Here’s a test. Look closely at what you are reading right now, these very words. Do not move your eyes away from these words. Focus. Focus. Focus.
Oh, go on then, take a look at the sidebar, take a peek at what else is on the page.
And….back to the text……
Now, let’s start again. Because that is what your brain is having to do. All of a sudden your reading flow has been interrupted and you need to get back into the swing of things. And here is another interruption to disturb your brain some more – a picture to look at. We all know about online distractions from our daily work – such as email alerts or the desire to see what our friends are saying on Facebook. And we all know that these distractions take us away from being productive.
People who only deal with email once or twice a day are significantly more productive than those people who constantly check their emails. Several studies confirm this. Similarly, people who only log on to Facebook once a day and who have a routine are both more productive and feel better about themselves.
However, new research shows that it is not just major distractions, such as checking your email or logging onto Facebook that are a problem. It turns out that distractions that take as little as 2.8 seconds can have a significant impact on us. The study found that an average of 4.4 seconds of distraction is enough to significantly reduce your accuracy on subsequent tasks.
What this means is that the plethora of web distractions, such as “web page furniture” is not only wasting our time and making us all less productive, it also suggests that what we do at work is becoming less accurate as a result. That also hits our productivity as we have to go over and repeat our work in order to correct the mistakes.
One way out of this conundrum is to use something like Evernote Clearly which allows you to view web pages, distraction-free. Perhaps we need to re-think the way websites are designed. Perhaps web pages that look rather like a page of a book, free of distractions, are actually better for us than pages full of potential distractions.
It also means we could increase productivity with better designs for offices, phones that do not ring for more than 2.8 seconds and so on. It is time to look at the whole way we work – we are not being anywhere near as productive as we could be, because our modern way of working provides us with a constant array of distractions for more than a few seconds.
Does your website need a redesign?
Most web pages include lots of “furniture”, such as branding, navigation, images, advertising and lists of other useful things you might want to look at. Indeed, when we land on a plain text web page we tend to think it is something from the dark ages of the early Internet. These days we expect colour, graphics, video, useful links and so on.
However, new research suggests this could all be working against us, as website owners.
Neuroscientists at University College London have identified a phenomenon they are calling “load blindness” – the more information that we see, the more we don’t see it. This is a particular problem in certain professions such as being an airline pilot or a surgeon, where lots of visual information has to be processed. However, it is clearly also an issue for web pages.
What the researchers found was that when we are presented with lots of information in one go, our awareness for that information decreases. Indeed, the scientists found that the impact was the equivalent of turning the lights down to dim – we just can’t see as much.
The problem for web designers, though, is how do you include all the necessary information without leading to “load blindness”?
When you only have a small amount of information presented, added extras lead to distraction. So if you design a simple web page with one banner advert, for instance, the advertisement distracts the visitor, leading to loss of attention on what you might be wanting them to read. However, if you overload the page with extra “furniture” the distraction level appears to drop – therefore suggesting that you might get more engagement. But this new study suggests the opposite – it implies that your visitors don’t actually see as much as you think they do. The overload of information is effectively closing their eyes to what you want them to see.
What this study is really suggesting to us as website owners is that we need to think carefully about the pages we produce. Too little visual information can lead to distraction, too much visual information can lead to load blindness. Either way, many web pages could be getting traffic, but not actually having the required impact. It could explain why bounce rates are so high, on average; people simply do not see anything when they land on the pages because there is too much to see.
It is not the extent of the information that is the problem – you can have web pages with thousands of words on them. It is the amount of visual information that can be seen in a glance that is the issue. Too much “furniture” on your web pages could mean that people simply do not see what you want them to see.
Today Graham pulls no punches as he outlines the need for businesses to have a proper strategy for utilising new technology fully or face the plight of those that didn’t adapt quickly enough, such as Kodak or Polaroid.
Let’s face facts: the digital world is fundamental to all businesses. Even if you sell offline or operate mainly in the “real world”, the digital world has an impact on your business. Whether it is for communications, such as email, or as a starting point for buyers researching your business, the Internet is central to customers.
The problem is that most businesses themselves use the Internet as a “nice-to-have” and not as central to their business. When I speak to Chief Executives and point out this difference they nod their heads in agreement. But then they say it is “impossible” to change their business to focus on the Internet because it would involve too much change.
Now, though, they are in for a shock. The highly respected consultancy firm Forrester has said that unless businesses make this change they will “face an extinction event” within the next decade.
They are saying this because their latest research shows that only 21% of companies have a clear vision for the future use of digital within their business. That’s in spite of 90% of firms agreeing that digital will revolutionise their sector within the next 12 months….! And they are not the only consultants sounding the warning bell – just three months ago Capgemini published their own research suggesting that businesses simply have to make the Internet central to their company, regardless of their sector or industry.
