How to appeal to web users with a shorter attention span than a goldfish

short-attention-spanJust before composing this post, I was flicking through YouTube. As always, I went looking for a particular clip and before I knew it, half my morning was gone. Yet despite clicking on a lot of videos, I only really watched the start, perhaps a minute or two, before being distracted by another seemingly interesting clip.

On average, these video’s wouldn’t have been more than 3 minutes each, and despite some being entertaining, some funny, some educational the rest just plain strange, few of them were compelling enough to keep my attention to the very end.

This surprised me enough to Google some statistics on what could be considered an ‘average’ adult attention span. Knowing how reliable the internet is when it comes to proper factual information, I settled on the following as it seemed reasonable (and to be honest with you, I was distracted before doing any further research):

  • Average continuous attention span of a literate adult:8 seconds
  • Maximum possible continuous attention span for a literate adult: 30 seconds
  • Average general attention span of a literate adult: 10 – 12 minutes

As a website owner, this means you have less than a minute of to get people’s attention and even if you do manage to grab their attention, you’ll only be able to hold it for a few more minutes.

This means it’s crucial to not only know exactly what your potential (and existing) clients expect from your website and where they expect to find it – but to also do so in such a way that keeps them coming back for more.

Here are a few simple tips for how to achieve this:

  • As a business owner, you should know the common things that clients ask when they make an enquiry about your products/services. Make sure this information is easily accessible – put it on your homepage, or within one intuitive, easy-to-find click from your homepage.
  • Put all your contact information (especially phone number and address) on your homepage. Clients need to feel comfortable that they can easily contact you. Having to fill-in online forms, emails or support tickets might seem like a good idea, but nothing beats the power of a simple phone-call, so make it easy for your clients to do this.
  • If you have an online store, minimise unnecessary steps in the ordering process, where possible, remove navigation options and make sure you label how many steps are involved in the purchasing process, so clients don’t feel like they’re on a never-ending quest to reach the final check-out page.
  • Direct people to all the important parts of your website through well-placed text-links in your main website content. Having a menu is great, but sometimes if you’re in the middle of reading something and want to find-out more, being able to click directly on the word or phrase you’re reading can be far easier than having to figure-out where the item is in the menu structure.
  • Incorporate a search feature on your site as well as a site-map.
  • To get people coming-back for more, keep the content fresh and up-to-date. One simple way of doing this could be to add a blog, online newsletters or regularly updated industry-specific articles.

It should also go without saying that the site should at least look somewhat aesthetically appealing. Sure, we can’t all afford to pay expensive graphic designers, but it doesn’t take much to search around for an affordable (or even free) template.

There are lots of other usability tips and techniques that can be applied, but if you try and keep things simple, and employ common sense when it comes to the positioning of information, you’ll be doing a lot better than many of the sites I see on a daily basis.

The easier and quicker users can find what they’re looking for, the less likely they’ll lose interest and end-up browsing else-where.

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1 Response to “How to appeal to web users with a shorter attention span than a goldfish”


  1. 1 James Duthie Apr 3rd, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Loved the post Pete… or at least the first two paragraphs. But then I got a Tweet and forgot to read the rest.

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