Marketing in the Age of Short Attention Spans

African American office worker looking away thinking of problem

Marketing in the Age of Short Attention Spans

Humans have never been the most patient of creatures. But it used to be that patience was thrust upon us lest we go insane. For instance, it took the Lewis and Clark Expedition more than two years to travel from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon and back again. Patience in such a journey was a prerequisite. However, a similar trip today takes less than a week by car or a single day by airplane. We’re conditioned to expect things quickly – or not at all.

In the modern age of short attention spans, where the world’s knowledge is at our fingertips every waking moment and no tweet exceeds 280 characters, you don’t have very long to catch anybody’s attention. Even in long forum posts where context and nuance is important, you’ll often find a short summary at the bottom labeled ‘tl;dr’ (or, ‘Too long; didn’t read’).

For any company or digital marketer, it can’t be overstated how crucial it is to consider potential customers’ short attention spans in every level of creation and implementation. It is also important that companies and marketers don’t think less of their potential customers because of short attention spans. To put it another way, potential customers want their time to be respected. They’ve got families, jobs, hobbies, tasks, chores, lives.  

So, what kind of impact does attention span have on business? What areas are most affected by attention span? And how can marketers and companies offer an experience that respects the time of the customer?


The Consequences of Disrespecting Time

We’ve all been there: on a website, trying to buy a product, sign up for a service, or collect some information. We click to what we need, except the page takes forever to load, and then we click away to a competitor or cat videos or something more entertaining.

But this anecdotal evidence is backed by some hard evidence that is not exactly pretty. According to 2017 research by Akami Technologies, a page load delay of merely 100 milliseconds is enough to cause a 7 percent bounce rate in online retail. Meanwhile, a two-second delay causes the bounce rate to increase by more than 100 percent. The research also found that more than half of all site visitors navigated away from the page if it took longer than three seconds to load.

Getting a user to stay on a webpage initially is only part of the battle, though. Just over half of all users spend less than 15 active seconds on any given page. You’ve got to grab their attention, hold their attention, and direct their actions to where you want it to go in about the amount of time it takes to play the intro to the classic Journey jam “Don’t Stop Believing.” Like the high notes in said song on a karaoke night, it’s a difficult proposition – and it’s why professional marketers are so valuable.


What Does This Mean?

It’s easy to run around like a chicken with your head cut off after being presented with this information. But it isn’t a death sentence for your website. Quite the contrary: Although trying to fit your digital marketing efforts to such short attention spans is difficult, it actually presents a clear way to improve and beat your competition if you do it right.



As a wise choir director once said in an instruction to his choir: Don’t sing louder than beautiful. It’s an incisive observation because what might be beautiful for Mahler definitely isn’t the same as beautiful for Mozart. Furthermore, volume itself isn’t beautiful; it is possible to sing “louder than beautiful” for both Mahler and Mozart.

A very similar idea can be said about content: Don’t write more than necessary. A homepage, a location page, and an “about us” page demand different volumes and styles of content, yet it is possible to put more content than necessary on each of them.

Content should be clear, informative, and precise, and it should be formatted in a way that is natural and intuitive. The single best way to overcome short attention spans is by providing exactly what users want and expect. Here, content is king.



If you’re in a department store and you can’t find the lightbulbs, you’re probably going to leave and go somewhere else to buy lightbulbs. The lightbulbs themselves may be arranged well, with clear organization and descriptions about what is what. But if the store organization and signage is confusing, you’re not going to be able to find the lightbulbs in the first place.

SEO is the signage, organization, and billboards for your website. Keywords are essential to SEO, but they’re not what keeps a user on the site by themselves. If your site is confusing to use or hard to navigate, people will leave. It’s as simple as that.

Good SEO will seek to remedy this through intuitive link structures, headings that are easy to skim and make sense, and meta descriptions that accurately describe the page in question. In addition, this is part of why ‘black hat’ SEO practices aren’t a wise idea. If your department store advertises lightbulbs but the store doesn’t actually have lightbulbs, you don’t actually have a sustainable business model.


Web Design

Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think is a fantastic examination of website usability. Its thesis is also essentially the title of the book: Good website usability is intuitive and requires little to no thought. Bad website design makes you think.

Needless to say, thinking about doing something is a level of effort that factors greatly into attention spans. If something is easy to do, it can be done for a long time before fatigue sets in. But the harder it is to do, the earlier fatigue arises. In the case of website users, that fatigue and frustration causes them to leave.

Web developers are crucial components of creating a web experience that caters to our collective lack of attention. While there are lots of ways to do that, one of the easiest and best ways is convention. Convention is a commonly agreed upon set of rules, standards, or principles. In other words, convention is a widely understood shorthand.

For instance, as Krug points out, we don’t have to read a stop sign to know that it’s a stop sign. While it’s simply a red octagon with white letters, it’s such a strong convention that we don’t need to see it in English or even on a road to comprehend its meaning.

Similar conventions exist within websites, even if you may not be actively aware of them. For example, it doesn’t take any effort to figure out that a gear icon will likely lead you to the settings. The term ‘shopping cart’ and its accompanying icon are also universally understood. Finding a navigation bar at the top of the page is a natural instinct and makes sense.

Breaking convention for visual interest or in the name of design sounds nice in theory, but in practice, it just makes everyone grumpier when they’re using your site. If a user has 15 seconds of interest and spends eight of them trying to figure out what’s going on on the page, you’ve put yourself at a huge disadvantage.


Your Time is Important, Too: Contact the Experts

If you aren’t formatting your digital marketing around the reality that you have less time to capture a customer than you think, you are leaving money on the table. The longer it takes for a web user to figure out your content, site structure, or design, the greater the chance that they simply leave. It’s a brutal world, but it’s true.

Thankfully, you don’t have to go it alone. Go Local Interactive has the marketing experience you need to capture those constituents and cause those crucial conversions. Contact us today for a free look at your website and a discussion about how we can help you. Your users’ attention spans may be short, but don’t worry – ours won’t be.

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