According to Forrester, businesses are now just “bolting on” the Internet to their existing business structures. But what is required, they say, is a complete “re-set” – a fundamental shift in the way businesses are structured and run. Business leaders I meet are totally unprepared to do this because of the seismic shift required. Yet the warning from Forrester is stark: do it or die.
When you look at successful businesses online they are mostly businesses which focus their firm on the Internet – Google, Facebook, Amazon for instance. But it is not just technology-based companies like these online startups which have embraced digital as central to their business. Back in 2012 Starbucks transformed itself into a digital centric company.
Business leaders, used to a non-digital world, find it hard to make the transformation necessary. So, what is the solution? The first step must surely be to conduct an immediate review of the kinds of people setting strategy and plans for your company. The data from Forrester and Capgemini both point to the need to use the services of those “digital natives” in central roles in your company. The future of your business could well depend upon giving the strategic reins to your grandchildren.
Graham Jones is a man that knows a thing or two about the web and our relationship with it. He is an internet psychologist with a lot of useful insights, in particular for those that own or run a business in the UK. Here is his latest piece to get business owners thinking – which includes me. So let me know how I can help you too.
Business owners heed lessons from online retail
Where do you go to buy things these days? The chances are you use a variety of sources – local shops, out-of-town retail parks, town-based shopping centres and, of course, the Internet. However, increasing amounts of evidence show that the starting point for our purchases is the web, with Google being our “number one” place to go to start our shopping journey.
The latest piece of research comes from the incentives company, Parago. They found that the majority of shoppers begin their decisions about what to buy on the web. It means that if you are not using your website as central to selling, you are missing out – big time. Only for groceries, building supplies and pet supplies do people choose a retail store as the first port of call – though second on the list is either Google or Amazon for those shoppers.
But look deeper into the figures. They show that your products and services need to be found on Google – but that you also need to be on Amazon and have your own retail website too, if you are to pick up the most shoppers. Indeed, even for subscription services, people prefer to look for you on Amazon than in social media.
The study also found that the time taken to buy something is now down to 2.25 days. That suggests that if you don’t follow-up website visitors immediately, then you are losing out on sales because the decision to buy will have already been made if you wait more than a day or two to contact people.
In other words, to sell these days you have to be fast and you must have the web as central to your sales process.
Leveson Report: Reaction is the problem
If you are living in Britain, you probably cannot escape the coverage of the Leveson report. I admit that I have not read the report and am therefore not going to comment on its content. However, as I was listening to morning radio on the way to work, it occurred to me how many people (politicians in particular) were keen to commend the report as “very good” whilst at the same time admitting that they had not read it fully. What precisely did they like? the name on the cover? the binding? its thickness? the executive summary? This does not inspire confidence.
Leveson: Focus Too Narrow
I came across a good piece by Graham Jones entitled “Leveson has wasted his time”. Its an article worth reading and notes the flaws within the report that basically focusses on printed newspaper journalism rather than the wider “media” which as we know would include blogs, tweets, facebook and an array of “media”. The short truth is that the existing laws were broken and had these been abided by the scandals would not have occurred. The problem is really one of access to justice and the general assumption that “there’s no smoke without fire” which in media terms is really saying, we believe you are guilty, so whilst we don’t have proof, we will charge you as such. Lord McAlpine was one of those that experienced this sort of folly. The damage to individuals and businesses is largely done by whispering masses, which in 2012 is the on-line world.
Reacting to Reactions – What Happened to Principles?
The current Leveson story will soon be over, but often revisited. The main issue I have is not one of freedom of the press, (which I take to be an obvious requirement in a democracy) but of the constant perceived need to have a quick answer or response, a sound-bite. One must ask whatever happened to contemplation, reflection and assessment. This is actually the problem within media of all forms. The constant need for reaction. This is a cultural issue too, just applying this to my own field of expertise – many play the game of reacting to events. The stock markets – up or down – what is your move? what is the reaction? how will you position the portfolio this afternoon? this misses the point of long-term investing which is based upon rational principles that should not be changed hurriedly. My own view is that this approach to life is rather adolescent at best – unable to yet move into adult responsibility, but rather blown by the wind.
Freedom Brings Responsibility
As has been said before “with freedom comes responsibility” and that has been sadly lacking, (but not purely by newspaper journalists – some television “documentaries” that I have seen in the last year are a very good example of very weak or very poor investigative journalism). However, we all make mistakes and have a tendency to say the wrong thing, but freedom of the press – or our own free speech, should never mean that its OK to insult people just because you can. Sadly the financial adviser blogs are often places where many seem to relish the opportunity to release toxic vitriol upon anyone in their sights – invariably this is the regulator. So before we are drawn to conclude the newspaper industry needs reforming, many could do with some time for self-reflection. Myself included.