Monday, August 28, 2017

Cognitive Load - fancy phrase for something that makes sense

It's website up date time, so I've been casting around looking for inspiration. The usual tempting side tracks show up. I go down them and soon a weekend afternoon has pleasantly spun away. As on the ground, random wandering online is every bit as good as random wandering on land.

In looking at my peers, I see that very few have a video on their home page.

First thought - strange.

Isn't it strange that digital marketing companies tend not to have what many call the #1 tool in marketing - video - prominently displayed on their home page?


I looked at many sites with this in mind, and it seems to be consistent. Few digital marketing companies use video on their home page.


The answer I agree with the most, involves a fancy new word of the day. Phrase actually - 'cognitive load'.

Lovely phrase, n'est-ce pas?

In a nutshell, this phrase boils down to recognizing (or assuming) that a first time visitor to your website HOME PAGE, is there with a quick shallow mindset, which primarily means using their eyes. They're in scanning mode. The funnel notion fits here. First time visitors being at the 'top', not really looking for specific info. Most often, most of them are browsing, not really lasered in on one thing. Ideally, this visitor is beginning their education on you and your company, looking to see if what they like is actually present. If it's there, they will likely still leave fairly fast, but some of them will return. Their return visit will be different than their first visit. That second visit will likely take them straight to the stuff they liked on their first visit. Less wandering and more focus on what they're after. This is a good thing - and also it puts them further into (or down) the funnel.

'Cognitive load' speaks to how hard you make a viewer work to understand the 'thing' on the page they are visiting.

The art is in matching the 'thing' on the page to the most common viewer mindset for that page. A light cognitive load is going to be mostly visual. Text will be big headers and short phrases. Lots of colors and pretty shiny things, intended to allow for easy engagement and quick digestion. Again mostly visual. Our eyes excel at digesting the light fluffy stuff, usually in the foreground and right there for all to see. No underlying messaging. No nuance. This is the most common mindset of a first-time HOME PAGE visitor.

Remember our hairy barefoot ancestors freezing in the cave - if they missed the visual cues right in front of them, Mama Sabertoth got an easy meal and your family line met its final destiny. So our eyes are indeed critical for that first and almost always quick impression, but that's it. After the foreground is determined to be safe, eyes are off to the next pretty shiny thing.

Makes sense to me.

To some extent, a website needs to mostly fit this theory - home page (aka top of funnel) quick to consume, easy to digest, comforting and non-threatening. A light cognitive load, like a beautiful grassy meadow full of fat sleeping deer would have been to my hairy barefoot ancestors. Or yours.

I like this hunting analogy because it tends to go from rapid shallow scans to more focused critical stalking, once that focus is achieved and a target is selected.

Again, those rapid shallow scans, surveying the field or the home page, are a light cognitive load.

That more focused phase of the hunt, both on the grassy plain out in front of the continent-sized ice lobe and modern day online, is a HEAVIER cognitive load. More focused, more thought, more concentration. A narrowing and more intense use of the senses. More complex and engaged concentration on one thing. Then it was stalking that closest, fattest sleeping deer. Now it's making a decision on what to buy or what to read or what to listen to.

Putting a heavy cognitive load (something with audio and a linear message) on a home page is akin to forcing a viewer to stalk, when their mindset is most likely set to scan.

Once again, this is nothing more than matching your content and its position to the most frequent mindset of your user and the page they are viewing.

I'm not writing to disparage online video. I am writing to suggest an alignment of content to mindset.

Put light fluffy and attractive 'stuff' on your home page. Entice a visitor. Make them curious. And make it quick. In line with scanning.

Interior pages, deeper into the funnel, are for the detail and the heavier cognitive load, like video (with good audio). Scanning the fat sleeping deer in the meadow is the light cognitive load. Make your home page like this.

Once the focus is made, the cognitive load gets heavier as the stalking begins. This is analogous to the viewer clicking a link on the home page and going to an interior page. Equally as likely, they leave your site to continue scanning, but they remember that close in fat sleeping deer. And they come back and go right to an interior page that is heavier with details and relevant information. Video is a great tool for an interior page, where a heavier cognitive load is MUCH more inline with the viewer's mindset.

OK. I've ranted about 'cognitive load' and I still have not decided on an updated look for my website.

P.S. - Red Pepper Media wrote the first page I went to in my scanning. They offered up the first intriguing mention of 'cognitive load' that I found. There's a ton of information out there on this psychological topic. It's a big one. Well established. And relevant to how your site should be designed!

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