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Just Because There’s a Gorilla In Your Website Doesn’t Mean Your Visitors See It

By Erin  |  April 23, 2014  |   Business Website Tips

illustration of a scary angry gorilla

Sometimes what you're looking for is right in front of you.

Unfortunately, you're not always seeing what's directly in front of you, says a 2010 study by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, two Ivy League scientists who study some of my absolute favorite psychological topics, including behavior, memory and perception. 

If you’ve never taken the famous video attention test, stop reading this article and do it right now.

The video test takes about 60 seconds to complete and is very fun. (I'm curious to see if you guess the correct number.)

Try it now:

For those who didn't take the test or don't want to

If you can’t watch the video right now or just don't feel like doing so, but you want to know what it’s about, here’s the rundown (GORILLA SPOILER ALERT!):

The video directs you to keep a silent count of how many times the people in white shirts pass a basketball. After the instructions are given, the video starts.

There are six players on the screen – three in white shirts and three in black shirts. In the middle of the video, a person dressed in a gorilla suit walks through the players to the middle of the screen, pauses to bang her or his chest, and continues walking straight across.

A whopping 50% of the time, people don't see the gorilla in the video.

The test illustrates how easy it is to miss something important, even when it’s right in front of your face – especially when you’re concentrating on an unrelated task.

Why this matters to your business's website

The principal illustrated by the test, called inattention blindness (and sometimes referred to as change blindness) is incredibly important for any business owner because it proves one thing: 

Your customers are not reading everything on your website.

Not even close.

Website eye tracking studies prove people don't see what you think they do

There are fascinating eye-tracking studies, resulting in heat maps, that show exactly what part of websites tend to get the most attention. Perhaps you've seen them before.

They look like this:

heatmapThe results of these studies are fascinating. What we've ultimately learned from them, though, is this:

When your visitors arrive at your site with a preset task in mind (hopefully buying a product or service), they're likely to miss even the most important information you've put on the page that's related to their preset task.

Here's the fascinating part: The reason eye-tracking data doesn’t catch this reality is because a user can be looking right at the information and not process it.

This presents a quandary, definitely.

But there’s hope. 

How to increase the likelihood your website's most important information is processed

Even though your website's visitors can miss information directly in their line of sight, using any (or all) of the following three web design techniques can help increase the chances that your website's visitors will pay attention to and focus on what you want them to focus on.  

Focus your website visitors' attention, Tip 1 of 3: repetition

Repeat information. Repeat information. Repeat ...Okay, you get it. This is an important technique whenever you're trying to engage an audience, both on and off your website (e.g., staff meeting, presentation, etc.)

Repeating and rephrasing provide more chances for you to drive home very important points and more chances for your website visitors to comprehend those points in their entirety.  Read more about the benefits of repetition and how to use this technique to your advantage, right here.

Focus your website visitors' attention, Tip 2 of 3: it's in the eyes

Take advantage of the brilliant “human gaze principle”! The human gaze principle states that a person is more likely to look at something if another person is looking at it first. 

If you can incorporate visuals into your pages that utilize this principle, you'll be taking advantage of an advanced, lesser-known web design technique to help you win the battle for your readers' attention. Want to read more and actually see the principle in action? Read this post.

Focus your website visitors' attention, Tip 3 of 3: pop!

Yes indeed, there is something called "banner blindness" and yes indeed this tip offers no guarantees. But you can absolutely increase your chances of having your website's visitors focus on what you want them to by making that something POP!  

If you have a white background page, put your important content into a box with a yellow background.  Or point a bright orange arrow to it. Or bold it and make it VERY LARGE.

Differentiate your most important content from the rest of your pages' content. Make it pop out visually, and many of your visitors' eyes (and attention!) will be drawn directly to it.

What to avoid

This will be quick.  This may be obvious to many of you but... it's worth repeating:

Whenever possible, do not present your website's content in large chunks of text, with no breaks, bullets, or other visually stimulating attention cues. This makes the content more difficult to read, skim through, and process—even for the types of website visitors who are exceptionally thorough and read every word. (Learn more about the different types of website readers/users in this blog post.)

Today's key takeaways

  • Do not assume your website's visitors are reading everything on your website.
  • Do use visual cues and attention-grabbing techniques to pull a user's attention toward your most important information. They may not see it, but you're at least increasing your odds.
  • Sometimes gorillas are very sneaky.

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