiders, too. Your best strategy for natural search is to design your site for users first, search engines second. Still, there are some page elements that can benefit from search-specific attention. Page titles are more effective with front-loading. Don’t waste characters on “Welcome.” Unless it describes what you sell, save the name of your company for last.
  • Headlines matter. Once again, clarity and prioritization rule. A strong headline catches your reader’s eye, and under the hood, proper formatting makes your headline appealing to search engines too. In your site’s source code, make sure each page’s main headline is always encased within H1 tags. Use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to style these tags to your liking. Within the context of AIDA, think of CSS as a tool for helping your headlines gain Attention without sacrificing their appearance’s Desirability.
  • Inbox attention scarcity. Consider your customer’s in-box. Is there anywhere attention is at a greater premium? Among the metrics you track is your e-mail open rate. But thanks to the preview pane, this is becoming less important. What does the last email your company sent look like within the preview pane? Remember that in the latest versions of Outlook, the most popular email client, images are not loaded by default. Make sure each of your emails leads with a plain-text statement of your message’s most compelling offer. It’s a small point, but it could increase your share of the attention that’s becoming harder to win.
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