Have you ever heard the phrase...
The door is always open.
Or what about...
Mi casa es su casa — which translated into English means 'My home is your home.'
These phrases usually apply to physical spaces like homes or offices - signifying that you have the freedom to come and go as you please.
But, they also apply to websites too.
Think about it. Visitors find you through different sources like ads, blog posts and organic search results. Then, you welcome them with open arms and give them the freedom to view your website. You treat them almost like you would a friend who came to your house for a party.
And just like your friend has the freedom to come and go as he pleases, so do your website visitors. And if those visitors don't like your site they'll leave faster than a guest would from a boring party.
Because online visitors can just go. They don't have to face you and encounter that awkward silence as they try to come up with an excuse for leaving your party.
And what often causes people to leave is something called cognitive Load. It's when websites are so difficult for visitors to navigate and understand that instead of trying to figure things out, they go.
We'll get into more details about cognitive load starting with the definition.
What is cognitive load?
Cognitive load is the amount of mental energy required to process something. In this case we're talking specifically about your website.
How much energy does it take for a user to view your website? You need to know if visitors find it easy or hard. Just because you understand everything doesn't mean a visitor does.
So, remember to keep things simple. If you ask for too much and make people jump through hoops, they won't do it.
Why cognitive load is important.
Minimizing cognitive load allows you to hold your visitors attention. This allows them to freely browse your site and make a purchase without feeling overwhelmed by any other website elements.
How cognitive load is increased.
When you have factors that make learning for your visitors harder, that increases cognitive load. An example of this is a rotating carousel that rotates too quickly. Other things that increase cognitive load are distracting graphics, poor navigation, an unclear value proposition, or confusing copywriting.
Your copy increases cognitive load.
Another area cognitive overload can manifest is in copy. This is partly because we tend to create websites with unrealistic expectations. We come up with a winning design, source images and write amazing copy. We love it so much we think everyone else will love it too. We even imagine that people are combing through our sites and reveling in every word.
But, they aren't.
People scan websites - they don't read them as thoroughly as a classic novel or a magazine. They skim over everything and only focus on the elements that interest them the most.
Here's what you need to keep when writing your web copy:
Use short sentences and paragraphs. Make each paragraph 3-4 lines long at a maximum and use no more than 80 characters per line.
Use clear subheadings and content blocks.
Use sans serif font in a high contrast color.
Use familiar words and phrases. Eliminate jargon, industry speech and complex words.
Different forms of cognitive load.
There are 3 different forms of cognitive load: instrictive,extraneous and germane. We'll talk about each one in more detail beginning with instrictive.
Instrictive cognitive Load.
This refers to the complexity of the information at hand. The load exerted on a user depends on how complex the concept being presented is. It also depends on the customer's ability to understand and process the new information.
Instrictive cognitive load is impossible to eliminate. You will always find a difficult, new activity more challenging than a small, simple task (building a ship, for instance, is much harder than building a birdhouse).
But cognitive Load can be reduced by breaking information down into small, clear steps. That way the customer doesn't feel overwhelmed and want to give up when presented with a seemingly impossible task. The learner, or website visitor, takes small steps in that direction to lead them towards their goal.
Think of assembly instructions for a minute. Everything is broken down into small steps that are easy for users to follow. This ensures that users can understand and process each task.
Extraneous cognitive load.
This is produced by the demands imposed on customers. This type of cognitive load is increased by ineffective teaching methods which ultimately misdirect visitors with distracting information.
This type of cognitive Load can be reduced by effective presentation methods where the customer is able to stay focused on their mission.
So, let's use pricing plans as an example. It's much easier for visitors to process a diagram or photo on your pricing page as opposed to a huge wall of text.
Germane cognitive load.
This third type of cognitive load is produced by the construction of schemas.
Schemas are developed frameworks of ideas or objects that tell us what to expect when we encounter them in the future. Because of schemas, we're able to identify and differentiate between objects in the world.
We use schemas all the time.