Is Your Content Just Stuffing? How Choice Overload Can Sabotage Your Value

filed under: Copywriting | Design

If you’re reading this post somewhere in the lower half of the Northern Americas, you’re probably feeling a little stuffed. Thank you very much Thanksgiving! But even if you’re not in the U.S. of A, we’re sure you have your own gourmandizing feast sometime during the year, and can sympathize.

Isn’t it funny how despite our best intentions and constantly repeated “I-shall-not-overfill-my-plate” mantras we always end up going back for seconds (and thirds!). It’s not long before stuffed-turkey day turns into stuff-your-face day (in our house at least!). But you know what should never feel stuffed and bloated? Your website. And we got the science on serving up the perfect menu!

Last week, we talked about what readers want when they land on your page. Today, we’re talking about how to give them the goods without smothering them like a well-meaning but overbearing parent.

The Meat of It

You want to give your BEST to your audience. You want your visitors to land on your page and feel immediately at home. You want them to find everything and anything they’re looking for through innumerable choices. Immediate joy and satisfaction!

The Stuffing

You try to stuff as many items as possible on your homepage! Your latest posts, your most read posts, your latest tweets, a link to your Facebook page, your cool new offer, your plans for the future, a survey about what your clients want from you, your Pinterest boards, and hey, why not display some pieces from your portfolio while you’re at it, too!

In other words, you’re stuffing that page with everything in your cupboards but the cat food (Wait! Does cat food go with turkey?)

The Wine

(because you know… “there’s truth in wine”).
A famous psychological study conducted at the university of Columbia has revealed an astonishing choice paradox: although freedom of choice is an important right to have, the study shows that surprisingly more choices do not make us happier.

Why? Because too many choices confuses us, leading to something scientists call “choice overload.” In various different laboratory and real-world experiments scientists asked participants to choose between several options (one experiment offered different flavors of jam, another types of gourmet chocolate, and one titles for writing an extra-credit paper in a course!).

The results of the experiments were the same across the board: When faced with up to 6 choices, the participants chose quickly and confidently, and reported feeling happy with their choice afterwards (or in the case of papers, did better-quality work). When participants were presented with an array of 24-30 choices, they took longer to choose, doubted their decisions many times, and afterwards felt somewhat unhappy with their choice (or wrote unimaginative papers).

And when we don’t have to choose just one option, as the participants of the study did, instead of over-analyzing and over-doubting, we end up over-choosing and over-eating (as the case with Thanksgiving) and have the same kind of regrets plaguing us afterwards. In other words?

More choices don’t increase our happiness, but our anxiety.

Dishing It… The Right Way

We all have our customers best intentions at heart. But unless you want to join the infallible Nina Simone in singing “Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood” every time you get a new view on your page (and that’s a LOT of singing y’all!), we better do some reigning in!

Your homepage is NOT for stuffing EV.ERY.THING you’ve got on your site. That will only confuse your reader, make them uncertain about where to click next, and send them bouncing off your page to a happier, more structured place.

What’s the main course?

Remember when your mom used to scold you that “marshmallow peeps are not dinner?” Or maybe you already said that to your kids a bunch of times today. As nice as treats and desserts are, the reality is that they’re not real, feeling, nutritious food. And on you website, you shouldn’t put your treats on the same level with the (turkey) meat that’s the main course of your business.

Hierarchy is your friend: Make important headlines and images bigger than the rest. Make sure they’re visually pleasing and catchy-sounding to grab attention before the treats. Separate up to three only primary stories/features to occupy the central section of your page.

Sides go on the side

Duh! Right? Well, not so much. Because, be honest now: How many times did you find yourself at large dinners piling the side dishes (the green-bean casserole, the sweet potato mash, the yummy biscuits, the cranberry sauce, the mac&cheese, the roasted Brussels sprouts…) over on top of each other and the turkey, rather than only to the sides of your dish? Exactly!

Side panels are for sides: Allocate less urgent but still helpful pieces of content to a site panel to limit confusion, and prioritize your information for a better, smoother user experience. Make sure your sides are not flashier than your central section, either, or we’re back at square one.

Divide and Conquer (the expanding waistline)

One of the main problems with staying on track with healthy eating at these big feasts is that we want to try a little bit of everything. But “a little bit of everything” makes for a whole lot more than you need, any way you slice it. So how do you avoid getting stuffed on the sides? You divide the goods into categories (veggies, carbs, sauces) and limit your selections within each category. Easy peasy lemon squeezey!

Categories rule: Don’t just list all your post by date of creation in your side panel. Create meaningful categories, like “Fall Recipes” or “Practical How-To” or “My Biggest Mistakes (That You Shouldn’t Repeat)” or “Tips for Conquering Fear” or whatever is appropriate to your content. Create three such categories to display on your side panels for easy non-bloating navigation through your hottest content.

Dessert has calories too!

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it didn’t! But it does. So after a carefully planned dinner, you can’t just go stuffing your face on dessert, because “you were good.”

The Drop-down Menu: Always remember that it’s a called a “drop-down” menu, not a “drop-dead” menu. Don’t go sneaking things that didn’t make the homepage in there! Limit your main items to six at most. And limit the subsections in each as well. When a reader clicks on a menu item and sees a list longer than the length of your page drop down do you think she thinks, “Yay! Choices!” No. She thinks “Oh crap, what’s all this now!” Don’t ruin your hard efforts at the last minute. Same rules apply here: hierarchy, side topics, categories. As fewer choices as possible.

The Aperitif

Fewer choices mean greater happiness!
Don’t overstuff your page. Don’t overfeed your readers. Don’t overload them with a slew of choices.
Keep it simple. Keep it spacious. Keep it practical.

The Digestion

Your turn now! How many choices do you give readers on your homepage? How do you organize your content for easy navigation? Have other clever ideas we haven’t mentioned here?