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Hey Marketers, Your Prospects Aren’t Goldfish

They say never read the comments, but I did. And for once, I didn’t regret it.

I just came across this infographic from Wyzowl on the problem of shortening attention spans and how they affect marketing. It points to research which suggests that between 2000 and 2015, the average human attention span decreased from 12 seconds to 8.25 — down to roughly the average attention span of a goldfish. This change, coupled with the typical distractions of modern life like email and smartphones, means marketers are now challenged to grab interest and land that conversion inside an even briefer window of time.

That didn’t seem quite right to me, but before I had the chance to figure out why, I scrolled too far and saw this comment by David Kutcher:

The problem with believing that your audience has the attention span of a goldfish is that you end up throwing more information at them, quicker, with greater click-bait titles to capture their attention… and end up ruining the user experience that would keep them on your website. Why do users have the appearance of limited attention spans? Some reasons can be:

  • You got them to click with false pretenses
  • You overwhelmed them with content and calls to action before they even got settled
  • Your analytics aren’t tracking correctly, recording single-page sessions as 0:00 on-site.

I wrote about all of this in an article, Embracing a Slow User Experience, published in March 2015.

Please, stop advancing this misleading metric. It harms our industry.

Kutcher has a point here. By catering to the impossibly quick goldfish standard, marketers can inadvertently create an undesirable user experience which drives prospects away sooner, which in turn perpetuates the goldfish standard. Pretty soon you’ve whittled your landing page down to just a bold headline and a giant call-to-action button, and you’re still wondering why people aren’t reading and clicking.

Humans are more than capable of paying attention for longer than 8.25 seconds. If we weren’t, books would no longer get written, doctors would no longer be able to operate, and scientists would no longer be able to conduct all that research on attention spans.

In fact, it’s downright easy to get humans to pay attention for longer. You just have to make them want to.

And this is where the infographic comes in handy. Because their suggestions on holding attention will help improve a user’s experience, making them want to spend more time with you:

  • Be clear in your messaging.
  • Focus on UX and ease of navigation.
  • Keep your messaging short and sweet.
  • Tell stories.
  • Use video to help convince.

The infographic offers overall good advice, but I still have a hard time comparing humans to goldfish. So maybe, like most things in life, the answer lies somewhere between the extremes. Maybe your best bet, as a marketer, is to throw out the 8.25-second rule and simply focus on creating attention-worthy content that doesn’t demand too much of a prospect’s time.

Take a look at the infographic and let me know if you agree!


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