Attention span of a goldfish?
You wish.

For an average Goldfish
it’s 9 seconds.

For the average person
it’s just 8 seconds.

It raises a heap of issues around gaining and maintaining attention amongst consumers – particularly when interacting online. And if attention is defined as the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. It’s clear that distraction usually wins.1

And if you’ve ever found yourself wondering why you got distracted from what you started out doing, it’s actually not something that’s easy to control. Dr. Michael Lipson PhD, a clinical psychologist in the US, has mapped it out in a new article in the Harvard Business Review (read it here).
325(How long do you watch one of these before you wander off?)

There are four phases of attention and distraction that happen every time you try to focus:

Lipson believes:

  1. First, you choose a focus. It might be anything, from any sphere of life. eg what’s for dinner tonight?
  2. Sooner or later your attention wanders. This isn’t what you plan to do. It just happens. (If it were a plan, it would be another focus, not a wandering.)
  3. Sooner or later you wake up to the fact that your mind has wandered. You notice the distraction. You realise how far you are from the thing you first wanted to focus on. Again, you can’t exactly plan or choose this.
  4. Having woken up, you may choose to return to the original theme – like what’s on the menu. Then again, you may choose to give up and do something else. It’s up to you; it’s a choice. If you do return to the original theme at Step 4, the whole thing tends to begin again. Sooner or later your mind wanders…
So… what was I saying? Oh yes –  if you’re in the digital world, you need to be fast:

Ideally 3 seconds or less. To keep within the attention span and have a chance to communicate key messages within  the 8 second window.  In the case of the web keep the “Time to Interact” as short as possible (ie the time it takes the primary page content to render (or fully appear) and become interactive (e.g.with call-to-action buttons functioning).
Forrester research found over 50% of visitors abandon ‘ websites that fail to load within 3 seconds.
(And don’t forget that Google uses page speed in their ranking algorithm.)
325(These spin forever)

Understand the consumer’s priorities. What is the key action you want users to take? How long does it take to perform it?
If more than a few minutes, it’s time to streamline.
If your site (or app) is clumsy or slow, 29% of smartphone users will immediately switch to another if it doesn’t satisfy their needs (ie they can’t find information or it’s taking too long).
Around 70% will switch if takes too many steps to purchase or get desired information.2
And of those who switch, 70% do so because of lagging load times, during which shoppers become distracted. In fact about 14% drift away to shop other sites and almost a quarter will stop shopping or walk away from their computer altogether. So the adage of “time is money” has never been truer…

Oh and lastly.
Put the big stuff firstThe most important content or calls-to-action for the primary activities on your site or app should be in a prominent spot on the page, with secondary content or actions below the fold or hidden behind menus.

Why? Because on average, visitors only read 20% of your web page 3 . Chartbeat looked at deep user behaviour across 2 billion visits across the web over the course of a month and found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. They tend to scan for what they want, as often they’re looking for a specific piece of information and they don’t want to read the whole page to find it.
So keep sentences short & focussed.
Be creative.
And er…



Show 3 footnotes

  1.  Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press
  2. Consumers in the Micro-Moment, Wave 3, Google/Ipsos, U.S., August 2015, n=1,291 online smartphone users 18+
  3. JAKOB NIELSEN, Nielsen Norman Group, May  2008