Sometimes your web site needs to be complicated – not simple

Simplicity is essential, we are told, especially online. People oftent cite the reason for Google’s success as being the simplicity of its plain white page with a single search box and no other distractions. Compared with the complications of the directory-based Yahoo! search page at the time of Google’s introduction, it was hard to argue against this theory.

Then you’ll have web designers explaining that when a page is simple and “obvious” as to what we should do it engages the viewer much more. No distractions to confuse and interrupt.

Add to that the constant mantra of Internet marketers, telling us to focus, focus, focus and it’s easy to see why we all strive for the simplest, most obvious approach possible to our web sites.

But, as ever with the human mind, things are not all that they seem…!

New research from the University of Chicago suggests that counter to our intuition, sometimes things need to be complicated for us to value them and engage with them. The psychologists showed advertisements to volunteers and asked them to donate to charity as a result of seeing them. They were told in advance their goal was to be kind to others. However, there were two kinds of adverts. Both adverts were identical, except one was slightly blurred, making it more difficult for the participants to read them. In order to read them they had to commit much more effort and concentration.

Guess what. Those who were given the blurry advert contributed more to charity than those who had the in-focus material. The research was also done with in-focus pictures of chocolate and out-of-focus pictures of chocolate. Again, the participants were given a goal of feeling good about themselves. Interestingly, the blurry picture of chocolate was much more successful in achieving good feelings than the in-focus shot.

So what does this tell us? It suggests that when we have a specific goal in mind, we perceive the complex route of achieving it is bound to be the better one. When not given a specific goal, the participants chose the in-focus pictures.

How can you use this in your business and on your web site? When your visitors don’t know what they want, they are just browsing or perhaps have been told they ought to look at your web site, you need to be simple and straightforward. They have no goal in mind.

But when they have a specific goal, your web site needs to be more complex. They are likely to rate it as more valuable and effective than another web site which delivers the same information, but in a more straightforward way. In other words, if it looks complex then your viewers perceive it as better than something that looks simple but would also help them achieve their goal.

Simplicity is not always the answer it seems. It is worthwhile thinking about how you can complicate some parts of your web site, rather than simplifying them. The result, counter-intuitively, is likely to be more business, not less.

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