Cognitive Load, Procrastination and Your Website's Conversion Rates

Posted by Eman Abulmagd on

One of the most ironic things in the human psychology is that we're more likely to procrastinate in times when the last thing we logically need is procrastination. When we have an overwhelming amount of work to do or when the work is so challenging, our brain prefers pushing important tasks in our to-do list to the "tomorrow tab" instead of actually doing them.

The "purely logical" model of human thinking would say that we should naturally be more dedicated than usual to get things done in these situations. But in reality (in most cases) our psyche tends to vote for leaving everything behind and staring at deadlines flying by.

Why is that? and what does this have to do with your website's conversion rate?

let's see...

The common factor

The common factor between procrastination and website conversion rates is cognitive overload. This concept was first explained by the educational psychologist John Sweller his publication about cognitive load theory in 1994.

In short, cognitive load is the amount of information you can hold in your working memory at once to help you understand what's going on around you. When you're presented with too many information, each extra detail takes a toll on your brain. Until there's little space left to process the more important and relevant pieces of information, causing what we call cognitive overload.

The problem is, cognitive overload, or what we casually call "overwhelm", leads the brain to feel a sense of stress and increases its tendency to leave the situation and do anything else (like admiring the wall's shade, the one that has been in front of you for the past 5 years, for example).

When we don't know how we will finish the tasks at hand on time (or if we can finish them in the first place) our brains tend to go into cognitive overload, as it has too many unclear details and information that don't lead us where we want to go.

On the other hand when a customer steps into your website and finds herself bombarded with a lot of details and information, that won't help her achieve what she came to do, it will put her in cognitive overload as well. And this is where your website conversions start spiraling down.


In explaining this concept regrading user experience, Steve Krug the author of "Don't make me think: a common-sense approach to web usability" puts it this way:

"The same goes for using a website or app. When it takes an excessive amount of cognitive load to use them, the brain starts to slow down, causing the user to feel distressed. Because your design is overwhelming their brain with information, the only way they can escape is by clicking out of your website or app."

Optimizing website for more conversions

Since we're not personal development gurus, we don't know exactly what to do about the procrastination problem. But, we can tell you a couple of easy steps to help you optimize your website for minimum cognitive load (and increase your conversion rates).

1- Get clear on the desired action

Get clear on the action you want your customers to take in your website. Usually your ultimate goal would be more sales or more subscribers.

After deciding on the main action that you want the visitor to take, start breaking it down to smaller chunks. Write a sub-goal for every page in your website, decide what is the action you want people to take when they visit this page. For the homepage you would probably want them to go to the product collection pages, click on the banner of that special offer or join your mailing list. In the contact us page you would probably want them to communicate with your business,...etc.

Action step #1: Go through your website and write down the desired action for every page (homepage, about us, contact,....etc).

2- Walk in their shoes (and find the right questions)

After getting clear on what you want your customer to do in every page. Start walking in their shoes. If you're a customer, what is the question you need answers to in this page?

So for the eCommerce example, the main question in the homepage is "What do you sell?".

The second thing to consider is, what are the pieces of information that the customer needs to know in order to take the desired action? and in what sequence?

in eCommerce, for instance, customers usually need to know what you're selling first and see the products' pictures before going through the testimonials.

Action step #2: Go through your website pages and write down the questions that your customers want the answer to for every page.

3- Reduce the cognitive load

This step is the core of everything we talked about. First in order to reduce the cognitive load (or the overwhelm) for your customers, you need to make sure that every piece of content serves a good purpose. Writing unnecessary copy, redundant information or irrelevant visuals in your website pages might cause your customers to get overwhelmed and confused. And thus increasing the odds of them leaving your website.

Second, you need to make sure that the pages on your website answer the questions that you wrote in the second step effectively and concisely. And give the people the information they need from this page to take the desired action.

Action step #3: re-structure each web-page so that it answers the questions related to it in a clear, simple and intuitive way. Make sure you minimize the amount of mental effort needed to understand what this web-page is all about.

Designing the user experience on your website with clarity leads to an intuitive website that your customers will love and engage with smoothly.

Where else do you think you can apply the concept of cognitive load? join the conversation and let us know your opinion on Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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